In a new feature dedicated to the art of art, and music. Jon Falcone looks at upcoming releases from the next two months that marry an excellence of sound with a love of a tactile product. Be they strange, beautiful or interesting, each release offers something worthwhile to stuff in your hands, as well as your ears. Consider it a coffee table book for your smartphone.
Yo’ True - ‘Wild Rice’ (Rogues Records)
Ben Wood is a 29-year-old Londoner, originally from Yeovil. As a former tour manager Ben took the plunge to move to London to pursue his dream and as Yo True, ‘Wild Rice’ is his debut effort. As an artist Ben provides his own artwork that’s as eclectic and neon-tropicalia inspired as his musical mix of Max Tundra electronics, Silver Sun plastic harmonies and Fleetwood Mac road rhythms. With a perfect pairing of sleeve art and sound, we caught up with Ben to discuss his love of music and felt-tip pens.
DiS – So how come music, and then on top of that, how come crazy day glow felt tip artwork?
My parents took me to shows from age 3 or thereabouts. Doobie Brothers, Foreigner, Def Leppard, Metallica, AC/DC, Nils Lofgren, pretty much everyone who came through Bristol or Bournemouth, even London for the big acts. We listened to great music constantly in the car so it was just natural to me to know all the words to those bands. I wanted desperately to play, but I didn't want to spend my time practising and learning. When I discovered dropped D guitar tuning and realised I could make a racket without having to know proper chords that was pretty important.
Whilst making this record I found myself back at that same point with a keyboard, and rather than learn technique, music theory, chords that belong to together and how to play them, I just kept putting notes into a music sequencer until I heard the chord that I had in my head. It's thrilling.
I loved drawing when I was a kid too, but there's a problem when you hit school and there are bratty kids or tired art teachers telling you your art isn't as good as somebody else's, or suggesting your technique is wrong. I took a few confidence blows and didn't draw again until last year. I think the liberating feeling of finishing that first album and the joy I got from making it gave me the confidence to chuck myself into something new.
Wild Rice, album cover:
DiS – Do you value art as a part of musical packaging? Who or what inspired you in your own artwork?
There's never really been a separation of music and art to me. The album artwork, the gig poster or flyer, the image on the t-shirt or the pin badge, all these things have the power to excite me like a great song can.
For example, I did get heavily into Man's Ruin Records in about 1998. It was this dangerously collectable American label run by Frank Kozik the artist. All the bands ruled and he would do the cover artwork and make posters for tours and shows. I loved the bold colourful designs, the running themes through all the artwork, the heavy, weird music and the fact that none of my friends had heard of it. That kind of music and art marriage is really exciting to me.
More recently I'm inspired by Toby Goodshank, a Brooklyn artist who draws, paints, films and makes amazing music. His work has no big commercial agenda, he just creates, tirelessly and honestly, in whatever medium he sees fit. He has the most outrageous imagery in all his work, it's addictive and there's always something new of his to check out. My friends have serious skills and inspire me too. Sally Renshaw does these super detailed repeating patterns that are beautiful and Gee makes brilliant, hand drawn stickers and sends them around the world at www.dontfret.org.
Wild Rice LP back cover and CD back cover:
DiS – How did you put your artwork together for ‘Wild Rice’?
There were no computer effects used. It was all just drawn and coloured in fine liner and felt pen, then scanned in to make a digital file. It was laid out in Adobe Illustrator so that the printers would accept it, but I have pretty limited knowledge of that software, just enough to get by.
The drawings themselves were just stream of consciousness. It took about 10 days to make the whole package and was very unplanned. I just knew that however it turned out was going to have to be what the album cover looked like, as I'd run out of time!
Wild Rice, cover, working version:
Wild Rice, back LP cover, working version:
I certainly took influence from Roger Dean's Yes artwork, with the Wild Rice lettering, but when I'm colouring I just like to tip all the pens out on the table and make unusual combinations and cool gradients. I do particularly like those neon colours, and the pastels, just for being bright and expressive. I find it energising to look at. I'm completely psyched about how it came out.
