The Norman Transcript

February 14, 2014

Q&A: Joshua Boydston on a creative-driven life

by Hannah Cruz
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — For many artists, a life of art is one they choose. But for Joshua Boydston, it seems art chose him.

The Lindsey, Okla., native started out his college career at the University of Oklahoma studying psychology, but before he knew it, the arts became a bigger and bigger part of his life.

Boydston now works full time as the communications director and gallery manager at the Norman Arts Council. On the side, Boydston is a music freelancer for the Oklahoma Gazette, a graphic designer and art curator.

Add in Boydston’s music and design website, Dual Tone, at dualtonedesigns.com, and it’s clear the young professional has a lifetime of creativity ahead of him.

Q: Why did you get a degree in psychology?

A: It was always something I was interested in during high school. I was thinking more pre-med, psychologist route but I kind of fell into journalism. I was really shy growing up so I thought I’d force myself to talk to strangers by getting into writing and then I really started to enjoy it a lot. My very first interview was with Morgan Spurlock, who did the “Super Size Me” documentary, that was my very first interview in person and after that I was just like, “Oh, it doesn’t bother me.”

Q: That was your very first interview?

A: Yeah.

Q: Wow, I’d be scared.

A: I started working at the OU Daily half way through the semester and our editor asked who wants to interview this guy and nobody did. So I just waited around and then he looked at me and asked if I wanted to do it and I said I guess.

That was kind of the first thing that felt right. So I started doing journalism. Wrote for the student paper at OU that summer and then that next spring I was an editor. I got into that role and from there I started to learn how to design stuff because we had to lay out our section ourselves. They got designers like the semester after I left. [laughing] I had to lay everything out and I kind of got addicted and it snow balled.

And then I started an internship with the Oklahoma Gazette and they let me freelance after that. So I’ve been freelancing for about three and a half years since then, writing about music — which has always been what I’m most interested in writing about. And then my senior year I did event planning and concert booking and I found it was something I really enjoyed.

From there I started designing concert posters, using some of the design stuff I had learned early on. When I graduated, this job came up and it struck me that it was everything I love to do and I’ve always just had a problem narrowing it down to one thing I like. There’s just so many things I enjoy doing but I love this job. It gives me the opportunity to engage in everything I love doing. It’s a small group of us, obviously — two of us full time and some interns — so you really have to be able to do everything. I applied, thinking it was a long shot, and I’ve been thrilled ever since.

Q: That’s quite the round about way to get where you are.

A: People are always a little shocked when they ask me because they assume I was art history or at least public relations or communications or something.

Q: Were you interested in art before college?

A: Yeah, it’s always been something I loved. If I had been more talented at drawing and painting that’s probably what I would have done. But I always found myself attracted to any project or opportunity in high school that lend itself to being creative, whether it was actually making something or just creative thinking or thinking out projects.

I think I probably forgot that somewhere along the line on my way to college. I think you get this idea that you have to follow this certain track to be a success in life. But then I think back and realize that what I found myself most engaged in were things like this where I was helping others, thinking creatively, having that opportunity to create something new and bring something to the community that maybe wouldn’t have happened otherwise. And it dawned on me that that’s where I would be happiest and have the most success.

Q: So tell me about this website that you have.

A: I guess it was about a year ago that we started to play around with the idea — me and my girlfriend — we wanted something creative to do together. Of course, I had always been into music and she was an interior design student. I’ve always had a passion for art and design so we wanted to do a music blog but we also wanted to do it in a totally different way. So we were in the car trying to think of something new to do and she said, “Oh, I’ve been thinking we could try to do this where we cover music and interior design together, how they can interact.” And I thought that was genius because there are so many websites that are just the same thing and are great for that reason but we hadn’t come across anything specifically like that.

It started as interior design and home decor and evolved to incorporate some of the graphic design stuff I’ve been doing, too. It’s been fun and we’ve had a lot of great feedback from people who have said they haven’t seen a website quite like it. Or not covering the type of bands we do from that lense. It’s been a cool thing to do and it’s led to some cool design opportunities for me. I’ve been commissioned to do some poster art and my first batch of album art for Horse Thief.

Q: How long have you been doing graphic design as an artist?

