“I want to come up to New York and sit down with Jonas Mekas. I recently did a zine of his—he’s a filmmaker from the Warhol days and has continued to make films since then. He’s 90 years old and I want to film with him before anything terrible happens,” 24-year old Calico Grounds founder Josh Bosarge begins, not stopping to catch his breath, “the zine is of his writings, a collection of letters he wrote at the turn of the century to friends—one to Stanley Brakhage right before he died. It was entered into the Brakhage archives at the University of Colorado, it was really exciting to work with him,” all of this shared with me after a cool five minutes on the phone.
I met Calico Grounds owner/operator/all around great guy Josh Bosarge at Chaos in Tejas last year, a friendship that flourished as easily as Bosarge is to speak on his projects. All parts earnesty and passion, Calico Grounds doesn’t have a specialty as much as an energy, one proving to be more and more intoxicating.
Let’s go back to the beginning. How did you start Calico Grounds?
I started writing—I’ve always written here and there. I grew up in a town where there was no one I connected with lyrically. The music scene was dead in these towns and so I always had lyrics that didn’t fit into any music. I turned them into different pieces of writing and created a zine. A friend gave me the idea of starting an entire press out of it, something I’ve always wanted to do. I started Calico Grounds with my friend Stephen Ashley who has the second release on the label called “Kissing Hands,”—a collection of manipulated artwork and photos. He’s since moved to Austin and doesn’t run it with me any longer.
The first release was a zine of writing?
Yes. It’s mostly short poems, prose and a short story of flash fiction at the end. It has a series of Xeroxed personal polaroids of my life, from when I was 1-2 years old to later in my life. It’s actually not tagged as a Calico Grounds release on the zine itself—it wasn’t until it was first reprinted that I decided to do the press. The zine was sold in a few different bookstores and it sold very, very well; I received a lot positive response.
Locally in Houston? Or did you send it out to other places?
There are local bookstores but it was also carried in the Youth Attack webstore long before there was a bigcartel. Mark McCoy used to have a store he set up on his page, an HTML store. I floated him 10 copies or so and they sold in two days. This was before the popularity of Youth Attack got to the ridiculous point it is today. There are copies everywhere now—some in Australia, some in Europe. I’m really happy I’ve had such success not only locally but internationally, too.
Did you already have a working relationship with Mark McCoy at this point?
I had known about Youth Attack, didn’t really come in contact with Mark until after that. Some friends had some releases on his label so I wasn’t really in contact with them and I ‘m not even really in contact with him now. We don’t really work together at all, we run in similar circles.
Where did the name Calico Grounds come from?
The name means absolutely nothing. The name is just a name. I never thought too much about it. I couldn’t come up with a really good name. I liked it at the time but to be completely honest, I don’t really like the name any longer. I wish I would have come up with a better name to fit the logo. The logo I have now I am very proud of, it was designed by John Jansen of Zeigeist Publishing. He’s been a close friend of mine for quite some time, I just got back from Amsterdam visiting him. He put together exactly what I wanted. I don’t want to say [the name Calico Grounds] “means whatever you want it to mean to you” but honestly it means nothing to me… even though this is something I’ve poured all of my heart and my soul and my energy into. I think most people come up with the name because it sounds cool and then come up with a meaning afterwards just in case they’re ever asked that question.
You went to Amsterdam recently to visit a friend. Did you do any Calico Grounds work while overseas?
No. I meant too—I was dealing with some heavy personal problems at the time and was having a severe breakdown. Getting on a plane and flying nine hours was the best thing I could come up with it—to do something I hadn’t really prepared for. My plan was to get there and write… unfortunately that wasn’t the case. I was with friends but I was kind of overwhelmed by the isolation from home that I felt. I loved being there and the friends I was with John Jansen and Neils Gabel came, who does Sequences, a noise project. I got to hang out with some really great people and do and see some really great things, I just couldn’t escape the personal problem that I had. I did come up with some songs that me and my girlfriend Megan Anderson have.
I think it’s a pretty romantic idea to escape to Europe and realize a geographical distance can’t compensate for a personal/emotional one. I think that’s something a lot of people deal with.
And most people go to Amsterdam for the obvious reasons. Those things didn’t interest me at all. I was more interested in finding weird Dutch taxidermies than I was coffee shops that I could get high in.
How do you currently define Calico Grounds? It sounds like you started with the written word and now you have some tape releases and you want to work on this film.
I have a problem where I’m dedicated to too many things in too many creative outlets. I’m in a couple of bands, I read as much as I can, I want to start making films. These are all things I want to incorporate in the press. When I started I didn’t want to focus exclusively on zines and books, I did have kind of a collection creative press where many different styles from many different styles could come from me from very many different people. I didn’t plan to go all over the map like I did. I’ve gone from things from the hardcore community to very prominent figures of the avant- garde world. I am happy that I’ve done that. I think that the music scene and the film scene—really all aspects of the art community do circle each other and intertwine with each other. They should be put together. If we were in a room, we should put these two people face-to-face and say “you have your style, I have my style, at least we create.”
