Josh McAlear Interview & Y-Pestis Competition

So recently we got in touch with one Mr. Josh Mcalear, tattooist & illustrator for metal crusaders and founder of Yersinia Pestis, who agreed to spend some time away from his pen to enlighten us on his chosen path in life. Josh has done work for Nuclear War Now records, Incantation, Truppensturm, Toxic Holocaust and other highly regarded acts. He currently tattoos full time at Redemption tattoo in Cambridge MA and is a complete metal/vinyl/movie nerd. His work has an awesome old school feel to it, whilst retaining a high level of attention to detail and impeccable translation of the fervour of deathly evil.

Josh’s label is releasing some killer acts. Just out is Hour of 13’s ‘The Rites of Samhain’’ 7” as well as an official, brilliantly presented shirt package to the godfather of gore, HG Lewis. Also worth checking out is the Yersinia Pestis forum, for metal/movie maniacs alike. Imbibing from the chalice of the dark arts, his work stretches far and wide into all categories of metal; with illustrative work for Ritual Necromancy, Slaughter Command and Aldebaran upcoming – LURKER plumbed the depths of consciousness to bring you the story of this true metal bro. All hands on deck.

COMPETITION: “As a thank you to all the people who made the first release such a success I’m giving away one copy of the test press that was made for the 7inch. It’s on regular black vinyl and has special packaging made just for the test press which is limited to 5 copies. The details for the give away are as follows- Anyone interested can email me at with the subject: Hour of 13 test press. The person the test press goes to will be picked at random on December 1st, the only stipulation is that you must be a member of the Yersinia Pestis forum, and have a minimum of three posts.”

Why choose the path of visual aesthetics?

Drawing was always a part of my life that seemed to exist naturally. Even when I was at my most self-destructive and irresponsible in my younger years I was always producing some kind of art. Everyone draws when they’re young of course, but some of us stay with it because, like I said, it seems natural or necessary.

What influences your work? Any particular artistic movement outside the realms of metal iconography and tattoo art that inspire you?

One of my biggest inspirations has always been music, specifically of the underground variety. When I was around eleven or twelve years old I was exposed to a lot of punk music by my older sister and her friends. This opened up a huge variety of music, as well as a vast history of visual graphics. Album covers, band logos, and zines were full of new and mysterious counterculture images that i had never experienced before. Who the fuck was making this shit and where the hell did it come from? I had no idea and had very few allies to talk about this stuff with. For some reason I assumed everything came from California. Prior to this I had little interest in music and was only really aware of what was “popular”. After I realized this stuff existed I was instantly hooked and gorged myself on whatever I could find. I feel extremely fortunate to be of the last generation to have experienced underground punk and metal in the pre-Internet days.

From there I began to obsess about skateboarding. Not that I would have admitted it then, but what I really liked about it was the artwork and music that accompanied it. I sucked at skateboarding, primarily because I instinctively spent most of my free time copying the illustrations I found in Thrasher magazine rather than skating. Thrasher coming into my life signifies the next giant influence in my development. Jim Phillips, Vernon Courtland Johnson and most importantly Pushead all did skateboard graphics and designed ads for Thrasher. This was what energized me: morbid and disgusting subject matter illustrated by extremely disciplined and obsessed individuals. I was enamored of Pushead’s reoccurring Thrasher article “Puszone”, and copied every image of his I could find, not only on paper but also on the wall of my bedroom, on t shirts and also my pants. That must have looked pretty ridiculous.

In my opinion, approximately ‘85-’88 was skateboarding’s “darkest” period. It was after the “blond guy skating barefoot on a banana board” period, and prior to any hip hop influence which made everyone’s pants get bigger and their wheels get smaller. This period opened my eyes to underground metal as my musical tastes continued down a more nefarious road. With metal all of the artwork had the same mystery and outsider qualities of punk music, but everything was darker and more extreme. This was very appealing to me.

It was around this same time that I started collecting Horror movies on VHS. These videos had the same appeal as the album cover art and the skateboarding illustrations: outsider subject matter, accompanied by dark and extreme artwork plus a haunting morbid atmosphere.

It’s these things that have always inspired me and continue to do so today. Of course I’ve also been inspired by more traditional forms of art along the way, but this stuff will always be my core. More recently, I’ve been inspired by fictional and philosophical literature, but that’s a topic for another time.

Your portfolio focuses largely on death and thrash metal acts – what is it you enjoy about these genres in particular?

I do certainly love both, but I think it’s a coincidence that there appears to be a focus on one sub-genre in my portfolio. Many of the bands that I’ve worked with have contacted me, so I guess it may be that my style of illustration fits with those styles of music best. I love all forms of underground metal and I also contact bands if they’re music really inspires me.

Describe your aesthetic.

Essentially I would like all my work to convey a certain mood or atmosphere that I have complete control over. This is something that I strive for and an aspect of illustration that is somewhat difficult to achieve. I’m really tuned in to the atmosphere created by lo-fi music recordings and by low budget film making, and how this level of production affects the overall listening/viewing experience. It adds mystery and obscurity whether it’s used intentionally or not. To achieve or be aware of anything like this in your own work you have to be very critical of yourself and try to see your stuff through someone else’s eyes. I try to achieve similar haunting or mysterious moods with lighting as well as how I render subject matter. I guess you can never know exactly how others view your work, but hopefully this aesthetic comes through in mine.

Your work has an obvious old-school influence. Is this intention, or a by-product of your time spent inking human flesh?

I guess it depends what you mean by old school, if you’re talking about tattoos that usually refers to a very specific style. If you mean in the illustration sense, then it would probably describe a wider variety of style.

