Awesome Totally Awesome - Bifocal Media

Brands We Like. Bifocal Media: The Kings of Punk Rock T-Shirts

Bifocal Media is at the top of the T-shirt game.

While they started off creating BMX videos with their local crew (which included the legendary Dave Mirra RIP), they soon transitioned into doing music videos, features, and short films for artists like Corrosion of Conformity, Valient Thorr, and even jazz legend, Branford Marsalis.

A few years ago, they started making sick limited edition (and licensed) T’s for legends like the Descendent’s, NOFX, Steve Caballero and the Circle Jerks. They have the ultimate DIY punk rock ethos and split the proceeds equally between the company, the designer, and the band/athlete. Their shirts are the highest quality with vibrant screen prints and praiseworthy designs that will last for years. Plus they’re affordable.

Some of their archived designs are so lauded, that they have been straight jacked by bootleg T-shirt makers looking to make a quick buck.

Their Descendent’s/X-men design is one of my favorites, and never ceases to get a thumbs up and a “Cool shirt” compliment.

We caught up with one of their founders, Charles Cardello to discuss their history, their vision, the bands and artists they work with, and their upcoming projects. Please check out their site. If you see something you like, don’t sleep, just buy it, because the next time you look, it’ll most certainly be gone.

Awesome Totally Awesome: I read in your bio that Bifocal Media began with a film about the NC hardcore scene, The Actuality of Thought, created by you and co-founder Brad Scott. How old were you both when you began making videos?

Charles Cardello: I bought a video camera in 1994 as I wanted to shoot my friends and I BMXing around the little college town we lived in (Greenville, NC). I made a couple BMX videos featuring our little crew (Dave and Tim Mirra, Leigh Ramsdell, Mike Laird, Steve Nowak and some other folks). A year or so later the X-games thing happened, a few of the guys in our videos got really famous, and I started to take the video thing a little more seriously.

Around this time (the mid-1990s), I was booking and promoting a lot of punk shows in town and going to a ton of shows in the Chapel Hill area. Brad and I came up with the idea to make a skate/BMX style video featuring bands instead of athletes. We spent around a year making a video called “The Actuality of Thought”. It did really well and that’s how Bifocal Media became an established company.

ATA: What are some of the videos and artists you have worked with since then?

CC: We’ve done live video/film work, music videos, and promotional work for Corrosion of Conformity, Death Cab for Cutie, Branford Marsalis, Valient Thorr, Braid, Mastodon, Superchunk, Die Antwoord, Hot Snakes, Against Me, Donnie Osmond… Probably up in the hundreds of bands at this point if you consider all the festival work we’ve done.

ATA: What projects are you most proud of?

CC: I’m pretty happy with the Valient Thorr “IN HEAT” feature-length we did. I like the COC Moneychangers video and the Branford Marsalis “Four MFs Making Tunes” documentary short we produced. There’s so much out there that I’m sure I’m forgetting something that’s still watchable.

ATA:: Are you still making videos?

CC: I’ve been focusing on the shirts for a couple years now but I’m sure I’ll get back to it at some point when the right project comes along.

ATA: What are some current projects you’re working on?

CC: We’re toying with the idea of making a film about an old friend who died a few years back. It’s a huge undertaking so I’ve just been trying to put a few pieces into place to see where it goes.

ATA: Does Bifocal also produce and distribute records?

CC: We did for 15 years or so.

ATA: Tell us about some of your artists?

CC: We’ve put out releases for The Ladderback, Serotonin, The Melvins, Party of Helicopters, Cherry Valence, Braid, Goner, Des Ark, The Kickass, Kerbloki, Secret Life of Machines, Crash Smash Explode, Utah!, Goner, Firebird Band, We’ve also published four books for comic artist Brian Walsby.

ATA: How did Bifocal Media transition into producing T-shirts?

CC: Brian Walsby had an art show and he had a few of his pieces of art printed on t-shirts. I think he only had 5-10 of each shirt printed but it gave me the idea of producing limited edition shirts and “releasing” them the same way we put out records. Brian was close friends with The Melvins so I asked him if he wanted to do something with them. They said “yes” so Brian and I designed a Melvins T-shirt and produced 300 of them. Once the band posted the shirt on social media it sold out in a few days and we knew we were onto something. Brian knows a ton of folks from the first wave of hardcore so the next band we contacted was The Descendents. That one did well too and we were off and running.

