Fans of Jim Stoten, otherwise known under his pseudonym Jim the Illustrator, will be familiar with his keen interest in music. The illustrator’s Instagram alone shares snippets of band references, and those really in the know will remember Owen and the Eyeballs, a band made up of Jim and fellow creatives Andrew Rae, Nick White and Owen Gildersleeve. Earlier this year, Jim combined his two loves and talents, releasing a visual album On A Flying Frog via publishers (and now we guess record label too) Tan & Loose Press.
“I have been looking for a way to release a record for a few years now,” Jim tells It’s Nice That of his debut album’s beginnings. “I thought a few times about pressing a record onto vinyl and designing the sleeve, but I didn’t want to spend a lot of time and money on making the thing and then have 500 of them sitting in my studio.” Jim’s collaboration with Clay Hickson who runs Tan & Loose marks a long standing creative partnership between the two: “we came up with a plan to release a record in a way that results in a product that would fit into Clay’s existing product list, while at the same time providing something a little bit different,” says the illustrator.
On A Flying Frog was recorded three years ago in a cottage in Scotland with a small recording studio where Jim spent a week learning to use the mixing desk and writing. “I wrote the songs as I recorded them, which was great because it meant I could improvise and record simultaneously,” he explains. Working this way meant “the mistakes as well as the stuff that is intended” was recorded, including an impromptu saxophone solo on I look at the sky, “which I only did because there was a saxophone in the studio, and even though I had never played the saxophone before,” Jim admits.
Post-Scotland, the illustrator brought his recordings home and edited them before putting the record up on Bandcamp. Happy with how it had turned out, “I came up with a plan to release the album with an accompanying set of prints and a link to the album,” he says. “I approached Clay with the idea and he was into it, and so I spent a month coming up with images for each song.” The publisher gave Jim complete creative control on the images, an approach which sees Tan & Loose produce brilliant book after book. “He had no idea what I was going to make and was supportive and encouraging about the project the whole time.”
The process of interpreting songs you’ve written into illustrations could be an exercise that drives some artists mad, but for Jim it was enjoyable. “It was great because I knew each image could be as cryptic as I wanted.” Each print illustrates Jim’s thoughts from when he was recording, rather than a direct interpretation of the lyrics as you might expect. For instance, the illustration accompaniment to Hoot Hoot is a “psychedelic portrait of the country singer Slim Whitman,” inspired by a wish for the song to sound like Kenny Rogers, “which always makes me think of a mixtape that my Grandad used to play in his car when me and my sister went on caravan holidays with him and my Nan,” Jim explains. “That mixtape was the first time I heard music by Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Willy Nelson and of course, Slim Whitman.”
Jim admits that “obviously, I know no one would know any of that,” but it is details like this that make On A Flying Frog such a success. It’s personal, but like any musician, influences and references seep through for the audience to make their own interpretation. “I have no expectations as to how people will interact with the album,” says Jim. “I’d just be happy if whoever decided to buy it, listened to the album too. But for me, I have always enjoyed looking at record sleeves while sitting in an armchair next to the record player and just letting my eyes travel over the images while the music goes in my ears. I think it can be a transporting experience. So I’d love to think that people will treat this in the same way.”
You can buy Jim’s album here.
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