When I approach either (tattooing or illustration) my goal is to create an image that “honors” what has come before it. Which means, paying respect to the artists’ work that have influenced mine and made it possible for me to do what I’m doing. Traditional American tattoos are very popular right now, which means there’s a very big percentage of people just doing that style without giving it much thought. No one tattooing today created that style, so when tattoo artists adopt it, I think they need to do so with respect. By that I mean, not copying others out right, not adding to the over saturation of tattooing in popular media, and not following the trends. Once you figure out a basic formula for drawing Traditional American tattoos it’s fairly easy to create work that is at least passable. There’s also some very over used elements which can work as your base when starting out: roses, skulls, daggers, etc. Much of this is also true for underground illustration, but at the same time illustration is a very different animal.

When it comes to underground illustration, creating a drawing is far more time consuming and difficult. Plus you need motivation and discipline when you’re freelancing rather than going to work every day and having people ask you to draw for them. So, to answer your question, what appeals most to me is work that looks like it was made by someone who understands the history of the genre. This is what I strive to create, and hopefully it shows in my work.

Tell us about some of your favourite projects.

A lot of what makes a project rewarding for me is the subject matter and the freedom I’m given with it. Also, if I’m illustrating for a band that I really like and the band is enthusiastic, that certainly adds to the experience.
When I was working with Truppensturm on their last album cover, the experience was extremely positive. I was in contact with the band as well as Svien who owns their label, Van Records. Both were extremely supportive and the band gave me a huge amount of freedom when it came to designing the cover image. I started one version which I wasn’t happy with and had to start over completely, and everyone involved was still very patient with me. Not to mention the fact that the album itself is completely devastating. Overall I’m very proud to have been asked to be a part of it.

Doing the poster design for the first Nuclear War Now Fest was also very rewarding. Working with NWN is always a good experience for me because I tend to like everything Yosuke puts out. Plus the designers he uses for layouts are always top notch, which certainly adds a lot to how the illustration is viewed. Getting to work with HG Lewis was also great because I’m a huge fan of his movies and he was very supportive of all the weird ideas I ran by him. I illustrated a shirt with his image on it that comes with an embroidered patch, four pins, a silk screened barf bag, and a toe tag. It’s very different from anything I’ve done so far and something that I haven’t seen produced before. I plan to do more horror related stuff in the future.

You are incredibly active within the music scene. You recently launched the Yersinia Pestis forums and aim to develop (but not limit) the pursuit to distro/label status. What kind of work can we expect you to get behind? Any over-arching goal on this front?

Yersinia Pestis exists for the most part only as an outlet for whatever project I feel like doing at the time. I created the forum as a place for networking with others who obsess about the same stuff that I do. I’ve found that the average Horror forum is a little too innocent for my taste. I recently saw a post on a more popular one that said, “which do you like more, Garfield’s Halloween special, or the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown special?”. This isn’t the kind of thing I have any interest in discussing on the internet. I hope that by creating a place where the topics are specific to the three major interests in my life (underground music, Cult Horror, and art that relates to those two) I will attract like-minded people, and more importantly, I will learn a few things. Internet forums have a bad reputation, and understandably so. People often use them for bragging, “trolling”, or just plain lying about something they have etc. But if used correctly they can be a great source for information and networking. I think these things essential are and hopefully other people do as well. The forum is an experiment, so if it doesn’t work I’ll terminate it.

As far as the actual label/distro goes, I’m trying not to limit myself as far as what I’ll do with it. When I first got the idea for Yersinia Pestis I didn’t imagine that I would be putting out any records, but eventually I figured why not? The first audio YPestis release is a new 7″ by the mighty Hour of 13, who are not only one of my favorite bands, but great people to work with.

One of the major inspirations for YPestis is Pushead’s two defunct labels, Pusmort and Bacteria Sour. The YPestis name is homage to the latter as well as a product of my interest in the Black Death and the artwork that came from that time period. Now that I’ve formed a foundation for releasing “whatever I want” there really is no limit. Forward to victory, as it were.

Any bands you would love to work with?

The first few that come to mind are, Judas Priest, Motörhead, Black Sabbath, Morbid Angel, and Bolt Thrower. Most if those are a total fantasy, and in reality (at least with the bigger bands) the situation would probably turn into a nightmare and I would obviously be dealing with an art director rather than the actual band. Except for Priest, I’m sure they would just want a muscular guy made out of chrome or something.
I have had the great pleasure of working with some bands that I truly love, which is really a childhood dream come true.

How did working with Incantation plan out?

It started out pretty normal but turned out to be less than ideal by the time I was done with the illustration. I’ve been a big fan of Incantation since I was younger, and I thought it would be cool to work with them, so I contacted Mcentee through email. Everything was fine and everyone involved was psyched until I sent him the final image and I didn’t hear back from him. After a lot of emailing I eventually got a “yeah I got it, everyone loves the image, thanks!” but there was no mention of me getting the payment that we had previously agreed on. Long story short, it was like pulling teeth trying to get him to even respond to my emails, let alone send me the payment. I eventually got a response when I sent him a “just tell me if you don’t plan on paying me, so I can stop wasting my time” email. He sent me a part of the payment but hasn’t responded to my emails about when I should expect the rest of it. Not the end of the world, but it is a letdown, it certainly tarnishes the music for me. They’re a big band that tours a lot and I’m sure Mcentee is a very busy guy, but I was hoping he could at least keep his word about paying me. So if you’re an illustrator, approach Incantation with caution, unless you’re Chris Moyen.

Be sure to enter the competition above and support Y-Pestis. Also worth checking out are just about every release Josh has done artwork for, his discussion forums and this list of links.

Hour of 13
Abnormal Gait
Tour De Garde
Parasitic Records
Ritual Necromancy

You'll find me in the vast wilderness of British Columbia, talking metal at LURKER, or working in publishing and front-end web/eBook development.

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