MASSAPPEAL / BEN BROWN MERCHANDISE COLLECTION
T-SHIRTS, HOODIES, VINYL, STICKERS, BADGES with MORE TO COME.
At long last the iconic t-shirt designs of Sydney hardcore band Massappeal featuring the art of the legendary Ben Brown return. Three classic designs: Deadheads, Nobody Likes A Thinker and Sucked Up and Spat Out reproduced in their original form in all sizes on quality 100% cotton AS T’s.
“Brett (Massappeal) and I would often work together on stupid ideas for handbills, posters, merch and record covers. We loved stirring the pot and would come up with often mean spirited, smart arse ideas that poked fun at the mainstream and society in general. We got a real laugh out of it – as did others that followed the band and understood it was very sarcastic and tongue in cheek.” – Ben Brown
The collection also features a hooded sweater, Massappeal’s ground-breaking debut-album Nobody Likes A Thinker (on vinyl) plus badge and sticker sets. It’s the tip of the iceberg and the beginning of an extensive planned reissue programme for this inspired union of two very creative forces.
All apparel available online only via https://artistfirst.com.au/collections/massappeal
The music of Massappeal and the art of Ben Brown have always been intertwined. Brown and Massappeal guitarist Brett Curotta having been friends from the Sydney north shore surf scene of the early eighties, Brett with his eye on the professional path while Brown acted as agent provocateur, silkscreening “crazy ratbag” t-shirt designs, hand colouring them, even drawing on the bonnets of the ratbag beach crew’s cars!
It wasn’t until an overseas trip in 1982 however, that a life change for both was assured when Curotta witnessed the power of L.A band Black Flag live in London.
“After surfing in Euro competitions in 1982, I wound up in London expecting to only stay a week on my way back home, see some bands, then fly out. After about 2/3 days I got a job and stayed for 2yrs. I saw absolutely everyone who was anyone in that period, it was very exciting. Then at the start of 1983 Black Flag toured: Rollins, Bill Stevenson, Greg Ginn, Chuck Dukowski and Dez Cadena – they were on another level! They just clicked for me. No mohawks. No leathers ‘n spikes, just raw power. Five x “normal” looking guys trying to destroy themselves on stages – like nothing I’d seen before – it just showed me immediately how pathetic and lame ALL the UK bands were.”
Returning to Sydney late in ’83 and with a head full of ideas Curotta was excited by the scene building up around the Sydney north shore’s Mosman Hotel. The grommets of his pre-UK life were now of age and forming bands themselves. Inspired, Curotta taught himself guitar and for a while added some beef to ’82 styled UK-punks Bedspreads before, in 1985, settling on the Massappeal moniker and alongside fellow enthusiasts, singer Randy Reimann, bassist Kevin McCrear and drummer Darren Gilmour set upon a more preferred path of US and European styled hardcore as witnessed in ’83 and as preached by US hardcore bible Maximum RocknRoll. But before the band there was the t-shirt…
“I was really into the art of (American graphic artist) Pushead that was turning up on the HxC records / Maximum RocknRoll mag that I’d been buying while in UK and on my return to Aust. I’d wanted to do something similar before I’d started the band and Ben was doing his own thing – which was nuts anyway – drawing crazy / ridiculous stuff way before he was even aware of Pushead” – BC
“Brett had introduced me to US hardcore punk and I loved the imagery that went with it. He also encouraged me by introducing me to the Hard Ons and Ray Ahn – who drew all their own demented art. I loved the D.I.Y. attitude.” – BB
Deadheads was the first t-shirt to appear. A design, a name and a concept before the band had even played. Using the lyrics written by fellow north shore pal and original Ratcat drummer Andrew Poles, Deadheads ridiculed the stereotype image of the bonghead in all its life-sucking glory. The lyrics handwritten on the back while on the front a green skinned stoner lurched from the rubble alongside the slogan ‘A Stick A Day Melts Your Brain Away’.
The artwork signalled a new direction for what had once be coined ‘punk’ and the DIY revolution that followed, but almost ten years had passed since that initial promise and now it too had fallen into the same malaise that pre-dated the mid-seventies form. This was a new generation with a new sound and a new visual approach.
The iconic Nobody Likes A Thinker design would emerge next appearing in 1986 as the cover of the debut 12” for Massappeal before making its way soon after as a t-shirt.
“I can’t recall where the original idea for the ‘Thinker’ art came from. I think it was just a reaction to a WHAM (the band) t-shirt which George Michael wore in one of their famous video clips – that ‘Choose Life’ t-shirt was everywhere and we just thought that a long-haired creep with a gun in his mouth, wearing that t-shirt, was fair and funny commentary.” – BB
“I had nothing to do with it! The original early version turned up on a gig flyer to raise money for a fanzine. People were starting to be aware of Ben’s art due to the lyric / art sheet I had him do which we left in records stores before we’d even played a gig. Anyway… maybe Ben or I or both of us thought that rudimentary image of that flyer was worth pursuing for Thinker record cover – I’m sure i did nothing towards cover art idea. I’m sure we just got the dimensions off Waterfront and Ben got on with it – and there it was! – BC
The artwork became synonymous with Massappeal and is arguably Browns’ best-known work. It has sold in the thousands and even reached as far as Metallica’s James Hetfield who proudly wore a shirt in a two-page photo shoot for Rock Scene magazine. Acme t-shirts Australia picked up the license too, the receipts of which paid for Jazz the second LP by Massappeal.
Like the ‘Thinker’ design, the Sucked Up and Spat Out design for the infamous 1986 joint tour by Massappeal and fellow punk terrorists Hard-Ons emerged from an earlier Brown design; a flyer for the equally infamous Trade Union Club that featured Hard-Ons, Massappeal and Southern Fried Kidneys. And although the ’Sucked Up…’ tour was to be headlined by Hard-Ons – who had in the arsenal their own comic artist and inspiration to Brown; bassist Ray Ahn – it was Ben’s design depicting one of his usual ghoulish fiends, this time surfing his way through a wave of debris, that got the nod.
All three designs have been taken from the original art files. Brown fine-tuning his lines for maximum clarify in the digital age. Sucked Up and Spat Out has never been reprinted beyond its original 1986 lifespan while any remakes of Deadheads has been just that, a remake – taken from a print – not the original design. Equally ‘Thinker’ has never looked this good.
Massappeal and Brett Curotta would continue to work with Ben Brown through the course of a career that included four albums, a deal with US label Relapse and a legacy that people continue to speak of with reverence to this very day.
Brown would form his own band The Hellmenn and be commissioned to do art work for Pearl Jam, Queens Of the Stoneage, Joan Jett, Beach Buritto, Surf Aid and countless other entities and agencies who enjoy a very original take on art, society and the rest.