Swamp Trash

I met Lauren about a year ago. We're both from Lafayette so we have several mutual friends - which is usually the case with anyone from Lafayette. She is so sweet and funny. I see people wearing her shirts around New Orleans and get so excited each time! When I asked her where she wanted to meet for this interview she decided on her home and it's easy to see why. She lives in a double shotgun with two roommates on her half of the house and on the other side live 3 of her other friends. She has a happy home with her little family where she can create and hang out and enjoy the easy going lifestyle of New Orleans. It is where she's most comfortable and inspired

Have you always been creative?

Yeah I feel like I have. It’s always felt natural to do creative stuff.

Growing up what kind of creative stuff were you into?

My parents had me super young - they had me and my sister when they were 19. My mom was a painter going to UL and we would always go with her and just sit in the back of all her weird art classes. So I was around weird experimental film and painting and stuff in her little studio space.

How old were you when you were going to those classes?

Like 6 or 7

Do you remember a lot of it or have any vivid memories of those times?

Yeah, she had this really cool studio space. Everyone had a little block with a locker. There were all these super weird people in there like there was this guy that would paint nude gay men next to her and there was this lady with a shaved head. My moms had pinned up all these inspiration pictures in her space. I remember sitting in the back of her film class and it was early 90's so they had all these little TVs like in a big pile and they would do all this weird stuff. I remember thinking being an artist looks tight.

Did she encourage you to be an Artist or was she cool with whatever you wanted to do?

It was whatever I wanted to do. They weren’t the type of parents to push any specific thing. They would have been equally happy with like a dental hygienist or something.

What did your dad do?

My dad has always had a bunch of different jobs. Like right now he works for a maintenance company but he kind of skipped around all over the place. When I was really young he was waiting tables at Mickey's Landing on the Atchafalaya Basin. It’s a boat launch and they have an old dance hall out there and houseboats you can rent - we rented one for my birthday once as a kid.

When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up

I think I always fantasized about being some type of artist but never had this concrete dream or anything. I guess I always felt I would just kind of find my niche along the way. I’m not wanna those of people that’s like I want to be this and I’m gonna work towards it my whole life. I’ve always done art and just hoped if I did it enough something would come together.

Before Swamp Trash, what kind of art were you making? Was it always centered around Louisiana?

No, I would do abstract paintings. I still kind of mess around with it cause those are kind of more about the way it makes me feel to do it than what it ends up looking like. I just like playing around with the paint. I still mess with those but I’ve never been inspired to channel it into anything bigger.

Do you feel like there was a definite switch when you stopped doing abstract paintings and started doing drawings that you thought you could turn into a business?

There was this one experience on the subway that I had. It was really weird, there was this old black guy with a wrinkly face that was wearing a white shirt and he was holding the bottom of the shirt to his face and his mouth was bleeding and he was just staring at this other guy like across the subway. It was really weird but in New York you kind of get immune to stuff like that because all this messed up stuff is happening around you so it kind of normalizes these weird experiences. But the guy across from him was like “stop staring at me, stop staring at me man!” and it went on for like two stops. It was just really awkward and weird and there was this weird empty milk carton under him. When I got home I did a sketch - I had taken this weird kind of secret photo cause it was such a strange scene and then I did this really simple line drawing of it and I feel like that was the first time where I was like maybe I’m kind of leaning towards being a cartoonist almost. That was one of the first things I did that was different and I was like maybe this will be a thing. And then when I moved to New Orleans I had a couple of ideas that were kind of vaguely Cajun but I didn’t really know what it was going to be yet.

What made you move to New York from Louisiana?

