It’s probably safe to say that one of the most inspirational things in a young designers life is the album artwork adorning their favorite music. So, we thought it would be fascinating to get a look behind the scenes with an interview and some perspective from John Gilsenan of IWANT design. Based in London, John designs for Buzzin’ Fly Records, the electronic label of Everything But The Girl’s, Ben Watt. If you’re not familiar with them, you probably do know Tracy Thorn (the other half of EBTG) who was featured on Massive Attack’s prolific song, Protection.
Now at the at the forefront of the British dance scene, Buzzin Fly will be releasing it’s 50th single called Bright Star featuring Stimming, Ben Watt and Julia Biel. Buzzin’ Fly is well know for their quality audio and their attention to packaging and developing a visual brand with award winning artwork has helped to define the label. It’s no surprise then that the Bright Star single will be lovingly packaged as a double gatefold with gold foil block and a poster insert. We caught up with John recently to learn a little more about his background and the creative process of designing for a record label.
Full interview after the jump.
PHASE COLLECTIVE: How did you get into designing for record labels?
JOHN: I spent my late teens/twenties DJing and promoting club nights and playing in a band – I started designing flyers for the nights and sleeves for the band – I think I’ve designed about 140 record sleeves now. At the time I didn’t really know anything about ‘graphic design’ as a career choice just fell into like so many others as working in a record shop and promoting nights wasn’t going to last.
Is designing for the music industry as glamorous as it seems?
No, but for anyone who has collected music and lives and loves music creating sleeves has a special indefinable importance, even more so now with the industry in flux and the existence of physical sleeves in question.
What’s your process for album art?
It all depends on the brief, the label, the artist. The sleeves for Buzzin’ Fly are unique for me in the way I work, they are almost like a sketch pad they don’t have a great deal of pre-thought as there isn’t the time to spend on them. It’s a case of first idea create it, mess around with it a bit and show it to the label. I think the simplified process makes the sleeves – If I had more time I might over complicate them. I study them quite heavily when they come back printed as there are so many decisions and marks that i don’t always remember making, it’s not necessarily a sub-conscious thing just a case of well if it’s on the page then that’s it.
What input does the band have?
It differs from project to project – indie bands I would say want the most input but then some label bosses have very strong opinions in the aesthetic of the label. With Buzzin’ Fly in particular I have worked with Ben so long we have a very good trusting relationship and he has allowed the labels identity to grow organically without interference which is why it always feels so fresh.
How related to the audio is the visual work?
There is a good article on this in a back issue of EYE magazine (vol63) – again it differs, I have worked on records from many genres and each approach is different. With Buzzin’ Fly I rarely have the music before the artwork is required – we generally work with the title and I’m sometimes given a mood. When working on, for example, a World Citcuit album I think it’s very important to try to absorb as much of the record as possible.
Where do you get inspiration?
Everywhere and anywhere – If I find I’m in need of inspiration I take time out of my regular routine and go somewhere else do something different. I find when you are busy it’s easy to become blinkered. If I take myself out of my routine I see things differently as well as seeing different things.
Are you a musician?
I play guitar, banjo and drums but I don’t read music – I don’t know if that officially qualifies me as a musician?
BA Hons Fine Art
Didn’t have one
One man band / Director
Birds Eye View Film Festival
Tracey Thorn / Love and its Opposite
Ali Farka Touré & Toumani Diabate
The London Jazz Festival 2010
FIRST STEP ON A PROJECT:
It depends on the project – mostly stop and think sometimes research, sometimes dive in with the first thing that pops in to my head
LAST STEP ON A PROJECT:
Worry and think again check and check again.
I have an Arper Catifa 53 chair with Arne Jacobsen Trapez Olive/white fabric – very nice too
Nana Grizol – Nana Grizol
Gil Scott-Heron I’m New Here
Brazos – Phosphorescent Blues
Primary 1 – Mess Detective
Toro Y Moi – Causers Of This
Fergus & Geronimo – Tell It In My Ear / Powerful Lovin’
Ola Podrida – Belly of the Lion
Owen Pallett – Keep The Dog Quiet
Hooray For The Earth – Momo
Lemonade – Big Weekend (Delorean Mix)
Panthu Du Prince – Black Noise
Small Black / Washed Out – Split Single
Man Miracle – The Shape of Things
Sleigh Bells – Crown on the Ground
Kurt Vile – Constant Hitmaker
Surfer Blood – Astrocoast
Jonathan Jeremiah – Happiness (Quiet Village Remix)
Lushlife – Cassette City
Bear in Heaven – Beast Rest Forth Mouth
King Midas Sound – Waiting For You
Fools Gold – Fools Gold
Ali Farka Touré & Toumani Diabate – Ali & Toumani
Darwin Deez – Radar Detector
Manson Family Picnic – Manson Family Picnic
Lone – Ecstasy & Friends
The Minimal Wave Tapes Vol 1
Kath Bloom – Restless Faithful Desperate & Moonlight
This should keep my ears happy for the next couple of weeks
MOST USEFUL TOOL:
BEST PLACE TO THINK:
Fortress of Solitude – Jonathan Lethem
Leica D-Lux 4
Too much Seinfeld
BBC 6 music (don’t go!)
LEARNED THE HARD WAY:
Partnerships don’t work for a reason
COMMAND Z (UNDO):
The perm I had when I was 15
Architect / a successor to the throne of John Peel or simply selling coconuts on a beach in Brazil
WHEN NOT WORKING:
Wrestling with my 3yr old son
For a great intro to the music, check the streaming radio at BUZZIN’ FLY.
For more on John Gilsenan, take a spin at IWANT design.
Many thanks to John for taking the time for us and also a special thanks to Lizzi Ford for her coordination.
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