‘Wild Rice’ is out on Rogues Records from July 29th on CD, clear vinyl LP and download
Wild Rice, unused artwork:
Jetplane Landing, ‘Don’t Try’ (Smalltown America)
Jetplane Landing, fronted by Andrew Ferris, started the Smalltown America label to release their own music. Inspired by Fugazi’s Dischord model they’ve now been going strong for 10 years as a label and band, providing Belfast with it’s most consistent provider of hardcore and indie music.
The band’s last album came out six years ago, the punk-funk odyssey of ‘Backlash Cop’. With ‘Don’t Try’ they’ve gone for a harder fourth album and have reflected this visually in the striking action moshpit shot that adorns the cover. DiS caught up with band member Jamie Burchall, band member and label boss Andrew Ferris and in house label designer Tim Farrell to discuss the band and the label’s latest statement.
DiS – Please tell us about the photo.
AF – The photograph was taken by a local Derry photographer called Jim Cunningham and it’s from a gig in the old Union Hall on the 18th March 1989; the band playing was called Dick Tracy & The Green Disaster.
Jim has been taking photographs of local bands and audiences here for more than 25 years and recently uploaded thousands of images to Facebook. Jamie spotted this photograph amongst them; I contacted Jim who still had the original negatives and we had them scanned and restored for the project. We haven’t managed to identify the audience members yet - we’re hoping they come forward so we can give them a free record! I love the composition, Jim is a very humble guy – I asked him how he managed to frame everything so well and he said, “I just point at the crowd and click.”
DiS – Why did you chose it to be the cover, it’s just a mosh-pit shot isn’t it?
JB: The image gets me totally revved-up and ready to go. I love it because the dancers seem totally lost in the music, not at all self-aware, free of the humdrum of day-to-day life for this one, fleeting instant. We chose it for the cover for all of these reasons. It also seemed to fit well with the philosophy behind our band, this album and the experiences we have all had in the intervening six years since our last one.
DiS – It’s interesting that the album is called ‘Don't Try’ but there’s all this energy. What do you mean with the title statement? Is this a punk statement?
JB – ‘Don’t Try’ isn’t a call to arms for slackers. We took the album title from Charles Bukowski’s gravestone. Someone asked him how to write and he replied, “Don’t try” - as in relax, be natural, just make what you are meant to make. It doesn’t mean ‘don’t care’, or ‘don’t do it’.
There is also a little figure of a boxer with his gloves up ready to go on Bukowski’s gravestone. You can read lots of things into that I suppose: you can fight, you can work and struggle, but whatever you do please don’t try, because people with any taste will sense the bullshit flowing from your desperation.
I’m not sure I know what punk is, but I know what it means to me. My definition of punk is Minutemen and the whole philosophy behind their band. The way they could cover a Steely Dan song and get away with it, ‘Jam Econo’ for many nights on the road, D Boon wearing his tiny little pixie shoes and not give a flying fuck, while the crowd were spitting at each other.
DiS – On top of this image there is the design text, which provides an Ed Ruscha influence of sorts and adds a modern element to a punk rock shot. This makes it feel unusual and special, what does packaging mean to you as a label?
TF – We want our music to be tangible, something you can hold on to and touch, so it is really important to me that the aesthetic of packaging is right and complements the quality of the music. We’re striving to tell the story of our records visually, collaborating with talented illustrators and photographers to create meaningful artwork. With ‘Don't Try’, there were clear influences for me: Jamie Reid, Raymond Pettibon, Dead Kennedys sleeves and illustrator/artists like Matt Maust from Cold War Kids.
AF – As a label we’re always developing our visual style, that’s really come along on the last six or seven albums we’ve released. From STA100 up we’ve standardised things like spine, lyric sheet and label design. This Jetplane sleeve exemplifies that; it’s very clearly a ‘Smalltown’ sleeve. The whole process took about a year. We had the title for quite a long time, but it took six or seven passes to get the typography right; having the band’s name mentioned twice on the sleeve for example, created lots of discussion. The choice of the final yellow against the black and white sleeve came at the last moment, for a long time we were working with magenta as the third colour.
TF – It’s important to me nothing gets lost in translation and the final product is as good as it can be. Working closely with a band like Jetplane is rigorous and that suits my own design style.
DiS – What’s the font and what was the process of overlaying it?