You know how there’s those people that are like "I really want to move to New York, it’s my dream!" I was never like that. But the guy I was dating, Scott, was really wanting to move there. He just got his masters and it was kind of land of opportunity for him. So he really wanted to go and I went there to support him and to have an adventure because I had never really moved anywhere. So it was this exciting thing even though it wasn’t really my dream. I ended up getting a really cool job and waiting on all these celebrities at this cool raw vegan restaurant that doesn’t exist anymore because the boss embezzled like 2 million dollars and now she’s in jail. So I can’t even go back and visit anyone because it doesn’t even exist. But it was a good experience. New York is just way over stimulating. I get anxiety and I was just like stressed all the time. Normal stuff there is stressful - like I’m freaking out cause I got to go to the grocery store and there’s gonna be people everywhere. You kind of get a hard shell around you because your personal space is always invaded. This weird feeling where there’s constantly a shit ton of people around you is kind of weird. Just to have so many people physically near you that you have to share space with. And there's millions of eyes on you all the time. Even if they’re not looking at you noticing you it’s like eyes, eyes, eyes, everywhere. You feel yourself becoming hard. I was like man I’m kind of an asshole now.

So when you decided to move back to Louisiana, what made you decide on New Orleans instead of back home to Lafayette?

The second year I was in New York I was making a lot of trips to Louisiana and a lot of them were in New Orleans. So I came back like 4 or 5 times and stayed in this house because all my friends were here. I was just like uh it’s so easy going here. I would come and hang out with all my friends in this house and it was so chill. I just fell in love with the city. I didn’t think I would ever leave Scott but then I got to this boiling point and everything starting getting really weird with my job because of all the sketchy stuff and so it all happened at the same time where a room opened up here in Nola and then it just got bad in New York with my job and I was just like okay I gotta go bye sorry. And I just left. I was gone within a month and then me and Scott ended up breaking up a month after I got here even though we had been together for like 5 years.

How do you feel now that you’re in New Orleans?

Not to downplay it like I had an amazing time in New York but all the stuff you get to do that’s really cool and stuff you don’t get to do other places is there but the sacrifice you have to make is that daily life is just kind of hard. It’s really fast paced and materialistic and I wasn’t cut out for it. Other people are like this is amazing but I like to be in nature and I like the easy going lifestyle here - it just makes me feel calm. There’s this really weird art scene going on that I’ve been exposed to. You know just the way people say hi to each other on the street - stuff like that that’s just kind of welcoming weirdos.

How long after you moved to New Orleans did you start up Swamp Trash?

I feel like I had been here for like 8 months or something and then one of the first things I thought of was the eat my ass crawfish and the pray for crawfish virgin Mary with the crawfish hands. I had like two or three ideas like that that were just maybe I can channel it through that.

I was raised kind of poor. Like we never had very much money but we would always be Cajun rich where my dad would have one shitty boat and take us crabbing every weekend. I think that’s where it comes from ‘cause my mom was like an artist and studied art and kind of exposed me to that then my dad collects junk and is just super Cajun. He’ll always have like a few shitty boats and some of them will work and then he has this big shop with all this crap everywhere but in a way it’s kind of beautiful even though it’s shitty. Ya know he’ll have like a bunch of tires piled up in an almost weirdly pleasing way or he’ll have twelve ice chests or something. It's like a way into my dad's weird brain and it’s complete chaos but in his mind everything has this order to it like there’s an ice chest just full of light bulbs or all these catfish traps piled up. My dad always writes on stuff so it'll be like “don’t mess with my traps” or something vaguely threatening.  So there’s a sense of humor with that too

Do you feel like Swamp Trash is channeling both spectrum of your parents?

Yeah definitely. My parents are really funny like they’re really into metal. My mom has this skull flame tattoo and like they would always listen to like Pantera and shit when I was really little. They have all these weird elements that I feel like come into play - this Cajun and bad ass metal thing.

So you did that first drawing and then you had like 8 months before you really did any other illustrations, it just kind of sat with you for a while?

I can’t remember the timeline of things exactly but I started having all these ideas and my friend Kirby was still living here at the time and he has this completely entrepreneurial spirit. He’s that type of person where you’re like I have this vague dream and he’s like okay you need to do this, this, and this. He’s just like I’m on it. So I had the idea and wanted to go for it but he helped me figure out so many logistics. He helped me figure out how to print the candles and like we learned together how to start screen printing. He doesn’t work with me anymore but I’m really grateful cause like I don’t have that type of personality and I don’t think it would have actually turned into a thing without his guidance. He gave me that little extra push to make it happen.

