THEMES & CONCEPTS
“Dee Dee from the band… had a very specific idea in mind, but I feel like it isn’t my place to speak for her on this.”
“There is a phenomenon called astral projection or astral travel which is the idea that there are two bodies – an astral body and a physical body, and there are some who believe that the astral body can travel outside of the physical one. There are some pretty famous photos depicting the astral body leaving the physical body, and Dee Dee wanted to make her own version with herself as the subject. Again, she would know better than I what this particular imagery means to her.
Well, I LOVE the image. It is one of the most interesting images I’ve worked with in a long time. That’s not exactly some high-minded insight, but it’s how I feel about the image. Dee Dee never told me if it has personal meaning to her. I know she was going through some things, so it’s possible that the image is directly related to that.”
“Tthe only thing to mention is the silver foil stamp on the front and back and maybe the old-style packaging. I’m referring to when LPs were first made, they were actually raw cardboard which was cover by a thin printed paper skin — as opposed to printing directly on the cardboard. Most modern packaging is done this way, and this piece was done in the old style. Also, there is a 22″ x 22″ foldout poster inside along with a snazzy CD dust sleeve.”
Despite never having met one another, Portland designer Dylan McConnell and Chicago’s Apteka have grown a well-fitting artistic relationship through the years. McConnell’s album cover for Gargoyle Days may be their most gripping collaboration yet.
QUOTES FROM: DYLAN MCCONNELL, DESIGNER ADAM LUCAS, APTEKA’S GUITARIST AND VOCALIST
THEMES & CONCEPTS
“We had worked with a sorta paranoid, dark op-art theme in the past for posters and albums (with a brief interlude of lopping off girls’ heads). High contrast and fluid — that’s what I was going for.” – Dylan McConnell
“We’ve been working with Dylan pretty much since the band formed. He’s done all our cover art, and most all of our show posters so far. Things clicked from the beginning. He just has a knack of taking what we’re doing musically and expressing it in a visual way. The funniest part is that we’ve never really met. He lives in Portland, and we’re in Chicago. A mutual friend turned us on to him, but we’ve never had the chance to meet in person. It’s all been through email. Which is kind of a weird way to communicate artistic intentions, but somehow it works, and he’s become this mysterious fifth member of the group.” – Adam Lucas
Using a purely spontaneous creative process that begins with nothing more than a general interest, Elena Johnston created an album cover for Adventure that musically and thematically captures the band’s dynamic spirit.
QUOTES FROM: ELENA JOHNSTON, DESIGNER
THEMES & CONCEPTS
“I had been working with the idea of framing compelling found images with other found images to play with texture and spacial relations. I was also really into water imagery and space imagery at the time, so I played with how these two ideas visually and conceptually play with each other.”
“I hand-drew the typography, and it was eventually printed in glossy ink onto the matte finish of the image, so it stands out more.”
The Artists Art Direction – Benjamin Goetting & Jacob Escobedo Photography – Augusto Grossi Back Cover Photography – Ricky Chapman
“Intense, surreal and moody…”
Atlas Sound – Parallax
British photographer Mick Rock, known for his work shooting Queen, David Bowie, Syd Barrett, Lou Red, and many other iconic musicians, gives the same lens treatment to Bradford Cox of Atlas Sound.
QUOTES FROM: MICK ROCK, PHOTOGRAPHER
THEMES & CONCEPTS
“To produce compelling, charismatic and memorable images of Bradford [Cox]. What was important was the process of the session itself and the energy exchange between me and him.”
“It was a very thorough exploration of Bradford’s image [and] aura, and we shot a variety of setups. After the session, Bradford emailed me: ” hanks for the magic. What a dream. Thanks again for the trip thru primitive and primordial fucking punk art…..!” Obviously he enjoyed the session as much as I did. It was a memorable communication between our raw psyches. He’s definitely my kind of subject!!”
“A mutual friend Michael Stipe [of R.E.M.] made the introduction. He thought it would be a perfect combination. He was right! Another mutual friend, Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, also provided encouragement!”
“We met and [Bradford Cox] played me the music on the album. Then Bradford also sent me images of mine that he liked and a few others that appealed to him. But that was just to further communication. We had no interest in duplicating any image.”
“There is no typography on the front cover itself… that was Bradford’s decision. Although the record label did insist on a sticker on the shrink wrap.”
With only a basic color palette in mind, Barn Owl located the perfect photograph to represent their drawn-out psychedelic sounds.
THEMES & CONCEPTS
“It was a photo we were both immediately drawn to. So it was more of an intuitive pull toward the image as opposed to fulfilling a strict concept. We sort of knew we wanted a landscape to give a visual representation of the drawn out, spatial music on the record.”
“Evan stumbled across the photo in an old nature magazine. It was taken in Death Valley. We decided on a color palette before actually choosing the image. We felt deep blues would match the somber, shadowy feel of the record. When we saw the image, we knew it would work nicely.”
THEMES & CONCEPTS
“We knew we wanted a strong photograph, something feminine and slightly dark.”
“We searched a long time for the right image. In the original photograph, there’s a very faint rash on the woman’s wrist. The photographer said it was something he always liked (the arm belonged to his girlfriend). I wanted to leave it in, but not everyone in the band felt the same way. We’re democratic, so I removed the rash in Photoshop. I’m not bitter.”
