Kevin Lyons is a creative director, illustrator, and artist know for his brilliant creativity and his infamous monsters that you may have seen on your favorite popsicle packaging at your local supermarket. Having Kevin join me as a guest was and has been an absolute highlight for the podcast and for me personally. I grew up observing and admiring Kevin's work ad to be able to speak with him about his career and experience was such a tremendous pleasure and learning opportunity.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:00:00] On this episode. I'm very excited to welcome my guest. He is an artist, designer and creative director who has worked with brands such as Nike, Adidas, Vans, Stance, Colette, Stussy many more. You may even recognize some of his work on your favorite Popsicle packaging at the local bodega. Uh, Kevin Lyons. Thank you so much for joining me today.
Kevin Lyons: [00:00:19] Thank you very much. I appreciate being here.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:00:22] Kevin, I think the first time I noticed or realized that you were in New York because I wasn't sure where you do a lot of traveling day to day for, not only your job, but for your work outside of your illustration. I saw you at the 14th street F stop.
And I only saw, I saw a side profile of you with your long beard.
Kevin Lyons: [00:00:41] Yes, signature.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:00:43] No way. Is that Kevin Lyons and then I tweeted you that and I think you had said yes it was. Yes. But you're not originally from New York.
Kevin Lyons: [00:00:50] I'm not originally from New York, but I've been in New York since like 1992. Taken several breaks, moved out to the West coast for a little bit, came back, moved out there again, came back.
Um, I've, but this has been my home base for a very long time. I was born in Connecticut, just outside of New York. Um, so my formative years, my, my impressionable years, however you want to say it. Um, we're definitely spent here. So from the time I graduated from art school, I landed here and pretty much lived here, you know, on and off ever since.
So you do the math, but it's been a long time.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:01:30] Taking the train in and out of the, of the city from Connecticut. Where were you like as a kid? You know, like w w where were you hanging out when you were younger?
Kevin Lyons: [00:01:37] Um, as a kid, I mean, I, I'm a pretty crazy straight edge kid. Like I grew up playing sports, watching sports and drawing.
Like I drew everything. I drew everything under the sun and uh, that eventually included like designing my own sneakers and stuff. But I just started like for some reason I was drawn to drawing. Uh, and it basically started with like me copying logos of sports teams and designing my own sports uniforms and things like that.
And then I just started drawing like cereal boxes and cartoons, and I was obsessed with like the Muppets and I mean the, I was alive at the time where the Muppets and Sesame street were just taking hold on the mass media. And. And Jim Henson and Garfield and Hanna-Barbera and Bugs Bunny and Daffy duck like TV was so specific that, um, you basically watched, uh, exactly what was on TV because there was nothing else to watch.
So you consumed it all. And then at the same time, I was just playing every sport under the sun. My dad was like, ah very much like a, tried to be a pro athlete. Uh, came very close. Um, he raised us in sports, my brother and my sister. Um, and so I just played sports. And then drew logos all day. And um, and that was pretty much my upbringing.
Like I would play hockey, soccer, football. Um, I ran and ran and ran. And then when I wasn't doing that, I was either reading or drawing or watching TV, you know, it was like I consumed all that media quite quickly.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:03:14] I was trying to nail down what sport you played, because I grew up playing hockey, but you really played all of them.
Kevin Lyons: [00:03:19] I played all the sports cause I was the new England kid. So you kind of play every sport. Um, but I really gravitated towards soccer. Um, as a young kid, like that was my sport. I loved it. And baseball, I loved baseball. Um, but when I was like 12 years old, I entered like this Turkey trot race and started running, like ran in that race, won that race, and never stopped running.
So I, to this day, I run marathons. Uh, running has been one of those things along with art and illustration and stuff like that, and topography that has lasted since 12 years old on, um, to this day. So running, I guess would be my sport. That was pretty much what consumed me, but I've always been like a crazy kind of, uh, very vocal.
Kid, a teenager, early college, but never like one to kind of get in trouble in a way, like never. Never mean spirited, never. Uh, but, uh, just always with this energy, like I couldn't stop doing stuff. So, um, you know, later on I was labeled a workaholic, but in the early days it was just like enjoying everything that I did like, and I didn't just draw a little bit.
I drew all the time. I didn't run a little bit. I would run as far as I could possibly run. So
Jon Sorrentino: [00:04:41] You put your mind to everything basically 100%.
Kevin Lyons: [00:04:43] Yeah. There was a little like, um. You know, now looking back, it's a little forest Gumpy of like just whatever I did, I did to the fullest extent. And I think that's probably indicative of what I became as an adult because that's sort of my MO, is just outwork everybody and outdo everybody.
And don't just make one monster make 50 so they can't center in on the one Monster. They have to. They have to look at the whole 50, and that's more impressive than the one or something. I don't know. It was always this sort of like overcompensation for, um. Just needing to do more.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:05:20] You mentioned you were watching a lot of like Sesame street and Garfield and Jim Henson, big inspiration.
Did you have a favorite Muppet when you were growing up?