Where do you look for inspiration?

I feel like just when I’m hanging out with my friends they’ll just say something funny and little things will strike me. Once I started doing it enough it’s like now I can channel things through it. I have other ideas about politics and about feminism, all these other things that I’m passionate about but now that I have a channel to do it through I’ll have an idea about something else and I’ll be like how can I express that through this lens. So I’ll have all these ideas sometimes right before I got to sleep and I try to write em down because I never remember. Like that weird it takes 6-8 weeks for a man to turn into a shrimp that weird drawing - that was just some weird drunk thought before I went to sleep. But it's like now that I train myself to think of everything in that context it’s like things will come to me - having a frame helps.

Do you ever have an idea and then you’re like this doesn’t fit in with Swamp Trash and toss it out?

I don’t really throw out ideas. If I have an idea that doesn’t really have anything to do with it then I just save it for later if it’s actually good. But some things like that opossum that’s drunk and says go and get em. It’s like my roommate kept saying that, he would say it so much and I wanted to do something with it but just like a drunk opossum doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with it. It’s almost like easy to make it fit and I never have be like that doesn’t fit - I’ll just put some random shit.

Do you have a dream project or material you want to work with?

I want to get really good at a bunch of different skills that I am only mediocre at now. I want to be able to build things and I want to learn how to weld, or do carpentry, or get a lot better at screen printing. I just want to have a bunch of skills so that any idea that I have I can just be like I know how to do that I’m just gonna do it. I’d like to grow more patient - it’s almost like it’s not a shortage of ideas but sometimes I just don’t feel as driven to get it done.

Another thing that I found if you really want to make something work is that you can’t have a dream and know deep down that you’re not really gonna wanna do it that way. Like the thing about Swamp Trash is that I’ll draw a drawing only once or maybe twice if it really sucks and I really want it to work. It’s not my personality to go tinker with shit over and over. So it’s like I’ll just do it and that’s part of the reason why it’s called Swamp Trash too. That’s how I choose to work - I don’t want to have to be a perfectionist because for me it sucks all the fun out of it. I’m not capable of sitting there and being this perfectionist about stuff. I’m getting better at caring more but to a point ya know.

How did you come up with the name Swamp Trash?

I was coming up with all this stuff and I had this vision in my head for it be something Cajun, cause like my whole family is Cajun - my grandpa was a rice and soybean farmer - except for like a fourth of it is from Alabama but they’re still like dairy farmers. But I really wanted to incorporate that and then the trash part was like I don’t know I just wanted it to be kind of dirty ya know. Like I wanted it to sound cool and dirty and weird so that people wouldn’t expect me to do anything cute or care too much if it was kind of shitty.

 

Aside from New Orleans, most of South Louisiana can be pretty conservative. Because some of your stuff is edgy and slightly sacrilegious do religious or conservative people ever tell you anything?

I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone get truly offended by my stuff. My beliefs are not very religious but I don’t feel like it’s to the point where it’s disrespectful. I don’t make anything that’s meant for people to not connect with. I still enjoy the symbology of religious things like I really appreciate it in the same way that I look at tarot cards where those symbols mean something to some people and I like to be able to play around with it. And then I feel like it’s open to interpretation too. Like the pray for crawfish Mary, it’s like some people look at it and they’re like that is so metal and then some religious people are like oh my God that’s so cute I love her. It means something different to everyone.

What Artist do you admire?

I really like a bunch of different people on Instagram that have the same kind of attitude that I do. Where like stuff that they write is "lol this is so dumb." There’s this guy, I think it’s a guy, that’s called tittybats and he probably just grew it from this funny drawing that he made of like a bat with a bunch of boobs on it. It’s almost in the same vein as mine even though I found him like way after I started but like he’ll just have a raccoon that’s like hugging a trash bag and it’s like “trash."

