Lifting the Lid on Austin Design Studio LAND


Photos by Michael Muller

Land is an Austin-based design and art studio whose work you’ve almost definitely seen, either in these pages or out there in the real world.

They’ve been around for nearly a decade now, and in that time they’ve created not only an amazing body of work, but also peerless graphic direction for brands like Patagonia, Stumptown Coffee, Fender, The Ace Hotel, Woolrich and Hermes to name but a few. Land effortlessly straddle that precarious divide between fine art and graphic design—much like a cat negotiates a wobbly fence: he should fall off, but he doesn’t, because he’s a cat and he’s good at this shit. Land currently has some interesting projects on their plate and a few irons in the fire, so Monster Children spoke to Kyle Muller, co-founder of House of Land, to see what they’re up to and to find out why they make Austin their home.

Kyle, before we get into it, let’s do a quick recap of who Land Boys are.

Okay.

So, Land is you, Caleb (Owen Everitt) and Ryan (Rhodes), right?

Well, we now have a fourth member.

Who’s that?

His name is Mason McFee.

Mason McFee?

Yes, that is correct.

Cool. And Land began in 2011?

Yep. Basically, Caleb met and worked with Ryan at an agency here in Austin called McGarrah Jessee. So, they met there. Over the course of a couple years, they went to different places. Caleb lived in New York for a little bit and in Portland. Then Caleb ended up back in Austin, and Ryan had since quit the agency life and gone freelance. Caleb was also freelancing, and they ended up working on the same two jobs together: a Vans job and a Deus job. So, they decided, “Hey, we’re working on the same projects, let’s team up and present together.” And after that, they joined forces and said, “Let’s keep doing this. Together we’re stronger, and your talents compliment my talents. This could be a good thing,” you know?

Yeah.

With freelance, it gets kinda boring working by yourself. Anyway, I guess that’s how they found each other.

And how do a pair of designers manage to work so well together?

Looking at Land’s work, it’s difficult to tell where one starts and the other one ends. I think they both have similar interests. We’re all interested in mining the past, searching for inspiration and timeless design or styles… trying to evoke imagery that’s deeper. The studio tries to buck against clever design and the cheeky little taglines, and always strives to create something that has more soul.

What do you mean by clever design?

Many designers nowadays want to be witty, either weaving in surface level humour, quips and cute taglines. I guess a ton of people really like that. We all worked for agencies…

Where being clever is what’s expected.

Exactly, after having to engage in that world of clever design, we all feel allergic to it now. All of us come from an agency background, none of us liked it, we didn’t fit in; that wasn’t the right path for us. So, I think that’s where we can all see eye-to-eye. And now we are all in it together.

What’s this new chap’s name again?

Mr. Mason McFee.

Did you have to beat the clever out of Mason McFee?

No, no, he was very he was very pedestrian to begin with.

Oh, good.

Zero clever ideas coming out of that guy. Just kidding.

Excellent. Now, just quickly, how did he come into this?

It was just the three of us, and we started needing more hands on deck, and he’s a talented buddy of ours who has his own style of illustration, a great web and graphic designer as well as an all-around good dude. He just had all the tools that we needed. He has kind of a catch-all position right now.

Like when Craig Gannon joined The Smiths and helped out on rhythm guitar.

Mason is more of a solo artist like Willie Nelson, and we formed a super-group not unlike The Highwaymen.

And what about you, what are you getting into?

I’m spearheading House of Land and getting that ball rolling.

What is House of Land, for the people at home?

It’s our studio’s clothing and home goods brand. We have always done work for others, building the client’s brand. So for us, this is something we can control and do what we please with.

Cool.

Yeah, it’s in the very beginning stages. We launched last November, and we are excited about growing the brand. We have our first summer collection coming out soon; a really strong line-up for the fall…

Amazing.

Yeah, we have high hopes. We’re developing a lot of new garments, and we have several new home products this year; a candle, another fragrance we’re gonna drop, all sorts of stuff.

What does the candle smell like?

Um…

Do a joke, do a joke.

It smells like an art studio, kind of. Like wet concrete in an art studio.

I wish you’d said mud and reproductive fluid, but that’s fine.

Sorry.

You’re running a business, I get it. Tell me more about House of Land.

Well, we want everything we produce to be inspired by art or have an interesting story to tell. We recently went down to Guatemala and had the chance to meet Mayan artisans producing beautiful woven goods. Several pieces from our summer line are made with them, it was an honour to meet them and be part of creating art together. We are also working with a factory in Guatemala using upcycled cotton.

Wait, what’s upcycled cotton?

They take the trimmings and textile waste from other manufacturers, chop it all up and turn it back into yarn. Then they make new material out of it.

So cool.

