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.
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.
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?
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.