A: Honestly, it hasn’t been that long. I was doing the concert posters and had a style I liked that was kind of basic. Then I started seeing some styles that I liked and other things out there and was trying to emulate them. So I was doing these concert posters that kind of looked a little bit more like art, and then I thought I could just remove the band names and I have some art work.

Once I get my mind set on something I just can’t put it down and I just want to be better and better at it. I still have a long way to go but I always try to push myself to do a little more. Concert posters are pretty much just grabbing someone’s attention which is where the art comes from. If you’re walking by a row of 20 posters I’m hoping that the one you are attracted to is mine. That’s where my style of art came from.

Q: What do you want to see happen with it?

A: I don’t know. I’d love to do more album art, that’s something I’ve always been attracted to in general. I’ve been die-hard music since I was about 12 or 13. For a long time — before really the prevalence of Internet and streaming and stuff like that — a lot of times I would just go in and pick up an album solely based on the album cover. I didn’t know anything about it but I thought if I like the album art I’ll probably like the album music, too. It’s just always been something I enjoyed.

It was great to do the album art and work so close with the artist. Because obviously it’s near and dear to their heart and they’ve been working their a**es off to get the album exactly how they wanted it. It’s been cool to work with them. How it started out, the guy I was working with, he had an idea of what he wanted, I had an idea of what I wanted and then it wound up looking like neither of them at all but it wound up being perfect for what it was. I’d love to get the big vinyl and have this big 12 inch by 12 inch thing.

Q: You just curated your first show, right?

A: Yeah, I’d been working here for about a year when I decided to do that. That was an experience I’d never had — I’d never hung art or lit art and it was just something I learned on the job here. But I thought, “You know, if I’m going to keep working here, I might as well just try my hand at it.”

And then me and Erinn (Gavaghan; NAC executive director), and really probably more Erinn if I’m being honest, came up with this idea of artists who are also really involved in music. I thought that was right in my wheelhouse and I thought I’d be happy to take lead of this. And it was an experience.

It’s nothing I’d ever done before and if you’d asked me in the weeks leading up to it if I ever wanted to curate again I probably would have said no. [laughing] It was definitely like herding cats sometimes, big group art shows.

But once it was up ... it was a fun experience to see my vision in the place. I did learn a lot. If I had to do it again I’d know all the things to do differently. There are maybe people who came through here that hadn’t seen that type of art. That’s kind of by design. We try to have it so varied in here so that one of the exhibits you’ll come see, you love. It was cool to serve an audience who maybe they hadn’t seen something they really liked in a while. It was cool to bring the artists together. All of them do similar things but none of them actually knew each other. You’d see them go off and chat with each other, so it was cool to see those connections and possible collaborations.

Q: Tell me about being a freelancer for the Oklahoma Gazette.

A: That was something kind of unexpected.

... [The editor] let me on and I worked really hard and I had to write articles about things I wasn’t super enthused about. Toward the end of the summer they started to give me music features to write and I did well. A lot of it was fortunate timing because there was an editor switch right at the time I was finishing, and the new editor of the section said, “Hey, I’m going to be in charge of the music and I want you to write however much and whatever you want to write.”

So he gave me free reign over the music section just after that one summer interning and it was just crazy how many people I’ve interviewed. Some of my favorite bands like Vampire Weekend, Ariel Pink, Interpol and some of them are just so weird to be on the phone with. Like I was talking to Barry Manilow and Huey Lewis and I just can’t believe this is my real life. I’m sitting in my bedroom on the phone talking to Huey Lewis. This is so weird.

Q: That’s probably the funnest part about journalism.

A: Yeah, yeah, you never know. There’s been terrible interviews. There’s been great interviews. I’ve done hundreds. I’ve done two to three features a week I think for about three years. I’ve interviewed a lot of people. It’s a really interesting job.

It’s surreal at times, depending on who you’re talking to, but it’s always a lot of fun. I get a lot of enjoyment out of it. I enjoy talking to the bands I like but I really enjoy talking to local bands. That’s always been my favorite because usually you’re the first person to really get a chance to tell their story whereas with those established bands — I can’t ask Barry Manilow a question he hasn’t been asked. The local bands are great, the ones that I’m passionate about, and have talent, it’s great to be able to introduce people to them for the first time.

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