Braids – Native Speaker
A very basic spur-of-the-moment idea gave photographer Marc Rimmer the tools needed to create striking imagery with simple materials.
QUOTES FROM: MARC RIMMER, PHOTOGRAPHER AND DESIGNER
THEMES & CONCEPTS
“I was going for something fairly abstract. Something that accompanied the music and spoke to it, but didn’t give any ideas as to how the songs should be interpreted or what they are saying. I’m not the biggest fan of artwork that gives much away, or is a literal interpretation of lyrics, so there was definitely a conscious decision to not do that. Going into it I just had ‘texture’ and ‘color’ in my mind.”
“The main element of the packaging, the photography, is a photo of a forest taken through prismatic plastic… the kind that covers fluorescent lights in old government buildings, offices and schools. It’s pretty simple, but produced a really nice, effective result.”
“I went through a lot of different ideas along the way, and was going through a patch where I just couldn’t come up with something I was super excited about. It sounds pretty ridiculous, but I was in an old school one day and I literally just looked up and saw the light. Hah. I immediately ran to a hardware store and bought a sheet of the plastic and started experimenting. I remember it was freezing, and extremely windy that day… and hauling a giant sheet of plastic around was like carrying a sail. I cut my hands up on it; it’s super sharp!”
“I’ve known the folks in BRAIDS for quite awhile now. We are both from Calgary, where I used to play in a band and do photography and design work for bands, so we naturally met through those things. Now we both call Montreal home and see each other regularly; we’re all neighbours!
“BRAIDS were pretty cool and trusting in that they gave me full creative control. Knowing the members in the band and their tastes I had some basic ideas, but the funny thing about their visual tastes is that they all have very strong, varying opinions. One of them is a huge minimalist, one loves lots of colours, one of them likes a more loose, DIY aesthetic… so the challenge was not only coming up with something that spoke to the music, but something that each individual was happy with. It was actually pretty damn stressful at first.”
“If you don’t have a copy of the artwork in front of you, there is a glossy spot varnish over top of the black information area, which I think it a pretty important detail. Originally, I wanted to have the sleeve featuring only the colored texture, and have the information as a sticker, applied afterwards (not on top of the plastic wrap, but as a permanent part of the packaging), but the band and label had some logistical concerns. We ended up going with the spot varnish to set it apart instead. They are meant to be viewed as two very different elements — the fluid, colourful, textural part, and the black/white, rigid, calculated part of the information area. I feel it is like the music in that it is very textural, lush, vast, but if you listen closer it is actually very technical and considered.”
Eric Anderson of Cataldo captures “a period of emotional turmoil and isolation” in his life with a found image.
QUOTES FROM: ERIC ANDERSON, Cataldo
“I was looking through a Library of Congress photo set of color photographs from the 1940s. I think the idea of the project was to capture a wide array of American life, perhaps a hold over from depression era New Deal programs. I wasn’t looking for album art but nevertheless this image struck me as perfect. It’s actually a photograph of a University of Nebraska Shotputter–I loved the motion, the color pallette, and knew if I played around with the cropping I could imply a some kind of surreal boxing. Kiersten Miller, my collaborator on the design of the rest of the artwork, helped me decide on the current flipped image and the crop as you see it. Other than that we just punched up the color a bit and that’s what you see on the record.”
THEMES & CONCEPTS
“The original pictures were made with the intentions of showing a tender relationship between an old man and a young woman that was playful but not sex-driven. They ended up feeling as if the woman was a ghost.”
“David was over to our house, and I was showing him some pictures. I think he was looking at the S magazine where the story was originally published in. He was flipping through the pages and when he came to the cover image, he immediately turned the magazine upside down and said this would be a rad cover.”
“The real collaboration started in diapers. That’s how long I’ve known David.”
An entire suite of images for Out Of Love — with predictably destitute shots — create an abstract narrative of doomed love, conceptually fashioned by Mister Heavenly themselves.
THEMES & CONCEPTS
“I know [Mister Heavenly] are very thoughtful about art and design, so I’m sure there were many discussions amongst themselves. They had discussed a number of directions before landing on this one.”
“It was really just a lot of back and forth about different ideas and imagery until something stuck. This image was actually something they were pursuing from the beginning but we weren’t sure we’d be able to pull it off. In the meantime other directions were looked into (which were all pretty great, actually).
“While I really enjoyed working with the band as I mentioned, I also really enjoyed working with the photographer, David Belisle. It was amazing the way he brought this shoot together. He hired the models, location, car, everything.”
“There is a 12-page booklet inside with a number of other images from the various shoots they did. It gives a little more back story to how the young couple got to where they are on the cover.”
“We love Anouck. Being camera shy is not a beneficial quality as an artist, but since first working with Anouck for the cover of Saturdays=Youth, it was clear that in her hands we were safe and could come out of our shells. Her ability to convey such unique perspective in all her work is not only inspiring, but rare… from the studio to the bus, Anouck became our mascot, our cheerleader, and the documentarian of our life on the road. You’ve never seen such amazing tour photos. Even with a disposable camera, Anouck brings magic to her photos. We love Anouck.” FROM NERO MAGAZINE
By taking matters into their own hands — and with the help of artist Andrea Glaser — Portland’s Nurses were able to explore the dualistic themes of light and dark that are found on their album, Dracula, in a more visual way.
