The Derwood basement studio of designer-illustrator Jeffrey Everett is colorful chaos. The walls are covered in music posters and alternative art, while a mantel overflows with design awards and an array of smiley-faced dumpster fire toys.
Along two walls are massive filing cabinets and shelves where the 47-year-old artist with a trim brown beard, chunky black-frame glasses and tattoo-bedecked arms haphazardly stores the more than 400 concert posters he has designed over the past two decades for the likes of Foo Fighters, Lou Reed, Blondie, Alanis Morissette, Childish Gambino and Iggy Pop.
Over 350 of them are being collected in a hardbound coffee-table book titled Let It Bleed, a collaboration with Joe Procopio, the founder of Silver Spring’s Picture This Press. Procopio was first wowed by Everett’s posters a decade and a half ago when he saw them hanging on the walls of clubs. “He has an incredibly strong design sense in his work,” Procopio says. “It’s well-conceived, thought out, impactful design. His work often has a slightly edgy quality, but also a humorous quality to it as well.”
A Kickstarter campaign for the book earlier this year raised more than $57,000, with more than 500 supporters chipping in. Depending on the printing and production process, the book should be available by the beginning of December at picturethispress.com, local bookstores and on Amazon.
A lifelong fan of punk and alternative, who grew up in Sterling, Massachusetts, before moving to D.C. in 1995, Everett always wanted to work in the music industry, but he was initially unclear about how to make that happen. He earned an undergraduate degree in graphic design from American University in 1999 before embarking on a career of what he calls “do-gooder work,” creating logos for nonprofits and designing their newsletters. Though he enjoyed the work, it left him unfulfilled.
Hoping to switch up his trajectory, he enrolled in a two-year design program at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, where he ended up taking a screen-printing class. Feeling compelled to make something physical with the skills he was accruing, Everett began contacting bands he loved and asking if he could design posters for their upcoming concerts. His first poster was for a double bill in 2003 featuring his two favorite artists: world-music-inspired punk band Firewater and Scott McCloud, front man of the post-hardcore band Girls Against Boys. They loved the poster, he says; he loved the work; and a trajectory into the music industry was found.
Though he got a full-time design job after graduating in 2004—he now works as the art director for the National Institutes of Health—concert posters became an equally rewarding side hustle. He began approaching bands with a simple proposition: “I’ll send you a JPEG of the poster. You can say how great it is. I’ll pay for everything. I’ll sell the posters at the show and give you half the money. And they were like, ‘Yeah, cool.’ ”
In the beginning, agreements were made with a virtual handshake via email. These days, he’s officially hired by the band, venue or merchandise manager. He doesn’t sell
posters at the shows anymore, but many are available for purchase on the website of his company, Rockets Are Red (rocketsarered.bigcartel.com).
Over time, his creative process has evolved. He sketches a loose image, shows one or two posters from his portfolio in a style similar to the new one he is envisioning, and has a conversation with the band about his idea. “I’ll get inspiration from interviews and lyrics,” says Everett, who also borrows heavily from his love of pro wrestling, hot rods, tattoo culture and movies. “I really try to understand the band. Not necessarily how the band wants to be seen, but more the way a fan would want to see them.”
Since he suffers from tendinitis, the act of drawing is painful, so he uses a digital pen with a Wacom tablet, creating in Adobe Illustrator. He favors thick, chunky linework reminiscent of comic books and pop art, emphasizing the graphic elements and making his posters stand out—even in a dark venue.
Despite having worked with so many of his heroes, who often sign his posters for him as a thank you, Everett is modest about his work. “I still legitimately feel lucky whenever somebody writes me an email and asks me to make them a poster,” he says. “I’m humbled.”
The Bouncing Souls
Sept. 11, 2010, at the Black Cat in Washington, D.C.
“This poster only happened because I reached out to the band,” Everett recalls. “I was terrified, because I love them.”
Everett was psyched when he got the thumbs-up, but then he spent a week agonizing over the idea for the poster. Ultimately he took inspiration from their song “Fight to Live,” which includes the lyrics, “I’m on the train and I’ve got my phones/People all around but I’m good all alone/I won’t worry what I need to be/Wherever I am, that’s the place to be.” There were no discussions with the band—he just drew an image of a girl on a late-night Metro, her headphones on, her expression set to don’t-bother-me.
“I wanted it to feel authentic,” Everett says. “It’s my homage to the city.”
To make sure he got all the details right, he rode the Metro while he was sketching. The top of the poster mimics the design aesthetic of Metro’s signage, he included a Metro map, and he artfully captured the design lines of the subway car. Similarly, he adorned the girl with music references to make her feel like a real-life fan. Her backpack sports the logos for iconic punk bands including Gorilla Biscuits, Dead Kennedys and Black Flag (eagle-eyed observers will notice he also sneaked in D.C.’s flag).
Everett wanted to infuse his subject with a vulnerability that resonated with him, so he turned inward during the creative process. “I have never been, like, the manliest of men,” he says, “even though I’m a heavy dude who takes up space and is covered with a beard. I grew up in a redneck town where being an artist or being into punk would get the football team coming after you. So I put myself into this.”
It took him a week to finish the piece, but the investment was worth it. He won an award from AIGA50, which honors outstanding design work in the DMV and West Virginia.
Fort Reno Concert Series 2010
One of the organizers of the long-running free outdoor concert series at Fort Reno Park in Tenleytown, D.C., contacted Everett with a simple directive: They needed a poster with widespread appeal for an event they were hosting to raise money for the next season of shows.