An artist I really love is Tomi Ungerer. He is a famous children’s book artist. There's a documentary on Netflix about his life and it’s really cool, it’s called Far Out Isn’t Far Enough. His life story is really interesting and he is like my main inspiration because he does what I think I want to do. He was this prolific children's book artist and then also has these very interesting sexual drawings and stuff that are just black and white. I like how he is unapologetic about it and like yeah I can do both. His style and personality is inspirational.

Maybe it’s because I just turned 28 and I’m finally in the past couple of years starting to like own myself. This is who I am, this is what I want to do and I’m not apologizing for it - I’m just gonna do it and be it. Not like it’s easy but I feel like all the stuff that’s happening lately has helped. All the women’s marches and feminism coming to light and people having discussions about it. There’s this Instagram girl that’s really inspiring to me called "do you consider yourself a feminist." She’s gotten big so she has some follower submission too but she had started asking men on dating sites "do you consider yourself a feminist?" Just a simple question and the responses that she gets are crazy.

How do you decide which drawing turns into something you can actually sell?

I’ll put a drawing out there and kind of already have something in mind like the candles they’re inspired by the F&F shop down the street. The entire store is candles that are for something - it’s kind of like voodoo shit. They'll have like "make a man bow to your feet" or "stay away Satan" and there’s normal ones for money or whatever. They’re supposed to be for something so my designs for those are like pray for crawfish you light it if you really want crawfish or like the bad bitch one is like all about having an intention. Like I just want to be a strong woman so I’m gonna light this one and think about this intention right now.

What is your best selling product?

The shirt with the logo on it - the cool thing about Swamp Trash is that it’s not just a brand name but it can have it’s own interpretations too. I feel like it’s kind of lame to be like "I’m rich!" people would much rather be like "TRASHHHY" ya know it’s more fun. So I feel like it kind of has a double meaning for some people - they interpret it however they want. Every now and then I’ll see someone I don’t know wearing one and I’m like who are you??

What’s the weirdest place you’ve gotten an order from?

I sent one to England but I already knew the person. They’re like this British couple in their 40’s. So that was cool that they wanted one but I mean I did already know them. I don’t know though - I had a couple from New York and Nebraska. I just wonder if they're from here or if they just really love New Orleans. You know New Orleans is one of those towns where people come here and they have a certain type of experience - it's just a different vibe than other places. It’s its own thing and they want to be apart of it. I’ve heard so many people in New York be like "oh you’re moving to New Orleans? New Orleans is my spirit city." People connect with it in this whole other way cause there’s so much culture.

Did you ever have a point growing up where you didn’t like your Cajun heritage or have you always embraced it?

I don’t think there was a point where I didn't like it. My dad would take us to do all of this super Cajun stuff and I always thought it was really fun. My grandpa’s a farmer and we would go out to the farm and he would let us drive the tractor. I always had a lot of fun with it but I also didn’t really think about it either. I kind of took the whole thing for granted until I got older. I wasn’t exposed enough to other cultures to be like oh you guys eat meatloaf every night or whatever and realize how much of a difference there is in other parts of the state.

There's this special Cajun magic when you’re like dancing to Cajun music at festivals or like your mom makes a really good gumbo or you’re talking to your grandma who’s French and they’ve been speaking French forever - there's little special stuff that’s so unique and sometimes we take that for granted.

One reason I started Swamp Trash was I felt like I wanted to be one of the people representing people our age that are Cajun. I love how the older generation has their thing going on with like the crocs and the camo and the LSU everything - that’s all part of it and it’s fine but I feel like it needs some people from people from our generation to be like hey this is who we are and this is what we believe in.

How long have you had Swamp Trash now?

I’ve been in New Orleans for about 2 and a half years so probably like a year and a half to two years. But it was so small before. I’m not a very business minded person and I have to constantly mold myself into that to actually do what I need to be doing and take the next steps if I want it to be bigger. I kind of drag my feet - I feel like if I was a different type of person it would already be a little bigger. But sometimes I just feel too socially awkward to go sit at a market all day to be like "this is my art!" I’ve become better at it just from doing it and I’ll bring my little flask of whiskey with me and bring a friend and then it’s like a little party. But if I'm just sitting there alone I get all weird. It’s hard for me to talk about my own stuff in a market setting because I feel like I’m trying to trick people into buying stuff or bragging.