QUOTES FROM: ANDREA GLASER, ARTIST AND DESIGNER
THEMES & CONCEPTS
“We were thinking about dark and light and good and evil a lot, and how dark things are sometimes good guys and good guys sorta dark when looked at differently. Kinda like, when you’re afraid of the woods behind your house when you’re a kid, cuz dark scary things live there, then when you finally get the guts to go in, you find that’s it’s this whole beautiful secret world that is real and scary in some ways, but also new and fun and operates on totally different rules from what you know. Or when you’re back there in the dark woods and suddenly the sun streaks in through the trees — and you realize it’s actually totally breathtakingly beautiful and it’s just sorta you that was making it dark.”
“The image on the back is a still from some VHS footage John took while recording at the cabin. The front is a stick basket seat thing that we painted in backlight paint. The blue face on the back came from these weird photos we took — I think around the same time but unrelated — trying to make Aaron look like an unearthed corpse with a death shroud.”
The Parson Red Heads stumbled upon the perfect family photograph to continue their trend of keeping it all in the family.
QUOTES FROM: EVAN WAY, The Parson Red Heads Guitarist and Vocalist
THEMES & CONCEPTS
“First off, the Parson Red Heads have a theme of trying to use old family photos for all our full-length album covers. First album [had] Brette’s mom, and this album [has] Sam’s aunt.”
“Once we found the photo we wanted for our cover, everything else was chosen according to how well it fit with the feel and color scheme of the cover photo.
“We were sitting in the office of our guitar player’s father. Sitting on his desk was this photograph of Sam’s aunt Jane, and Sam and I both saw it at the same time and were immediately struck and both thought the same thing: “That is our next album cover!” And from that moment on the decision was made.
“We chose the photo before we even had the album completed, or before we had chosen a title for it — but it ended up working perfectly with the themes on the album, and the idea of the title. The album is called Yearling, which is a term for a horse between 1 and 2 years of age. The songs on the record are often about growing up and learning how to live, learning lessons, and loving people. Using the past as a compass, but not letting it guide you (if that makes sense). We thought that a photo of a young girl at her first communion, with a look of serious responsibility, or maybe even some hestitation, or fear (or all of the above) in her eyes was very appropriate to the themes of the record. And on top of that… it is just a beautiful, one-of-a-kind photo!”
“The interior image (an insert in the vinyl, a gate-fold image of the interior of the CD booklet) is a collage I created right after we finished the album, using all photos taken from the tours leading up to the making of this record, and during the recording of it. It features all the folks who play prominently on the album. It was inspired by the collage on the back of the first, self-titled, Beachwood Sparks album.”
QUOTES FROM: ROBERT ELLIS JASON COOPER, CONCEPT PAUL MOORE, ART DIRECTOR
THEMES & CONCEPTS
“We had a copy of the white album sitting on my kitchen table that we were using as a blank to come up with ideas.” – Robert Ellis (RE)
“I had been thinking about ‘photographs’ and had thought about the idea of having a frame of some kind on the cover. I literally looked up and saw those two framed photos of Robert’s parents sitting on his piano, and I just kinda set them on the white album the way they look on the record.” – Jason Cooper
“Robert brought the concept up to me at SXSW, and I was immediately intrigued and began conceptualizing how to best approach it to make it come off as unique as we could.” – Paul Moore (PM)
“All the photos are personal family related photos of mine. Some of them even relate to specific songs on the record. The pen,and the watch were both keepsakes from my Grandfather who I was very close with growing up. All of the objects/photos were photographed kind of elevated to make them appear as if they were floating.” – RE
“While working on the cover, it was decided to emboss the frames in levels and to also add a spot UV over the photos themselves to give them a glass effect.” – PM
QUOTES FROM: PATRICIA HALL, SOFT METALS ANNA MOROSINI, PHOTOGRAPHER MIKE SNIPER, DESIGN AND LAYOUT
THEMES & CONCEPTS
“We wanted a simple photograph representing love and tension. We like how the to figures could be of any combination of genders.” – Patricia Hall (PH)
“I try to roll with the punches and come up with layouts and fonts that work with the band; in this case I was thinking in terms of Factory and late ’70s fashion ads.” – Mike Sniper (MS)
“Ian and I had been hunting for images on Flickr that would somehow fit the mood of the album. We came upon the work of Italian photographer Anna Morosini, and it just felt like the right fit. We asked Captured Tracks to contact her to see if we could get permission to use some of her images for the album artwork, and she approved.” – PH
“They sent me their album to know if it worked for their music according to me, too.” – Anna Morosini (AM)
“As soon as Patricia showed me Anna’s work I knew it was a perfect marriage between the music and imagery. She really nailed it in choosing those images, it was as if Anna had taken the photos for the record, which of course she didn’t, but you’d never have known.” – MS
“[Anna Morosini's] art is heavy with mood and we feel it can be easily be related to one’s own life. We like the dark tones and dim lighting in her work. It was winter and we were living in rainy, dark Portland when we recorded the album. These images really fit with the environment we were immersed in at the time.” – PH
“I felt like the band needed something hazier and more muted then their prior 12″ EP cover… The photos were great in and of themselves, so it was easy to make it work. I went with a serifed and italic font to kind of soften the stark black/white background and borders.” – MS
“We opted for a glossy finish for the fonts and photos which you can’t see unless you have the vinyl LP and remove the cellophane. It looks fantastic if you do!” – MS
THEMES & CONCEPTS
“I took the photo in a mirror in a hotel in Austin, Texas. It was my birthday and someone gave me a pomelo that day. I’d never seen or eaten one before. So when I peeled it, it was kind of a ridulous amount of work, and it didn’t really taste good… That’s when I decided to take photos of it because I doubt that I’ll peel [another] one open anytime soon. What also made me want to take pictures was how big the wedges were; they were like the size of my hand.”
