Explorations & Conversations
About Cover Art: From Then Until Now.
Metals is Feist’s third album and the follow-up to her breakout The Reminder. More aggressive, plaintive and disjointed than her previous work, ‘Metals’ is a broader musical expression.
We had a facebook chat with Graydon Sheppard, designer of the album cover. Graydon is a photographer, director of music videos and film, and the co-creator, with his partner Kyle Humphrey, of ‘Shit Girls Say‘.
The Side Street Project: Are you sitting comfortably?
Graydon Sheppard: So very comfortably. My legs are crossed and everything.
I’m impressed. Thanks for doing this. First question. How did your involvement come about?
Of course thanks for thinking of me! I was brought on to the project by the Creative Director, Jannie McInnes, who was also my Executive Producer at a company called Revolver Films where I was represented as a music video director at the time. Jannie had produced Feist’s documentary “Look at What the Light Did Now” and after it was completed I helped out designing some promotional materials and working to get it into film festivals.
So Jannie was aware of your background in non-filmmaking visual arts through that?
Yeah, Jannie took me on as a director based on my photographic work, so she’s always been very supportive of my creative endeavours.
What do think Jannie saw in you that made you the right choice for the project?
I think she trusted me to collaborate and sit with her and lend my thoughts to Feist’s and her already strong ideas. I had previously designed a website for her company, Revolver, so we had worked on a big project together.
What was the brief, and your role, in the creation of the Metals artwork?
Well since Jannie had spent a lot of time with Feist throughout the documentary, she had a really great insight into what Feist wanted for the new album, ‘Metals’, which was a real shift from her last album.
So when I was brought on there was a real sense of the kinds of elements that should be included. The biggest idea, and the one that prevailed through the exploration and presentation of concepts to Feist, was that she wanted to be sitting on this “F tree” but then create a world around that.
Feist’s known for the intimate, contemplative, organic nature of her music. And the Metal’s cover has those elements – we’re in dramatic wilderness, Feist is also there, contemplative but then the artificial elements make themselves known – the impossible ‘F’ of the tree, the perspective, the digital reflection in the background and sky, and the impact becomes quite disconcerting. Was that intentional?
My role was to execute that idea and then several others into mockups. So I used photographs that had been done by Feist’s photographer, Mary Rozzi, and then we used those against a lot of different photos and imagery from a lot of sources until we landed on the tree against that stark world.
Maybe dissonant is a better word than disconcerting. Her approach to her music and her presentation has been very ‘crafty’ so it’s odd to see this very manipulated approach, but it works. And it’s something I recognize in your work.
Yeah, some of the concepts we looked at included mysticism and witchcraft and the massiveness of nature. She recorded the album in Big Sur in this gorgeous studio house surrounded by rolling hills and craggy rocks and the ocean. The photo of her in the tree is from that location, so though it’s constructed it came from a really organic place. We listened to the album a ton which was a real treat to be able to hear it before it was released and just got very excited about how it felt and I think that came through in the design.
It’s a little disconcerting. I wouldn’t say that she ever said that, but I think things like witchcraft and the hugeness of nature are disconcerting just in that they’re kind of scary but really fascinating.
I know other people were involved in the creation of the artwork, you’ve mentioned the photographer, is there anyone else?
Yeah, this great artist Heather Goodchild designed the font, Sammy Rawal photographed the actual metal on the cover, the sparkling island which is a type of pyrite, Robyn Kotyk from Arts and Crafts and Petra Cuschieri designed the interiors. So it was a big team of people collaborating or taking the reins at different times to make it happen.
That’s a lot of people! At what point do you decide ‘you know we need a photo of pyrite?
Well obviously with the album being called “Metals” we looked at a bunch of these fascinating natural metallic formations. Feist brought this old text book with images and illustrations of geology that were really cool. But we just sourced so many images from online – things like bismuth, which is this amazing naturally forming rainbow metal that forms in right angles, it’s so cool. And then we really all loved the pyrite that we ended up using as the island, and Sammy happened to have some and photographed it for us so that it would work in the collage.
It sounds like the process was an interesting expedition. The concepts of mysticism and witchcraft and the massiveness of nature – were those presented by Feist or did they arrive through listening to the music?
