Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on defunct, Central Indiana arts website Sky Blue Window on September 23, 2014. Some content, style and formatting may differ from the original version.
This Friday night 32 paintings will compete head-to-head in the annual battle royale known as Art vs. Art at The Vogue. In anticipation of this celebration/destruction of local arts, Sky Blue Window sat down with the event’s longtime master of ceremonies, Mike Wiltrout. Wiltrout is the former front man of Indy’s favorite funky punks Johnny Socko and current lead singer of The Leisure Kings. “You know, I’ve been a professional musician for 25 years,” Wiltrout says. “If people come up to me and recognize me, it’s almost always for Art vs. Art, which is hilarious. I love it. At least they’re not recognizing me as the guy ran over their dog. I think it’s cool to be recognized for anything.” Scope the full interview below for an explanation of “The Dirty Sanchez” and other Art vs. Art essentials.
Sky Blue Window: How did you get roped into this gig?
Mike Wiltrout: That’s a great story. When they first had it, it was held at Birdy’s. I had gone to one, and I really liked it. I might’ve spoken with somebody about that. Back then it was being hosted by Russell Johnson [aka] Rusty Redenbacher. He was doing a really good job, but the following year he was sick and he took a bunch of cough syrup. I don’t think it was recreational taking of cough syrup. It was medicinal, but it kind of put him off his game as emcee. So, the following year, which was the first year they held it at Fountain Square Theatre, they asked me to do it, and I was really psyched because I really liked the event. I think mainly it was on the strength of having been in Johnny Socko for many years and being known as kind of a ham on stage. I didn’t actively campaign for the job, but being a game show host in any way, shape or form has always been kind of a secret dream of mine. So, I jumped at it, and I’m holding that job in a death grip.
SBW: Is there anything going on this year that’s different from years past?
MW: I think a lot of the stuff we change is such minutiae that people who haven’t been to the event before aren’t going to know what I’m talking about.
SBW: Explain the Wheel of Death to someone who hasn’t attended to Art vs. Art.
MW: Okay, so these paintings go up against each other head-to-head, and we have a decibel meter. The crowd cheers for whichever one they like the best. The one that wins goes onto the next round. The one that loses faces the Wheel of Death, which is an enormous, game-show type wheel that’s mounted on this big wrought-iron, scary contrivance. It has horns and skulls and I think a fog machine. It’s probably about 8 feet tall.
SBW: That sounds disturbing.
MW: It is. It’s very disturbing. So, I spin that Wheel of Death and whatever section of the wheel it lands on, that is how the painting would die, if it were to die. Then they give the audience a chance to bid to save it with an auctioneer. The minimum bids goes up with every round. They’ve gotta lay up some pretty serious cash. In the later rounds, I’ve seen some paintings go for $800.
SBW: Do people get upset when their art gets destroyed? Have there been any rough reactions over the years?
MW: Nobody has ever thrown anything at me. It’s been around and people have known the drill for 10 years now. I think everybody that enters it understands that it’s an honor to get your painting destroyed on stage. People are cheering for that. I remember in the earlier years, there was a little bit of outcry. I think it was just one guy, so I don’t even know if that counts as an outcry. That’s like an in-cry. Somebody wrote an editorial in NUVOrailing against the destruction of art, but by and large it’s pretty embraced. People get into it.
SBW: You’re a musician. Have you ever played in the battle of the bands?
MW: I’ve never played in a battle of the bands. One time, when I was down on my luck, I had left my old band and gotten a divorce and gotten off the road for the first time in a decade, I entered a karaoke contest. The first prize was 2,000 bucks, so not quite the $4,000 from Art vs. Art, but it looked like a lot of money to me back then. It was held at Metro, the city’s premier gay bar. It was fantastic. I remember going to it as a spectator the year before, and people would go all out. I mean, not just the singing but the costumes and the special effects. Karaoke wasn’t as widely accepted 12 years ago, at least not by me. I had been in a band for 10 years before that, and the thought of people getting up in bars and singing along to a track was lame. But the siren call was 2,000 bucks. It lured me in, and I actually won it.
SBW: Do you remember what you sang to win?
MW: Well you sang three songs every round. It was ridiculous. It took place over the span of like three months. I think there were like, 200 people in it. People came from other cities. In the final round, I did “Come Sail Away” by Styx, and I did “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” by Stevie Wonder, and I did a piano and drums lounge version of “Gin and Juice.” I think that was the one that clinched it.
SBW: $4,000 is a lot of cash for the Art vs. Art winner … Have the reactions been pretty crazy over the years?
MW: Personally, I always thought people would flip out, but they’re always just a little bit stage struck. Plus, they have to slog through this event that goes for three or four hours. So, they’re a little glazed by the time they get up there. Again, these are people who are probably pretty introverted — most of them. So, it’s not a world they’re familiar with being cast in.
SBW: Any other crazy stories, disasters or awesome memories?