They have to use some virgin cotton for strength, but it’s usually around 80 per cent recycled. It’s awesome; we can reuse material, cut back on manufacturing waste and feel really proud about those products. With House of Land we’re trying to be responsible and offer pieces that add value to the wearer. We’re just trying to make things that we can be proud of.

Cool. Next question, and it’s a good one: how do you feel about your imitators? As I understand it, there are quite a few.

Man, that is a good question. I think at first it bothered us, but it happens so much now, it’s like, what can you do? We’ve had to tell people a few times to stop what they’re doing and send over a cease and desist.

Because it’s been so similar to what you guys do.

Yeah, it’s crazy. Even crazier, there are designers who are making careers off our Instagram. We’ll post something and then someone will take it, pick it apart and remake it. A lot of the time we reach out and say, “Hey, what’s going on here?” And they say, “Oh, my client asked me to make something that looks just like the work you guys do.” And then we say, “You don’t feel weird about that?”

Pretty lame.

Maybe it has always gone on, but it seems like a whole new crew of young designers that don’t really understand that that work belongs to someone, and just because it’s on the internet doesn’t mean it’s free.

It happens to a lot of people.

Yeah, I think there’s some weird generational disconnect that’s happening.

Surely they know when they’re plagiarising.

I mean, everything comes from somewhere, it’s impossible to not be influenced, but you can tell when it’s a rip-off. The last person we spoke to, we said, “Hey, what’s up, everything you’re doing is an exact rip-off of our stuff,” and he said, “No, I’m not ripping off you—I’m ripping off this guy, this guy and this guy.” So, we looked at those guys, and they were no doubt lifting our work. So now there’s people ripping off the people who rip us off.

That’s hilarious. And fucked up.

It’s beyond us at this point, so we don’t get upset or frustrated by it. You just have to keep pushing forward and keep changing, always stay ahead. When you get too locked into a way of doing things, that’s when you start to slowly die.

So, in a way, these imitators are doing you a favour.

Well, it’s definitely inspiration to be like, let’s not do that—let’s keep goin’. Keep things fresh. It’s funny how in the design world there’s these trends and styles that go in and out, and whatever this trend that’s around Land… I don’t know if we started it or if we’re on an unconscious plane with other people and we’re part of a wave, but we want to make sure that we keep going and we don’t get swallowed up.

How do you do that?

We’ve been working hard at trying to always reinvent ourselves, we’re going more into packaging, doing more interiors now, we’re helping with build-outs, signage and hotel work. We’re creating a two-storey metal sculpture at a new hotel in Austin. It goes up the side of the building…

Wow.

So, we’re definitely pushing way further out than, you know, a logo.

You’re doing a two-foot sculpture for a hotel?

Two-storey.

That’s what I meant.

Yeah, we’re doing a big ol’ two-foot sculpture.

You using macaroni on that?

No. This time it’s popsicle sticks.

Good. Won’t spoil.

Exactly.

So, you’re doing a TWO-STOREY sculpture for a hotel.

Yeah, it’s a giant sculptural metal installation.

What’s the hotel?

It’s called The Carpenter Hotel, and it’s right in the heart of Austin, really close to Barton Springs, south of downtown. We’ve been doing work for a company called The Mighty Union; they have several hotel projects and this is one of them. So, we’re getting to design everything from custom pool tiles to custom-made metal signage, murals and banners, and the two-storey staircase where the installation will live, our largest Land piece yet.

Wow. I can’t wait to see it.

Yeah, you should come and stay there when it opens.

And there’s my segue for this travel issue of Monster Children: if I come to Austin, should I stay at The Carpenter Hotel?

Absolutely. When they are open for business.

Is it in a cool neighbourhood?

Yes, it’s located in the centre of why people like Austin.

What are the cool neighbourhoods in Austin? I know nothing about it.

You never been?

No.

Austin is a rapidly growing city, but it’s always had a small-town feel. There is a laid back attitude here and it’s full of hidden gems and pocket neighbourhoods. I’m still discovering special places in town. As far as cool neighbourhoods, I guess it all depends on who you are and what you want, you know?

Let’s say it’s me.

Well, for people like you and me… how much money do you have?

Let’s just say I’ve got a lot of money, and I’m 25.

Okay…

And I’m addicted to cocaine and Pachinko. Just kidding. Let’s say I’m a jerk-off 25-year-old with some money—what do I do?

It depends on when you come. Like, summertime is my favourite time in Austin because there’s a ton of outdoor activities. We have a lake, so you can water-ski, wakeboard, whatever; there are huge rope swings along the lower Colorado River, and it’s a gorgeous river; there’s people on boats, parties, cliff jumping… and there’s secret waterholes and trails you can explore, drink beer and swim. There’s also Barton Springs, which is a spring-fed pool, and everyone lounges on this giant hill…

Who lounges on the giant hill?

