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Regulars / Friday Mixtape

Friday Mixtape: Protomartyr’s Joe Casey on his striking and poignant DIY artwork

This week’s Friday Mixtape is curated by Protomartyr’s vocalist, Joe Casey. Over the course of their four album releases, the Detroit natives have gathered a cult following, which has also given Joe the opportunity to create all the album artwork and flyers too.

Their most recent record Relatives In Descent, came out in September this year and includes one of Joe’s most poignant, striking artworks to date. The sleeve features a portrait of Maude Fealy, a silent film actress whose gaze on the album cover will definitely make you stop in your tracks when record shopping. Accompanying this recent release is also a poster by Joe, with an alternate artwork for each track, as well as a zine featuring his work so listeners can learn or make their own judgements on the album’s lyrics and meanings.

Below, we have a chat with Joe who tells us more about this artwork, the process of the visual side to Protomartyr, and how part of him only joined a band to have an outlet for his artwork.

Protomartyr

Why have you picked these songs, what do they remind you of or make you feel?

These are some songs that were floating around over the last year or so that I heard and liked, and probably had some effect on the writing, although I couldn’t tell you how. Some are songs drivers played on tour. Others were suggestions from friends I respect.

Can you tell us how you first came across Maude Fealy and why you decided to have her on the sleeve of your record?

I was trying to find old photographs of actresses that played Joan of Arc. She was somewhere down the image search, and stuck me as having a face that seemed unmoored from a specific time — some kind of eternal beauty. I chose that specific image because it seemed to imply a purity, while her expression was inscrutable. I like picking images that might point to what the music may sound like, but also can stand on their own.

What materials do you use to create artwork and what’s your process?

I got into being in a band mostly to have an excuse to make the flyers and album art. The performances are way, way down the list of things I enjoy about being in a band —maybe after the opportunity to stay in strange in motels, that’s where singing sits on the list.

I cut up old magazines, look for weird images I can draw or tape together, and then go to the place nearby that has photocopiers. I only use computers to scan these in so somebody besides myself will see them. I think the process is similar to my role in the band in that I don’t have the technical skills or education to do any of this but I blunder along anyway.

Can you talk us through the artwork in the zine which accompanies your record?

The cover has bits of Bix Beiderbecke. I read his biography and it’s depressing in some of its familiarity. The first page is a nod to the frontispiece of The Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton. The book inspired a lot of the lyrics so I figured it could inspire some of the artwork. There’s a drawing of Doodles Weaver in there too. He’s an old actor and Sigourney Weaver’s dad. There’s some Latin in there I forgot to translate before I added it. There’s a drawing of the ants that invade my bathroom every summer. As you can see, it’s a whole mess of things.

Do you have any particular influences artwork wise that you turn to for inspiration?

I like old handmade punk flyers, and a few new flyer markers. When I can find the time to stumble into an art museum I am always recharged. I wish I could do that more. I like Caravaggio and all those folks that painted bloody biblical stuff. Seeing early collage work in a museum always makes me feel like the rankest amateur. But, the inspiration outflanks that feeling usually.

If someone was looking at the Relatives In Descent sleeve but they hadn’t heard it yet, what do you think it represents about the record?

I hope they see a powerful feminine presence and wonder why. I want to use a different colour for each album, so this is the maroon one. I also hope fans of that colour appreciate it.