Kevin Lyons: [00:05:28] Um, yeah. I have a very specific Muppet and it's, well, I mean a very specific Sesame street character, which is Cookie Monster and Cookie Monster to me from the very beginning was like the end all be all of the characters. Like he is by far my favorite character.
Um, I have many Muppets that are my favorite. And Jim Henson was just such a God growing up. Like I always say like Jim Henson when I was younger, and then Keith Herring when I was in my teenage years. But. Uh, to me, Jim Henson was the end all, be all. Like whatever he did was genius. And all of the characters around him, including, you know, a big bird who just recently passed.
So in the last couple of days, um, Carol Spinney, but it, in that, like, he was everything to me. So, but Cookie Monster to me was the. Epitome of the Muppets is his vocalness, his craziness. I, I'm a big chocolate with chocolate chip cookies are my weakness as well. Um, but just the way he acted, the way he moved his look, the, the googly eyes, the fact that his eyeballs moved, no other Muppets eyes really moved.
Um, uh, just the way he talked and the way he acted and the way he goofed around. I feel like. It's my kindred spirit. You know, like he, for some reason I channeled him, but, um, and it's funny because I have two, I have two teenage daughters, and like, they identify themselves as Bert and Ernie, so, and they live in the same room together and stuff like that.
So it's pretty funny. It's like how people grow up that way and identify with those characters.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:07:08] That's cool that your daughters are kind of also watching Sesame Street
Kevin Lyons: [00:07:11] Well, that's the generational craziness of Sesame Street is that it's traveled, uh, now it's going on. It's you know, 50th year. So it's 50 generations.
Really, I'm five generation, 50 generations, five generations, like five decades of people. And so everyone associates with that, and there's not that much that you can really like pinpoint that down to, especially in the world of entertainment, you know? Um. Yeah. Anyway.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:07:38] It's cool also how it just kinda comes back and like each time this, like craze comes back, like Sesame street for example.
It's like evolved into some new interest or some new focus. Like I went and stood outside of Uniqlo to get the Kaws
Kevin Lyons: [00:07:52] Right to get to Kaws
Jon Sorrentino: [00:07:53] I was like, man, I need that. That's my childhood right there
Kevin Lyons: [00:07:58] Yeah. That's the thing is that, that what Sesame street does is it plants and you use such an amazing feeling in your psyche and your memory and everything else that no matter who touches it, you sort of have a real, like if you go on Etsy, there's tons of stuff that Sesame street related, like there's a cottage industry built around that, but the Kaws stuff is great because. It was this very accessible, very memorable type of thing that he paid homage to.
And it wasn't a piece of art that you couldn't afford or something that you needed a bot to buy. So it was for everybody. And I see people wearing it like. I think it does rejuvenate what Sesame street was and it gets people to watch it on HBO now or pay attention to it a little bit more. And um, anything that does that, I think is very positive so.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:08:49] You eventually make your way to RISD and unbenounced to me, a lot of people on this season are RISD alumn. And I heard that going into RISD, there was this application process that you had to draw like a bicycle.
Kevin Lyons: [00:09:03] Yes. You have to do that. I did. Yeah. Everyone has. Had to, I mean, I think it dates back like several decades back.
I'm not sure how far back it goes. And I'm always like, I wish they would like publish a book of everyone's like the best of bikes or whatever. But, um, no, it was an interesting exercise and it's funny, again, my daughter's applying to schools and like that exercise has come up again. I'm like, would you want to apply to RISD?
And, and we talk about like drawing the bike and the bike is just. Uh, and all like, it's been a generational thing and it's like everyone who's ever been to RISD has had to draw a bike. So I drew a bike.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:09:40] Did you know, going into, uh, coming out of high school, like you were going for art, were there any other plans potentially on the horizon?
Kevin Lyons: [00:09:47] Not necessarily?
RISD was the only art school that I applied to, so I was very much, again, it was very much in this world of athletics, like I thought I could be a college division one runner, and I thought I was going to go land in an Ivy league school or something like that. And at the very last I visited RISD because I was curious and I wanted to be, I was interested in like architecture and design just because of graphic design and stuff.
And so my parents and I went to RISD and we looked at RISD and it looked really cool, but I didn't have it really in the back of my mind. And then I said, you know what? Right when I was doing the application that I said, I'm going to send in the RISD application as well. And in the course of time between, um, applying and being accepted, I started to think more and more about like, what do I want to do after I leave high school?
And I don't know, maybe I was burnt on running and I was burnt on academics, traditional academics. Um, and so. RISD was the only school I applied to. And thank God I had a great art teacher in high school that helped me prepare for it. And a I got into RISD and, um, and I never looked back. And the day I got there, I got my ass kicked.
I mean, it was like, the first year was so difficult. Like, cause you know, I, I thought I could draw, I thought I was a pretty good artist. Um. And then you go into a life drawing class, which you'd never been into. And you're just surrounded by kids who are like the best of their class. Like every good kid, every good artist in every single high school winds up at either RISD or MCAD or Cal Arts or one of these places.