Jetplane Landing, ‘Don’t Try’ artwork development shots:
TF – This aesthetic it is about letting go of the rigid modernist design rules that are taught at art colleges and allowing yourself freedom to take on the attitude of designers such as David Carson, Neville Brody and Stefan Sagmeister. I took fonts like Avenir and Gotham and distressed them by photocopying, scanning, half-toning, painting and even potato printing - which didn't work. We settled on the final mark, which is ‘fully justified’ and always used in a bold and abrasive manner, legibility not being our main concern. All of the elements were then compiled in Photoshop and inDesign. We chose an un-coated, textured board as a print medium for the sleeve and UV varnish to highlight the typography.
Jetplane Landing, ‘Don’t Try’, yellow vinyl:
Don’t Try is released on yellow LP, neon magenta LP, CD and download on August 30th. All pre-orders of physical product come with instant access to MP3s at www.smalltownemerica.co.uk
Rupert Morrison, ‘The Diamond Valley’ (Static Caravan)
Rupert Morrison is something of a folk legend in his native Totnes, more likely than not to be spotted blogging and being the centre of media attention around Record Store Day in April, as his own Drift Records shop is a premier outlet for all things indie and vinyl in the South West. For his third album, The Diamond Valley’ he’s paired up with similar vinyl enthusiasts Static Caravan and he’s licensed a J.M.W Turner painting, ‘The Fifth Plague of Egypt’.
DiS – A cover that's a classic painting reminds me of grandparents and charity shops. Why did you do it?
Because it's so fucking doomy!
R.G. Morrison, ‘The Diamond Valley’ LP cover: J.M.W Turner’s ‘The Fifth Plague of Egypt
I love that classical music is so otherworldly in both its delivery and presentation. Some of the covers are too literal, but some of them are quite subjective and if done well you can marry two quite different things together. I think we just wanted to have the opportunity to be a little ambiguous.
DiS – Is ‘The Diamond Valley’ a classical folk album, or a folk album in a classic style?
I think we're kind of primitive, especially in instrumentation and arrangement. I used to get really hung up on what albums should sound like and if it was professional and how things should or shouldn't be recorded. It's really negative to have those parameters and I realised that all the LP's I loved are always scratchy and homespun sounding. None of us are all that hot as players, but we did manage to get the noises we wanted to make out of the kit at the same time. Several classic days.
DiS – Why this particular painting?
It was created a couple of hundred years ago and depicts Moses smashing the Egyptians with a plague of all hell fire; it's the bleakest of all the biblical bleak. The new album is called 'Diamond Valley' and it's non-directly about grieving and pergatory. The painting intimidates me a little, it's powerful stuff and I was really honoured to be allowed to use it as the sleeve art; it says a lot more than I could.
DiS – What is it about the image that you are attracted to, visually?
I've always thought Turners paintings were really powerful. There's a whole series of them focused on volcanoes and they are just terrifying, real hell on earth. I was always interested in not being on the cover myself so we were looking at images that might successfully convey misery and tension without over labouring the point. We went straight to the man.
We saw the image pretty early in the process and I think the massive inverted Diamond in the middle of the image just struck a note. Besides the carcasses it's kind of pastoral; I liked that there is a real sense of something awful happening somewhere beautiful.
DiS – What does the process entail in licensing a painting for use in an album cover?
It's surprisingly straightforward. The painting is owned by the Indianapolis Museum of Art so we just got in touch. They are the nicest people to work with. Museums are run by art fans so they are always interested in these amazing works of art being seen. I guess so long as you're not doing anything too awful they're happy for the art to have an opportunity to meet more people. I do have to send them an LP; I hope it doesn't bum them out.
In short, contact the licensing department.
DiS – As a record store owner you're surely a lover of the tactile nature of music's packaging. Where did this love start from and what's a current favourite?
I'm lucky to have lived before the Internet so I just always had a physical thing, even if it was a shitty cassette tape - we'd still carefully make covers for them. I am quite visual about music and I always found it quite a powerful thing to hold an iconic sleeve. When I buy record collections for the shop I still feel kind of star struck when I find a copy of ‘Heroes’ or ‘Bringing It All Back Home’. I think 'Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space' is an amazing product. It's perfect really. The ‘Windowlicker’ EP still fucks me up.