Calico Grounds is a place where all these things can interact together.
Absolutely. With the music projects I’ve put out music projects that now looking back… I always question and second guess everything I put out not because I don’t have faith but because the artists I’ve worked with or myself, I’m a person that picks apart everything I’ve done and wonder if it’s good enough. Am I doing good enough for everyone else? Unfortunately that’s my mindset. I can say that do connect— I’ve done Total Abuse releases, I did a print release of from the film Absolute. My one of my favorite movies, a film I screened recently here in Houston. Those things intertwine with each other. I do adhere to a theme but sometimes venture out—it’s necessary to leave a certain level of comfort.
It’s interesting that you say you have a certain “theme.” Everything within Calico Grounds seems connected even if they are different art mediums but I wouldn’t say they all exist within the same aesthetic. How do you determine what a Calico Grounds release it? Do you see a defining thread within everything you’ve released?
Luckily, Yes. When I think of doing something for someone else, I can’t figure out what I’m looking for until I find it. With writers, I don’t know what type of writer I’m looking for until I see what I’m looking for. It’s as simple as: if I like what they write and how they write then it’s amazing. So many people right now are so hung up on the basic writers in modern poetry. They think that if they write about smoking a cigarette or drinking a beer they’re the next Bukowski. I could care less about Bukowski and people are way too hung-up on him and Thompson; I think the best thing Hunter S. Thompson ever wrote was his suicide note. I have to see things to really enjoy them. Everything I’ve released that I’ve seen or read or heard, I’ve really enjoyed. I haven’t compromised on anything. My tastes may have changed over the years on things but I’ve kept fairly consistent. There’s a consistent theme of repressed sexuality and some kind of perversion. That just so happens to be the type of artwork I enjoy.
You say that your tastes have changed—how does that reflect how Calico Grounds has evolved over time, since 2009?
Definitely. Everything I’m doing now I don’t compromise. I haven’t compromised. There are certain things I wish I could have gone back and changed—like layouts, updating designs. My tastes have changed more towards the minimal, especially with writing, to the point where I look back at books I really enjoyed in the past and wonder what I ever enjoyed about them. There’s so much more out there. One example is this zine I did with Jamie Stewart of Xiu Xiu, I love the zine. The writing is fantastic. I’m so embarrassed of the way I laid it out. If I could take back all 200 of those zines, relay them out and give them out for free, I would.
Do you produce all of these yourself?
The first two releases—not counting my first zine—“Kissing Hands” by Stephen Ashley and a small Xerox zine that I did were hand screened by Stephen and me before Stephen left. Everything since then has been done by me—hand stapled hand folded, printed. Everything has been done by me and, of course, any print shop I can find. I do get a lot of help from my girlfriend. As time goes by and releases pick up I plan on making things a more legitimate book press and Megan will be able to hold a higher position with the press but I’ll continue to run it myself.
How often do you release any sort of media?
It’s varies in frequency. I don’t have a schedule. I’m really good at list making; it’s basically my only talent. I have lists and lists of releases I’m planning on doing. I have four I’m preparing to release but sometimes technical problems arise, whether on the computer or in transfers or what have you. I’m invested in so many projects at once so releases don’t get done as quickly as I’d like them to. Sometimes I have trouble getting material from the artist or even finding a new artist to work with.
When you’re selecting a release, do you reach out to artists or do you allow submissions?
It’s been a combination of the two. I do get a lot of submissions, and most of the time I don’t like them. I do have a very specific taste. There’s one person who sent me a submission that I absolutely fell in love with. His name is Tom Ogden, he’s a writer form California, young and unknown. He contacted me in 2009 after buying some zines and sent me some writing. I’d received some submissions before this but everything had been a huge disappointment. I told him sure and when I got it, I was totally blown away. I released a zine of his called “Mother Long Legs,” and it was just incredible. A great collection of writing that sold out very quickly. John from Zeitgeist just put out another zine that also sold out quickly. Soon I will be doing much more stuff with Tom. Next will be a spilt with Sammy Winston, who used to run [ASK] and Tom Ogden. He’s something who deserves to be read more. I usually look for people I want to work with but am open to people who have an idea they want to shoot me, I’m open to.
What do you have lined up for this year?