“When I got home I started to play with the photos on the computer and the image just stuck in my head for a while. that’s when I knew I wanted to make it the cover.”
“I thought the photo had a lot of similar elements of the album too — like how it was timeless, intimate, and weird. I also was giving a nod to other record covers from the ’70s, they always seemed sexy and cryptic.”
“We had discussed how we wanted the front/back/label photos, and had a pretty good idea about how we wanted the booklet photos to be as well. I had produced their record, so I knew how they wanted it to be at that time. We had discussed the album art during the year it took to produce, so when it came down to the actual designing it was pretty easy.”
“We thought about using pictures from their residential neighborhood, but then Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs came out, and then we didn’t want to do it.”
QUOTES FROM: MICHAEL PATRICK O’LEARY, PHOTOGRAPHER
“The artwork was just captured as part of a casual spontaneous shoot. Plain and simple, we were just playing in the pool at night with cameras.
Jenn [Wasner] and Andy [Stack] [of Wye Oak] are actually friends and have been for many years. They came across that image prior to recording the album and asked me about using it for the cover. They chose the artwork before recording the album. I think a lot of times this is done in the reverse order, where a band would record an album and then find some suitable cover art based on the music.”
Absu’s latest album, Abzu, is the second in a trilogy consisting of their last record, Absu, Abzu, and the upcoming Apsu.
Though the artwork for Absu used the artwork of Belgium’s Kris Verwimp, Absu announced early on that their latest cover enlists the help of Polish artists Zbigniew Bielak and Costin Chioreanu for a change in style. Nonetheless, the exact artists are a mystery, as Chioreanu replied to us in an email saying, “This album has a great cover indeed. But [it] is not made by me and I had zero work on that cover/booklet/etc, even [though] Absu announced my name officially on the first descriptions of the new album. They simply forgot to explain officially that I, without knowing the reason, even [when] I asked, was kicked off this project. And I didn’t even show them a sketch for this project.”
Thelema, a spiritual philosophy initially developed by British occultist, mystic, and writer Aleister Crowley, influences this new record even more than the last. “We’re aesthetically detouring into more mystifying, Thelemic realms: musically and lyrically,” explains drummer and vocalist Proscriptor.
He elaborates more on Abzu‘s themes and the symbolism in the cover art in an interview with Eternal Terror:
“Abzu is not a concept album – it is a collection of theorems, which ties into both pieces of artwork which represent the album. The CD cover is basically a continuation from the last, self-titled album. The Abzu is Enki’s shrine and the temple in Eridu; a mythical place where life influencing powers reside and the results are incomprehensible, unfathomable and secretive; a place producing raw materials. The Elder Sigil produces such ambiguities placed in the center of the main pillar. The vinyl cover contains an interpretation of the Emerald Tablet of Hermes because it stimulates right brain responses and arouses intuition, imagination and insight. At this point, my verbal explanation is inadequate, but it gives me a starting point to somewhat explain the Enochian cuneiform implication of ‘V.I.T.R.I.O.L.’ sealed within the rim. There are seven Latin words in the statement. In alchemy, the Below, there are seven metals. In astrology, the Above, there are seven planets. In each of us, there are seven chakras. Taken together, they point to seven levels of action internalized by a concocted philosophy classified as the “Anzu Ceremony.” In Sumerian mythology, the Anzu Bird is a divine storm-bird and the personification of the southern wind/thunder clouds. This demon, thirty-three percent man/thirty-three percent eagle/thirty-three percent lion, stole the ‘Tablets of Destiny’ from Enlil and hid them on an apex. In conclusion, this is why the tornado appears to lift the seal of vitriolistic nous.”
Ghostly International collaborator Michael Cina takes a moment to explain how his album artwork for Benoit & Sergio’s recent releases offer a loose narrative, though they’re presented in the form of vastly different visual manifestations.
QUOTES FROM: MICHAEL CINA, ART DIRECTOR AND DESIGNER
THEMES & CONCEPTS
“It was originally set up through Will Calcutt, and we had been wanting to work together. He originally worked with Benoit & Sergio [on Midnight People] to develop some ideas that were based around Egyptian folklore. The photo shoot started off with [Benoit & Sergio] in suits acting quite normal and progressed into them in their underwear barking at each other. We knew that some sort of ‘conjuring’ was going to take place through post-production, and that is where I came in. I created a whirling form that was held in one of the members hands.”
INTERVIEW CONTINUED BELOW
“The last cover is what set the tone for this record. I wanted to do something otherworldly. A passage into another world. I felt that this was a good analogy for the next stage of the process. If the first cover was a key, this was the gate… I needed a sequel to the first cover but something that was still open-ended enough to make people want to look in and be curious about. The main question that I wanted the viewer to think was, ‘How do these two photos relate?’ It’s not philosophy or a deep story, but it does have intent.”