And you arrive and you're like, I'm getting my ass kicked on a daily basis. And of course I'm a competitor, right? Cause I come from the sport. So I'm looking at the guy next to me. And half of them up. Yeah. Half of the kids around me don't give a fuck who's drawing what or what's drawing, who I'm or what skill level they're at.
And I'm looking around going, I am not very good at this. And I was not used to being not very good at something, to be honest, you know? Um, and so it was a humbling experience and I had to go through that. I think to get to the other side, it took a whole year to really. Find my way and figure out, like, can I survive here?
You know, it was very easy running and, and, and, uh, you know, taking tests and reading books and, you know, having a very objective, uh, goals, like very objective goals. I knew what I, I just study and I do it and succeed. And this was so subjective. And so, you know, feeling my way around in the dark. And, but of course, you know.
That experience led to only good things later. You know.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:12:35] After RISD you graduate, uh, you make it to New York again.
Kevin Lyons: [00:12:39] I do, I come to New York right away. So at RISD, the interesting part is I enter RISD for graphic design. Um, I did architecture at a Harvard career discovery program in the summer, and I found out that I didn't really love architecture.
I was little bit, had a lot of restraints that I didn't really understand at that time. So I had already been drawing logos, making flyers, making stickers, making skateboards, things like that. And as I get to RISD, I'm like, Oh, I'll go into graphic design. That's a good field. I know that I can do that.
People like my graphic design and the first semester of sophomore year, cause you do your foundation first year, first semester of graphic design. It's the most boring thing that I've ever been in. It's like drawing Caslon as a typeface and serifs and. My professors were just boring. I mean, I think RISD's graphic design program has gotten a lot better since I went there.
It was not the strength of RedState. Not many people just, you know, gravitated towards RISD for just graphic design. But I did and it was super boring and I was like 18 years old and I just wanted to like, fuck up the world and do crazy stuff and experiment. And freshman year. Which so much like foundation year, you're drawing, you're painting, you're making stuff, you're working with other people, you're starring and like people's films, like you know, that type of thing.
And I just decided like halfway through the year, I can't do this anymore. I can't do graphic design. I know what I want to do in graphic design. And it's not this. And so I was like, um, I said, I need to do something I'd never done before, and what do I love? And it turns out I had that reckoning moment of like Sesame street, Hanna-Barbera Garfield, and I switched my major over to film.
So I did three years of animation and live action film ending, and culminating with an animated film. And before I graduated, I was really, really interested in, uh, coming out of school and going right into like Nickelodeon or MTV. It was like the height of like, um, Nick Toons, like a rug, rats, Doug and Ren and Stimpy.
And like, that was the era. And so I applied to, um, this place called Jumbo Pictures, which produced Doug actually Kaws worked there as a cell painter. Um, and, uh, I didn't get the job. So I land in New York with no money, no work, and I start walking the streets, pounding the pavement. Uh, I start doing some logos for like local parties and nights and, and DJs and things like that just to make ends meat, to buy a piece of pizza.
And, um, I wind up like walking into an Urban Outfitters and, uh, there's only four in the world and one of them is on Broadway and Lafayette. And I get a job there as a display guy cause I have an art degree. And they, they said, Oh, I just applied to like fold shirts and shit. And they were like, Oh, I see you have a, a background in art.
And I said. Yeah. And they said, would you want it to be a display artist? And I said, does that pay more than they're like, yes. And I said, I'll do that. And it gets you off the floor and you make stuff and you silk screen on windows. And it was a bit of an art school experience. And then eventually, as I'm just sort of coming to my stride in that and starting to open new stores for them and stuff like that, uh, the jumbo pictures, Doug TV show calls me again and I wound up going back into animation.
And I wound up as an associate producer on Doug, um, for three seasons, um, which is a tremendous experience, like working on Nicktoons, working for Nickelodeon. But I discover in that time period that like. Uh, the whole time I'm working there, I'm still doing all this graphic design for everybody. And graphic design just always keeps coming back.
Like every corner I go around, it lands on me in it, and graphics and typography and logos, they just continue to pop up in my life. Um, and I learned that like doing film, especially at that time, this is in the early nineties. You know, you needed like a lot of money to make a film. Like you can't just tow around, uh, a, a Canon point and shoot, and it also shoots film. And to do animation, you had to like actually shoot film. Like it wasn't, there was no, video was so new and so young and the computer was so new and so young that it just. It didn't make sense and I was really frustrated. I just wanted to make stuff.
And that was that same mentality I had at RISD is make stuff, make stuff. So I left there and I went back into just doing, working on, you know, for people and doing things and making stuff, and just got really excited and dove in in New York. And that's when. Everything sort of started to happen for me, like working in clothing, working with big artists and street artists and designers.
And that's when streetwear was taking off and clubs. And there was a club in New York called Giant Step. And that was like the pinnacle acid jazz night. Every Thursday night, um, uh, at the metropolitan, at supper club. And I walked in one day, I saw an ad in Paper magazine. Yup. Iconic New York magazine, which was huge back then, especially for the local scene, and I walked in, I saw an ad for this record that I wanted to buy.
And I wound up like following the address instead of sending in the money, I think there's a record store and I go in their offices and they're like, what do you do? And I was like, well, I'm just trying to buy a record. And they're like, Oh, well, this is not a record store. I said, well, can I buy the record here?
