Life of a Songwriter

One of the perks of working by yourself is that you have total control of the radio station. At e. Black Design Co. I can sing away to my favorite Waylon tune without fear of criticism or damaging some unsuspecting eardrums. For me it’s important as my work is heavily influenced by the music I listen to. Every morning starts with various jazz artists, from the legend Dave Brubeck to up and coming virtuoso Kamasi Washington, which incidentally is what I’m listening to as I write this. The rest of the day it’s anything goes. The ‘Stones, Marty Robbins, Motörhead, Bowie, Papa Roach, Van Halen (early Van Halen that is.) Whatever works to put my head in the right place for the current project. So why is a car guy, in a car magazine, writing about music? Well, someone once asked me how I view myself in the car industry. Without hesitation I uttered one word – songwriter. That’s the best way I can describe it.

It might seem like a stretch, but it is quite relevant. I’m hired on to put some words and notes down on paper, creating a vision for the artist. That artist in this case is the car builder, who takes it from there adding their personal style to the tune. Except this collaboration between the car builder and designer is more music to the eye when done correctly. The design process is a conversation, and the drawings become my voice in that conversation. This collaborative approach allows me to work with fantastic people on truly remarkable projects around the world.

Instead of being married to a drawing on paper, I use the drawing process itself to help guide that conversation and test out ideas as accurately as possible. As much as I love working in traditional medium, and admire the designers that choose this route, I realized long ago the best service I can provide to the builder and end-client is by way of computer technology. I use a special monitor that allows me to hand draw directly on the screen. The drawings themselves are built using several layers, giving us the flexibility to try things out without starting over should we choose another route. I am known for my profile drawings, which are a great tool to work to scale and give an accurate picture of the modifications we are looking to make.

Rather than seen as just a rendering service, I only take on projects that allow me to have a larger role in the process. My involvement varies depending on the builder I am working with. Troy Ladd, of Hollywood Hot Rods, was the first builder to really see the value that I could bring to the entire process. We work very well together, as he allows me to throw the big idea out, and I then let him put his artistic vision to it. We often work through details together, but I don’t get too caught up in every nuance as that is where he really shines. Other builders ask for my complete involvement, down to every decision. I am honored that some of the top names in the industry put their trust in me. I really enjoy working with great designers in their own right, such as Jonathan Ward of ICON and Riza Tansu of Tansu Yachts. Through the process I learn much more from them and am very thankful for that education. Just as these innovative builders are changing their processes, I am also constantly seeking new techniques, from working with 3D modelers, to on-site work sessions to deal with design issues in real time.

I am firmly rooted in traditionally styled cars, what I call “Vintage Automotive Design”. We are at a great point in car culture, perhaps the best time ever at least for what I do. While many are a bit pessimistic about the future of our industry, I am quite optimistic about where we are headed. In the custom and hot rod world, we are at a point where we can create something that absolutely hits a certain era, whether a paired down, pre-war dry lakes hot rod, or a stylish post war custom. Whatever we want. When the various styles were developed the customizers didn’t have that luxury, as style was a very linear, progressive ideology. The beauty of today is we do not have that constraint. We are in a giant hot rod time machine. Think about that. Think about the power that holds and where it could lead.

We have the ability like never before to go and find influence and use it in the way we create. When I’m researching for a project, I purposefully look outside the automotive world. For instance, while collaborating with Alan Johnson on a set of gauges I found influence in telephones of the 1940’s, watches of the 1960’s, and even the physical nature of water surface tension. I take this influence and blend it up to come up with something that is rooted in a specific style or era, but not necessarily rooted in the automotive. If I do research within the automotive world, I often step outside of the style that I am working on. Working with Pinkee’s Rod Shop on a detail of a current hot rod project led me to looking at Ferraris of the 1950’s. There’s that time machine again.

I absolutely see a future that embraces car culture. While the mainstream becomes less identified with the current throw-away automotive landscape, I see a reverence for the objects with a sense of permanence. Appreciated by people who have had it in their blood from day one to that jaw-dropped young one who turns onto an unfamiliar street and for the first time sees that gleaming object parked on the street. The timeless beauty of these things we gravitate to will never go away, and consequently the desire for us to create will never go away. We can look again to my music analogy for some reassurance. Although mainstream music, in my opinion, hit its peak decades ago, there are still artists out there creating truly great works. They’re sometimes hard to find, but if you look past what is being force-fed to the masses, you can find that shining example on that street corner. I see the same thing happening in our world, and I hope to keep writing these songs for many years to come. Looking past the mainstream to see the extraordinary. Remember folks, timeless always wins.

Key Collaborators:

Austin Speed Shop, Austin TX
Fastlane Rod Shop, Donahue IA
Goolsby Customs, Hueytown AL
Hollywood Hot Rods, Burbank CA
ICON, Chatsworth CA
Johnson's Hot Rod Shop, Gadsden AL
Pinkee's Rod Shop, Windsor CO
Roy Brizio Street Rods, South San Francisco CA

NOTE: Full client list available on request.