Tom Hazelmyer: punk-rock printmaker

JIM WALSH | Updated 4/10/2013

Meet the punk rocker turned bar owner turned printmaker.

Tom Hazelmyer
Photo by Tom Wallace

Four years ago when Tom Hazel­myer came out of a monthlong meningitis/encephalitis-induced coma, doctors told him to go home and do Sudoku puzzles to regain his motor skills and brain function.

His response? Classic Hazelmyer:

“Go fuck yourself.”

Instead, the 48-year-old musician, artist, Marine veteran, husband and father of three fashioned his own rehab by taking up an art form he’d never explored: hand-cut prints, which start with carving images and letters in reverse on linoleum.

“Veronica had a school project at home, some carving stuff, and we got some linoleum slabs and I started dickin’ around with it,” Hazelmyer said, standing over the ink-stained work table in his office and puffing on a pipe as 17-year-old daughter Veronica drew nearby.

“The brain damage was such that writing and some other stuff was scrambled up. So you have to relearn how to do everything, think about doing it while you’re doing it, and it’s to the point now where I can write backward upside down.”

Hazelmyer became “completely obsessed” — a phrase he uses often. His office walls overflow with new prints by his artist alter-ego HAZE XXL, many of which will be on display at Soo Visual Arts Center starting this weekend.

Founder of the pioneering punk rock label Amphetamine Reptile Records and co-owner of the Grumpy’s Bar empire, Hazelmyer is a poster child for the DIY work ethic. Each of his engraved linoleum blocks takes eight to 12 hours to carve at his home workspace in Hopkins. Then he hauls the stamp to his office behind the downtown Grumpy’s, where he methodically makes the prints.

“That’s what I dig about the process, having part of yourself in it,” he said, acknowledging the irony of his turn away from technology. “It took me over 20 years to get to where I can do anything I want on the computer, graphically. I’ve been doing album covers and posters for years, and the second I master it all, I start cranking out hand-cut letters.”

Born and raised in Michigan, Hazelmyer moved to Minneapolis with his family in 1980. He worked summers at the foundry and formed the punk bands Todd Lachen and Otto’s Chemical Lounge, but ultimately he found the underground scene stifling.

“I quit Otto’s to join the Marines,” he said. “It was the most unpopular thing you could possibly do from the hardcore scene [perspective]. That was ’83, and I was running with that crowd, who were like, ‘Ronald Reagan’s gonna get us to war.’ I was like, ‘Really? I’ll sign up. Who’s gonna go first? The Marines? That’s who I’ll go for.’ ”

While stationed in Seattle, Hazel­myer hooked up with members of Mudhoney and other musicians who would go on to make Seattle the capital of grunge. While on leave in Minneapolis, he formed the noise trio Halo of Flies. The sound proved too grating for independent record labels of the day, so Hazelmyer founded Amphetamine Reptile. The label thrived into the ’90s, releasing incendiary music by the Melvins, Helmet, Cows, Boss Hog and many others.

For Haze, as he’s known to his friends, one project or idea flows organically into another — all born of a fertile work ethic that found him partnering with his father and his longtime friend Pat Dwyer to open the first Grumpy’s in Coon Rapids in 1995 (sold in 2008), followed by the northeast Minneapolis edition in 1998, downtown Minneapolis in 1999 and Roseville in 2008.

“I’ve never had a problem rolling up my sleeves,” he said.