Everett already had a strong connection to Fort Reno, having seen concerts headlined by D.C. hardcore legends Fugazi and ska-soul pioneers The Pietasters. But it was the concerts he didn’t attend that inspired the image. “I remember walking home from work late at night, and in the distance you could see the stage and hear the music,” he says. “I wanted to capture that feeling.”
Though it took him a week to conceive the poster, it only took him a day to design it. “I’m not going to do a piece until I can visualize the whole thing,” he says. “I still make decisions as I go and have an inner conversation, but I want to go into it with a fully fleshed-out idea.”
Blending dark blue, turquoise and pops of pink, the poster features a record and guitar picks creating a flower. Resting on the petals is an insect with wings made from a map of D.C., including the location of Fort Reno. “It’s not a deep thought,” he says. “It’s just music stuff that makes people happy. It’s not solving world hunger.” But the poster did have the requisite widespread appeal and he sold out his copies quickly, so mission accomplished.
May 11, 2019, at the Rock & Roll Hotel in Washington, D.C.
Growing up, Everett found Black Flag front man Henry Rollins to be a positive male role model. “His approach was, ‘You’re angry, you’re depressed, you’re lonely, go do something with it,’ ” Everett says. “That was the exact opposite of most punk rock, which says, ‘You’re angry, go burn a car. You’re depressed, go drink and snort heroin.’ ”
When Everett heard the 2018 album Joy as an Act of Resistance from the British rock band Idles, he found positive guidance that reminded him of Rollins’ outlook. “It hit right when full Trumpism was going on,” Everett remembers. “I would get on the Metro and people would hassle those who looked different. The MAGA contingent was running wild. So it was nice to hear adults saying, ‘You can be angry. You don’t need to take the high road.’ ”
Discovering they would be playing in D.C., he contacted the band and “practically begged” to do posters for the gig. After the band members agreed to consider his ideas, he sent three sets of triptychs. They chose a set of three unconventional portraits of iconic characters who appear in their song “Colossus”: stuntman Evel Knievel, and pro wrestlers “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.
In Everett’s poster, Knievel is portrayed bruised and battered, one arm in a sling with his free hand holding an IV drip bag. “It’s not what you’re expecting,” Everett says. “He’s supposed to be this big, tough dude, but he was getting broken as an attraction.”
The three posters took him a month to finalize with the band. “There were sketches upon sketches upon sketches,” he recalls. “They’re very conscious of art; they love art.”
When the band returned to play the Anthem in 2022, Everett had a chance to meet bass player Adam Devonshire, who not only remembered the posters, but said he had the one of “The Million Dollar Man” hanging up at home, Everett recalls. That was big for the artist. “I’m not anonymous,” he says. “I’m in his house. That’s cool.”
Nov. 21, 2022, at The Guild Theatre in Menlo Park, California
One day last fall, Everett got a call. Did he want to make a set of four posters to commemorate four shows in California by legendary punk rockers Social Distortion? Hell yes, he did.
There was a caveat: Could all the posters work together so they could be hung side by side to create a larger image? It would be difficult, but doable.
Oh yeah, and they had to be at the printer in a week, a massively accelerated timeline for any poster, much less four that were interrelated. Incredibly challenging, but it could be accomplished—if every star aligned precisely.
When Everett was having the conversation about the assignment, he was standing outside a tattoo parlor in Baltimore, where he was getting some work done. As he scanned the street, he came up with the idea for the posters: a series of brownstones, each housing a different store. In the first poster, two people are playing guitar in front of a music store, where a pair of motorcycles are parked; the second shows a tow truck outside a pawn shop; the third depicts a liquor store with a car being towed; and the last shows a pinup-worthy, punk-styled girl sitting on the back end of the towed car outside a haircuts and tattoos joint.
The band loved the art, but requested a series of changes, Everett says, that stressed him as he burned midnight oil to meet the insanely tight deadline. The motorcycles needed to be Harley-Davidsons rather than Triumphs. Then they wanted the car to be a specific hot rod owned by singer Mike Ness. And the guy playing guitar should be Mike Ness. Finally, the guitars in the window of the pawn shop needed to be Gretsch and Rickenbacker, not Fender.
Despite all the work and edits, Everett got the posters done in time for the shows, earning accolades and adoration from the band for nailing the assignment—and then going far above and beyond. He designed the images so the last poster connects to the first to create a fully circular image.
Today, this quartet of posters hangs in the newly opened Punk Rock Museum in Las Vegas.
New Found Glory
Aug. 1, 2022, at UC Theatre in Berkeley, California
This is almost a joke poster,” concedes Everett, who was asked by the pop-punk band to create it for a show commemorating the 20th anniversary of their beloved 2002 album Sticks and Stones, featuring the bouncy breakout hit “My Friends Over You.”
Everett initially pitched the group on a pair of posters, each with a car on it. When the posters were placed side by side, the cars collided in the middle. Sadly, he recalls, the band didn’t see his vision and asked for another idea. Everett decided to go for an image with a humorous bent, transforming the band into Meow Found Glory.
To create the punky pussycat, he relied on two models. The first was his tuxedo cat, Yoshi. The second was his youngest son, Alex, whose leather jacket makes an appearance. Everett leaned all the way into the feline theme, including an “All cats are beautiful” pin and another with “Black Pawer” and a raised cat paw to mimic the iconic Black Power symbol. He interspersed these with pins for iconic punk acts: Minor Threat, Black Flag and the Misfits. The X’s on the back of the cat’s paws are a symbol for being straight edge, an abstinence-minded punk rock lifestyle.
This story appears in the November/December issue of Bethesda Magazine.