• Jf7

    Jack Featherstone: Hachinoko: Simian Mobile Disco

Behind The Scenes

An interview with Jack Featherstone about his new record sleeve designs

Posted by Amy Lewin,

Ever since he was a wee lad (Jack was an It’s Nice That Graduate in the summer of 2009) Jack Featherstone has been impressing us with his record sleeve designs and music videos, made for the likes of Holden and Simian Mobile Disco. Spying a pair of new sleeves and a brand spanking new video for Hachinoko by Jas and James – the pair behind Simian Mobile Disco – we decided to ask Jack a few questions on how he does his stuff.

How much creative freedom do you have with the design?

I pretty much have total creative freedom on most projects. Sometimes the artist might have some kind of loose concept or starting point, but after that I mostly have complete control. It’s not worth it otherwise.

Do you always get to hear the records before designing the cover?

I insist on it. I think a good record cover shouldn’t just look great and be conceptually solid, but also be an emotional reflection of the music in some way. You can only attain that third quality by actually engaging with the music you are creating artwork for.

  • Jack1

    Jack Featherstone: Wysing Forest: Luke Abbott

  • Jack2

    Jack Featherstone: Wysing Forest: Luke Abbott

What’s the story behind the Wysing Forest cover?

Luke Abbott recorded all the music for his record during a residency at the Wysing Art Centre near Cambridge. Its location is very rural and Luke said he spent a lot of time thinking about nature, and the theme of the forest in the future. The photography for the record was by Luke’s girlfriend Katherine. They both went into the woods and made a shrine or ritual site of sorts around a tree with holi powder. Luke then came to see me in my studio and we talked about the record and what it meant to him. I listened to the music many times before I began to treat the photographs, cropping them and stitching them together into interesting compositions. After lots of tests and variations we settled on the final image, which kind of feels like a ghost tree, a tree that perhaps never existed, or that might one day sometime in the future.

  • Jack3

    Jack Featherstone: Wysing Forest: Luke Abbott

Best record cover of all time?

Pretty impossible decision, but I’ll go with Tangerine Dream, Optical Race. It has a beautiful Otl Aicher-style pictogram design that is dye-cut on the outer sleeve to reveal a multi-coloured inner sleeve. I’m not sure that many people would agree with me on this, but I think it’s close to perfect. The cover reflects the kind of techno-optimism of the record. Not the best music by Tangerine Dream though in my opinion.

… And the worst?

Even harder because covers that are that bad are often so bad they’re good! However I think the artwork for It Can Be Done But Only I Can Do It by Omar S is rubbish. I mean it was a great record, I listened to it loads, but the artwork makes me feel slightly sick. Maybe that makes it good though?

  • Jack4

    Jack Featherstone: Standard Music Library 1970 – 2010: Public Information Records

  • Jack5

    Jack Featherstone: Standard Music Library 1970 – 2010: Public Information Records

  • Jack6

    Jack Featherstone: Standard Music Library 1970 – 2010: Public Information Records

What record would you take to a desert island which just so happened to have a record player?

Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works 85-92. No contest really, I have to listen to this record at least once a week, I couldn’t live without it.

Also, you’ve designed and directed a fair few Simian Mobile Disco videos now. What’s your relationship like with James and Jas?

It’s really good! James and Jas are two of the nicest guys you’re likely to meet, they’re incredibly open to ideas and have the balls to put all their trust in you. There have been a couple of times when they haven’t been completely sold on an idea, but gave the go ahead anyway as they believe in us to deliver the goods. That kind of complete trust is a rare thing, but I think it produces the best results as it allows room for risk taking and experimentation. We all recently travelled to Japan together along with Hans Lo to perform our live visuals show in Tokyo. We had fun.

In the video for Hachinoko it looks (to me!) like a bunch of raving leather cuddly toys start exploding, like an apocalypse on the dance floor. How on earth do you come up with an idea like that? And does it have any particular meaning, or is it primarily designed to look cool?

The video for Hachinoko was a collaboration with DesignStudio. My friend Jamie Thompson is an art director there and I thought it could be a great opportunity to make something we could both be proud of. We had an extensive brainstorming session; I guess this was a slightly unorthodox approach to making a music video because it was as if we treated the project as a design brief. Gradually the seed of a concept began to emerge. The funny thing is although the idea may seem a little bonkers and out there (which of course we wanted it to be) it was born out of the longest period of ideas generation I have gone through when making a video. In that way it is also perhaps the most rational video I have played a part in. I like meaning to exist but to be ambiguous, and I think good filmmaking leaves room for the viewer to make up their own mind.

One thing I knew from the beginning was that I wanted to make something that was humorous, but also kind of dark and sinister. I wanted it to feel unsettling. The hedonistic, leathery blow-up characters achieved that feeling. DesignStudio did a fantastic job animating and producing the piece, and the fact that it looks so cool really is down to them.

How long does it take to create a music video?

It completely depends on the concept and what processes are involved. My video for Holden’s Renata took a month solid without any weekends off. But that’s what you get when you decide to use animation techniques outside of the computer. The last video Tangents that Hans and I did for SMD took just over a week to complete. But the technology involved took about six months to be developed by our friends at Artists and Engineers, so it really does vary.

Are you completely sick of the song by the time you finish?

About 95% of the time, yes. But it’s nice to come back to a video a few months down the line after that has worn off. That’s when you really know if you’ve made something that’s any good or not.


Posted by Amy Lewin

Amy joined It’s Nice That in July 2014 as a freelance editorial assistant. Previously she studied English at Oxford University and has worked at several media and film production companies.