“I knew I wanted to use an image, so I teamed up with the photographer, John Klukas, and we had a photoshoot. I did a lot of post-production on the work and decided to remove all the literal information and to use the female form to make her the symbol. I did three paintings (acrylic, pigments) and merged them how I saw the final work looking.”
To convey themes of “memory loss, birth, death, growth, [and] decay” for Bon Iver’s self-titled album, Minneosta painter Gregory Euclide literally constructed and deconstructed his art with painting, drawing, and an array of natural materials.
“I received an email with track titles and descriptions of songs. I listened to [Bon Iver] non-stop as I was making the work… allowing myself to only listen to that album. I knew what Justin [Vernon] was interested in getting because we spoke several times over email and on the phone before I started anything.
“Melting the snow from the Midwestern winter to get the water to create the work was a powerful part of the process. It felt like parts of the work were undergoing transformations that were being depicted in the images as well as the music.”
“I created a second painting for the inside that was also used as the cover for the single ‘Calgary’.”
Petri Henriksson and Jaakko Pallasvuo take cues from NEU! and Casiokids’ music to create an album cover that conceptually pays homage to dualities of simplicity and complexity, major labels and independent labels, naïveté and knowledge.
QUOTES FROM: PETRI HENRIKSSON, DESIGNER JAAKKO PALLASVUO, ILLUSTRATOR
THEMES & CONCEPTS
“As a starting point, I was looking for something iconic and absurd. The title, Aabenbaringen Over Aaskammen (roughly translated as The Revelation Over The Mountain) worked as a loose framework for the ideas. Contrast between the magical or fairytale-like content and the naive aesthetic of the word gave a direction. And since the record was going to be released on major label (the Norwegian version was released on Universal), I felt like it would be nice to make cover that did not have aesthetics of a mainstream release but more like in a DIY direction.” – Petri Henriksson (PH)
“The use of color was debated and thought of a lot. The inspiration for the neon orange version of the covers came from the iconic Neu! album cover. To me, the reference was amusing and good since the drawing style on the cover is so rich and baroque and in opposition to the concept of the Neu! cover. The ability to use a similar strategy with the colors and presentation of the drawing but ending up somewhere completely different because of the inherent differences in the content was interesting.” – Jaakko Pallasvuo (JP)
“The ideas were developed while drawing. I already knew in the beginning of the process that I wanted to collaborate with another artist/illustrator on this cover. I’d met Jaakko Pallasvuo in Berlin and seen quite a lot of his work, so I asked him to join the project. He liked the the idea, and we decided to meet up in my Berlin office in Kreuzberg to draw, paint and brainstorm. We spent a couple of afternoons to develop the idea. Jaakko painted and drew a big bunch of images while I scanned and tried out different colour combinations and compositions. He drew a lot; I selected material and scanned it, and I worked with typographic manipulations. I worked quite a lot with “destroying” or mishandling fonts by scanning the text wrongly. The logo is also manipulated this way.” – PH
“I think this tension between rich, tense, almost chaotic drawings and the fairly minimal setting they’ve been placed in is the core of it. The album has perhaps a more lush, eclectic, generously layered vibe than the covers, but I think they make sense together. Maybe the cover art can be thought of as another layer on the music, just the keyboards or snare drums.” – JP
“The cover was printed in one colour offset, four different versions of the release. Each region has its own colour: USA: red-orange; Norway: dark blue; Japan: violet; UK: green.” – PH
John Dyer Baizley precisely and methodically uses symbolism, ornamentation, and thoughtful compositions to tell big stories within the confines of small spaces. He has seen wide recognition for his full-color illustrations — most recently with album covers for his own band, Baroness, and Norway’s Kvelertak — but his collaboration with Gillian Welch is attracting attention from new crowds. For The Harrow & The Harvest, Baizley was given the opportunity to step out of his usual musical world into a more muted but equally artistically rich one.
QUOTES FROM: JOHN DYER BAIZLEY, ARTIST AND ILLUSTRATOR
THEMES & CONCEPTS
“First off, any project without a direction is immediately suspect to me. Gillian Welch and David Rawlings are nothing if not thorough in the conception and development of their ideas. They have spent years developing and refining an thematic arc and a narrative to work within. At the beginning of my involvement with them for The Harrow & The Harvest‘s design, almost all of the music and lyrics had been written; there was a pretty clear direction in which the artwork and design was to move. While such a fully-developed record can sometimes limit my input, with this record it was a real treat. Gillian is great at building narratives within her songs and in finding an implied storyline across the course of her records. Clearly, any complimentary artwork would include elements of the pastoral and Gothic allegories for which Gillian is so renowned. I try not to be too literal when I interpret music, and I try to keep to a visually poetic representation of the music I hear.
“The most challenging part of my projects tends to be the concept phase. We spent a good bit of time going over ideas and directions, until we all agreed on a direction and general layout.”
“The genesis of the artwork was based on some loose ideas and imagery which Gillian and Dave and I talked over. After I began sketching and rendering, things had a tendency to evolve and adapt in real-time as I was in the process of making the artwork. Generally, I don’t like to share much of my process with the artists I work with, but they seemed to understand and articulate visual ideas in much the same way that I do. They received work-in-progress updates very frequently, and the art itself would shift and alter based on subtle changes in our discussions on theme and concept. It was really fluid and exciting to feel things change as we went along, even if it lengthened things a bit.
