Hello Paul, hello Sam, would you mind introducing yourselves?
Paul: Sam rented a room next to me one summer in Amsterdam, which is how we met.
Sam: I remember saying to a friend the day after I'd moved into that room: "I'm living with three people now. Two seem very nice, the third is a little odd." At first I didn't know what to make of Paul's paintings and writing, but I quickly caught on and we started working together.
Paul: We have since collaborated on a mix of things, like T-shirts, books, performances. Sam is currently putting the finishing touches to our EP, GOOD AT GOODBYES. I rap and he makes the beats. How this began was for a while I organised a night called I'VE NEVER DONE THIS BEFORE. The premise was that people were invited to do something they'd never done. For me it was a way to do stuff I wanted to do but for whatever reason – insecurity, embarrassment, lack of an excuse – I never had. All of us have these desires, impulses and I wanted to create a supportive, open space where, success or fail, you could give something a go. One week I did singing, then poetry, then acting. Singing + poetry + acting = rapping. Suddenly it seemed so natural and vital and obvious that I would rap at the next night. I expressed my intentions to Sam and he reminded me that in his youth he had made beats. So he brought his sampler and four-track out of storage and set to work and we wrote a song, MAKING LIFE IS MAKING TROUBLE.
Your collaboration as writer and publisher has resulted in three short novels produced through True True True (SILK HANDKERCHIEFS, ALONE DESPERATE AND GOING NOWHERE and ANDY DE FIETS: LETTERS TO ROBIN KINROSS). How did you come together to explore such a niche (but important) direction in independent publishing?
Sam: The first True True True title was a translation I'd done of Nescio's LITTLE TITANS, a Dutch classic since 1915. I'd started the translation in 2005, just as an amateur wanting to share this story with non-Dutch-speaking friends. It took ages to complete but when I finalised it into book form in 2008, I realised that all aspects of the process – selecting, editing, filtering, designing, printing, distributing – were things I enjoyed very much, and which offered a more holistic way of working than traditional commissioned graphic design work. Paul has always had a similar DIY jack-of-all-trades approach (making zines and radio shows and such) so teaming up came naturally. Thematically it's been a good fit also, exploring shared interests.
SILK HANDKERCHIEFS presents the misadventures of an anxious but well spoken English lad Alex 'Abs' Brenchley. His stream of consciousness ranges fro m very formal English all the way to downright vulgar – the rapid shifts in language really capture his unresting neurosis. It's very entertaining. Paul, how did 'Abs' come about? Have any personal experiences helped you to shape his character?
Paul: Alex Brenchley is a real person, we studied at university together. He started to become a fictional character when we made radio shows together. I would write little stories for Alex to perform in between songs we played. The very first radio show we did, back in 2003, had the line, 'You drop a nuclear bomb on Westminster, you wouldn't get a mushroom cloud, it'd be a hash-cake-coke-shroom cloud' and that line found its way into the first book, SILK HANDKERCHIEFS. How the books came about is in 2007 I started a SILK HANDKERCHIEFS MySpace page: my idea was to tell a story through photos, blogs, profile music and changes in layout. Around this time, Sam had just published his first book through True True True. He liked the stories on the page but MySpace and its design were anathema to him so he said if I made the stories into a book he would publish it. Which felt like a challenge.
Sam: I remember reading that page very well. I hadn't been too blown away by the other pieces of Paul's that I'd read thus far, but one depressed, hungover morning, I read the whole MySpace page (about one third of what ended up as the final book) in a single sitting. I found it so exhilarating and life-affirming that I was sure that this needed to be published properly.
Paul: The writing has subsequently found its right place and direction. One thing which interests me in art is finding the right place for an idea – whether this is a book, painting, poem, rap, T-shirt, music, I think you always need to find that right form for an idea or action. Abs has been developed and tested in all these different stories and forms so that there are now many strands of narrative – and this has all helped to create the character and story of the books.
Sam, what informed your typographic choices for Paul's novels? Although they follow a fairly classical structure, there are some playful moments in column grids and justification that help to express the changing pace in Alex's narration...
Sam: I tried making something archetypical, anonymous, without mimicking anything specific. I dislike posh, bibliophile 'literary' aesthetics. Instead, all typographic decisions were made with vague ideas of 19th-century industrial printing in mind – utilitarian serial publishing à la Dickens; immediate, the opposite of precious. The typesetting is mostly very pokerfaced and rigid, which might make one wonder if it's even been 'designed' or just handed to some unassuming typesetter. I think little touches like the occasional different alignment or the use of 22 different alphabets in one paragraph of ALONE, DESPERATE AND GOING NOWHERE effectively point out that yes, everything is deliberate, including the unassuming parts.
ALONE, DESPERATE AND GOING NOWHERE
Besides your collaboration through True True True, you also make music. Are there ambitions to eventually release this outside of the internet?
Sam: I champion many forms of old-fashioned physicality – printed books, celluloid, faces instead of Facebook – but with music I simply can't be bothered anymore with physical carriers. As a music fan and a graphic designer I've always loved album covers and liner notes, but ultimately I'm pragmatic enough to consume music almost exclusively through the internet. There is such a wealth of topnotch quality underground rap available for free legal download nowadays – a very exciting time. A vinyl release by us would hardly be a functional music carrier, much more a fetish object or a 'statement', which I’m not so interested in. I'd rather invest energy and money in making new music.
What is next for Paul Haworth? Sam de Groot? True True True?
Paul: For luck and creative health, it is best to keep the future private. But in terms of recent activity, I am writing a lot of poetry these days, probably as a side-effect of writing rhymes for the raps, and I regularly perform my poetry. There is a poem by me called GROWING UP featured in Martin Kohout's volume, LINEAR MANUAL. I recently did my first bit of theatre acting in the Joe Orton play THE ERPINGHAM CAMP which was produced by The Bethnal Green Theatrical Society. I was interested to sample theatre – its process of development and collaboration and to know whether theatre filled or emptied my soul. And Joe Orton is a wonderful, important writer whose legacy is in risk of being overshadowed by fixation on his life-story and naff, farcical productions of his plays. Therefore it was good to work on a production which was disrespectful, messy, offensive, chaotic and stupid.
Sam: Fortunately I have several interesting design commissions coming up, and I'm also teaching part-time at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy. That keeps me busy enough. I would like to free up more time for music. As for True True True, there is not much planned besides the final instalment in Paul's Alex Brenchley trilogy (JONNY ON A CHORIZO) and our EP. I always keep an eye out for other potential TTT projects, but it's rare to come across things that fit well enough.
True True True — truetruetrue.org
Sam de Groot — samdegroot.nl
Paul Haworth — homelovin.co.uk
SILK HANDKERCHIEFS (YouTube) — youtube.com/user/silkhandkerchiefs