Jacob Ciocci is best known as a founding member of Paper Rad, a collective of artists who in 2001 launched their gif-tastic site, bringing a previously localized aesthetic to the world wide web. An early student of all forms of computer art Jacob Ciocci's frequently collaborative work has taken the form of comics, paintings, video, music and, of course websites, bringing a humanist dialog to mainstream and underground culture alike.
Where are you from?
I was born in Lexington, Kentucky, then moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina in the eighth grade. That's where I met David Wightman.
How did you meet?
We probably saw that we were both wearing a Nirvana shirt. I think we actually got to know each other the most through this Acafellas group. We were also both into band stuff—he knew how to play classical music and I sang in a boy's choir.
What other stuff were you guys into?
David was the first person I knew personally that ever made a zine. It was called The Dandy Chicken. There was also a really great radio station at UNC called WXYC, which I would say was life changing for us. We would just listen to it all the time and find out who was who. That's how I found out about noise music and free jazz and all that stuff.
Were you interested in art in high school?
I drew all the time but it was mostly comics-based characters—I think I only ever really finished one complete comic of my own, mostly doodles of characters. I took an art history class in high school but it was really cursory.
What comics did you like?
I really liked Maxx. I also really liked Todd McFarlane and Rob Liefeld. Maybe we're moving out of a period where everybody hates them (I don't know I don't follow comics that much now), but certainly in the last 10–15 years everybody hated on them pretty hard. They did the comics that some say destroyed the industry. The drawings have huge anatomically incorrect muscles, bad writing, really colorful… I remember being obsessed with the detail mostly. I thought anything that had insane amounts of lines was better than something with less lines.
You went to Oberlin for college. What did you study?
I got a minor in computer science. It was a major for people who were not trying to be programmers, but wanted to get good at the basics and learn all the software. I minored in that and majored in fine art. Probably one of my favorite classes was Introduction to Contemporary American Religion. That blew my mind. I realized I was really interested in contemporary American culture and how it's related to the crazy history of our country.
Had you been interested in computers before then?
I took a programming class when I was 10 or 11. I guess one of my earliest collaborations with my sister Jessica was a text-based role-playing game we made on the PC. We made computer images too, but those and the game are probably lost forever.
What about the internet?
I didn’t have any internet really in high school, but when I got to Oberlin my parents bought me a Mac and all of a sudden I had access to a T1 connection. It was a big deal—a "this is what I'm going to do for the rest of my life" kind of a situation. It was clear that computers were now going to be the dominant creative platform for both input and output in my life. It wasn't going to be just magazines, or painting, or whatever. Everything was forever going to be filtered through these machines.
Were there peers that were also interested in computers in this way?
Yeah. Paul Davis and Cory Arcangel were both in the Conservatory. It was really inspiring to meet the two of them because what they were doing was different than what other people in their department were doing. They were doing work that was on computers that was engaging on multiple levels. It wasn’t overly academic but it also wasn’t thoughtless. It was somewhere in between. 
Were they teaching computer art at Oberlin?
Yeah. There was one class where we learned about internet art, and how to make websites and interactive CD-ROMS using Macromedia Director.
What was the first website you made?
I was interviewing this blind painter for one of my independent studies, so I made an experimental website to document it. It was mostly images and videos. It had very little text. It was more like an abstract space in pastel colors with interview snippets and audio samples from this blind painter. I was trying to make it look and feel spiritual, new age.
What was your attitude towards art when you were in college?
I was inspired by art that had some sort of relationship to people outside of the gallery/museum/academic/fine-art world. I remember outsider art was something that I—and a lot of other people—was inspired by.
That reminds me of Fort Thunder. Had you heard about Providence while you were at Oberlin?
I was friends with Gillian Russom, whose brother is Gavin Russom. They're both from Providence. My other friend Mandy Fischer's sister was at RISD. Between the two of them I started to hear what was happening there. 
Was it inspiring to you?
