By Michelle DeLong
The barrel-aged Ruckus has been a taplist mainstay since 2010, but due to popular demand, we are taking this baby from the barrel to the bottle and throwing a dope label on there, too. The Ruckus beer is an imperial stout aged in port barrels, but the man, the myth, the legend of Ruckus is actually the original creator of the Thai Me Up logo, artist Benji Pierson. (If you’re on the hunt for a bottle of our barrel-aged Ruckus, hop in your car or alternative form of transportation and purchase a few at our Taproom in Alpine, Wyoming). Benji aka Ruckus himself is a Seattle native who built his brand while snowboarding and causing mayhem in Jackson Hole, earning himself a permanent place in the Melvin family. Find out how, given only four weeks to live, Benji beat the odds, got sober, picked up his snowboard and pencil once again and laid down a crazy label for some crazy ass beer.
You bring the Ruckus and you ARE the Ruckus. What’s the story with your nickname?
I was on greek row at University of Washington with a couple buddies when I was like 23 or 24, and we were drinking at a sorority party. The cops show up, and they’re little bicycle police… I was taunting them from the yard saying what are you gonna do, handcuff me to the handlebars? I eventually lured them away from the party with my ruckus, and the name stuck. It’s more of an idea than a man. We have all been ruckus drunk.. well, some people get karaoke drunk, I got ruckus drunk.
How did your art career kick off?
I started out customizing clothes when I moved to Jackson. I would get shirts or hats and draw on them and make them my own because in Jackson, there’s nowhere to shop. There are elitist brands, or you’re shopping at Kmart because you’re a skid (skid: noun, an affectionate Jackson Hole term for a Ski Kid “Did you just see that skid eat the fries off of the empty tables plates? Yeah, I saw that same skid stomp a 40 foot cliff today”) and spend all your money on skiing. So I started drawing on hats with Rob Kingwell and his company Avalon 7.
You and (Melvin founder) Jeremy Tofte go way back… how did you get tied in with Melvin?
I hung out with Tofte when I moved out to Jackson because all us Washington kids kind of stuck together. I started working for him in 2004 and did the original elephant logo for Thai Me Up and some painting in the interior. We kicked around some ideas, but I ended up focusing on my Ruckus brand in Salt Lake City.
Now you’re back designing beer labels for us, so how did that come about?
In 2015 I had complete liver and kidney failure and they gave me 4 weeks to live. A really good friend took me in and took care of me, did all the research to find the best hospitals and doctors, what the best diet was, everything. I was hospitalized and bedridden for a year and a half, I was atrophied, all this shit. Tofte was one of only a handful of friends who kept in contact and checked in on me, and he asked me when I got better if I wanted to do some things for Melvin. I got better, got out of bed, out of the wheelchair, back on my snowboard, back to drawing. I’ve been sober nearly 3 years now… I was in the hospital for my 39th birthday, and by my 40th birthday I was on top of Crystal Mountain.
Which projects did you tackle first?
The first project we worked on was for the Experimental J-Hole can. It was my first official gig after my recovery. Then they asked me to design the label for the barrel-aged Ruckus, and I am the Ruckus, so it made sense.
What was your vision for the Ruckus label?
I wanted everything to be in motion, to be bringing the ruckus! The concept is this guy who goes through the city and the mountains and discovers who he is. The main character in the forefront is ghosting through the other characters, and he is evolving. The city towers are speaker towers, the mountains are sound waves, and it’s just all encompassing. If you really look at it, there’s some crazy shit in there– I spent a lot of time in the hidden details. There’s all this ruckus going on, but in the chaos you find serenity… through motion there is calm, and the drawing is chaotic but centered.
Hidden details… like what?!
There’s a guy with chainsaw, a dude with goggles on about to go shred, a cyclops in the speaker, a ninja warrior… and more. The label is only 40% of the whole drawing.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I try to bring things from within myself. I don’t use rulers or computers, my shit is straight up traditional, the old fashioned way, with a little bit of imagination and a pencil…and hip hop instrumentals. I grew up with epilepsy and my mom got me into Star Wars really early, which inspired me a lot. I’m also inspired by 80’s movies, like recently I made this totem pole of 80’s SciFi villains. Also, just evolution in general… I’m learning a lot as a person, and I hope that comes through in my art.