ATA: The first shirt I purchased from you was the Descendents’ comic book cover. It’s still one of my favorites. Your Descendents’ X men shirt was the second shirt I copped. Since then, I’ve loaded up on Bifocal product because it’s straight fire. Where do you come up with the inspiration for your T-shirts?

CC: At this point, we’re working with around fifteen artists. Most of the time they come to me with an idea for a band that they’re in contact with. Every now and then I’ll get an idea and run it by one of them as I’m not an illustrator. I’ll often do the type and color for a design once I get a drawing from the visual artists; Then, we’ll get it approved by the band.

ATA: You have a very unique business model with your T-shirts [correct me if I’m wrong] where you split proceeds among the artist, the subject, and Bifocal equally. It seems like a perfect punk rock business model, who came up with this arrangement?

CC: We decided we would do the shirts the same way we did everything else we produced. We’ve always split everything evenly between the bands. They’re out there working hard (writing, recording, and playing shows) We’re working hard to get things produced, get the word out, and get records in peoples hands. In the case of the shirts; there’s a three-way collaboration with the bands, us, and the visual artists.

ATA: Do you find that everyone involved is more invested because they have a stake in the final product?.

CC: There are three entities putting in hard work and creative energy on these so it seems fair to split the profits evenly. This way everyone has an equal stake in how well the shirt sells. Everyone promotes. Everyone gets paid.

ATA: Tell us about some of the artists you work with?

CC: Brian Walsby is an old friend of mine from Raleigh. His work has been published in magazines and featured on record covers since the mid-80’s. His most widely known work is probably 7Seconds’ “Walk Together Rock Together” album cover art. He’s also played drums in a ton of amazing bands like Polvo, and Double Negative. He’s a satirist and a great storyteller. He’s also really good at drawing people and has a very cartoony style. Some shirts he’s done with us include: The Melvins, The Descendents, Dinosaur Jr, Propagandhi, COC, Big Star, and a ton of others.

Chris Shary has been at it since the 80s too. He does all the Descendent’s artwork and he seems to know everyone in Southern California. He does most of his work with Sharpie markers. His style is tight and he’s got a great sense of balance and design. Some shirts he’s done with us include Agent Orange, NOFX, Dickies, Mike Watt, Exene Cervenka, Ian Mackaye, Adolescents, and many many more.

Errol Engelbrecht is another old school illustrator from the 80s hardcore scene. He designed the iconic Corrosion of Conformity Skull and he founded Blue Flame Tattoo. His work is really meticulously detailed and his line work is amazing. Some shirts he’s done with us include Corrosion of Conformity and Valient Thorr. We’re currently working with Errol on a new Propagandhi shirt.

Herbie Abernethy (Also known as “Valient Himself”) is the singer for Valient Thorr. They’ve toured the planet for over a decade and he’s friends with a lot of folks in a lot of bands. His illustrations have an almost single line approach/feel and they really stand out. We’ve worked with Herbie (and his band) on a ton of projects over the years. Some shirts he’s done with us include Avett Brothers, Future Islands, and Red Fang.

Martin Dunn is a pretty well known mainstream comic artist who also does a ton of DIY comic art. He’s a proper comic artist with flawless line work and lots of design chops and computer know how. Some shirts he’s done with us include New Bomb Turks, Fu Manchu, and Teenage Bottlerocket.

Tyler Wolf is another old friend who used to play bass in Valient Thorr. He does these really cool geometric drawings and paintings featuring lots of spaceships and monsters. Much like his former bandmate (Herbie), he knows a ton of famous folks and every now and then, he’ll contact them about doing a shirt with us. Some shirts he’s done with us include Red Fang, Valient Thorr, and Avett Brothers.

I met Alexis Price when I lived in Raleigh, NC. She lives in Brooklyn now. Her work is comprised of feminine forms meshed with animals. It’s equal parts violence, sexuality, and affection; all executed with a keen sense of color balance and nimble/delicate brush strokes. Some shirts she’s done with us include Braid, Le Butcherettes, and Bat Fangs.

