Jeremy Charbonneau (b. 1976) is a Seattle-area musician, designer and illustrator whose humor and sensitivity infuse his music and visual art. His warm and comfy work explores the relationships in his life in all their forms. His current project is Summer Sleeves, a self-described “Dad Rock” band that he formed with fathers of children who go to the same school as his.
Question: Early formative artistic memories?
Answer: I’d say my time playing in Smile Brigade with my mate, Jesse Boggs was a formative time for me. I learned a ton about songwriting from him. We learned a lot together. Throughout our 20s we’d digest music like archaeologists discover civilizations. Just pick them apart, in a discovery sense. We’d work out how to use our own strengths to our advantage by listening to production and writing of bands from the 60s. Things like how to play as a four-piece band with three vocalists and not be redundant with our parts. It was an exciting time for us both. I wish I could unlearn it all and go back to rediscovering. Though I’m doing similar discoveries with what I’m doing now, and it’s just as exciting.
Q: You are a graphic designer, illustrator, musician, singer, songwriter. Does your visual work connect with your music? How?
A: Music and visual design/art have always been hand-in-hand for me. I think the discipline of creating both are very much the same. Interestingly, music got me into design through designing posters and album covers – eventually web design – doing all this for my bands over the years. A few years ago I’d decided to hang up music for a while. This was after ~20 years of drumming three nights a week, rehearsals, touring and recording. I was just done. When this happened, I decided to go back to school for graphic design and get on to adulting with a “real” job. In school, I learned a lot about intentional creative process and collaboration. That carried over when I started playing music again – especially playing with other people. I learned a lot of how to look at the big picture. How to focus on the minutiae and the parts that work together as well as taking individual songs as though they were all concepts and pushing them apart so they don’t all sound the same.
Q: Are there specific pros or cons of being a multidisciplinary artist? How do you present yourself when you explore so many different media?
A: I wish I could clone myself so I could take care of all the ideas buzzing around in my head. Or at least add two more arms. That’s the only con. Not enough me or arms. This is a little tough for me, but I consider myself a songwriter over anything else, when it comes to vocation. But it’s complicated. Music is what I’ve been doing for years on end. Designing is what’s paying the bills. Yet – they’re nearly equal when it comes to my passions. I’m a songwriter. Some of those songs are visual.
Q: What influences and inspires you?
A: The people around me – family, coworkers, bandmates. Whether it’s the work they’re doing, the relationship we have together or the conversations we have. Just as much as the music I listen to or the visuals I’m vising. They’re all huge influences on me musically, visually or personally.
Q: What are you known for? Do you have a signature style or technique?
A: My laugh. That’s what I’m known for. I’m working on being known.
Q: Talk about the name for your band Summer Sleeves. How did Summer Sleeves form?
A: The name “Summer Sleeves” came from high school. I lived in Houston in my junior and senior years. It was always so hot and muggy there, that I’d take showers up to three times a day: once in the morning, after school and before bed. Sometimes another in there somewhere. And despite it being so hot, I’d always have a sweater on, sometimes just a long sleeve shirt. It was a comfort thing. I wasn’t that social a person, yet I had this group of people I’d be around at school that I just adored – mostly punks – like post-punk folks that were into art and music and some real classically nose-in-the-book nerds. I just adored them all. And we all had our own kind of signature style of dressing up. I’d be there hanging out in my long sleeves – even in the summer. I do also like the idea of tattoo sleeves out in the summer, but my high school security blanket is mostly where it comes from.
The band formed with me looking for people to hang out with. I was in need of something outside of work and family – a social outlet. I had all these songs I was working on and decided to use that as an excuse to trap people into being friends with me. I eventually got in touch with Alon who I knew because our kids go to school together and we played in this mostly Dad band when the kids were in preschool. There were a dozen of us in the band and we recorded an album of covers. It was a blast! He and I’d been playing for some time and we eventually got in touch with Brent, who plays drums. His kid also goes to the same school as mine and Alon’s. It’s kind of become a shtick that we’re proudly from West Seattle, we’re dads and our kids go to the same school. I’ve been reaching out through the parent groups with the school for a keyboard player. Mom, Dad or non-binary conforming parental unit. No responses yet. We’ll see what happens. Until then, we three will be we, until we’re not.
Q: Does the place you live influence your music?
A: I’m always plunking around the house on my thrift-store guitar. I’m there a lot. I’m kind of a homebody and my time there with my family influences me tremendously. Writing lyrically about my relationship with my wife and daughter – a lot about my relationship with myself. I’d say 40% of my song ideas come while I’m washing dishes or showering. That’s the place where I can zone out mentally and plunk up some melody that’s got me moving my knees while I’m in the midst of cleaning up.
Q: What is your process, and does that make your work come out differently?
A: I’ll usually get inspired by something I hear and it happens pretty organically. This one time I was chatting with my father-in-law and he said this line – it was a compliment and my mind just floated out the window of the car with this song idea with that line. It just floored me. I have no idea what he said to me after that line because I was already working on the next line and what the verse could be like. Most of the time I have a memo-recording app on my phone to get down snippets of ideas. That works great. I have real shit for memory and I’d never be able to store all these ideas in my head. Some of the snippets will turn into songs; most of them will just sit there until I go back to them some day. There are plenty patiently waiting till they make sense to me again, and I’ll try to work something out in the future. Until then.…
Q: Are there themes in your work? Is your work a platform to explore certain ideas? Do you try to make a statement with your work?
A: Relationships are a big overarching theme. Not romantic so much as, “How does A relate to B and what’s that energy that’s going on between them?” This could be between myself and family, myself and myself, marginalized peoples and dicks who oppress them. Sometimes it’s political, yet that’s just as wrapped up in emotion as anything. I don’t know about a statement, so much as documentation – but that’s probably not even true.
Q: A lot of your Instagram pics show whiskey. Is drinking/partying one of your themes or an important part of your music?
A: This is funny. In all the bands I’ve been involved with up until Summer Sleeves, we never had alcohol or drugs around. Not while we practiced and not so much while we played out. There was never an agenda behind it, I just always played music with squares, I guess. I’d never even tried weed until I turned 40. By the time I started playing in Summer Sleeves, I’d developed a clumsy palette for whiskey. Alon and I like to have whiskey while we play. Just casually. We don’t get to the point where it inhibits the work, so to speak. It’s a casual social/creativity lube I guess.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m working on a couple new songs with the band. Trying to get us into position to play shows this fall and winter.
In the design work, I have a new brand for a credit union that I’m wrapping up. Pretty stoked how it turned out. I wish I could detail it, but it’s not officially launched yet, so it’s a secret. On top of that, I’m working on some environmental design concepts for a Credit Union out of Arkansas. That’s a ton of fun.
Also working on being an awesome person, Dad, husband, colleague, etc., that’s constant self-improvement. In that, I read a great biography on Johnny Cash. He was totally badass and I’ve been inspired by him to be more of a badass person – without the pills, I guess. It’s something I’ve never been good at.
I have this feeling this fall and winter are going to be busy and awesome. So I’m trying to be prepared for that.
Q: What’s next?
A: Being more badass.
Q: How can people follow your work?
A: Give me a call anytime. We can FaceTime and I’ll update ya. Summer Sleeves is on Facebook and Instagram for followers. Jeremycharbonneau.com has my design work. But if you want to know about the fresh stuff, just call me.