Jonny Williams is a 22-year-old Brit and creator of Exit Left Apparel (ELA), an online streetwear brand that collaborates with artists and musicians to produce limited edition T-shirts, all of which are printed in-house. He hunts the web for the latest in music and design with a keen eye for innovative and experimental artists. Hal Williams (not related), also known as Pyramid Vritra, is a member of the creative collectives Odd Future, Nobody Really Knows (NRK), and The Super 3. He raps, produces, draws his own album artwork and, most recently, designs T-shirts.
In 2011, Jonny found a video of Hal wearing ELA’s Aztec shirt with a matching ELA hat. Soon after, Jonny and Hal officially met on the Internet. The two immediately connected over a shared devotion to “being whatever the hell they want,” and adamantly refusing to conform. Over the course of five months, without ever seeing each other face-to-face or speaking on the phone, they overcame the boundaries of time and space to design a T-shirt. We convinced them to get on the same phone call and finally hear each other’s voices. Here’s how the collaboration went down.
Interview by Lauren Schwartzberg (@laurschwar)
How did you link up?
Jonny Williams: I've been listening to Jet Age and Odd Future stuff for ages. I went on Twitter—this was a few months into ELA existing—found Hal, and he had an email address. I was actually in Dubai at the time and I went on this really long flight across Dubai and the whole time I was just hoping and hoping that Hal would email me back, and he did. I was so stoked. Ever since, NRK and ELA have just been like family, really. Those guys support everything we do and we support them as much as possible. There's a lot of common ground, which is awesome.
Hal Williams: He showed us a few things. We liked it, and they liked our music, so we just kind of clicked naturally.
How did you decide on the design?
HW: There was this drawing that I did on the vinyl release for The Story of Marsha Lotus and that drawing kind of stood for all of NRK. It worked well with what we were trying to do with ELA in terms of the artwork and everything. Jonny sent back a few ideas and that one just really worked. It came together really nicely.
JW: ELA has always worked along the lines of using symbolism, so I really wanted to build off the artwork they’ve done in the past. I got Hal to send across some pieces he's done with other NRK guys. On top of that, I really really wanted to add in something that represented the relationship that we have with NRK and, at the same time, how music and fashion are so integrated now; how well they work together, and how passionate we are about music ourselves. We wouldn't be anywhere near where we are right now were it not for all of the incredible musicians that supported us. Especially NRK.
ELA has always worked along the lines of using symbolism. - Jonny Williams
HW: Music is a form of expression and so is fashion. There's a lot that what you wear says about you, and there's a lot that what you listen to says about you. I think that people normally would like to, if there was a way, to also display what they're into and what they're about through clothing and through music. If they could coincide then even better.
Like finding the perfect concert tee.
HW: Yeah, even for me that still means a lot. I buy shirts and posters and little things that may not seem like they're important, but they are important. NRK doesn’t really have any merch or stickers or anything like that, so now people will finally have something to identify with. Just something that you can hold onto really.
Hal, how did you like fashion design?
HW: It was pretty cool. I have a lot of drawings and little ideas that I wanted to do and work with. When I was in high school I used to design the clothing—I would do all these sketches because I wanted to be a fashion designer, but I found music and started skating so I kind of went with that.
What do the different elements of the shirt symbolize?
JW: There is a snake eating its own tail, which is a really really ancient symbol that’s meant to symbolize new birth. It’s kind of similar to what we have nowadays with the phoenix coming out of the flames—ongoing birth. It's like the cyclical nature of fashion and the cyclical nature of music and where they come together. I thought that was quite a powerful image.
NRK doesn’t really have any merch or stickers or anything like that, so now people will finally have something to identify with. - Hal WIlliams
The color that's on the pyramids and the color inside of the circle is from artwork that Hal has done in the past. I really wanted to use vivid colors because I think it works with the vibrancy of the music and also kind of relates to the fact that all of the music is a bit trippy. It's my chill down music, especially the latest Jet Age of Tomorrow, so I really wanted to make something a little bit dreamlike.
I wanted to put the pyramids on the bottom of the design to show that the pyramids are involved in it anyway, but also have the Egyptian eye which links into the pyramids. I like playing with themes like the Illuminati, but mainly just to show that we’re being looked after and we’re looking after them and again, the whole cyclical thing.
Can you tell me a bit more about the pyramids?
HW: The pyramid came from all of us in high school. First, it was just a symbol that we came up with for our friendship and all the stuff that we've been through. It kind of evolved more into a way of life. It developed a little bit more with NRK, but beyond music and everything, it's just been about not conforming. The base of the pyramid is where everyone starts and only a few people make it to the top. There are no stairs—I could've drawn it with stairs and things like that—but the reason that it’s just going straight up is because there’s no easy way to get there. It takes a lot of effort and a lot of time. That’s why only a few people make it to the top. Basically the pyramid, and being a pyramid, is about being yourself and not giving up.
JW: It fits in perfectly with what we represent as a brand. It's about being yourself, doing what you want to do and not following trends. That’s why I love NRK's music and that's why I love talking to them and working with them. Working with Hal's been incredible. It's been really good fun and just awesome to talk about ideas. They always come from exactly the same perspective about doing what you want to do, having the freedom to do that and finding success through being yourself and doing what you want to do.
The T-shirts drop today, August 15 at 1 p.m. EST on Exit Left Apparel.