Those came from Jannie and Feist, but it was just so present in the music, and carried through to the videos that she’s done as well.
What was the process like for you – challenging, enlightening, crazy-making, easy…?
It was a really intense period! It was really important for us to get it right because it was a big next step for her and she’s been so conscious and smart about how she visually presents what she does. So Jannie really pushed the exploration so that we could bring the best ideas to Feist. So, though it was intense, it was all because we really cared and wanted to make something great and ultimately something that she loved and would be proud to have as a part of her identity.
How long did the process take?
I was on the project for about a month if I remember correctly – that wasn’t all day every day, but that’s about how long I worked on it, then others took over, then I came back to revise the cover for singles.
Did you get a say on any of the other elements, like the inside or the back?
Yeah I did the back as well, which was an extension of the image on the front. Some of the elements on the inside came from some of the original inspirations that Jannie and I sourced at the beginning but were executed by other designers.
How did it feel to hold the finished package?
It was damn cool! I think in some ways even from the beginning I was like “Wait, am I really working on this project?” and I was always paranoid that they’d realize I was a loser and it wouldn’t happen, but then there it was, in the store.
Right. Designing the cover, was it always with the 12”x12” LP format in mind or did you take into account CD and streaming?
All the formats were in mind from the beginning, and part of the reason the F-Tree worked was because it was really recognizable as a 30×30 pixel image and still interesting as a 12”x12″ image.
How’s your time, I have three or so more questions?
Time’s good! Beer’s in my hand!
Ok good. What are your feelings about the 30×30 album cover in general? Not Metals specifically.
What do you mean what are my feelings? Like, am I sad that things have to be reduced to that size?
I’m thinking about holding an LP in my hands, and how a good cover can really inform the listening experience – the Metals cover does that – but not so much at 30×30. Those are my thoughts, so really my question could be do you think cover art has the same function at 30×30 as it does at 12″?
To be honest I’m not a person who gets really excited about album artwork very often, but I think if you’re conscious of what formats the imagery is going to take – and you have to be now, it would be a bit naive not to think about what your album cover looks like in iTunes – then it can inspire curiosity at 30x30pixels which might lead you to recognizing it and looking at it more closely as an LP or even a CD. So it might not serve the same purpose, but I think if it’s exciting or interesting at 12″ it will probably inspire some curiosity as a thumbnail. Grace Jones’ “Island Life” cover comes to mind.
Island Life as one that inspires curiosity?
I think if you saw that as a thumbnail you’d want to see it bigger and look at it more closely.
Yes! Any other covers that stick out for you?
Well Kanye West’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” is kind of interesting, I only think of it because it’s kind of a thumbnail on a pink background. That was an interesting choice, and funnily enough the painting is blurred out on iTunes, but it’s still really recognizable.
Also, Ray J’s “I Hit It First” is just made of a hugely pixelated image of Kim Kardashian, which I thought was really funny, and in a (probably unintentionally) brilliant way, it’s more recognizable as a thumbnail than it is as a large image.
Right, that’s sly. What did you think of Feist’s colour-by-numbers competition for Metals?
Oh yeah I forgot about that! It was a cute way to involve people in the cover reveal. I think the blank image with the outlines was really nice, actually. It looked better like that than when it got painted in. Looked cartographic.
Yeah, sort of in-keeping with wilderness theme.
It was a cool way to embrace her sort-of handmade approach in launch. Some of the submissions were great. Are there any more album covers in your future?
Not at the moment! I don’t know if I’d be able to top that experience…
What makes a good or great album cover for you?
I usually like an album cover because I feel something for the music. I brought up Ray J’s cover, and that’s just funny but I don’t think it will stand out in ten years – it’s not nicely laid out and I don’t really listen to his music. But something like Hole’s “Live Through This” cover was something that I looked at a billion times because I listened to the album so much, and now I have this nostalgic connection to it. I’m a cheeseball more than I am impressed by a trendy cover.
Doesn’t sound cheesy, that’s one of the ways I think covers are supposed to work – to create a resonance with the music. Thank you so much.
Visit www.listentofeist.com to hear Feist’s music.