Have you ever wondered how an album gets made? Not the music— but the art. It turns out, the process can be just as thoughtful, creative, and intense as writing a body of songs. Musician and opbmusic contributor Matt Drenik recently sat down with two Portland-based graphic designers for a longform conversation that explores the intersection of music and design. From color choice to typeface, they sweat the details and nerd out about what makes an album cover pop.
Orion Landau is the in-house designer for independent record label Relapse Records whose lineup consists predominantly of metal and hard rock bands. He’s worked with Red Fang, Yob, and Black Prairie. Aaron Draplin is the founder of the internationally-renowned Draplin Design Co. His work has been commissioned by prominent general clients like Nike and the Obama administration, but he’s also a music fanatic and has done album and packaging work for the likes of Richmond Fontaine, Old 97s, and Danava.
Hear the full interview above and read excerpts from it below.
On working in the metal genre:
Orion Landau: I definitely fell in love with heavy metal art ever since I was a little kid because it was so creative. I feel like heavy metal design is really challenging. You have to really bring a total A game to it since that it has to be incredibly complex design work and artwork to stand out in that world. I’ve battled a lot bands that want black and white. To me it’s just been done so many times. Black and white is one of the most powerful color combinations you can possibly have, but I love those covers from the 70s. I love Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and I love Houses Of The Holy. Just these really, really powerful color combinations. I’ve tried, maybe failed over the years, to bring color back into metal.
On standing out in a digital world:
Aaron Draplin: Sometimes with just that right bit of absurdity or irony they can look better than the latest, biggest thing because you’re looking at a little iTunes [image] now as you’re scrolling through it. And if something’s got something that just punches you in the face then they’re doing their job. Because that’s what you’re competing for. They don’t even see the 12x12 inch record. That’s comes if you’re a nerd like me who waits for it and does pre-orders for Melvins records. That’s all I’ve got to live for anymore!
On why a low budget or no budget project is sometimes a good thing:
Orion Landau: Sure, it’d be great to have all of the money in the world to work on something, but having those constraints is actually a great challenge because it forces you to have the discipline to work. How much can I pull off with so little? So little time and so little money. I was just watching[ the Guns and Roses “November Rain” video]. It was probably the last time that $25 million was spent on a music video. And it was so excessive. It was such a cocaine-driven, masturbatory explosion. It’s awesome. You should go back and watch it… None of it makes sense… And it’s such a good example of this is what happens when you have too much time and money on your hands. There’s no restraint there.