Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Two Sides of ITAV: Audio/Visual

It Takes A Village To Make Records, despite what its name suggests, is not all about making records.

It all started with a broken arm.  Well, actually, a broken arm and four broken fingers.  Not exactly an auspicious beginning for a budding bass-player/graphic designer -- but, there I was, drugged up, in a cast, and officially unable to work for about a 4-month period.

It was boring.  Oh, I learned a lot about the true nature of friends: a friend is someone who will tie your shoes for you, wash your hair for you, cook all your meals and wash all your dishes for you for a couple months.  Needless to say, after I was all healed up, I took over the meals and dishes, but hair-washing and shoelace-tying returned to being individual pursuits.

My very first thought, when I hit the ground and felt my right arm go *crunch* was "shit, how am I going to play my bass?"

Well it would be a few months before I could even clumsily strum (with cast still on), and over a year of squeezing a ball of putty, stretching giant rubber bands, lifting soup cans, etc. before I could play for more than a few minutes at a time.  So I amused myself by designing fake album covers, like any sane person would.

I've always believed in teaching myself how to do things.  I taught myself to play the harmonica just by carrying one around for 3 years and playing it at odd moments.  I took a similar approach to bass.  And around the time I broke my arm, I'd been teaching myself the rudiments of the Adobe Creative Suite.  One day, my roommate Genevieve saw me carefully crafting the cover for a fictitious Joy Division album and remarked "why don't you just design real album covers?"


It's not that the thought had never occurred to me, it's that I'd never taken it seriously, or never thought anyone else would take it seriously.  I think that happens to a lot of us.  And then someone gives you just the right shard of encouragement and it's like they've opened the blinds.

My first real CD design was for Joshua Davis' (of Steppin' In It) first (and only, so far) solo album, "Fool Rooster."  The design went through several different stages before it emerged, in fact the front cover was just a playful design originally intended to sit underneath the clear tray of the jewel case!  One thing that really characterized the design process for this CD, and that has come to be my preferred working method, was that Josh supplied me with demos and acoustic versions of the songs that would eventually make up the album (with lyrical contributions from long-time collaborator Aaron Allen), and I listened to them and tried to channel the imagery and feel of the music as I worked.  The album came out on Earthwork Music in 2005.  "Fool Rooster" was album of the year on WDBM’s “Progressive Torch and Twang” show, a Tuesday-night varietal survey of roots music from traditional to modern, and Josh's album (with each full-band song recorded live to 2-inch tape by Glenn Brown on the same Neve mixing console that captured the legendary Muscle Shoals recordings by Bob Dylan, The Allman Brothers, Aretha Franklin, and many, many others) merited this award in every way.

This CD would also be the first, last, and only design I would render on a PC.  Shortly after that I upgraded to a Mac and have never looked back.

It Takes A Village To Make Records came into being early the next year, with the "First-Hand Accounts, Theories, & Their Repercussions" compilation being the first physical product.  In addition to showcasing bands that I liked, the compilation also served as a calling card for my graphic design work.  A flood of fliers and CDs followed, and I'd love to give each one the spotlight in turn, but that might cause this entry to stretch on and on.

ITAV is more than just a record label.  In fact, it's greatest impact has not been recordings (yet), but a flood of fliers and CD designs for other musicians, on other labels.  I haven't required that anyone plaster my logo onto their posters or into their liner notes -- too often these things get crowded up with logos and websites, and personally, I find that to be borderline offensive.  Visually speaking at least.  A poster is already an advertisement for something, and I prefer to keep things to a simple, readable who-where-when.  Anything more seems interference with the core message.

Which brings me to ITAV's other mission.  Besides acting as a traditional record label, albeit a small one, specializing in fringe and experimental sounds. ITAV seeks to bring visual magnetism into the picture.  I would like everything we do -- from a record jacket to a poster -- to draw people across the room, to want a closer look.  I suppose that, in an unspoken way, that's what every record label wants, and some become known for it.  Think 1960s Blue Note jazz album covers.  Think Factory Records.  Those are some of my touchstones -- I want to find visual solutions as unique and arresting as the music that's packaged inside.

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