Independent music artists provide an insight into the importance of band artwork.
Music, to me, has always been a lot more than the songs in an album. Growing up, I always ran to the music stores to pick up cassettes and eventually, CDs which had something intriguing on the cover.
Beyond the band portraits or individual guitarists that I fancied, I discovered the world of album artwork that bands started to invest in, which included the iconic Mick Jagger tongue logo of The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd's Dark Side of The Moon masterpiece, the Andy-Warhol-Velvet Underground and Nico banana collaboration or even the black and white genius of The Beatles' Revolver.
In India, the need to give importance to band artwork came slightly late in the day, but I was relieved to see visuals that embodied the band's sound and went beyond the overdone all-black metal band portrait, for example. This was the sign that despite the constant struggles of musicians to make ends meet in a country that still values mainstream over independent music (at large), bands were innovating and wanting to create an audio and visual identity that was truly theirs.
There were stalls selling band merchandise outside their gigs and fans actually buying them. Gig posters were suddenly doing the rounds in a big way, be it online or as physical copies, enticing fans to their gigs. With all this going on around me and with my curiosity in the right place, I decided to ask the artists behind this changing trend about their role in creating it.
Gaurav Basu-poster for Goddess
As Bangalore-based artist Gaurav Basu aka Acid Toad points out, there's a parallel visual art scene that is associated with music of any kind, be it rock n' roll, punk, metal or any other genre. "Every genre has a certain visual aesthetic that represents the sound of those artists. This music/art scene has been there in the West for a while but has now picked up pace here in India."
Gaurav has done the art for several Indian bands like Theorized, Demonic Resurrection, Goddess Gagged, Indus Creed, Skyharbor and his own death metal band Inner Sanctum. "Being a part of the band made us want to start this art scene that catered to fans of the kind of music we played. I am a big fan of contemporary art in album covers and to design one, you first have to listen to the music. That's the driving force for any album cover. It's challenging because you have to connect with that sonic energy being produced and try and interpret it on a visual platform," he says.
Sashank Manohar, who creates some frame-worthy band artwork and plays bass for Chennai-based alternative electro rock band The F16s, agrees that the process is similar for him. "Music always comes first in my head. But often, how I see the art is what naturally forms when I close my eyes to the music," he shares.
Rijuta Agarwal-Art for Zokhuma
Of course, this is not to say that all the bands in this country are gifted with an in-house artist for whom this visualization comes so naturally. Rijuta Agarwal, who has designed the album art for artists like Zokhuma and Nice Weather For Ducks,says, "Did the chicken come first or the egg? Music and art work both ways. If someone likes a particular piece of work I've created and they use it for an album because it's in sync with their music, that's cool. The real fun, though, is when you have to create visuals for someone's tracks."
Rijuta admits that she starts by listening to the song on repeat, but what happens next is not in her control. "It's kind of like synesthesia, where you have cross-sensory experiences. When one sense is stimulated, the other sense is involuntarily stimulated and the connection doesn't seem normal or logical. The sounds I hear in the music visualize themselves as colors and patterns and all I do is place it outside of my head. It's not A + B = C, it's A + C = B. It sounds bizarre, but sometimes, when I come out of that zone (sounds like I'm high but I promise I'm not) and look at my work, I can't believe that I actually made that. It's quite strange, amazing and exciting all at once!" she adds.
Saloni Sinha-album art for Oh Rocket
For artists like Saloni Sinha aka Morbid Illusion, being a music lover helps because it triggers her imagination. "I often have visuals running in my head when I listen to music. My journey started in school when I used to burn CDs and making a drawn album cover for them. The path for making album covers became even clearer when some of my friends approached me for making logos and album cover for their bands in college. Since then, there have been number of musician/bands approaching me."
Having worked for bands like Vice Versa, Jeepers Creepers and Oh Rocket, she says that their inputs also count. "I have conversations with the bands about their album ideology, and make sure I listen to their songs or demos to provoke my imagination in tune with their theme. Then I come up with rough sketches to start with, which I may iterate with their feedback. Once I get a go-ahead, I start the final inking and rendering process and make it ready for print. I’ve followed the same process with other bands. From time to time, some bands also give me the full liberty just to go crazy and come up something related to their song/album titles! It's been very rewarding," adds Saloni.
Like her, Mumbai-based Ayesha Kapadia also makes it a point to spend time with the musicians in the studio environment. "I've been working on a project called Making Music Visual (MMV) and worked with Nicholson and Parekh+Singh for it. MMV is about translating sound to imagery in the form of visuals, art, illustration, colour, form and design. A lot of time is spent in the studio literally translating the sounds to a visual form. My Nicholson posters, for instance, started as something else and ended up looking very different because the art grew and evolved with the album," she says.
"As an artist, I love the process of absorbing the emotion of the music and to be able to translate it in a way that is also understood and felt by the musicians is challenging. They also have to be able to feel the same thing when they look at the art," adds Ayesha
Sonali Zohra-artwork for Shepherd
Dissecting her hand-drawn artwork for sludge metal band Shepherd'salbum Stereolthic Riffalocalypse, Sonali Zohra aka Dangercat recalls that when the band handed over their entire rough, unmastered tracklist to her, it instantly caught her attention. "I’m not much of a single-track person; I listen to full albums. This is an album where every song is strong on its own and flows seamlessly into the next, while keeping you in the same realm but telling you a different story. The band's idea was creating a monolithic amp that was decaying and being taken over by its environment. I listened to the album all day everyday for four months (not kidding) because it was my first ever attempt at art for music. I drew while listening to the album and followed my gut. I made a few conscious colour decisions. Sludge sounds like it should be heard in a cave, hence the cave. The best part was knowing that the band trusted me and when I needed inputs, they gave it to me. It was a really good collaborative effort," she recalls.
Here's hoping to see a whole lot more art-music collaborations in the coming years!
By Rohini Kejriwal
Photographs by respective artists
Cover image credit: Shashank Manohar