And they're like, sure. So they allow me to buy a record from them. And then the guy, Jonathan, who owns, uh, Jonathan Rudnick and Maurice. He tells me like, you know, what do you do? And I said, well, I'm a graphic designer, I make logos and stuff. And they said, Oh, we want to redesign our logo, which is the Giant Step logo.
I'm like, okay. And they're like, why don't you just take a shot and see what happens? And that night I go home and spend the whole night drawing a logo and I just do not sleep. And then the next day I bring it back and I must've looked like a crazy person cause they were like, what are you doing here?
And I said, I finished it. Well, like the logo. And I said, yeah. And they showed it to them and they accepted it. And that was like a major, major, like thing for me. I think I made $300 off or something and I had no copyright, nothing. I had no protection. I just, they may have given me 300 bucks and maybe some records and they always let me in the club.
And then. I started like making banners for them and like banners, meaning physical spanners painted on flags, not banner ads, and started painting behind the musicians, like behind Gangstar and The Roots and Repercussions and all the Dana Brian, all these crazy people that came and played. Um. Uh, and it was MC Solar Galliano like it was, my whole world was music and you know, it was the bur, it wasn't the birth of hip hop.
Obviously hip hop was just starting to hit, but like 92, 93, that is the blow up of boom-bap and you know, all the best albums of that time came out. Then it's Wu Tang, it's Tribe. It's De La. And I put me smack dab in the middle of all that. And that was like. Where I wanted to be forever. I could have just stayed in that bed and never, never woke up.
You know, like that was, that was the moment, and to be a part of that was like, I saw both. The culmination of something that I've been working for, but also the possibility of like, what could I do, you know? Now that I'm here, what are the opportunities?
Jon Sorrentino: [00:20:25] You know, this is really just like as a result of you just like meeting people constantly.
Kevin Lyons: [00:20:30] It is, it's just me being active all the time. Like I'm like a ferocious,
Jon Sorrentino: [00:20:35] It's almost like. I mean, I would, I understand a little bit though, the need to constantly do something, almost like an anxiety of like when you're, when you're not doing anything, you're like,
Kevin Lyons: [00:20:45] Yeah, I have a really hard time with that.
Like, as an adult too, like I have a very hard time, like laying on a beach. I have to be like in the water doing something or I just can't, I can't vacation, which is a problem, especially with like personal relationships and things like that. I just don't stop. And, um. But it has been my calling card. It has been something that, you know, um, I used to walk, I stayed with a friend.
When I first moved to New York. I stayed with a friend and on 93rd and Broadway, and I would walk to the store on a laf. Uh, I would walk to the urban Outfitters store at Broadway and, and Bond or whatever street that is. And, or Bleecker. And every day, like with my walkman on, with music, with mixed tapes, stuff like that.
I started working in the lower east side at the original Triple Five Soul store. So we're talking Five Five Soul, Union. There was a whole thing going on and that's when I started to meet. Some of the people within streetwear that would later become instrumental in my life. Like the Futura's and the Stashes and SSUR, SSUR, Ruslan Karablan, um, the guys from Supreme, uh, and just the, the whole, you know, burgeoning streetwear scene that happened downtown.
Um, was, was extremely influential on me because again, I wanted to be surrounded by those people at the time. So it wasn't just the clubs, it was also the people that were hustling just like me. Um, and some of these people were older, some were my age, and it was just really interesting. Camella from Triple Five Soul was like such an influential person in everyone's life.
She was like the kind of mom, and she was like younger than me. Younger than us, and I think she was our mom. So, um, but she was doing things that were just crazy interesting. And, and she was working harder than anybody. James Gebbia, who owns Supreme, he owned the, uh, Stussy store here. He was like. Just grinding and working harder than anybody.
Futura is the hardest working artists I've ever seen in my life. Ruslan Karablin was like my brother in arms and everything just started to be moving around in New York at that time.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:23:01] The stars are just aligning at that.
Kevin Lyons: [00:23:03] The stars were aligning and you were part of this movement, but I was very much like, I'm not a party guy.
I'm not a like club guy. I'm like, uh, I'd rather be working in behind the scenes and at that time I think. I made that decision to be very much the graphic designer behind a lot of these people. And just sort of like, I made a very conscious decision of like anonymity and sort of like support and have fun with these guys and work and work and work.
And that was a decision I made at that time. Cause I just, my mode of operandi then was just. Work and produce and make stuff. So I was really happy being in the background with all these guys and sort of being someone who helps support them or help move them along. You know, you mentioned the industry alone,
Jon Sorrentino: [00:23:54] you mentioned, um some of the music that you were influenced by when you were younger, like Wu Tang, and I learned as I was doing my research that there was a time that you kept a separate iPod shuffles.
Kevin Lyons: [00:24:05] I still, it's known as time that still exists. I have one right upstairs now.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:24:10] How many shuffles are in the collection at the moment?