What do you feel like the future of Swamp Trash is

I definitely want to open a store. I have this idea with my friend Carly where we want to have a big space and do events there. My boyfriend, Pat, builds Mardi Gras floats and stuff so he can make these huge sculptures to have in that space. So branch out in a few different directions - hold dinners or wine tastings there and like have a little store front and a studio in the back where I can build stuff. Just kind of a space that works in a bunch of different ways.

Are you a New Orleans for life person?

Right now I want to stay here but it’s one of those things where I know that the only thing that’s constant in life is that everything's gonna change. So I’m not gonna say that I’m definitely gonna stay here forever cause who knows what’s gonna happen but I’d like to. I’d like for this to be my main hub.

What’s your favorite thing that you’ve done?

I really like the stuff that I feel like will turn into something more. Like that shrimp turning into a man gives me all sorts of ideas for other types of things where it’s like some kind of perverse science experiment gone wrong or like some weird future genetic mutation series. Things that give me more ideas where I’m like I could do a whole little book of these. I really like the gator hanging from his neck by the rope. It’s such weird imagery - I could have a million ideas from that.

I almost gotten eaten by alligators when I was little actually. I was probably 9 or something and we were crabbing. And if you haven't been crabbing before what you do is you tie a turkey neck around some string and pull it up really slow and when you see the string twitch you scoop the crab with a net. So I had a huge crab on my turkey neck and then I slipped and fell in the water. There were all these alligators like chilling around the periphery but they couldn’t really get to us because we were on these wharves that are ya know meant for people to go crabbing. And then when I fell in they all started swimming towards me - like 5 of them and they were really close they were like 15 feet away and this guy ran down the end of the wharf and grabbed me out of the water because there wasn’t anything to grab because I was little. Like the water was too low and I was trying to kick and I couldn’t pull myself up - it was so scary. My parents and sister weren’t near me they were on the other wharf further down. This random guy in a huge cowboy hat came and scooped me out. So I almost got eaten. But yeah I feel like there is just some really strong imagery that comes with those photos of the gator being pulled by the neck. Especially because people have been making all of this art about personal struggles with like anxiety and depression. So I feel like something where this animal is hanging by his throat and he’s like “it’s cool can I call you later” something like that is striking.

So the choker necklaces you made from the chain link do they kind of have the same tie to that alligator imagery?

I don’t know I didn’t really think about it in that way. Those were because I was hanging out with my boyfriend Pat in his studio because he does welding on the side for fun. He made this huge crazy shopping cart with this big paper mache pig head where he grills boudin. He had this chain in there and I was like ooh you should make me a necklace from that and he did. I was like this is so cool I should like sell these cause I was into it so I thought other people might be. I like that it just looks so industrial.

How do you deal with creative burnout?

I just give myself a break. I mean sometimes it makes me feel really bad. Honestly if I don’t think of a good idea for a while I’m just like well I guess I’m through like I guess I’m out. But I go through my old sketches and see if there’s anything that I missed or like is a good idea that could be drawn better that I just gave up on at the time. I’m always trying to make little notes in my phone to see if there’s something I can play around with. It’s a little easier now that I have built up my own kind of visual language. I can take one of my older themes and twist it around to something new. Sometimes I'll listen to old Cajun or Country songs and pick out a line that I think is bad ass and then I'll think of what would best represent that. So it’s like I have places to go look for ideas but sometimes even if I can think of ideas I tell myself I’m not gonna sit down and do this right now. Just being honest with yourself helps. Guilt is the worst - you can’t let yourself feel guilty about stuff like that. You are where you are and you’ll be back.

Do you have any other advice for creative people who want to start selling their art?

