Rummaging through old boxes this evening and I came across this cassette. This was the first album I ever bought. The Stunning were a great Irish band and this album was a glorious mix of melancholy ballads and rocking tunes. A really Irish album in the best way. It evokes such fond memories. Sitting in my room listening to it on repeat; going to see them live in Waterford with my first girlfriend; memorising lyrics and trying to pick out chords on my dad’s bandy old guitar.
Yesterday I shared the first part of a project I created with friends for the now defunct website artlick.com (see part 1 here), where we satirised the music industry through a series of fake album covers entitled Portrayal of an Artist. The back catalogue is absolutely huge, so here is the second part of that look back through the album designs (alongside some thoughts on the accompanying creative process). Hope you find it interesting. Join me now to explore the slightly more esoteric output of my musical back catalogue from an alternate universe…
Albums: French Aphrodisiaque; French Aphrodisiaque (Live in New York)
Conceived as a pair of fusion jazz albums released on the same day (ala the Guns n Roses stunt of releasing Use Your Illusion I & II simultaneously) with the added twist that one was a studio record, and the other a track-for-track live performance of the same record. We had created the artwork for the first album and were pleased with it (it now has echoes of The White Stripes, but I didnt personally discover them till many years later) Then one day we were inspired by a large red cube shaped sculpture down in the NY financial district near our office. Dave took a photo and added the white stripe to it in Photoshop, and a second sleeve was born. We were then torn between the two and stumbled upon the idea of the dual release. I wonder why more bands don’t do exactly this.
Album: Office Politics
Single: 95% of what you do here is utterly useless
The punk album. I get the sense I may have been less than enamoured with my job at the time, or certainly was channeling some frustration about it anyway, when we came up with this album (and the exaggerated lyrics printed on the back cover). It began with a photo of my head in a photocopier.
The general concept for this one, as I recall, was to put out a raw, more rough looking punk record, but due to cluelessness and contrivance on the part of the artist, it failed to be in any way punk at all. In fact, a punk rock album centred around working in a generic office, couldn’t be less punk rock really. There was a lot of that kind of commercial “punk” music actually floating around at the time, like Green Day, so I’m sure that inspired it.
The record label was Bourgeoisie Beat, which I still reckon is a cool name, and I still dig the logo. I may be misremembering it now, but I wonder if we also imagined a backstory where this record label was a sub-division of some mega label, and this was their effort to have some kudos and be cool.
Album: Pure Yang
This one came from a photoshoot we did one night in my apartment, where we ordered a ridiculous amount of food from the delicious local Chinese restaurant. If memory serves I was also going through some spiritual quest where I was trying out meditation, and I think my roommate Mike had recommended the ‘I Ching’ to me. So all of those influences are part of this one. The record label, Bass Envy, is possibly my favourite label name, but I have zero recollection of what genre of music the label was supposed to put out. At the time it was undoubtedly crystal clear, but I no longer remember. Isn’t it funny how something matters so intensely in a creative process at the time, but with distance, not only does it matter less, you probably don’t even know why it really mattered in the first place. Having said that, I think all of this meticulous attention to detail that myself and Dave put into every one of these pays off in the final product.
Single: Lost your nerve yet?
For some of these records, the album title came first, and then the artwork. And on other occasions a cool or funny photo would provide a spark of an idea and the album would blaze on from there. This was definitely one where the photo came first. Dave and Jenn had been defrosting their fridge and this huge chunk of ice had fallen out. We knew instantly that we had to take a photo of some kind with it. When we discovered that the camera had a multiple photo burst feature on it , the idea clicked into place to photograph me breaking it over my head (anything for art, of course!). Now, a reminder that the camera was a super early digital device with a 3.5″ floppy disk recording the images, so it was sloooooooooow. Hence, only the first two photos really captured the moment, and we certainly couldnt go for a second take. But on reflection, the negative space of the subsequent frames was actually kinda cool.
For the single we took a burst shot of my poor forehead that had taken the brunt of the impact of the ice block and had left a little cut. So that had to be documented too of course. And I think we imagined this music to be quite hardcore and abrasive Electronic Dance Music, so it ultimately belonged on the Purification Records label. Our reference point for it musically was a band I never listened to more than one song of called Speedy J (which was more than enough)
Album: Flip you for real
Single: Early Sunday morning
The only album that Dave appears on, and is co-credited as writer and performer. The title came from a line by Benicio Del Toro in The Usual Suspects ( a film we both deeply admired), and it was one we used to jokingly quote at one another often. So it then somehow morphed into us flipping off the camera and turning that into a collaborative album.
And this was our “censored” version of the album cover. We really should have stuck one of those old school Parental Advisory stickers on it.
The record label is Purification Records again, as I’m pretty sure we saw this as an ambient soundscape-y sort of record, maybe even drum-n-bass. In fact, around this time, there was a regular gang of us going to a monthly live drum-n-bass show called Prohibited Beatz hosted by Swiss drummer Jojo Mayer in Manhattan (how pretetnious does that sound!) and that was definitely part of the creative osmosis on this one. I was, and still am, a huge fan of LTJ Bukem, so that may also have been an influence. Either way, the song title “My porch is a ballroom dance floor” ranks up there as possibly the greatest one we came up with.
[Warning – Slightly NSFW]
Album: Se tirer d’affaire, s’en sortir tant bien que mal
Singles: Ne pas, ne jamais, ne rien ; Cannelle
This one was a truly hilarious creation to work on. We figured an artist this enamoured with himself would go full hipster and create an album so pretentious it would be written entirely in French (I am not even sure what it means entirely – Any French speakers out there, please let me know!). To capture that spirit we went for a Jim Morrison-in-a-bathtub-in-Paris photoshoot that showed of my Adonis-like physique (I have to work out to look this bad). In the end I really love the way Dave stitched together the images to make something even more quirky than the originals we shot.
The singles were simply variations on the decadent bathtub theme. The old New York bathroom added a fun flavour to the look and feel of the photos (especially the old school taps in the wall)
Fun fact. This is the same bathroom we took the photos for Replenish in
Album: Continuity in a Box: The Sovereignty Sessions
We envisioned this one as an early years demo tape style release on a renegade label. Or perhaps a session so deliberately bad it would never see the light of day (much like the infamous bang sessions by Van Morrison). To capture that vibe, we made the record look almost like a homemade piece of cover art. At the time there were a lot of live CDs of bands floating around the East Village record shops, and this design was heavily influenced by those DIY creations. Musically I imagined poorly recorded demos with audio quality akin to the first few Mountain Goats records recorded direct to cassette tape on a boombox.