Last Friday (2 March), The Breeders released their fifth record, All Nerve. The album, the band’s first release in ten years, sees its only permanent member Kim Deal bring together the band’s classic line-up, one which cemented The Breeders’ fanbase in 1993 with the release of Last Splash. This reunion is coupled with another in terms of design, as Kim chose to work with longstanding collaborator, designer Chris Bigg. As a result, All Nerve’s album artwork displays the relationship of two creatives who appear to enjoy translating sound into visuals as much as the other.
Following a career as a record sleeve designer, largely on record label 4ad where he began working with Kim, Chris is currently a tutor on Brighton’s graphic design and illustration course. “I got to a point with graphic design where I fancied a change and teaching came along,” Chris explains of his career move. “It’s sort of rejuvenated me back into design as well, which has been an interesting journey. It wasn’t the plan though. It was more I’ve had enough of this, the industry has rinsed me a bit dry,” he laughs.
In a funny turn of events, Chris describes working on the latest Breeders album artwork like a brief he would set his students. “For music, the deadline was fairly long and really luxurious in the scheme of things. It got a bit frantic towards the end, a bit like a student project in a sense…relaxed initially, thinking about what the lyrics are about, what the sounds are about, starting that way. It was quite organic, not like ‘it’s gotta be done in three weeks and we like orange!’ or whatever. It was more of a collaboration I suppose.”
Kim and Chris’ collaboration on All Nerve began two years ago during recording. Chris had worked on a few of her solo 7” singles previously and Kim reached out to say “have a listen and see what you think,” says the designer. From there he began mark making repeatedly and on mass, “a lot of painterly, calligraphy, mark making and a bit of collage”. From this point a third collaborator was introduced, Martin Andersen, Chris’ colleague at Brighton who then experimented with double exposing the initial sketches and “who has been a massive part of this project”.
Each of these marks is an interpretation of Kim’s work but more indirectly, presenting the tone of the record rather than its actual content. This lies within Chris’ logo design portraying suggestions of “driving, travelling and moving,” reflected in the lyrics. A further part is an inverted E developed at a point when Chris released, “after 25 years of working with them that The Breeders has four E’s in it,” he explains. “So I thought shall we just create our own special little E for The Breeders. I was looking a lot at sort of arrows and directions, road signage, the arrow thing kept reappearing.”
Selected details from this process now surround the main counterpart of the sleeve which is a brick. While Chris and Martin’s work is a careful and thorough representation of All Nerve as a record, “I thought, this is all quite background. It’s all calligraphy and textural and sort of a bit rough and ready, it might need something a bit singular, a bit stronger and iconic,” he explains. When beginning to explain how a brick became the last piece of the sleeve Chris characteristically starts to laugh while explaining that: “This brick has been in the garden for years. I’ve walked past it every day for years and years and I just thought, that’s quite good.” He posted it to Martin (“it was only about 13 quid”) who began to photograph it into something entirely different to just being discarded in Chris’ garden. “When you take a brick out of the garden and put it on a white table, it becomes something else.”
The introduction of the brick spoke to Kim too, “everyone in some point in their life knows what a brick is, she enjoyed that aspect and the fact that you need few to make something,” says Chris. But as a whole, the sleeve design didn’t fully come together until the introduction of its colour palette. “She said it needed to be more messed up, sort of angry because it was a very black and white at this stage. She wanted that energy from colour, oranges and reds, purples and pinks.” Each of these realisations of what the sleeve needed also happened naturally, through conversation and are a graphic credit to Chris and Kim’s understanding and trust of one another. “It was all very accidental and I am a big fan of the accident and letting that lead the way.”
Working with bands in this way is a graphic design approach that Chris holds dearly and speaks of fondly. “I really enjoy it, really enjoy it. It’s the frustrated musician in me. I just love visualising sound, it’s all I wanted to do since university. I thought it was such a magical thing, record covers and music. We can go through all these developments in technology but I always think that there is a sound and an image, and that will always be related to somehow. You can’t have one without the other.”
Speaking with Chris in the run-up to All Nerve being out in the world, the designer enthusiastically explains that despite the countless records he’s worked on, release day is always special. “I’ll be there on Friday moving all The Breeders records to the front. Of course, I still get excited, I really do,” he says. “It’s a weird thing, you can get a bit syndical in your old age but I’ve never lost that buzz of it finally being public. It’s just that excitement, I’ve never ever lost it. How about that, is that sad? It’s an important thing and you’ve got to really feel it to do the best you can. You can’t sit on the fence and do it really.”
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