I think I already said this but you have to be honest with yourself about what you’re comfortable doing. Mold what you’re doing around what you’re comfortable with and what feels easy. This is just me, other people like to torture themselves with their art. One of my roommates does photo realistic paintings that he will just tinker on for months and I’m like that is literally my hell. I guess it’s different for every person but you just have to be self aware about what you’re actually gonna get done. Are you making it easy for yourself or are you making it hard? The other thing is don’t do stuff that other people are already doing unless you feel like it’s a truly original interpretation of it.

Outside of art and Swamp Trash what is something you like to do?

I just really like spending time at home - I feel like I have this really nice home life with all my roommates. Like I’ll be having a bad day and I’ll get home and they’re all just hanging out on the porch talking. One of us will cook breakfast for everyone or something a couple of times a week.

Hanging out with Pat and learning how to do stuff with tools has been really cool - that’s been something new. The other day I went because he needed help with all these wooden cutouts that are on these huge floats that he had to take down. So I was helping him unscrew them all and like it was more labor than I’m used to but I got really good at using my little drill. Stuff like that, learning how to build and how stuff works has been really interesting. It’s something I want to do more of. I helped Pat build this paper mache dog butt.

There’s this group of people that I’ve met lately and they have all these really weird parties and stuff. It’s really inspiring cause like all I need are these few skills and then I can do whatever I want. Any idea that I have then I can make a giant paper mache whatever. It’s really inspiring to just be around people that just kind of go for it.

What is something that most people don’t know about you?

I guess most people know I’m a twin but then when people don’t know and find out they’re like whaaat. It gets bad for me because I have a bad memory and a twin so when people are like oh yeah we’ve met I’m like but you could have met Lana so I’m not really sure what’s happening. So I guess that’s one but really with Swamp Trash people probably think I’m more hardcore or weirder to talk to in person. That’s how I channel that part of me so it’s like I’m pretty shy kind of. I think being a whole person is hard so exploring the parts of yourself that may not fit into something pretty or nice is more interesting and weird stuff comes from it.

Do you listen to stuff while you work like music or a podcast?

I’m fucking obsessed with podcasts. Like I almost have an issue where I don’t listen to music enough and sometimes I don’t even remember what music I like. I’ve gotten really into cheesy older country from like the late 90s/early 2000 and also like Hank Williams Jr, you know stuff like that.

Tell me more about the podcasts

I listen to every single one. Okay there’s like all the obvious ones like Radiolab, This American Life, 99 Percent Invisible. I listen to a lot of political ones like I like On the Media. There’s a new one that’s news every day called Up First and it’s only like 10-15 minutes long  but they really get to the point super quick and let you know what’s going on - it’s the people from All Things Considered. I really like Criminal. I don’t know if you’ve heard that new one S-Town. Dude S-Town’s crazy - that show got weirddd. Me and Pat were driving back from Austin and we listened to the whole thing in a row. I have to be in the mood for it because I really like to be informed more than I like to listen to people joke around but Two Dope Queens and So Many White Guys are both really funny.

The one I’ve been into the most is Mortified. But first you have to watch the documentary on Netflix! It’s this guy that started it because he found all these embarrassing old journals from High School or Middle School or whatever. And then he decided to do a little show of people reading them - like reading their own diaries. So it’s become like this big thing all around the country. So the podcast is people reading directly from their old diaries and journals. It is so fucking funny. It’s so awkward and they’re super embarrassed but laughing at themselves. They’re really honest in it. My favorite one so far was this girl that had an older friend that she had known forever that was getting really slutty and she’s just like “Lisa won’t stop giving all these hand jobs” like she had a really big problem with Lisa giving hand jobs and she kept mentioning it, it was so funny.

What does the world need more?

I feel like people need to be more understanding of where other people are coming from. I feel like lately a lot of people are just in their own little box. Even if it’s the other way around, like you think I would be talking about conservatives being more open to other people but it goes both ways. Just be willing to understand and have an open discussion about stuff. And also less money in politics and world peace.

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You can follow Lauren on Instagram @swamp.trash and purchase items here

This interview was originally published on June 4, 2017

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