MW: Sometimes toward the end of it, when we’ve already gone through all the modes of death and a painting is going to die, I’ll mix in two different modes of death. One of them that’s really been popular over the years was called The Dirty Sanchez …
SBW: Describe The Dirty Sanchez.
MW: Well, you have a bucket of stuff that looks like feces. It wasn’t, but it was something they had mixed up from discarded paint and degreaser — I don’t know, it was foul. In fact, they kept the exact same bucket for a decade. They just put a lid on it.
SBW: So you’re telling me somewhere in Primary Colours’ basement, there’s a glory bucket of Dirty Sanchez material?
MW: Oh, yes. Yeah. I promise you it’s there. So, when a painting gets “Sanchezed” if it’s a portrait, they use a paint brush and they paint the simulated feces onto it like a mustache. Then they end up just kind of slathering it all over. Well, I had the bright idea of combining The Dirty Sanchez with The Chainsaw. You know, just mixing it up. The chainsaw spit and sprayed what they call “the doo-doo butter” all over the place. I have a smoking jacket that I wore while hosting that year that still has little brown globules on it. It just got on there and dried. I mean, I’ve tried to have it dry cleaned. It’s not going anywhere.
SBW: I imagine the crowd was horrified when the doo-doo butter went flying?
MW: Yeah, I think we all were. It was a lesson in physics at the time when you least expect it.
SBW: Is there a formula for success in terms of what the audience tends to love over the years?
MW: It’s always the weirder stuff. There is a formula. But it’s not hard-and-fast. It’s not 100 percent. If you paint something that’s cutesy, but then there’s an element to it that turns the cutesy thing on its ear — like, a cute, cuddly poodle, but he’s shooting heroine. That always seems to go over very well. That kind of a thing: Cuteness perverted seems to be a very common thread.
I don’t think enough art gets destroyed. That’s the only flaw in Art vs. Art. Maybe they need to raise their minimum bid prices, even if it’s only for paintings that really, just kinda suck. Maybe they got their friends to stuff the ballot box or whatever, but those paintings ought to be destroyed. There’s always somebody who’s the artist’s mom or uncle, and they’ll make the minimum bid and nobody else will bid on it, and everybody else is just furious at them. ‘Come on!’ … I mean, good for them because they got some money, but it’s a bloodthirsty crowd. You don’t want to disappoint them.
SBW: So, more destruction is your professional opinon?
MW: I think so. I think so.
Written by Rob Peoni
Members of The Coasts, Ike Peters and Eric Mount, recently sat down to answer some questions for Thought on Tracks. They are an unsigned band hailing from Little Rock, Arkansas and Lebanon, Ohio.
How many members of the band are there? How old are you? How did you meet?
IKE: Officially, we have 2 members – me (Ike Peters) and Eric Mount. We’re both 25 and we met freshmen year of college. I don’t remember the exact time we met, but I’m sure a shared love of Radiohead was involved. We roomed together with a couple of other guys and we’ve been best friends ever since.
Describe your recording process. Were you guys sending each other stuff from afar? Or did you manage to record live?
IKE: Basically, Eric came down one weekend in February and we recorded the groundwork for 12 songs. After that, me and Isaac (the producer) would add stuff here and there on the weekends or after work. I’d send the tracks-in-progress to Eric and he’d give us some feedback or ideas, and that’s just how it went.
ERIC: The songs kind of morphed from Ike’s original sound/composition and what I thought they sounded like through my Ohio-headphones, into what they eventually became.
Are you signed to any record label? How did you finance the recording?
IKE: We are not signed to any label currently. We financed it ourselves, but it only ended up costing $400 because we just lucked out on a ton of things. Other than a producer, Isaac is my boss at work. He and two other guys run an ad agency in Little Rock. ANYWAY, he had this space he rented from a guy in town where he would record his stuff and keep all of his gear. We just used that beat-up, AC-less room to record in. It was rock n roll. And Isaac did it all for free. We just had to pay the extra musicians and the mixer/masterer guy. So, we were very, very, very lucky.
Who are you major influences?
IKE: During that weekend when Eric was here, we listened to Exile on Main St. to and from the “studio.” So, as far as the record is concerned, that was probably our main inspiration. Musically, though, I’m a huge Kinks fan.
ERIC: Well, the influences for the album, I’d have to say, range somewhere between early rock ‘n roll to more modern indie rock, such as Dr. Dog, Weezer and Cake, which was kind of unplanned. But my influential staples would probably be Radiohead, Wilco and the Pixies, with more recent favorites like Midlake and Arcade Fire.
What current artists would you compare yourselves with?
IKE: I don’t know if we’d compare ourselves to anyone, but we definitely WISH we sounded like Dr. Dog or The Black Keys or someone with that throwback kind of sound. I won’t always want to be known as a “throwback” band and I doubt those bands do either, but that sound is throughout our album, so I’ll take it for now.