Kevin Lyons: [00:24:12] I mean, there's. That there is about 40 in all but uh, they, some of them started to break cause they don't make them anymore and you can kind of buy them online. But it's kind of sketchy. I wish I had bought more at the very end, but some of them are starting to go bad cause I run with them and I paint with them and I, I work them over.
So I think sometimes they just, they sort of give in cause they're not meant to be for life. But I stole that idea though from going to Tokyo. Like I, I. I used to travel to Japan a lot cause Japan totally supported the streetwear industry in the U.S. And I used to see all these kids who owned street wear brands there.
They would have like right by their door, like on the mantle or on like the, the railing of their stairs or something. They would have like all these shuffles. And one would be reggae and one would be, um, ska. One would be heavy metal. And I was like, Oh, that's a really interesting idea. You just load those up and you can, like, they're really easy to work with as opposed to like sticking a phone or a,
Jon Sorrentino: [00:25:16] I don't like the idea of not having a set playlist, like in order.
Kevin Lyons: [00:25:21] That's the other thing is you create it like you create the order. But. You just turn that thing on. You can't change the order. You could skip a song or whatever, but you're sort of forced to make decisions about it. And so I have playlists that are everything from like, um, just like generic playlist to work by to every Action Bronson song ever made is on one.
Every Wu Tang song every made is on one. Um, they hold about 130 songs. So you could do like every, like, it's usually, when I say every song, I mean. My favorite songs, like by Wu Tang and my favorite songs by, um, NAS or whatever. So I have a NAS, a Kendrick, uh, you know, and that goes that way, but it also has genres.
It has like old ska. I have reggae ones. And then I have like, I even make playlists for like when I do murals. Yup. Um, so I'll have like a Hawaii mural and I'll just download a bunch of music that way. Cause you can just flip them off all the time. But yeah, they're all color. They're really good. Cool colors too.
It looks like candy, like jolly Ranchers. Yeah.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:26:26] Um, you mentioned Hawaii, and I'm glad because I think that's actually probably one of the first times I saw your work was like Pow Wow Hawaii kind of video or something. And I remember just being like. Yeah, no, I grew up definitely being inspired by like Banksy and you know, I have a tattoo inspired by him that I drew up when I was a kid and I was trying to find my way.
And I think graffiti was that kind of entrance into art and the creative industry. And I remember just finding so many of like the graffiti artists that are tagged, you know, like they're tagging the walls. And I remember seeing your work and it was different. It was like so much of these characters and these monsters that you're so now now like, well known for.
Kevin Lyons: [00:27:06] And it was like the idea of like, the one thing about, I'm old, but I'm not old enough to have been. Well, I mean there are a few kids like Todd James, Reese, ESPO, those guys who were around and they were super young within the true graffiti era, like the true like writing on trains full trains. But I was too old for that.
I mean, I was too young for that. Um, I was just like 12, 13, 14 years old when guys were writing on trains. And I arrive in New York at a time when Giuliani is like cleaning up and before him. Um. They were cleaning up the trains, they were cleaning up the subways, they were gentrifying. Manhattan was getting gentrified.
So when I get here, you, it was very easy to get arrested for jumping the turnstile in 90 in the early nineties. A lot of people still did it, but it was one of those things where skateboarding was coming into life. Um, and there was a, an era of like street art that was changing because guys were coming off the walls and going on to canvases and in galleries.
And then of course. You have like the tee shirt, boom, and you have the streetwear boom. So I missed all that and I, I didn't, I, and there's no regrets. I didn't miss it. I guess I just never had that opportunity to spray paint or write on walls and stuff. So I develop more as an illustrator. So eventually when I got to write on walls, when it's very legal or you know, paint on walls, I had this fully formed illustration style that I was starting to just.
Gravitate towards a bigger scale and public art. But it's funny because, um, Pow Wow Hawaii was my first, like really my first outdoor mural was there. I mean, they, they were the first to like. Go like, Oh Kevin, you could actually translate what you do on paper. Cause everything was like t-shirts and pretty small and on sneakers and things like that.
Maybe a poster here and there. But I'd never done anything on a wall. And Pow Wow flew me all the way out there. And I did the first Pow Wow and, and actually in next, uh, in February, it will be 10 years of Pow Wow Hawaii, which is crazy. It's the anniversary be going out there again. But. The weird connection part is as a teenager going, trying to get into RISD and go to , I was obsessed with Keith Haring.
Like Keith Harrington, me was the ultimate, he was the Jim Henson of like street art because his stuff was so accessible and it was so bright and so colorful. And even though he maybe had messages, like he did a lot of work with the AIDS community and Act Up and things like that and you know, get kids off crack and stuff like that.
But his art was just so optimistic and positive and bright and colorful, and he did it for fun and he was a hustler and he, there was so much of him, his DNA that I really gravitated towards and I really identified with, I was like, that is a guy that like, and again, I'm a little too young to have ever really talked to him or met him, but I was in the pop shop.
I'd see him around New York, but I, you know, never, never was I accompany accompanying him on anything, but I grew up in that shadow. And when you know. Fast forward 20 years ahead. When I got to be on the walls, that was my first thing was like bring the monsters to the walls. Like Keith brought his characters to the walls and do it simple and do it with a brush.
