Meet the band that defaced the Hollywood sign with a painting of a cow
Like many an Angeleno, the city’s famed Hollywood sign has undergone its share of cosmetic makeovers. In both 1976 and 2017, cannabis advocates amended the sign to read “Hollyweed” — and as recently as February, a group led by model Julia Rose rechristened the sign “Hollyboob” to promote breast cancer awareness.
On the afternoon of Friday, April 2, a new posse of pranksters returned to accessorize the sign, this time by draping a painting of a cow across the first “O,” which stands 45 feet high by 33 feet wide. After the police pursued the perpetrators via helicopter, then on foot, three suspects were apprehended: visual artist Danny Cole, photographer Landon Yost and Greg Aram, the singer-songwriter behind the L.A. alt-rock band Junior Varsity.
For the second time in just over two months, the Hollywood sign has been altered — this time with the image of a cow’s head placed over the first “o.”
“The whole thing only took eight minutes,” Aram, 25, told The Times on Wednesday. The group hiked along a designated pedestrian trail, hopped a fence, then strapped themselves to the letter with climbing gear and attached the painted sheet. “I’m scared of heights,” said Aram, “so I don’t think I would’ve been able to do it without that gear.”
Aram rolled his ankle while running from the police. “By the time we started climbing down, there was already a helicopter above.”
Aram and his friends each were charged with a misdemeanor for trespassing, typically punishable by a fine not exceeding $100; he has a court date set for August. “I sat in jail for seven hours with a broken ankle,” said Aram, who was bailed out by Stefan Max, an A&R executive at Warner Records. “It was in the Hollywood precinct, so you can imagine there were some characters in there.”
The “Holy Cow” stunt was neither an act of animal-rights advocacy nor an Adbusters-style culture-jam against capitalist consumerism. Aram explained that he recruited Cole to paint the cow, then decided it would represent the band. “We toyed with [putting the band logo] on the Hollywood sign but that idea didn’t feel interesting, it felt like an advertisement. There are deeper meanings in the cow for us personally, but we want to keep it open-ended.”
Aram cofounded Junior Varsity with multi-instrumentalist Zach Michel, 25, in 2019; since then, the band has amassed over 15,000 followers on Instagram and landed a deal with Warner, all without releasing any music. On the same day as the cow stunt, the band issued its debut single, “Cold Blood.”
A woozy amble through the sounds of early-aughts alt-rock and hip-hop, “Cold Blood” is a work of dark comedy, colored by Aram’s wry malaise as he details the time he got tased by a cop while out with friends. The video follows the band cruising past a man on fire and aimlessly wandering a farm flanked by — you guessed it — cows.
“We were already going forward with cow imagery in the music video and single artwork when the idea of doing something with the Hollywood sign came up as a possibility,” Aram said. “Cow is king.”
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Aram, who hails from New Jersey, and Michel, a Bay Area native, met as college students in New York City. In 2019, the two left New York for L.A. and grew a fan base exclusively through their live shows, raucous three-night happenings billed as “A F—ing Weekend,” where they shared lineups with burgeoning alt-pop acts like Jean Dawson and Quiet Luke.
“We didn’t present it as a show, we presented it as a party,” said Aram. “If 100 people showed up the first night, they’d go home and tell their friends to come back the next night. Then 200 people showed up the next night, then 400 the next.”
Junior Varsity staged the weekend concerts in New York and L.A., at which reps from various record labels began surfacing with offers. “We realized that having support [from Warner] was going to benefit us, versus putting out music on our own,” Aram explains.
Junior Varsity spent most of its past year in lockdown writing and recording songs, some of which will appear on its upcoming EP. “We’re looking to drop sometime before the summer,” said Michel. But before signing off, he takes great care to stress, on the record, that he was not involved in the cow prank.
“I played no part in the stunt,” he asserted. “I was literally miles away. I have receipts!”
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