ERIC: I actually feel like we’ve got a pretty unique thing going on, especially with the limited time we’ve actually spent playing together. You could look at that a few different ways: either we are unrehearsed, unprofessional hacks, or we come across as a raw and original project. Hopefully the latter comes across. But, to answer your question — no one.
Could you describe any goals or objectives you hoped to accomplish with the recording?
IKE: It started out as just a fun project or just something cool we could do together. We didn’t really have any end-goal other than we’d just have something to show for our efforts. The fact that we have an album is still just a weird thought to me. But that’s what the goal was.
ERIC: Initially, my goal was just to have an album recorded that I could put my name on and be proud of. Something to show my kids one day. But now that we’ve sold some records and we’ve been encouraged by so many people, maybe this will turn into something more. Who knows.
IKE: I don’t even know if we were going to charge people for the record once it was done, but it just really hit us that weekend that we had something special. Before, they were just songs I had written and tried to record myself, so they didn’t have that magic that Eric added to it. It was such a cool feeling, so from then out, we knew we had something exciting.
Describe Isaac Alexander’s role in the recording process.
ERIC: Ike and I were relatively unfamiliar with the entire process and Isaac really sacrificed a lot of time to help us accomplish this record. Also, given the fact that he laid down the bass tracks, we were able to really let it rip in the studio and rock out with a “full” band. I think that really comes through on a few of the songs.
IKE: Isaac made the album what it is, pretty much. Without him, it would’ve been pretty gross. In fact, it probably wouldn’t even be. Since Isaac was much more experienced in music, having put out a few albums himself and with other bands in Little Rock, we knew he’d really give us some direction. And he did. He sacrificed a lot of time and energy on this, and he deserves most of the credit for it.
What was the inspiration behind the decision to donate part of the album’s proceeds to Haiti?
ERIC: Last winter, my wife, Nicole, and I went on a medical mission trip to Haiti with Hope for Haiti’s Children. We had already been sponsoring a child at the orphanage, Stanley, and we were able to see him and approximately 900 other kids. We, along with the rest of our group, were able to provide medical care to them. When we came back we told Ike and Alexis (Ike’s wife) about it and they are now sponsoring a child, too, named Stephanie. An important part of Ike and I and our families’ faith is giving back part of what you’ve been blessed with. And we felt this opportunity was no different.
What is the music scene like in Little Rock?
IKE: See, this is where my naivety comes out. I only have a general view of the Little Rock scene, so I’d be afraid to give it any kind of label. I would say that it’s pretty diverse. It’s no Austin or Nashville, of course, but it’s got some really great bands that have worked harder than we have, for sure. We haven’t even played a show yet. So, short answer: not sure yet.
What is the music scene like in Dayton?
ERIC: Where I live there’s no real “scene”. I think people just listen to what’s on the radio for the most part. My favorite band to come out of the area is probably The National, from Dayton and further east in Akron, the Black Keys. I think the Breeders are from Dayton, too.
Describe some of the drawbacks and benefits from this long distance relationship.
IKE: The drawbacks are that the process was much slower. We’d email back and forth about tracks, whereas it could’ve been quicker if he were here or we were all there. Plus, it was weird not having Eric there when me and Isaac would work on it. It wasn’t the same, and though we’re really happy with the outcome, I bet it would’ve been better if we all lived in the same place. Plus, we could be playing shows, too. It looks like I’m going to have to find a substitute for the time being. The benefit, though, was that we were extremely focused when Eric was here. Since Eric hadn’t touched a drumset in 3 years, I thought it was going to have to be more than a weekend. But he just banged it out and we got a shocking amount of work done. If we had lived in the same place, I bet we would’ve goofed off a lot more and wasted more of people’s time.
ERIC: Yeah, like Ike said, the benefit was that we didn’t have the opportunity to “overdo” the album. I like the relatively raw sound we got, and we didn’t overdub much of anything. If we had more time, we may have tinkered with it to where it didn’t sound quite that way. Drawbacks: Not getting to play new music or just hang out.
What has the response to the record been like?
IKE: The response has greatly surpassed any expectations we had. I honestly thought when we put it on sale that our friends and family would buy copies, and that’d be it. Which would’ve been fine. I think our money goal was that each of us would be able to buy a Hot N Ready pizza from Little Caesar’s. We just wanted to be realistic and not get our hopes up. But thanks to Paper Garden Records and several music blogs, the word got out and people have been really positive and supportive. Since we’ve released it, we’ve been getting emails from all over the place, so it’s just crazytown. It’s exciting, but yeah, not what we expected at all.
What are the plans for the future?
IKE: Right now, I’m writing some more songs and trying to put together a live show with some guys in town, at the same time continue being married and work hard at my job. I just made that sound stressful, but it really isn’t. It’s a lot of fun.
ERIC: I think we’ll record a second record for sure.
What advice would you give other up and coming artists?
IKE: No excuses. If you want to do it, then make the time and do it. We’re still in no position to give any kind of advice, but that’s what we try to tell ourselves.