Never like, I don't use the spray paint hand. Um, I didn't use spray painting at all or aerosol. So for me, again, it was this full circle moment of like, and then of course the monsters, which I'm sure we'll get into are all inspired by. That stuff that I was viewing when I was a kid.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:30:57] It's crazy because there's so much respect and kind of how you describe like being able to see Keith Herring, you know, like that's awesome.
I'm sitting there like, wow, I wish I, I like, I bought a shirt recently. That was Keith Haring cause I'm like, dude, he's in so much of like, my brain as being inspired by, you know, looking at his work. And a lot of the guests I spoke with this season as well, it's like his, his movements and his constant like.
Just the ability to continually draw and just like, almost like performance, you know, is, is, inspires a lot of them. So it's, it's, it's awesome to just be in the same area.
Kevin Lyons: [00:31:31] Well, he was also like the pop shop itself, which is right out here on Lafayette, you know, which was out there, which Supreme is on that block.
Triple Five Soul was on that block, the second iteration of that store. And you have Carhartt WIP there and others, Diamond and all that. Um. It's, it's interesting because he was like Stussy before Stussy, you know, like the pop shop was a commercialization of art, and he was putting his stuff on sneakers, on baby rockers, on sweatshirts, on tee shirts.
And like, he, I think that often gets lost in the whole credit of where streetwear comes from. You know, not by everybody. But I think in the larger scheme of things, it, um. And I'm not discounting anything Shawn Stussy did of course, cause that's another one of my, you know, legendary, kind of all iconic, you know, uh, Mount Rushmore of who I respected as a kid, a hero.
Um, but again, Keith was just so influential and I think about him. Um, so much as I keep moving forward in what I'm trying to do. Like I just think of like. How much joy he brought to the world, and like if the monsters can do that, and even taking my own ego out of it, it's just if people enjoy them for that purpose alone, that's like super influential for me and like, uh, makes.
It's the kind of impact that I've always wanted to have. You know, I'm in no way comparing myself, just for the record, totally to the legacy of Keith Herring. I'm just saying he has been a model by which I've tried to map my own path, and that's more, you know, more than that. Then. Ever comparing myself.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:33:22] I'm in full agreeance there.
Kevin Lyons: [00:33:24] I don't want to overstep any boundaries here. Like we are not worthy.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:33:30] How do the, again, I do my, I do my research and I know a little bit, but I, I'd love to hear the story about how the monsters kind of come about and where the inspiration for that comes from.
Kevin Lyons: [00:33:40] Well, the monsters, I mean, in this legacy of doing work for so long, uh, just doing street streetwear, uh, drawing graphics, producing graphics, um, making posters, flyers, album covers, uh, books, zeens all this ephemera.
When I'm just not working. I sketch these little characters they have two eyes and have some fur and usually don't have arms and they're a little bit manic and they're a little bit poorly drawn and they're just doodles, you know, it's really doodles, and I've done that since time began. I can't remember when I didn't do those, but they were never forward facing.
They were never outwardly. Existing in the world for anything but my own fodder. So usually that paper would either get thrown out or tucked in a notebook or whatever. So I've always had a little bit of fascination with illustration, but it wasn't something that was my primary source of income like I did.
I did a lot of graphic design, so I was a graphic designer that was asked to do stuff like, Oh yeah, dude, flip this tee shirt for me for this brand or this brand or whatever. And uh, the monsters, um, slowly, kind of like when I wanted an original idea, I might draw one of them to go on a tee shirt and they might be just screaming something in the corner or whatever.
Um, and like talk bubbles and things like that, and my own handwriting, like screaming stuff. Those have always been part of my vernacular, part of what I do. But the monsters themselves haven't been that way. And then I wind up having two kids. Um, True and Lulu are my daughters. Um, they're teenagers now, but when they were born in the early two thousands, you know, when you have kids, one of the big things you do is you revisit a lot of the stuff, like Sesame street and like, like they watch Sesame street every day.
So I'm revisiting that. And I'm starting to share things with my own childhood with them, like showing them things that maybe they wouldn't necessarily know about unless their dad showed him it or whatever. And so I'm showing him those and then we're constantly starting as they start to draw, I'm drawing with them and you start drawing and you know, they don't care about a Nike logo.
They care about a googly eyed kind of monster that looks a little like. You know, one of the, one of the shows that they're watching. So I started sketching these things that I've always just done for myself with them, and they start to gravitate towards it and they like it and that type of thing. Fast forward to my oldest child, True is in, um, kindergarten, preschool.
And the teacher calls, you know, true brings her lunch, but she never eats her lunch. What's up with that? And then we're like, Oh, we're packing your lunch every day. Why don't you eat it? I don't know, dad, blah, blah, blah. She's too young to know whatever. And so I start drawing these little monsters on construction paper.
That are just screaming things like, eat your eggs, or I'll break your legs, which is like a quote from beat street that just sticks in my head. And some of them are rap lyrics that rhyme with food and some are just made up stuff. Um, you know, telling her to eat her lunch. And every day I put a new one in her lunch and then she starts slowly eating it.