“When I make album art, it’s very important that I immerse myself in the music I am creating for. This can be a bit tricky, as advance copies of records are very delicate things. Sharing unreleased records is how leaks happen. I was fortunate enough to get a chance to listen to the record long before the release date, and besides that, I had all their prior records, which were on unceasing rotation in my studio. I always work to music. When I was a young, one of my favorite episodes of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was the episode where he has you paint and draw along with music. The idea made sense to me then and has been a vital tool ever since.
“I started the artwork with a full pencil rendering, then transformed that into and ink drawing, with paintbrushes and pens (my tools of choice). Then we put the pen and ink version through a very intensive and painstaking process letterpressing. It was a real task to get a 14″ x 14″ piece of artwork compressed down to CD size, without losing critical bits of detail. Some loss was inevitable, but I think the final print was beautifully accurate. If it ever comes out on LP format, the artwork should look even better. I am a vinyl fanatic and design everything to be presented as such.”
“I am a musician as well as a visual artist. Gillian and I work with some of the same people through our music, some of whom must have shown Gillian some of my work. We both come from opposite ends of the music spectrum; and I think the cross-genre appeal of the collaboration was exciting for all of us. We got to break out of familiar molds and work in foreign waters, which had a pretty exhilarating effect on the project. The music industry has a way of insulating itself and shuffling everyone into genre-specific bubbles. It becomes easy for artists to operate based on the strictures of those bubbles, and we can become blissfully ignorant of the scope of music. Gillian, David and I are not the type of people who thrive in orthodoxy, and we were able to come up with something both fresh and familiar with this record.”
“Let me preface by saying that Gillian and Dave are willing to dive down some deep rabbit holes in order to see their concepts realized. The letterpress idea was the result of an off-hand comment that I made about keeping the artwork black and white. Trust me, it’s easier and cheaper to use a more traditional print process like offset, screen-printing or even a regular full-color process. The letterpress has to be run manually; and I think they printed something like 100,000 covers. When that was done and we were looking at some test prints, I mentioned how you can add an aged-patina look to cotton-rag paper by simply dipping it in coffee. Gillian was apparently drinking coffee at the time. The first remark she made when she saw the result (I heard her her in the background on a phone call I was having with David) was, ‘Who can we get to dip 100,000 CDs in coffee, and where can wwe get all that coffee?’ This wasn’t even half a joke; she was pretty serious. Obviously, in the end it wasn’t feasible, but it almost happened.”
QUOTES FROM: MATT PFAHLERT, DESIGNER KATHERINE WHALEN, KATHERINE WHALEN AND HER FASCINATORS
THEMES & CONCEPTS
“Conceptually, [Madly Love has] a very comfortable feel; [it's] a well-weathered old friend, as it were. The album has these very sweet moments, this comfy familiarity that I wanted to capture. The challenge was really getting all the elements the artist wanted to see as part of the package to feel like they belonged together, to have a sense of balance. We had been given original artwork, photographs and a few other personal pieces that spoke to Katharine in one way or another, so we needed to create a canvas where all these things made sense and spoke to the album’s Madly Love title. Katharine fell in love with a particular woven tablecloth she found. We all agreed the color palette was absolutely perfect for the album’s feel, so once the rights were cleared with the weaver, that really began the project for us.” – Matt Pfahlert (MP)
“I am also a textile artist and knew I wanted to involve vintage fabric, and perhaps have the finished product appear almost to be something other than a CD. I had some slide photographs I had taken of tiny animals on a riverbank that went well with the band images we included, too. Matt and I had conversations about a consistent palette also; I think a lot of creative information is being conveyed in such a small space… because we kept to our plan of using warm 1960s textile-like hues.” – Katharine Whalen (KW)
“Part of the ‘and her Fascinators’ band name comes from the fact that Katharine makes and sells her own line of ‘Fascinator hats.’ Very stylistic and colorful in design. When I saw a photo of one, I immediately knew what I wanted as the CD imprint: a shot of one of the circular hats photographed from above… it worked perfect, and she loved it.” – MF
“The Pink Hat on the actual disk is part of a series of hats I embroidered last summer as a homage to the vacation lifestyle photography of Slim Aarons. Mostly people’s hats said ‘Bermuda’ or ‘Nassau’ etc. so I made some that said ‘Madly Love’ for a lark!” – KW
“When it came time to design the back cover, I hate dealing with the unsightly UPC code (especially in this case). We have this nice artwork going along, and now I gotta stick this black and white bar code in there and ruin it… so instead, I tried embraced the thing and made it grow barcode ‘branches’ coming out of the top portion right into the image and band name typography.” – MF
THEMES & CONCEPTS
“In Pallers, we like to impose the idea of other worlds, parallel worlds, or made-up places, both visually and audibly. This theme [is one] we’ve had for our previous releases and also this time.”
“The first idea for the album artwork was soon scrapped, and we had to come up with a new concept. Since I like to buy really old books with pictures of animals and nature in them, I started to play around with these in Photoshop… I just went bananas with filters, coloring and layering. That’s how we ended up putting birds on things.”
“The inlay for the vinyl is the part that I´m most proud of, mostly because the pictures are bigger on 12″. Looks so good! There is also a hidden text in the pictures of the CD version (but not on the vinyl).”