I thought it sounded interesting. I also started to hear about music like Black Dice, Lightning Bolt. Then for Christmas, Jessica went to Million Year Picnic in Boston and bought me all these comics. They were really mind-blowing, Ben Jones’ early stuff, Ron Regé Jr., Chris Forgues. I don’t think we could even get our hands on any of the Fort Thunder stuff. When I graduated, Jessica was already living in Boston, so I was like, "This is a no-brainer, I'll just move in with her and we'll try and be friends with these people."
So you met Ben Jones in Boston?
The first time we met Ben was at one of his screenings. He went to Mass Art and startedPaper Radiowith Chris Forgues there. We were introduced to Ben and Chris by Joe Grillo, who we met through Andrew MK Warren, who Jessica worked with at Wellesley.
So there was Paper Radio, Paper Rodeo, and Paper Rad…I get them mixed up.
Paper Radiowas a Boston thing. I know they had a period where they would do it every week and it was free. They were stealing the copies from Kinko's and would just hand it out at shows, events—leave it places. I heard thatPaper Rodeowas named after PaperRadio. I think it was an interesting situation where Ben and Chris and their crew were inspired by the Providence/Fort Thunder crew and the Fort Thunder crew were in turn inspired by the Boston/Paper Radio crew. 
And there was also Dearraindrop.
Joe Grillo was working under the name Dearraindrop with at least a few other people. I think it was initially the name of the clothing line he did with Laura Grant. Joe was making really engaging, amazing stuff at the Museum School and we'd go over to his house to play music. His house just blew me away. Joe had a really keen, advanced set of interests in the stuff that he collected from thrift stores.
How did Paper Rad start?
Paper Rad started as a website. Ben wanted to make a website for all the new stuff that me and Jessica and Joe were making. After meeting Billy Grant and Laura Grant, Paper Rad became basically the six of us plus collaborators. It was always very vague to me who was in and who wasn’t considered a "part of it,” which was something I liked.
You were making videos too, right?
When Jessica and I moved to our apartment in Boston we had free cable. We would watch it at night and just tape the funny parts, or the parts that we wanted to give to Ben, who would watch TV and send us clips too. I became aware that there were people trading videos, which seemed like an interesting proposition—just circulating these bizarre moments that seem to otherwise be lost. I think the first tape I saw like this was when I was still at Oberlin.
Kind of likeHeavy Metal Drummer?
Yeah. It was a pre-internet, viral-style video. Remember: no internet meant no easily accessible, centralized archive of odd moments. If you saw something at three in the morning on cable or unearthed a bizarre tape from a thrift store, it felt almost imperative to try and document it and share it. Because no one else was…
How did things change when YouTube started?
For me it was a big change. All of a sudden it was, "OK, now weirdness is no longer hard to find." Once YouTube happened, not only did sampling become easier, but the sharing of nuggets of gold became completely commonplace. Even though YouTube started in 2006 or something, I think we are still as a culture trying to figure out what this shift in access to weirdness means.
Your video work is a combination of found footage and animation.
Ben had already started making his own animations. He kind of pushed me and Jessica to make Flash animations, and Billy was making his own animations while still in high school in Virginia Beach. We all started making animations and it seemed intuitive to combine the animation onto VHS, mixtape format, with the found footage. That was sort of the beginning of the Paper Rad mix tapes.
What was the first Paper Rad mix?
I think the first one wasPJ Vidz. PJ Vidz stood for (among other things): Peaceful Jackass Videos. Something with the spirit of Jackass in a way, but peaceful as opposed to snarky.
Paper Rad definitely had a new age vibe.
That was one of the things that Ben, Jessica, and I all had in common. Our parents were into new age mysticism. We grew up with this shared language of post-hippy spirituality transposed onto a suburban-American consumer-youth experience. BMX bikes + new age = Paper Rad.
Were you doing video work outside of Paper Rad?
Paul Davis and I made a video that was a mash-up of Rihanna’s Umbrella and that Cranberries' song Zombie. But instead of it being like a traditional audio mash up, or even a video mash up, we were instead directly inspired by people who were already manipulating ones and zeroes in digital video compression in order to create the effect which is now often called "datamoshing."