So much! My plan is to put together at least fifteen releases this year. Ryan Martin of Dais Records is putting out a zine called “Monger.” Tom Ogden is doing a spilt zine with Sammy Winston called “What I Learned at Los Coyotes Diagonal/I Will Do Right By You.” Matthew Gallagher is doing a zine called “No One Likes Us”; I’m putting out my girlfriend’s tape “Denouncement” by Spanish Cloister as well as from myself, Bruce LaBruce, David Vassolatti (Merchandise,) and members of the Ascetic House movement and future exhibits and film installments.
You said you’ve done a couple of screenings in places local to you, how entrenched in the Houston scene is Calico Grounds?
Really, not at all. I don’t want to keep a local aesthetic. There’s not too much I’m proud of here in Houston, if I lived in in Austin or New York or LA, somewhere else, I would put on nights dedicated to what I’m doing however Houston doesn’t care… about much. It’s a city that’s sad, it’s humid; the city is boring. There are a few good writers here, a few good artists; many good things have come out of it, in the big picture I just really don’t want to.
I have a hardcore band that plays a few shows here and there, we’re writing and recording and trying to make everything as good as we can because this town really does deserve a good hardcore band. It’s been a while since we’ve had one. Mostly Houston’s noise scene is amazing. Future Blondes, Black Leather Jesus, the guitarist and bassist of my band are in a band called Cop War that is a great band. Houston’s music scene isn’t bad, we just seem a little disconnected. A lot of touring bands skip us—they go to Austin, they even go to El Paso. I don’t blame.
I do. I do plan on getting out of here but I do have a lot of things that tie me here. Maybe Austin, a small move. Austin will probably be my next move. There are a lot of places I want to go, there are a lot of places I want to go.
I’m a Houston area resident, from a very, very small country town, the town from the movie “Varsity Blues,” Needville. It’s a town that only cares about High School football and how big you can make your vehicle. I work a little outside of Houston but I spend about 80% of my time in Houston just to get out of the country. I don’t know how I go into the music or art that I’m into growing up because no one was into the stuff I was into. I had no one to learn about really great bands from, I didn’t have an older brother or friends to borrow records from. It was pretty much just me. I wanted to stay as far away from the normal as I possibly could.
Every once in a while you hear a story like yours, someone who’s into and doing really cool things but had no one to share in that, so they had a gateway drug. And that gateway drug was Joy Division.
Haha. What interests me in music is energy. If I see a band live, if they aren’t energetic, or if they don’t seem even relatively interested in putting on a good show, then I lose all interest. I just don’t care. I’m sure there are others who feel similarity.
Earlier you said you receive a lot of submissions that you don’t like. For people interested in submitting to you, what do you think they need to have?
I don’t really know what I like until I see. They should have a good grasp of what I do already. I don’t want anyone lazy—I want someone who is confident in what they want to send me. If I am sent something I don’t like, I won’t be a dick and throw it out; I’ll offer a different route to take. I’m very honest.
What are your bigger plans for the distant future? Ever think of doing vinyl releases?
A vinyl release is something I’d like to do this year. Later down the line, I want to turn Calico Grounds into a real book press. Real books of substance, to absolutely turn Calico Grounds into what I want it to be would be an actual publisher. I want to do more films. Maybe limited DVD releases. The big idea, the big picture is to open up a shop. I would really like to open up a shop of a different name and continue doing Calico Grounds as I do but have a place where I could curate what goes in and what goes out. Books, records, art gallery, performance space—these things are popping up everywhere but the more the better. If people stop competing with each other and just start helping each other out that, that’s what I want to accomplish.
Introducing Calico Grounds: Four Releases You Should Check Out Now
Calico Grounds #18: Letters, Etc. – Jonas Mekas Zine
A proud collection from “the Godfather of American Avant-Garde Cinema.” Jonas’s letters to friends and love ones, touching many subjects, including the turn of the century, music, mortality, and the illed Stanley Brakhage.
Calico Grounds #23: Facts u.A. – Tuomas Korplijaako
Xerox manipulated photography of sorrows and shadow abroad.
Calico Grounds #26: Phantom Payn Future – “From the Dormant Years” Cassette
12 Tracks of Stripped Down, Heavy Headed Dream Pop from Juergen Gleue, also known as JG39, one half of the incredibly underrated 39 Clocks. Phantom Payn has many monikers (Daze/Days/Séance/Act) but all have the touch of JG’s hand dipped dreamily into the wade pool.
Calico Grounds #27: Hellhouse zine – Elijah Funk
“The bleakest thing to imagine is the tooth of the carpet remnants your mother purchased from RiteRug in 1991 that were designed to camouflage stains in a swirl of dark and mid and light browns. It’s not the externalizations of pain, not in HellHouse, it’s what you cover it with – Xerox and bleach, alternations of silence and speech.” – James Payne
Joshua Bosarge would like to dedicate this interview to Brice Baum, Tiny Timy, Harry Crews, Henry Miller and Jim Carroll.