And the teacher starts reading them out loud and the kids like them. And I'm like, Oh, that's kinda cool. Like everyone's sort of liking them on these monsters. And every day, True brings home the lunch. We unpack the lunch on the Monster's still there. So I make, start making this pile of monsters, right?
And then, uh, around 2006, 2007. So really the monsters aren't that old. They're like. 10, 12 years old now, but, uh, and really they didn't get going to later. But, um, Sarah, uh, from Colette, so the famous parisian store in Paris, the famous parisian store in Paris, the famous store in Paris, um, streetwear, high end fashion, all those types of things.
She contacts me out of the blue and says, Oh, I'm having a year end, uh, art show. Um, and the theme is like going into the new year, what's your new year's resolution? And I said, wow, I'd love to do it. I mean, I, I've worshiped that store. It's like 10 years old by that time or influential, super influential to, I've had a ton of friends have worked their shows, their stuff like that.
And I'm like, this is my opportunity to at least make an impact on Sarah and the store. And, but I don't have anything. Zero, zilch. Like I have two days to FedEx this and I look in the corner and there's those pile of monsters and I'm like, this is bizarre when I'm about to do, but I'm about to take some of these construction characters, construction paper characters with like felt pen and I'm about to put them in a collage, frame that and ship it to Colette.
And that's what I did because I didn't have anything else. Um, and I said, you know, this is just bizarre, but my knee, I wrapped it all up as a great graphic designer, art director does with a concept, which is, I want my kids to eat their lunch. So I basically blame it all on True and Lulu and package this thing, send it over there.
She puts it in the show. She loves the piece, which is all I cause I'm like, is she being polite? What's going on here? Um, and then the, on the very first five minutes of the show, which I'm not at, Pedro Winter from Ed Banger records, who owns Ed Banger records walks in and buys that piece off the wall.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:39:15] No way.
Kevin Lyons: [00:39:16] And it's the first piece sold. And she. You know, later on, a couple of days later, she's like, do you have more of these? And I said, no, no, I don't. And then she said, would you be interested in like drawing some monsters for Colette? And I said, uh, the these monsters? And she's like, yeah. And I said, okay.
So I tried doing that, making some messy monsters. We put them on bags, boxes. 10 years later when she closes the store, I've done 500 pieces of merchandise and or appearances, shows like. She becomes my, uh, you know, patron Saint, like she, she identifies, she's my advocate and she fights for these monsters and she just legitimizes them, you know?
And, and her influence is obviously, like, people love the monsters now, but in the beginning, I think it was hard for people to kind of balance, like, wait, you're the guy who does like street wear stuff for like SSUR and Stussy and. You know, what are you doing with these? Like I was embodying as the characters, but Colette help really start to legitimize it and give people that, that opportunity to look at my work in a different way.
And the more I did them, the more success they had. And then they started to free themselves. So they started to represent themselves, meaning the monsters, not Kevin Lyons was a part of that. And so much of what streetwear and graphic design is, is it's who the artist is. Like who made that? Like it's eerie regardless of sometimes what the images, right?
So you just buy something cause it's a famous person making it. And so, so much of what I had to do back then was like legitimize who I was. So if I work for Adidas, they would put my name on stuff. But because I had been in the background for so many years, my name didn't carry the same weight that SSUR and Stash and Fut and all those.
Um, they had done so much more public work, so much more, put in so many more hours than I ever had, um, in front of the camera and I here I was tucked in back in the way. Kevin Lyons didn't mean much, but the monsters themselves started to mean everything and they gradually took on a life of their own.
And that's sort of the way it started. So it started the, it really started from my kids, but again. The subconscious influence of my childhood. Those characters, if you look at their eyes, they, they, they come right out of the Jim Davis Garfield world. Yup. Yup. The fur and stuff. You can attribute, like, you know, Freud could break it all apart and go, you know, this is your childhood just spilled on a piece of paper. But you know, um. They, they're just, they flow out of me. Like, you know, I wish they flew out of flow out of me a little bit more, um, recently. But you, everything becomes a job. I say. So like sometimes the monsters are even tired some, but I would never blame it on them. It's more me and getting older and just being torn between so many things, but, but they were created for my kids and they.
And they, um, and, and Colette really spurred that relationship on with the general public and having them out in the world. And now they, they exist all over the place. You know, they're just everywhere.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:42:40] You've had a number of collaborations, you know, not only Colette, but with a ton of different brands.
Yeah. And as I mentioned at the top, it's even made its way onto Popsicle packaging.
Kevin Lyons: [00:42:51] Yes. Through the Jolly Rancher brand, which is a whole nother way that the monsters gravitated. I mean, they basically, uh, I worked, and I still work for many years for an ad agency named Anomaly, which is in New York and other other cities, but we were pitching to Jolly Rancher to be their ad agency.
And one of the ideas was they had this very stagnant fruit on their packaging. So, you know, everyone knows that it's like this crazy fruit taste that comes with the candy. And one of the creatives at Anomaly, his name's Mark Sarossi. He had bought one of my fruit bowl prints. So I, every once in a while, like the monsters are not just monsters.