It’s an oasis for everyone. It’s a great place to people watch, hippies with bongo drums, topless girls, old men in speedos…

Okay, now I wanna go eat something and buy something. Where do I go?

South Congress Avenue is a good place to start. It’s a long street with shops; it’s kind of like the tourist area, but there’s boutique hotels and restaurants, bars. There has also been huge influx of young people on the east side of Austin; I guess it’s been going on for the last decade, but drastic changes are happening seemingly overnight. Totally different to what it used to be.

Is this an area that’s been gentrified, as they say?

Yeah, as they say. A lot of quick change. New breweries popping up, huge condos and rising property and home prices.

What about Sixth Street? I’ve heard about that.

West Sixth Street is kinda like Bourbon Street in New Orleans; I don’t know anyone that goes there, really, because it’s kinda all Coyote Uglies and spring break bars, but there’s more interesting things happening outside downtown. Seems like the further out you go, that’s where the artists and new cool kids are.

It’s interesting the way that happens, the way it continually germinates outward. Williamsburg was cool in the early 2000s, but now it’s a fucking circus, and you have to go even further out.

Right. I moved to Bushwick in 2009, and my friend who I moved in with was always like, “I moved here three years ago, man.”

That’s me. I walk down Bedford Avenue and yell at people: “You should’ve been here when I was here in 2003, man! It fucking sucks here now!”

Never changes.

Okay, back to Austin. Where can I go to look at art in Austin?

Austin isn’t like an international city where you have a MOMA or anything like that, but there are a couple of museums and a lot of private events. There’s studios, art-walks and agencies that host art events, shows and stuff. There’s the Blanton Museum at the University of Texas, which has an Ellsworth Kelly show on at the moment. But the big museums are in Fort Worth, Dallas and Houston.

Okay. What about music—where can I hear that in Austin?

A lot of people are going to this new place that we helped open up called Kinda Tropical. It’s right down the street from us. We did all the branding and a bunch of signs for them, murals. It’s owned by a buddy of ours, and it’s the new spot.

Yeah, “the early adopters”.

20 to 30 year olds listening to music and having drinks and hanging out.

What else are Land up to?

We’re actually working with a lot of cannabis projects.

No shit?

It’s the gold rush, man. We’re getting hit up every day to help brand cannabis brands. We are working a couple of new projects. California and Colorado. We recently helped launch one brand called Old Pal, and it’s basically a pouch containing weed and rolling papers. Super basic.

Yeah, easy concept. I saw that on your Instagram. Looks great.

Thanks, yeah, it’s like Bali Shag or American Spirit… but for weed.

Yeah. What other weed-related things have you done? Vaporisers?

We did brand a vaporiser for a company called Bad Apple and it delivers a double dose of THC.

Super-strong.

Yeah, 200-milligram dosage to be exact, it’s something insane.

What is going on in America with the pot strength? Does anyone really need to be that stoned?

Well, I personally don’t need to be that stoned, but people love it. It’s so crazy. I had this tiny little edible jelly a few weeks back, and it was fucking insane. Too much. It’s the Wild West and the industry is moving fast. Products are being invented left and right, all sorts of edibles, drinks, vaporisers, lip balm… any product you can inject THC. The market is crazy. It’s literally the gold rush. If you’re not investing in cannabis or working in cannabis right now, in 20 years you’ll be kicking yourself.

Are you investing in cannabis?

Yeah. We are trying to partner with like-minded companies when we get the chance.

Excellent.

We are actually starting a cannabis company… I don’t know how much I can talk about it yet, but I can say it’s in the health and wellness area. We’re working with CBD.

And that’s the stuff in cannabis that doesn’t make you high, but it’s good for pain syndromes, epilepsy, MS, etc..

Yes, Cannabidiol it’s called, it has so much potential to help people and is legal across the globe. There’s this whole revolution of new products happening, and the sky’s the limit. More states are going to be legalising, and there’s a mad rush to be in the game.

Amazing. But it’s still illegal in Texas, right?

Yeah, Austin is more lenient than other places in the state, but our very own Caleb got into a little trouble a couple months ago. It seems so strange that something can send you to jail in one place, but a state away you can enjoy it on a street corner.

One more question: when are you guys going to pack up and call it a day? When does it end for you dudes?

Well, we want to be smart about what we do and what we don’t do. The studio is in a unique place now where we have the luxury of choosing the projects we take. In the future, it would be great to just work on our own projects. I mean, that’s the ideal, right?

It is the ideal.

We’ve got a few irons in the fire now, and it’s going to be fun to see how they grow. It’s all a learning curve. But we just wanna keep having fun with what we’re doing.

Want more from the MC Travel Issue? Go get it right here, and then go give the Land Boys a follow on Instagram @_l_a_n_d_

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