This week Faces of First Ave sat down with the city’s quietest force to be reckoned with, Ben LaFond, to talk about how he became a screen printer, questionable dumb luck, and bugs. 

What’s your middle name?

Cooper. My grandpa named me that – Cooper. My full name is Benjamin Cooper LaFond.

What brings you to First Avenue these days?

Musics. Shooting photos. Eating cheese curds. Lurking on the sidewalk shooting photos. Always good people watching.

What shows were you at most recently?

I was at RONiiA album release in The Entry, Aesop Rock in the Mainroom, and Cryphy in the Record Room… a hat trick all in one week!

Or a turkey!

Turkey’s better… I bowl more than I play hockey, so let’s go for turkey.

Do you remember the first show you attended at First Avenue?

Absolutely. House of Pain with Rage Against the Machine opening for them in ‘93 or ‘94. That was the first concert I ever went to without my parents, went with some junior high friends, jumped around and whatnot. It was super great, had an awesome time. Rage Against the Machine totally stole the show. I think it was right before they went on that first Lollapalooza tour. It was insane as a seventh or eighth grader witnessing that band at that part of their career was incredible and I’d obviously never seen anything like that before.

What’s your day job?

I am a screen printer at Burlesque of North America. It’s part design house, it’s part screen printing shop, it is part party-throwers, it’s part… eat-a-lot-of-snacks. We do concert posters for a lot of local bands, a lot of national bands.

When and how did you hop onboard with Burlesque?

August of 2005 was when I first made contact. I was in school for graphic design at MCTC and had an interest in screen printing but never really explored it, but trying to figure it out was kind of intimidating – there’s a lot of shit that can go wrong with it. I saw that Aaron Horkey was doing screen prints through this place called Burlesque and I knew of Life Sucks Die (the magazine that they used to do), and Aaron and I had gone to high school together at the Arts High School. I thought cool, should go check those guys out, had bought a few things from them on their website and they sent out their first email newsletter ever and was like “I should hit those guys up, see if they need some help” so I shot them an email.

I was in school, had a bunch of free time and I just went to meet them one day and help rack posters. They were working on an Arcade Fire tour series – Arcade Fire in Central Park was the first one that I helped on. Then the next one was actually for their show in 2005 at First Avenue, the ferris wheel poster, and just sort of made myself available as-needed and worked some crazy ass middle of the night shifts and did a bunch of grunt work. I cleaned the screens and watched over Wes’ shoulder and picked up as much as I could. Then it became busy enough that I was able to get hired on full time and I took on the majority of the printing there. I didn’t finish school but I got a great job working in the field.

You took the shortcut.

Yeah.

And photography-wise, do you shoot professionally, or do you mostly come down for… sport?

I mean I’ve been paid for stuff but it’s sort of just fun. Like, I shoot a lot of the Doomtree stuff cause they’re friends and I’m just around, hanging out. But yeah, I’ve never really pursued concert photography professionally. It’s just kind of fun to do on occasion. There’s so many people doing it. I feel in the way. I kind of feel like a hack, because I don’t really know what I’m doing at it.

Which I would like to say is preposterous, at least stylistically.

Stylistically dumb luck.

And street photography?

That’s also dumb luck.

What isn’t dumb luck?

Hm. I’ll get back to you on that.*

Not a single thing?

[deep silence]

In closing: what’s your favorite animal?

Oh god.

What’re your favorite three animals?

Oh god.

What’re your favorite five animals?

I really like hawks.

After all that, you picked one.

[laughs] 

Bugs are awesome in their uniqueness, and the sheer amount of them is mind-boggling to me and makes them incredibly interesting. Hashtag #hellyeahbugs

You’re responsible for that hashtag on Instagram and it’s blown up hasn’t it?

It did, apparently! Other people like bugs too!

You’re making it big on the Internet!

*Several days later, Ben actually did get back to me on the issue of dumb luck in the form of a message that read: “Okay so I just got my film back from the Doomtree Blowout and I would like to retract my dumb luck statement. I can work a camera, I suppose.” Head over to his personal Instagram for a taste of what he’s talking about. 

(Interview: Sarah Brumble)