David Eichenberger is also a friend of mine from Raleigh, NC. He’s a great illustrator and painter who composes really tasty line drawings that are equal parts precision and whimsey. I want to work with David on more stuff in the future. As of now, we’ve only worked with him on a Sleepytime Trio shirt.

Jay Holmes was one of the founders of Bifocal Media back in 1997. I’d describe his illustrations as doodled streams of consciousness. He just kind of starts drawing and really cool things emerge. I’m not sure how much of it is planned, but the work is always great when he’s done. We worked with Jay on a shirt for the amazingly under-exposed Malignus Youth (from AZ). They’ve been a favorite of ours since the early 90s.

Chris Wright is a well-known designer and illustrator in the skateboarding industry. His work has also been heavily featured in huge magazines like Esquire. I met him through my brother in Greensboro, NC back in the early 2000s. When Action Patrol did their reunion shows earlier this year, they suggested Chris do a shirt for it. We were happy to finally work with him on a tee.

Darwin Drawin is an illustrator/designer from Spain. We loved his poster art so we asked if he would like to rework some that he had done for JFA and turn it into a shirt design. He was into it and we started doing shirts with him.

Ron Liberti is a Chapel Hill institution. He’s been doing screen printed poster art and t-shirt designs since the 90s. He’s also the singer for the band Pipe. All of his art has a hands-on feel as it’s all composed through layers upon layers of screen printing. He’s done some of our favorite tee designs to date. Some shirts he’s done with us include Swervedriver, New Bomb Turks, and the Watt From Pedro Show with Mike Watt.

I met Kristin Debockler through Brian Walsby. She’s amazing at creating detailed cute/horrifying images with an Ipad and one of those Apple magic pen things. Her work runs the gambit from awesome band art to corporate logo work. Ask her for a rough sketch and she’ll give you a finished (looking) masterpiece. We did a TOMBS shirt with Kristin earlier this year and we’re currently working with her on a shirt for the band Retox.

ATA: I read somewhere that there was an issue with people biting your designs (i.e. the TSOL wave) and selling them as their own product, other than piss you off, how does that affect a small company like Bifocal?

CC: It’s infuriating. Not only are these clowns delivering a sub-par product but they’re stealing from bands and artists. There are only 2 or 3 offshore companies doing these bootlegs, but they have tons of different sites. Imagine seeing an ad for an “exclusive” limited edition shirt that you produced being advertised on Facebook (by someone else) with the visual artist’s name removed. It sucks on so many levels. We have to go way out of our way to demonstrate that we’re working directly with the bands and paying them. We also spend a lot of time having ads removed and stolen designs removed from eBay and Facebook.

ATA: All of your releases are limited edition—what is the rationale behind that?

CC: Our objective from the start was to create t-shirts for people who might not typically wear band shirts. I’d like to think we produce high quality, unique, collaborative shirts with a cool backstory. Limiting production to small numbers assures that you’re not going to see 10 other people wearing the same shirt. It also allows us to produce a shirt, sell them all, and move on to something new before a design gets boring.

ATA: What is your opinion on the state of fashion today?

CC: I’ve dressed the same since the 90s. I like simple, well-fitted clothing. I’m really into the Mod fashion of the 60s/70s.

ATA: What is your opinion on the state of music today?

CC: I’m sure it’s fine. It’s always exciting to stumble across something new that you really love.

ATA: What do you think of autotune?

CC: It makes decent artists sound like clowns and bad artists sound like cliches. It’s goofy. I dig it not.

ATA: I’ve already pre-ordered your COC/Descendents mashup and Faction shirt, do you have any future products coming out that you can share with us?

CC: We’re currently speaking with Propagandhi, Retox, L7, Sleep, Crucifix, and some other folks about new designs. Will all the pieces fall into place? Stay tuned!

ATA: How can our readers purchase your shirts and where can they follow you on social media?

CC: We’re on Instagram @Bifocalmedia

Awesome Totally Awesome - Bifocal Media
Awesome Totally Awesome - Bifocal Media
Awesome Totally Awesome - Bifocal Media
Awesome Totally Awesome - Bifocal Media
Awesome Totally Awesome - Bifocal Media
Awesome Totally Awesome - Bifocal Media
Awesome Totally Awesome - Bifocal Media
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