Fizzy Exclusive Q&A With LA's Chillest Pin Makers, Afterschool Spectral
We’ve all heard that phrase: Let’s put a pin in it. It’s a polite way of saying “Let’s come back to that later, definitely” when someone has an idea that may not be revisited ever again, at all. Afterschool Spectral is turning that phrase around—bringing wary nostalgia into the light of modern culture through their exceptionally cool, eerie, and cheeky enamel pin designs.
Formed by Los Angeles artist couple Carly Correa and Tavis Balkin, Afterschool Spectral brings fashion and design to the intangible world of “hauntology.” Their detailed pins add that extra special punctuation of cool and invoke subtle humor. But unlike a lot of other fashion/design operations, these accoutrements are not alienating or high-brow; just like the fastened function of a pin, Afterschool Spectral is uniting the past, the future, and the present—and more importantly, taking part in an ever-growing community of global pin artists and collectors. Tavis and Carly sat down with Fizzy to dive into the subject a little deeper:
How was Afterschool Spectral born?
Travis: Basically, we started collaborating when my band Slow Coda was putting out a cassette tape and we wanted to design all the artwork for it. After that, we thought we should dive into pins. We were following a couple pin accounts on Instagram—and it was kind of cool—we noticed it was a burgeoning trend where artists where putting artwork out there through enamel pins as an alternative to expensive prints. It’s easier to throw down a couple bucks to own an original piece of art that’s going to last.
Carly: I was already making buttons before we started the band stuff. My dad gave me this Mad Magazine button maker from the 70s, so I was able to sell designs and noticed that there could be some success working with pins.
Tell us about the first pin you designed.
Travis: Our Hypno TV pin was modeled after one of those big TVs with wood-paneling around it. Mine was super heavy. You know, those really old ones where you need like 4 people to carry? That’s what we based our first pin after—I was like, I couldn’t be the only one who grew up with an old, giant TV. It ended up looking kind of Twilight Zoney. There’s a lot of detail on that pin—which is impressive because these pins are hand-painted by our manufacturer using tiny needles.
How would you sum up Afterschool Spectral in 3 words?
Travis: Wistful, anachronistic, and fun.
Is it common for couples to get into pin-making? What’s that like?
Carly: I think a lot of the pin makers out there that are couples, both of them are already artists who probably share a similar taste. And for us, we’re always hanging out all the time, and we were already both doing some kind of art and into the same stuff culturally. So that kind of led us to want to collaborate and the light went off.
What’s the secret to making your designs eerie, but also fun
Travis: I think a lot of people our age forget about obsolete technology. It’s not like at the forefront of anyone’s minds. Just seeing those things is weird, right off the bat. But then we like to add another layer to our designs—something like a joke to make it funny, creepy. Like the phone’s dead.
Carly: For me, it’s like adding some kind of emotional meaning to it. Tavis is more the horror buff guy. He has a lot of movies I can’t really watch. So he’ll go a little scary—and I’ll make it a little more colorful.
What do you think of feeling nostalgia for eras that you never personally experienced or remember?
Travis: There’s a weird word for called “hauntology.” It’s basically a concept where people make art or music that sounds like it comes from a past time—but they’re making it today which can sometimes add a layer of irony based on what we know now, living in the present. It’s supposed to reflect an alternate timeline. I was kind of fascinated by this idea, it’s an old term, but people have been using it more because we’re starting to miss that late 20th century technology in some way.
Carly: Yeah, all these childhood things we loved are closing down. Like there’s only one roller rink left in Los Angeles. Blockbuster doesn’t exist.
Travis:And they ceased production of the VCR recently too.
How does modern technology play a role in Afterschool Spectral’s process?
Travis: We’re not just ragging on modern technology. There’s a whole community of pin and patch people that wouldn’t exist without digital technology and the Internet. Instagram does a lot to help people connect to pins and pin culture—or just in art in general.
Carly: We try to add that extra level of detail to our designs. That’s where it’s good to have digital [graphic design] programs.
Let’s fast-forward and pretend it’s 2036. If we were still in our 20s and you were still making pins, what kind of things would Afterschool Spectral pull inspiration from?
Travis: I think people would flashback to early 2000s, being nostalgic for like MP3s, Netflix DVDs.
Carly: Well, the iPhone or smartphones are like the biggest thing in everyone’s life, unfortunately.
A lot of the technologies you reference in your pins have a lot of detail in their designs. Do you think that’s missing from modern devices?
C: Yeah, design for technology products today has gotten so minimalistic. As chic as it is now, it might be hard to celebrate in the future. That’s why we’ve become so interested in all the ornate details in vintage tech.
Your School Sucks pin is a neat callback to those Schoolhouse Rock videos. If you were to make a Schoolhouse Rock today, what lesson would you want to teach kids?
Travis: Talk to each other, listen to each other—but more like get off your phone. Technology’s great and super helpful, but at the time same, we all get so sucked into it that we’re not fully there.
Carly: Yeah, face-to-face, have real interaction. People love their phones because it provides a layer over who they really are. But it’s not just teens today, it’s all of us. We’ve been the same thing since we used AOL Instant Messenger, trying to be a little cooler than we actually are.
Travis: Remember when you had to call your friend’s house and talk to their parents? It was so nerve-wracking.
Carly: Yeah it’s so crazy. Back in the day, there was more community that way. Like, when you had to pick up a girl for a date and say hi to her dad. Now it’s like: Yo girl, I’m outside.
Close us off with some style advice. For the new pin collector, what’s better: Displaying a single statement piece on your clothes or showing off a huge collection?
For me, I kind of like the smaller amounts, like 1 to 3, because it’s easier to wear on the daily. But it works both ways. You have to choose: Is this your flair-jacket or is it flair on your jacket?
More about Afterschool Spectral
Afterschool Spectral recently became a Featured Brand on Storenvy, where you can learn more about their process. Visit them online to shop their exclusive enamel pins, patches, and more. You can also dive into pin culture on Instagram by following them at @afterschoolspectral.