Ever-busy indie Polyvinyl have announced their second monthly 7-inch single series. After Volume 1’s fun bunch of slabs from Cloud Nothings and Mikal Cronin among the 12, Volume 2 in 2015 will bring singles from Jacco Gardner, Deerhoof, Saint Pepsi and more. Subscription single series are always fun, but this one has a more intriguing set-up than usual. The label takes their beloved Tascam 4-track cassette recorder, sends it to the artist, the artist quickly records two tunes, and sends it back to the label.
And not only are the musical surprises aplenty, but this time all the single art and the shmancy box you get to put them in have been created by artist Jesse LeDoux. Known primarily for his work on the early Shins records, LeDoux has gone on to become one of the most recognizable and sought after rock poster artists and more. How much more? Let’s ask him.
So, the basics: where are you from, and how/when did you start as a working artist?
I grew up in the boonies outside Portland, Oregon, trying to spend all my time playing in the woods. But when the weather was lousy, I’d stay inside and draw. After high school, I moved to Seattle and got a job at Up Records, developing their website. Up’s office was originally in the same building as Sub Pop, which is how I met all the Sub Pop folks, including creative director, Jeff Kleinsmith. Within a year or so, Jeff hired me as the art grunt (scanning images, resizing ads and various other production tasks). I stuck around long enough to become an art director there, where I had the opportunity to work with the Shins, Iron & Wine, Death Cab for Cutie, Isaac Brock and a ton of other folks. I quit in 2004 to focus my efforts on personal and client-based work both within and outside of the music industry.
Were you sprung from a music scene, making fliers for bands and such?
Concurrent to working together in the art department at Sub Pop, Jeff Kleinsmith and I made a lot of screen printed posters. We used the posters as a way of experimenting with graphic techniques, with the successful experiments working their way onto album covers. It was through this process that I was able to incorporate more illustration into my work, which is the most enjoyable for me. Through illustration, I’ve been able to direct music videos (for Minus the Bear and This Is My Suitcase), animations for the kids’ show Yo Gabba Gabba, create art for bike and snow helmets, a series of toys, as well as large murals and art installations.
And you won a Grammy?! Explain.
I didn’t! Although I did get nominated for one. It was for the Shins Chutes Too Narrow album. Going to the Grammys was a weird novelty. If I had to go every year, I’d probably hate it. But going once was great, though not nearly as glamorous as you’d think it would be.
So how did you get involved in the Polyvinyl 4-track Singles Series?
Out of all the projects I work on in a given year, there are always a couple which sound just too fun to pass up. The email Seth sent asking me if I wanted to do the art for this year’s series was one of those emails. Jason Munn did the series last year. His work is very quiet and focused. To make the follow-up distinct, Seth wanted someone who would take the set in a different direction. A few years ago, I had an idea to do an experimental singles series with some of my friends who are in bands. I quickly learned that reigning bands in to submit music in a timely manner is a lot like organizing a parade of kittens—nearly impossible. I don’t know how record labels do it, but I tip my hat to them. My failed attempt at organizing my series became my inspiration for the artwork of this series. On the outside of the box are a bunch of seemingly random shapes. It’s chaos, much like trying to organize bands. However, inside the box becomes order. Those elements on the outside come together to build the image on the jackets.
Did you have any say in which bands would be involved, or did they come to you when it was mostly mapped out?
They did ask me for input on who to include in the series. I made a few suggestions; David Bazan was one that ended up happening. though I was perfectly content leaving the decision making up to Polyvinyl. They know what they’re doing. They have a great ear.
I’ll assume album art might’ve been an inspiration to you growing up. What are some of your favorite album or 7-inch covers?
Goodness, that’s a tough one. As a kid, it was Thriller. The tiger cub in the gatefold makes no sense, and that’s a good thing. In high school, it was Hazel’s Toreador Of Love (which apparently the band hated). That album was done before Photoshop. Jeff’s package for the Catheters Static Delusions album is really daring (convincing a band, a marketing department and a nation of retailers that it’ll be cool to print the entire package “wrong” is pretty incredible). And the best thing I’ve seen recently is the new Flaming Lips [collaboration collection], With A Little Help From My Fwends. It’s such a perfect fit for the record.
What other visual inspirations would you rank?
Old cartoons and fine art are where the bulk of my inspiration comes from. If you ever invite me to watch cartoons or go check out a gallery, I will likely say yes.
Do you think with the slow but steady decline of album/CD art, that the worlds of music and illustrative art have diverged even more? Or do band websites, Bandcamp, vinyl revival, videos, etc. have bands still scrambling for folks who can make their music look cool?
There are certainly still people who value good album art. But it has definitely decreased. It becomes hard to justify spending the money on art when you’re only doing a run of 500 LPs. It becomes a labor of love for both the band and the designer.
Just released today, one of the many cool sides that’ll be coming in the Polyvinyl Single Series Vol. 2, Can’t See Stars from Telekinesis.