Artists envision future album covers for musicians ranging from Guided by Voices to Kool Keith
While the popularity of vinyl continues to rise (per industry sales statistics), records still accounted for just six percent of total revenue for recorded music in 2016. So there's more than a little nostalgia happening in Streetlight Guild's “Wrecka Playa” exhibition, opening Saturday, Dec. 9, at Second Sight Project in Franklinton.
And while there might not be the same level of social commentary as in prior Streetlight Guild events (think “Stephen King's Magical Negroes” or “Gentrifried”), “Wrecka Playa” is more than just a trip down memory lane (via the imagined future).
“‘Wrecka Playa' has been around as an idea for about a year,” Streetlight Guild founder Scott Woods said in an interview at an Olde Towne East coffee shop. “[Vinyl sales aren't] going up in a way that suggests [records are] returning, but I'm less interested in the market than I am in the art. People are still not making art for records … there's a definite digital mentality. We've lost liner notes, we've lost lyric sheets, all that tactile stuff that made a record cool. That was always half the fun to me of owning records, being able to take that dive into them through that other stuff.”
Woods began by asking artists he knew, or whose work he was following, to imagine a musician/act that might still be making music in 20 years and to create an album cover for said project.
“I wanted there to be a magical realism to the exhibit,” Wood said. “The artists really took that to heart. I just asked them to consider artists they were passionate about or about whom they had something to say.”
So who will be making records 20 years from now? Among others, Public Enemy, Stevie Wonder, Chance the Rapper, Guided By Voices and Method Man & Redman. Posthumous projects from Warren Zevon and a Michael Jackson/Prince collaboration were allowed because of the interesting backstories created by the artists making the covers.
“I like to think of music and visual art as first cousins,” said artist Eric Jefferson, who designed a cover for a future Method Man & Redman album titled The Last Joint, imagining the rappers as “still party animals, but the kind that go to sleep in the corner.”
“Ultimately I went with artists I already know,” said artist RayGun the Savage, who created covers for albums by RZA (“a musical genius”) and FKA Twigs. “You know they will be both publishing music until they die … whether people are hip to it or not. I did apply illustration in both my entries, and I do wish that artists used more illustration on covers.”
“The first thing that came to mind was Kool Keith,” artist Kent Grosswiler said. “He belongs in that canon of artists like Sun Ra and George Clinton who bring this outer space element into their whole being. So I've got Kool Keith living on Jupiter. And in painting him, I used some of my portraiture technique and the woodcuts, but I also had to kind of freestyle and add some cartoon-y elements.”
Adding a track list appealed to Grosswiler as a writer and musician, not to mention as a self-proclaimed “reference nerd.”
Woods took “Wrecka Playa” a step further by bringing in writers to create some attendant materials, most of which tie in with the visual art, although that wasn't a requirement. (Alive's Erica Thompson contributed written materials for two albums.)
“I'm mostly interested not about album covers, but about what album covers represent,” Woods said. “There's something different to me about [a musician] creating an LP cover and [an image] you know will never be on an LP. There's a different value that you attach to what you're going to present. A digital piece might never be anywhere besides a phone. An album cover could end up on a wall; it's something somebody has to touch. One is very passive and the other is fairly direct. You have to engage it.
“I think it would have been hard to create a lot of the music we hear today if they had to make liner notes and lyric sheets, the expectation that if Lil Wayne had to make a lyric sheet, he might do things a little differently. If artists were forced to consider how it would be processed intellectually, we might be getting different art.”