Inside Shepard Fairey's Provocative New Doors and Interpol Collaborations

Drummer John Densmore and the legendary graphic artist on Native American justice, lawsuits and 'Ghost Song'

The Doors and Interpol Credit: Getty; Drew Reynolds

Jim Morrison recorded the vocals for the Doors' "Ghost Song" in 1969, reciting poetry about a car accident he witnessed as a child. Almost a decade later, the surviving members of the band added instrumentation, and last Friday, the song was reissued as the A side of a Record Store Day 12-inch benefiting indigenous-peoples arts organization Honor the Treaties. 

"I always thought 'Ghost Song' was kind of Native American," Doors drummer John Densmore says from Los Angeles. "I tried to suggest that with the drumming, and Jim does that line at the end about 'Indians scattered on dawn's highway bleeding.'

"The project [came] out the day after the first peoples of this land taught us how to give thanks and, gee, we weren't very nice to them. We took their land. So maybe this project is a little wake-up call."

The record's cover art was done by Shepard Fairey, the graphic designer behind the famous Barack Obama "Hope" and Andre the Giant "Obey" images, an artist who knows something about delivering wake-up calls. Having previously created covers for groups such as the Black Eyed Peas, the Smashing Pumpkins and Led Zeppelin, he was a natural fit for new projects from both the Doors and Interpol.

Densmore first met Fairey during a Prius event in Los Angeles. "I immediately became aware that he was a really talented guy who gives back a lot," Densmore says. Fairey went on to design the cover for The Doors: Unhinged, Densmore's 2013 book about the fractious six-year court battle around his refusal to license Doors music for Cadillac commercials, and Densmore's son would eventually work as Fairey's assistant.

"Having gone through a lawsuit about the Obama poster, I really related to John's book," says Fairey, who introduced Densmore to Honor the Treaties and its mission to "amplify the voices of Indigenous communities through art and advocacy." Over the last few years, Fairey has collaborated with the organization to create a series of striking posters – some of which, like the "Ghost Song" cover, are based on images by prize-winning National Geographic photojournalist Aaron Huey.

Densmore and Fairey hope "Ghost Song" inspires listeners to think about more than turkey and bargains. "I like Thanksgiving as an occasion for family members to appreciate each other," Fairey says. "But in terms of the history of how America has treated its natives, it's a little bit of a selective celebration, if you know what I'm saying."

Speaking from JFK airport, the artist was returning home to Los Angeles after executing a mural for Interpol in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. While a snowstorm trapped the band in its tour bus across the state, Fairey was painting and stenciling in the record breaking New York City cold. "I was painting in 25-degree weather," Fairey says. "I didn't have a choice. It was the window of opportunity for doing it. I never paint murals in weather like this. Spray paint doesn't perform well below freezing." The mural, located at North 7th Street and Driggs Avenue, was unveiled when Interpol returned home to play three nights at Manhattan's Terminal 5. 

The Interpol-Fairey collaboration, "Interpolation," consists of the mural and a set of signed prints. "The cool thing," Fairey says, "is they use red, black and white in almost all of their stuff already, which works with my color palette."

Just as the title of Interpol's new album, Elpintor, is an anagram of the band's name, Fairey created new slogans by rearranging the letters of song title "Everything Is Wrong," stenciling "The Very Growing Sin" and "Every Wrong Insight" onto the mural. "They make sense in terms of all of the poor policy choices we make," he says of the phrases, "even knowing about the science of climate change and other stupid shit like that."

Fairey takes Interpol singer Paul Banks' lyrics to be "kind of cryptic," but he finds meaning in them nonetheless, applying them to themes common in his work – including the Doors' single cover: "I chose to interpret them through my politics to be about poor choices, empire mentality, overconsumption and the dark side of power and glory of America."