Most Recent: Behind The Scenes View Archive

  1. Lalistallenby

    Several years ago, Luke Archer came across an antique camera in his mum’s shed. It was in amongst heaps of equipment from his grandfather’s studio, who was also a photographer, and originally belonged to Alexander Bassano, a Victorian society photographer. Out of this discovery, Inheritance was born; a project about the hereditary peers whose ancestors were pictured by Bassano but also about the portraitist tradition itself.

  2. List

    “Good artists copy, great artists steal,” is a line famously attributed to Picasso. There is some disagreement about whether the big man did utter these words, but it has endured as a truism; influence and inspiration flowing from one artist to another play a major part in the development of art history.

  3. List

    20 years ago in 1994, little known designer Eike König set up his “graphic design playground” Hort, creating a community in the centre of Berlin where creatives could collaborate on ideas and client briefs side by side. Nowadays, the playground is slightly bigger, undertaking work for Nike, The New York Times and Walt Disney among others, but the underlying emphasis on collaboration and experimentation remains exactly the same.

  4. Main10

    Some may think it’s easy to shoot Kate Moss. People have been doing it for years, but to my knowledge no one has ever done it poorly. Today we can say for sure that a major element of shooting Kate with real oomph is having a sheer passion for the model – as Alister Mackie explains in this interview. The creative director describes her energy as “buzzing” and speaks warmly of their time spent in her back garden as she lay in the grass for this AnOther Magazine cover shoot with the tone of someone who’s just coming down from a transcendental experience. What’s really great here is how someone like Alister, whose career is already packed full of things we proles can only dream of, can speak of a fashion shoot with such pure, palpable excitement.

  5. Listrop.8991_4

    New York-based visual artist Roxy Paine has achieved the mind-boggling feat of recreating an entire airport security checkpoint out of wood. This follows on from the mysteriously named Machine of Indeterminacy and Scrutiny and takes his maple masterpieces to a new degree of complexity. Sadly, he declined to tell me just how many trees went into the making of Checkpoint, which is part of his solo exhibition Denuded Lens at the Marianne Boesky Gallery in New York, but he has answered a few more sensible questions about just how he creates his crazily intricate works which explore “the discourse of the diorama.”

  6. Main

    It’s one thing to bring up the issue of the gender gap in the technology industry in casual conversation, but it’s quite another to do anything about it. Andy Gonzales and Sophie Houser are high school students in NYC who met at a summer camp called Girls Who Code, and decided to use their opportunity there for the greater good, generating discussion around the taboo subject of periods and the distinct lack of women in the tech industries, and learning to code at the same time.

  7. Main

    We love Jack Hudson. Sometimes I find myself staring at his drawings open-mouthed like a magic eye image – the level of minuscule is like in a Wes Anderson film, every time you go back to an image you’ll find something you didn’t notice before. The clever bunch over at Computer Arts decided to commission London-based Jack to make their magazine look sweet, and so he did. We caught up with him to find out how on earth you go about designing a magazine cover, and to find out the back-stories of the teeny characters featured within it. First one to spot Mr Bingo wins a Kit-Kat!

  8. List

    Just over a year ago Rob spewed forth with excitement upon reading the inaugural issue of German independent magazine Flaneur – a publication that creates content based on a single city street. It was, he decided, “both surprising and compelling, ranging from a photo-study of one night in a bar to a full musical score which captures the street’s sounds. Meanwhile the design, overseen by Michelle Phillips and Johannes Conrad of Y-U-K-I-K-O, is absolutely killer, building on and bouncing off the content to powerful effect.” Couldn’t have said it better myself. To put it bluntly; we were hooked.

  9. List

    The other week the good folks over at Penguin sent us a mammoth haul of brand new paperbacks covered in some of the best illustration we’ve seen on literary works for some time. The breadth of commissioning and the use of young and established talent was such that our interest was immediately piqued. So rather than just stacking them all up on our desks to show off what enquiring cultural minds we have, we got in touch with the art director responsible for them all to find out a little bit about his process and the talents he works with. Everyone, meet Richard Bravery, Richard, meet everyone…

  10. Main1

    Redesigns are so often chewed up and spat out in the design world, so when one comes along that simultaneously blows the socks off each and every one of your colleagues upon seeing it, you know it’s going to be worth digging a little deeper. When that redesign is an online space it becomes so much more intriguing than a print publication doing the same thing; the web is like a constantly surging ocean and to move with the tide can be treacherous.

  11. List

    There’s a huge red banner hanging across one wall of the V&A’s Disobedient Objects exhibition, which reads (in Russian): “You cannot imagine what we are capable of.” It’s a powerful line and sums up nicely the show as a whole, which examines “the role of objects in movements for social change.” The artefacts range from those that have played very direct roles in various movements – shields, posters, maps of protest camps and contraptions to help handcuff demonstrators together – to less obvious but quietly subversive tools like puppets or a game in which players must complete distasteful tasks in a bid to gather the materials to make a smartphone (swiftly withdrawn from the app store).

  12. List

    To say the last year or so has been tricky for Matilda Tristram would be a bit of an understatement; the comics artist, animator and illustrator was pregnant with her first baby when she was diagnosed with cancer, and what followed was terrifying, strange and at times funny too. Matilda recorded the nine months from gruelling start to the relief-inducing finish (at the risk of ruining the ending, she’s well! She has a lovely baby! He’s well too!) and now the whole shebang has been made into a beautiful book called Probably Nothing, published by Penguin.

  13. Gif1

    Adam Ferriss is one of those technologically-minded creatives who is able to put his ever-growing knowledge of code and processing to use building aesthetically wondrous digital art for the rest of us to enjoy. His images make me feel like I’ve just taken some psychedelics and stepped into one of those crazy houses you get in funfairs, where there are giant optical illusions on every wall and the floor keeps moving under your feet, except these are made using algorithms and coding frameworks and, for the moment at least, they don’t exist beyond the screen.