Today Frank Kozik is best known as creative director of Kidrobot and creator of the Labbit toy. But back in 1995, he and Lollapalooza were both young punks disrupting the music scene. Kozik was becoming the go-to designer for the anti-rock stars while Lolla was making merry musical mayhem across the US. The two forces collided when Kozik produced a Lollapalooza tour poster featuring festival headliners Hole, Beck and Sonic Youth, a band that had worked extensively with Kozik. For our 25th anniversary, we wanted to tap into the 90’s zeitgeist for our official poster and reached out to Kozik to capture that, which he did perfectly with his wildly colorful color palette and oddball cast of characters. Look closely, and you’ll also find shout-outs to Lolla’s current home with elements like the Chicago skyline, stars from the flag and, of course, the hot dog. Both Lolla and Kozik have traveled a fair distance since those early days, each evolving and growing while still staying true to their punk rock roots.
We gave Kozik a call to talk about his career and who would headline his dream Lollapalooza. Check out the highlights below and click over to the Lollapalooza Store to get the 2016 Official Poster designed by Kozik.
Lolla: Hey Frank, thanks for letting us pick your brain! There is so much depth to your relationship with the festival since doing the poster in ’95. How did you get involved?
Frank Kozik: I was really heavily involved in the music scene, both in Austin and nationally, from about 1987 to about 2003 or so. I’ve worked with probably all the bands that toured Lollapalooza during those years – the Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, Jane’s Addiction, Sonic Youth – I did ’em. At one point, all those bands were really small. I met all those bands and was doing the posters for them on their tours. And then a lot of the local bands got bigger. I kept in touch and started doing international stuff, so that’s kind of how that all progressed.
Lolla: How were you able to integrate those genres of music into your artwork?
Frank: The really early stuff had nothing to do with music. I was just doing like, weird, mail art stuff. I guess the modern-day equivalent would be like street artists, but we would make random weird fucking shit, and mail it to each other…So my influence was weird, sort of like, punk, new-wave, industrial restart aesthetic, and then using that for bands…You know, I started fucking with a lot of corporate imagery, you know, just sort of like, whatever, just having a good time, and it seemed to resonate with people.
Lolla: How are you kind of taking that counter-culture feel to the way you approach your artwork in the 90’s, and how did you apply that to the 2016 Commemorative Poster for Lolla?
Frank: I approached it just like, it’s an anniversary poster, you know? So, right around the time the first couple Lollapaloozas – ’91 and ’92 – they’re doing the really big colorful silkscreen posters that were kind of like cartoony. So this poster it was more fitting for me to do something like the classic early 90’s style, right? Because to me, Lollapalooza was always very carnival-esque. Especially the first ones. It was very much like, we’re gonna take this hedonistic thing on the road. So, the poster I designed is more about that. It has nothing to do with the current state of music whatsoever. Because I have a theory that because of the Internet, a lot of these bands are eternally captured in time and will be able to do well forever.
Lolla: Are there any other bands that you still have good relationships with because of your work with them?
Frank: I do a lot of stuff for Pearl Jam, because they’re cool, they’ve still got their own stuff going on. Some European dudes I’ll do stuff with. It’s not the focus, it’s just like, you know, they come along, “Hey do you wanna do something?” And I’m like, “Cool, can I do whatever I want? Sure, okay.” Like a no pressure kind of thing.
Lolla: That’s actually a good way to transition into our next question which was how did you make that jump from doing graphic design to doing more toy art, starting your record label and everything in between?
Frank: Well it’s all sort of interwoven. There was a lot of success with the rock posters and I think it was the winter of 1993, or something, I had a big feature article in Rolling Stone magazine about my posters. So then ad agencies start showing up and they’re like “Hey you’re the guy in Rolling Stone, we want you to do a Nike Campaign for us.”
All during the mid-90s, I was doing massive amounts of work for corporate money in my style. So I start thinking about it and I go, “Ok, all these posters made me money, and I know all of these bands that can’t really get a deal right now.” I started talking to all of my friends in bands and I’m like “Hey, I’ll put out your record and you just record whatever you want, I won’t even listen to it.”
By the late ‘90s I started making the toys in Japan for Japanese companies and then I started doing it for the states in the early 2000s. When I started making these toys and started designing clothing, suddenly I got bumped up into, “Oh you’re now a designer because the fruit of your labor is a 3-dimensional object that isn’t an advertisement that’s like its own weird thing.”
I was around the first death of independent labels due to Internet streaming, right? Which I fought tooth and nail, because I knew it was going to ruin everything, in a way. So I was like, this is a good time because I’m tired of the music business, like, this whole thing online is fucking everything up. So I just shut it all down. I went to Japan for a year and I was like, “I wanna do this now.” And oddly enough, the new thing that I do, I’ve been doing it for longer and it’s been a lot more successful than the music business stuff. It all did come from the music scene.
I feel really lucky I was there like, in some sort of golden era for like underground music. I got to meet everybody, see everybody, see all the bands, work with them, you know? Completely fulfilled experiences. But you know, now I do a different thing. I still dip my toe back in the water sometimes, when it seems like it’s appropriate.
Lolla: Who would be your dream headliners for Lolla today?
Frank: I don’t know if they would rate any Lollapalooza gig, but there’s a band called Wind Hand, that’s like a weird sort of slow, heavy, ethereal, like, doom band. I like those witch records that Nash put out. There’s a band from England called Uncle Acid that’s really cool. I kind of like those rise-above label bands, like weird, sort of like, Sabbath-y, beyond Sabbath like fucked-up, bad late-60’s, early 70’s cult satanic imagery and stuff. I’m really into this band called Huntress. They’re an awesome, insane, fucking like Judas Priest-type metal band, that’s fronted by this woman, Jill Janis, who was a trained opera singer, and they do these like amazing videos. Check them out.