I'd written on the YouTube description for that video that the data on this video got all “moshed up,” instead of "mashed up.” We were always joking about how mash-ups should be called "mosh-ups" instead. Then one day I remember someone emailing me asking me if I could explain to him how to do "datamoshing." I LOLed and felt weird.
Can you speak about the comics you made during that period?
I was really inspired by how productive the Fort Thunder people were, how much they made, how focused and productive they were. My approach was to draw every night on ticker tape, which to me was a good example of like a never-ending story.
What were your comics about?
They were about a young boy named Little Dude, who is a lost soul just trying to find his way. Then there is this older guy named Box Eyes who's sort of his mentor or God, saint, spirit, whatever. Box Eyes is the guy that helps Little Dude get through.
I remember really enjoying them. They definitely stood out.
I think what a lot of people liked about them was that they were kind of more emo than the other comics being made in that scene. They were also about technology and computers. For two or three years that was what I did—tried to figure out what computers and digital culture meant for humanity, through these little drawings on paper that were distributed in zines first, and then on our website. The ideas and metaphors I started in those comics have carried me through all of the stuff that I do, even now. 
You guys started doing art shows too. How was that for you?
Well there was a lot of cultural power in the name Paper Rad, but it wasn’t because of the discrete fine art objects we were making. It was because of the ephemeral qualities of our work—the websites, the zines—and what we represented to a generation of young people. It was unclear to us, and even the galleries we worked with, how that would translate to a commercial gallery context.
At the time it felt a little awkward.
It was awkward at times, at other times I feel like it worked really well. We delved in headfirst and tried our best, but looking back on it I think certain things could have been handled with a little more nuance. Anyway, eventually more and more people started asking us to do things in other contexts too, like advertising.
Is that how WYLD FiLE started?
Yeah, we made music videos for clients. E*Rock from Portland started that and basically invited us to be involved. WYLD FiLE was clearly about making music videos for other people—mostly paid situations. The agenda was often more vague and expansive with Paper Rad.
You guys were doing mostly Flash animations right?
WYLD FiLE videos are probably almost all Flash. We all started using Flash because that was the one software that we could get our hands on for free. Some would say that comes from punk, but it comes from so many different attitudes. It's just a principal of using whatever tools you have available to make something great—not being held back by lack of access to fancy equipment.
The first time I saw Extreme Animals play live it felt like a combination of Lightning Bolt and positive, uplifting trance.
Yes, exactly. I'm pretty sure I introduced David Wightman to noise rock stuff like Quintron or Black Dice, Wolf Eyes, but he was listening to trance. He had a keyboard, and was like, "Here are these compositions I've been making, lets do them with noise drums and you playing noise and screaming on top."
I had been listening to the Hackers soundtrack a lot when I first saw you guys. It felt on point.
Right. Then of course what happened was that all of American pop music (and arguably underground music too) shifted from a rock paradigm to an electronic music paradigm, and even more specifically: trance! So the meaning of what we were making completely shifted underneath our feet. 
Is that why you added a guitar recently?
Yeah. I remember we were at this party recently and someone was saying, "Guitars are my cue to leave." I was like, "OK, definitely we've got to do more guitar." If something is so entrenched as a belief that it seems obsolete or irrelevant, then it's probably ripe for creative exploration. So Extreme Animals is pro-guitar, and in particular pro-nü-metal guitar. Plus David loves metal—he even taught a class on it at UCSD!
What kind of musical literacy is required to make Extreme Animals music?
That is a great question, especially because David has a PhD in music composition, and has taught musicology. He is somebody who is really savvy and sophisticated at a pastiche mentality: combining different musical genres, tropes, or pop and sub-cultural references.
So it’s all fairly self-conscious.
Some of it is strategic. We will definitely sit down and talk about what our band is doing and how it relates to what other people are doing…how it fits in or doesn't fit in within today's world. But, as much as we do that, we also just play around and do what comes naturally.
It's very confusing to figure out what it is that you do "naturally" versus how you want to fit into the world. That's the job of the artist—to get good at that. Figuring out how to filter out the world at a certain time, and let the world in at another, in a sophisticated, yet simultaneously intuitive, way.