Jenny Mörtsell was commissioned by Portland’s Parenthetical Girls to create a series of four illustrations for four different EPs — what she describes as a somewhat nerve-wracking ordeal when “your client is also the person you are drawing.”
“The band came up with the idea, and for each sleeve, I was sent about four photos of one of the band members to choose from (I usually chose the photo with something a little odd going on, to add something of interest) and a logo and text that I then hand-drew as well.”
Parenthetical Girls are a damn good looking band… I’m so happy I finally got a commission to create album art similar to one of my favourite album covers of all time: Françoise Hardy’s Comment Te Dire Adieu”.
After an extremely simple exchange, Michael Cina soon found one of his paintings adorning the cover of Peter Wolf Crier’s Garden Of Arms.
QUOTES FROM: MICHAEL CINA, ARTIST AND PAINTER
“I got an email one morning from their manager asking if they could use one of my paintings for their cover. After three or so emails back and forth, we came to an agreement. Peter swung by my office an hour later and picked up the piece. Done!”
“The painting was a sketch for a larger painting. I really liked it and thought I would post it. I have tons of sketches laying around so I was lucky to upload this one and see the route it took.”
Breathe Owl Breathe’s The Listeners / These Train Tracks 7″ is not just a record, but a children’s book as well, with all of the content illustrated, woodcut, and letterpressed by the band’s frontman, Micah Middaugh. The band released 1,000 copies and are distributing all of them mostly by themselves.
Touche Amore – Parting The Sea Between Brightness And Me
“What is the feeling when you’re driving away from people, and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? – it’s the too huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-by. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.” – Jack Kerouac, On The Road
QUOTES FROM: NICK STEINHARDT, TOUCHE AMORE GUITARIST AND ALBUM ART DESIGNER
THEMES & CONCEPTS
“The artwork is based around the lyrical themes present on the record — the consequences of being gone as much as a touring band’s nomadic lifestyle requires. Having your idea of home not actually being one concrete place. The idea of the road as a physical and emotional barrier. I wanted the photography to feel familiar but absent and partially removed, and the typography referenced roadside signage — as you’d see from the window of a car.”
“My initial visual research was conducted pretty widely, collecting various reference over a long period of time to familiarize myself and the photographer as somewhat of a mood board. From there, I’d say the photography was done much more spontaneously, but from a thematically-informed perspective. On the design end, I work very loosely at first, get a lot of ideas out on paper (or computer), assess and clarify concepts, then refine and structure.
“When I met with our photographer to go over the shoot, I instantly connected to the mountain image used on the cover… It had a perfect sort of stark quality and deadpan perspective, and just felt like driving through nowhere. I think the creation of the ‘asterisk’ road/sun icon really ended up anchoring the whole piece and giving it some further weight. It’s also when I had the idea for the minimal graphic / typographic interventions to bring additional meaning when overlaid and paired with the rich and grainy photographic textures.”
“The standard LP is just a single jacket with a printer inner sleeve. For the deluxe LP we went all out. It’s a 28 page LP sized, foil stamped hardbound/smyth-sewn photo book with a pocket for the 180 gram LP glued on the inside back cover. This edition was limited to 1000 and the pre-order crashed our record label’s website.”
QUOTES FROM: JESSE LENZ, ARTIST AND DESIGNER CHRIS “#2″ BARKER, WHITE WIVES’ GUITARIST AND VOCALIST
THEMES & CONCEPTS
“We decided to revision the Seven Deadly Sins as it would take place in suburban America. Unfortunatly we couldn’t print all Seven, but there might be a special release vinyl coming out… We wanted to twist the “plot” once the viewer got half way through the artwork, so we put the families in a huge lab where these Big Brother / Corporate America looking figures were watching them. They could be studying them or forcing them to sin.” – Jesse Lenz, on his website
“We wanted to create every aspect of the art, the CD, the vinyl itself, to our shirts, pins, whatever. They are all planned to compliment one another and achieve the goal of creating a reaction to the imagery.” – Chris “#2″ Barker (#2)
“We gave [Jesse Lenz] music, song titles, lyrics, all as quickly as we could. We were in the studio when the art was created. I remember viewing the cover after tracking some vocals and really believing our vision was coming together.
It was digital mostly, but I know that Jesse uses a vast catalog of vintage magazines and ads to create his collages. I believe the hand cut images get cut, pastes, manipulated, scanned, organized. It’s the definition of mixed media.” – #2
“My wife is a graphic designer and worked with Jesse Lenz on a project at her work. She recommended I call him for the White Wives artwork. She was way right! I loved the meeting we had at a chinese restaurant. It was so simple. We instantly clicked; he brought a portfolio that blew our minds. The food was terrible. I don’t think Jesse ate.” – #2
“The art was created to have no singular cover. Each panel can be moved into that position. For the vinyl, we released 3 separate jackets. We also created silk-screened posters that went out with album pre-orders where we had a local friend re-draw and print his interpretation of the covers.” – #2
“Before all else, I learned all these playthings were not mere idle trifles invented by manufacturers and dealers for the purposes of gain. They were, on the contrary, a little or, rather, a big world, authoritative and beautiful, many sided, containing a multiplicity of things all of which had the one and only aim of serving love, refining the senses, giving life to the dead world around us, endowing it in a magical way with new instruments of love, from powder and scent to the dancing show, from ring to cigarette case, from waist buckle to handbag. This bag was no bag, this purse no purse, flowers no flowers, the fan no fan. All were the plastic material of love, of magic and delight. Each was a messenger, a smuggler, a weapon, a battle cry.” – Hermann Hesse, from Steppenwolf
YACHT usually manage all aspects of their design and branding, in every medium and every field. The only exceptions are their last cover for See Mystery Lights, which was illustrated by Boyd Elder, a Texas-based artist, and this packaging for Shangri-La, which is quite an experiment in pushing the definition of what album art can be.