They're fruit or donuts or, um, pyramids. The donuts are your favorite, which the donuts are the only reason the donuts exist besides the fact that I do like donuts too, is that my youngest daughter is obsessed with donuts. So when she came along, I started drawing donuts a lot. And she loves just everything about donuts, where these donut years for years are on her head.
Um, and so the donuts exist for that. Um, but Mark's Sarossi recognized like, Oh, wouldn't it be cool if we used Kevin's version of their fruit as characters to represent them? And they could be these smart aleccy kind of crazy characters. They're a little minion ask and like loud and obnoxious, like the candy.
And he pitched that idea, and then Hershey's, which owns Jolly Rancher, Hershey's, uh, the big chocolate company basically said, we want to buy this. And Anomaly said, cool, like, let's do this campaign and we'll hire Kevin to draw them. And they said, no, no, no, no, no. We want to buy these. And so they sort of like.
Told Anomaly to sort of step aside and
yeah, well, no, they touched him. Anomaly did a great job at that, and they sold it through, but they wanted to just purchase outright the characters. So now they are the Hershey characters, um, and they're owned by Hershey. So I can't do, like commercially, I can't draw fruit monsters anywhere, but it's amazing to be in every.
Uh, you know, every bodega, every drug store, every supermarket like it is, like when I was a kid, I, there was a thing called Kellogg stick up for breakfast contest, which was you drew a, a characters from Kellogg's cereal, and then you could win a, a Schwinn 10 speed bike. This is when I'm like nine or 10 years old, and I actually did, um, Snap, Crackle and Pop from Rice Krispies.
And I won a 10 speed bike. I was one of the people won it. It's actually a couple of kids at RISD to actually won it to. I later, later on, I figured out that, yeah, yeah. It was like, that was our claim to fame. Um, and so again, this sort of full circle kind of thing, like to be on a major packaging that just travels everywhere and that everyone loves, and to have these characters live for life, like they're going to live longer than I am technically, you know, they are the.
The cuckoo for cocoa puffs guy. They are, they're great. You know, um, frosted flakes thing, like snap, crackle, pop, all these characters. And so they'll exist. Um, you know, forever. And my kids, long after I'm gone, my kids will be walking into a store and they'll see that. So there's something really interesting about that.
But, um, to go global like that is really interesting, you know, as an, as a thing. And again, it relates back to that. That Keith Haring, like just make people smile and, and like what the world is around them. And so for me, you know, there's always been this delicate balance between, you know, corporate collaborations and personal work and, you know, the whole selling out, not selling out.
And that used to be a much bigger topic. Now selling out is. Is very different than it was as a concept. But, um, but it's, it's really interesting to see the big and the small. And for me, collaboration's were like before the monsters. Collaboration's were the way for me to get out of doing commercial graphic design, you know, because.
Until street wear came along. It was very difficult to be a graphic designer. You were just told what to do and you would work on corporate jobs and stuff like that. And then suddenly with the, with our own industry, us making stuff for our own, our own peers, like that's what street wear it did, was really free up a lot of individuals to just make what they want to make.
And that's why you have like the Chinatown Street Market and like things like that today that you could just go crazy on because. You know, these brands came along like Stussy, like Haze, like Pervert, like Supreme, Triple Five Soul that started, uh, just get graphic design from kids like us. You know, it wasn't graphic design from licensing or band logos.
And so collaboration's really freed me from having a nine to five job and allowed me to make my own way in the world, you know? And then the monsters have continued that enabled more freedom. So it's these levels of freedom that you come to. You know,
Jon Sorrentino: [00:48:14] Kevin, I think, um, it's been an absolute highlight for this season to have you as a guest.
And I can't thank you enough for taking the time today to, to speak with me.
Kevin Lyons: [00:48:22] No, it's a pleasure. I mean, I love the podcast and you've had some really interesting people on it, so I'm, I'm glad that it's RISD heavy. That sounds very good. I like the PR of that. Yeah. I liked the PR of this season being that, but, uh.
But yeah, I appreciate, uh, everything that you do and I look forward to, to hearing myself. Probably mumble a lot of words.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:48:45] Kevin, where can people find more of you and maybe get in touch?
Kevin Lyons: [00:48:49] Um, well, I have a website. Uh, if you just Google my name, my website comes up is one of the first things. It's naturalborn.com, um, which has been my clothing line and sorta my namesake.
Since, you know, 1995 or something. So that's been around a long time. Um, I also have an Instagram, which is my primary social network. So if you look on there, it's like, um, K L Y O N S, Nat born. So I don't have my own name unfortunately, but, um, and that's someplace to look. But, um, if you Google me, I, if you go to my website, I haven't.
Like, um, an email on there, so feel free to reach out and whatever. But, um, yeah, and hopefully you just see me on the 14th street platform or whatever, fourth street platform or whatever on the subway in New York. So, um, and of course, my monsters give me everywhere. And you know,
Jon Sorrentino: [00:49:46] Kevin, thank you so much.
Thank you, man.
Kevin Lyons: [00:49:47] Appreciate it.