I got a copy of ‘Ege Bamyasi’ by Can a while ago and it's a mix of horrible and striking. It's pretty rare so it feels like a special thing to hold.
‘The Diamond Valley’ is available from Static Caravan on CD, LP and download from mid September.
Microphones, ‘Mount Eerie (re-release)’ (P.W. Elverum & Sun)
Phil Elverum is something close to a musical documentary maker. His first slew albums were released on K records, his fourth, the ‘Glow Part 2.’ is a psychaedelic folk album of undeniable genius. Accordingly it received Pitchfork’s album of the year accolade when it was released in 2001. Phil now retains the rights to these first five albums and has been lovingly re-releasing them on vinyl. Come August 20th, ‘Mount Eerie’ will once more be available on vinyl, which is the album we discuss over the web.
‘The Microphones, ‘Mount Eerie’, outer sleeve
DiS – What was the genesis of this idea to release the first batch of Microphones albums again on vinyl and to revisit the music?
The series of reissues is the five official Microphones records that K Records originally released from 1999 to 2003. They'd been intermittently in and out of print from K for the past 10 years since they mostly focus on their current roster. They returned the rights to the albums to me so I could bring them under the umbrella of releases I've been doing on my own under the P.W. Elverum & Sun label. I took the opportunity to re-polish everything and make the packaging look as nice as possible since it had to be re-manufactured from scratch anyway.
Unused photo for album artwork
DiS – Your albums and output have always had a great visual element, yourself being no stranger to tactile, vinyl releases. What is it about vinyl and the combination of visuals and music that you love and where did this love of vinyl stem from?
It's true that I put my focus on the physical manifestation of the music. Maybe it's because I came to music via home recording in the 1990s when it was all about making a THING. My favourite music back then was always accompanied by a tape or CD cover or an LP jacket, and in most cases the images and words were further steps I was able to take into the sounds. That is not really how it is now for most people experiencing music, but that's how I still understand music. I like vinyl because it is more of a thing. It seems to encourage a more deliberate active listening experience. This is the type of thing I want to put into the world, not more ephemeral forgettable background noise. There is enough already.
Unused artwork for CD packaging
DiS – So what was the process of creating ‘Mount Eerie’, both in a recording sense and now with the re-release product?
‘Mount Eerie’ was a strange one for me. It was unlike my usual way of making things, in that I had a fully conceptualized "story" that I wanted the album to tell and I mapped it out in detail before recording anything. It's not even songs really, just five long sound things. The artwork was made by me. It's a drawing from a photo from an old Norwegian book I have called ‘Anna i Skogen’ (‘Anna in the woods’) about an old woman's life as a farm servant. It's an ink painting. No computer graphic design. I only really started using computers recently, and even now it's not that tangible of a factor. Again, I am from the 1990s and my aesthetic was formed from the world of xerox machines and tape and gunk. I like an imperfect human touch.
Image of Anna from ‘Anna i Skogen’
Image of old Johan from ‘Anna i Skogen’
DiS – Does the K Records aesthetic have an influence on you at all?
I never understood there to be any consistent K style. It's all over the place, at least graphically. Of course, in their broad definition of "punk" as a participatory ethos I found plenty of inspiration, and in much of the music too.
DiS – Are there any new elements to the re-release from its original incarnation?
PE - The music is all the same. No bonus tracks or anything. Each release has a new poster, and in some cases 2 posters, and a cool transparent "obi strip" on the spine with metallic foil stamping. These are all just decorations, meant to make the thing as deluxe as possible but not pretending to be revolutionary or anything. I wanted the series to straddle the line between "commemorative reissue" and "just keeping the album in print". I'm very proud of how they look, something worth keeping on the shelf until they rot.
‘Unused photo for artwork’
‘Mount Eerie’ re-release is available from http://www.pwelverumandsun.com/store from August 20th.
Bell x 1, Chop Chop (Belly Up)
This Irish trio’s debut has a limited edition offering that comes in a chopping board.
’Chop Chop’ in chopping board':
‘Chop Chop’ is out now.