THEMES & CONCEPTS
“Because ‘YACHT’ is the name we use for everything we do — music, text, objects, video, and design — we don’t consider any part of our output to be peripheral. The design of the YACHT website is as important to the experience of YACHT as our live shows are. So it should go without saying that we go to great pains to make sure that the physical copies of our albums are things worth owning. Of course we are great advocates of the online, of the massive interconnected reality of ineffable connection, but we also believe that touch matters. Physical objects matter. As Hermann Hesse wrote, they give ‘life to the dead world around us, endowing it in a magical way with new instruments of love.’
“Shangri-La is definitely such an instrument of love. It pulls together a wide array of our favorite influences into one encyclopedic document that belongs on a bookshelf as much as it belongs in a record store bin. It was important for us make something that came from print design — not music or commercial design — which is why we enlisted the help of Scott Ponik, who largely makes books.”
“Shangri-La is a very rigidly designed object… As far as we know, no one has ever packaged an LP or CD quite like this. The LP and CD are both nested in four removable nesting dust jackets, each of which is a high-quality oversized print document that could stand on its own. The outer dust jackets are like inverted liner notes; the album borrows formal elements from books, stylizing and exaggerating them to illustrate that the album plays both with narrative and literary themes. The dust jackets display lyrics and colophon on their inner flaps, and large-scale images on their outer pages. The images we chose range from 18th century utopian architectural studies to science-fictional texts that speak to the larger aspirations of this band. Each image provides fans the opportunity to dive deeper into the raw materials of what makes YACHT what it is.”
“It was extremely difficult to make this album look the way it does. To date, the European version of our album is a standard booklet-in-jewel-case thing; we couldn’t convince our label over there to invest in such an object. We believe, of course, that people don’t buy CDs not because they don’t want to participate in owning the music, but because CDs aren’t made to last, and aren’t made to add value or beauty to the world. We’re lucky to have a record label (DFA Records) that understands the importance of attention paid to design. They took a risk with this, and we hope it’s been a worthwhile experiment.”
“It was also important to us that people understand how this album is different from others–and how it actually works–so we made an “unboxing” video (borrowing from the trope of online “unboxing” videos, usually reserved for technology products) in the woods.”
This in-depth feature highlights how well-executed album artwork can go beyond genre lines to expand into territories of philosophical, thematic, and conceptual significance. The amount of time and effort that goes into planning and executing album cover artwork is rarely acknowledged — but as you’ll see from the thoughtful responses shared by musicians and artists, perhaps now more than ever, album artwork is an extension of the musical product itself.
Our third annual year-end cover art recap, this year’s is the most unconventional yet. Album covers are no longer ranked in a linear fashion, but are shown on a spectrum, just like our Albums of the Year and Top Songs.
Xhurch, a repurposed church in North Portland, has decided to take last year’s live reenactment of the Nativity one step out of the terrestrial and into a more cosmic direction, with this year’s Alien Nativity.
Last year’s Nativity had the usual characters — Mary, Joseph, Jesus, three wise men, a sheperd, animals — but this year, the three wise men have been replaced by four aliens holding elementary particles of the universe, baby Jesus by… yourself?
“You wind up seeing a reflection of yourself, and that’s the symbolic message of nativity. Recognizing divinity and potential in yourself. And at the same time perhaps recognizing the terrestrial nature of Christ,” says Matt Henderson in this interview.
Upon first entering Xhurch, one is presented with a beautiful full-color postcard and 3-D glasses to use when passing through portals of neon light. Here is just one of many thousands of potentially brilliant images (it’s remarkable what a combination of 3-D glasses and some neon lights can do…)
As lifted from the back of the postcard:
WE ARE NOT HUMAN BEINGS HAVING A SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE
WE ARE SPIRITUAL BEINGS HAVING A HUMAN EXPERIENCE
You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.
Upon entering the nativity you shall walk through the five archways of the material world. Each represents a new stage of life beginning with birth and ending in death. Since these are the only certainties in life, the meaning of the three remaining archways are your choice. While taking your journey down life’s vibrant tunnel you will see to your left the four “wise men” bearing the four molecules of life. These are carbohydrates, lipids, nucleic acids, and proteins, all of which are necessary to sustain life on Earth. Each wise man also bears a symbol on its chest representing the four elements of Fire, Water, Air, and Earth. If you look to the right you will be confronted by the therianthropic shaman figure representing a mixture of myth and tradition that have led to our current conception of Santa and his reindeer…
Suspended in the sky above is our largest Alien entity representing cosmic intelligence. In all of us, this wisom is accessible. In all of us, it is the fabric of the cosmos. We are connected to the source, but have no means of truly understanding it.
This video below says it all with local news cheesiness. This installation will be running every evening through Christmas.