Rob Sheridan

January 30th, 2011

I’ve been following Rob Sheridan on Twitter for some time.  If you’re not familiar with Rob he’s the creative director for the band Nine Inch Nails.  Now some of you may be saying…an industrial rock band has a creative director?  Well, if you’re familiar with the work of NIN and the band’s leader Trent Reznor, you know that they are more than just a band.  They are an art project, whose central focus is music, but whose work also encompasses design, video, photography and reality games.  Rob has been a big part of all of these projects since he was hired by Trent Reznor at the age of 19.

Rob recently posted an article on his site about the making of the art for Trent’s most recent project the soundtrack for the film “The Social Network”.  I thought it was a very interesting look at how a designer and an artist approach a project of this type.  So when you have a moment check it out.  I’d also recommend you check out Rob’s site and follow him on Twitter.  He’s a talented artist and a perfect example of how integral a good designer is to a band’s overall esthetic.

While scouring the web for all things fake band related, I often stumble across great design sites, interesting music articles and even some great internet ephemera.  So what do I do with it all?  I bookmark it and eventually when things are a little slow I share them with you.  So without further adieu here is the latest installment of “Cleaning Out The Bookmarks”:

If you don’t listen to All Songs Considered on NPR you should, but regardless you should check out their Top 10 Album Covers of 2010.

Ever heard of The Masked Marauders?  Nor had I until I read this interesting article on Aquarium Drunkard!

I just finished reading Keith Richard’s memoir “Life”, and it was a great read that I highly recommend.  Needless to say it put me in a all things Keith mood and led me to this classic Hunter Thompson interview with Keith Richards.

Now if you read “Life” you’ll know that Richards blasts Mick Jagger throughout the book for a variety of things, but mostly for having what he refers to as LVS (Lead Vocalist Syndrome).  Jagger supposedly fired back in this letter which is a fascinating read in it’s own right.

frizbee sent us this great blog post on 50 Years of Typography in Album Covers.   And speaking of great typography check this out!

frizbee also sent me this incredible portfolio site for Icelandic designer JÓNAS VALTÝSSON.

And speaking of album covers he also sent me this!

If you haven’t already seen this incredible marketing piece for the latest Arcade Fire album then you’re in for a treat – watch it!

Larry turned me on to this guy Craig Robinson’s incredible site FlipFlopFlyBall.  If you like baseball, and infographics, you’ll love this site, but I particularly loved this infographic of REALLY fantasy baseball.

These progressive metal drawings by Justin Bartlett are pretty cool too.

For you metal heads I thought you’d like to check out this new distortion pedal from Tone Box.

And this is why the ZT Lunchbox amplifier makes so much sense!

If you like movie posters this is a pretty cool post on vintage takes on modern movies.

And speaking of posters…Larry sent this post from the staff at Consequence of Sound.

This guy might be homeless, but that never stopped him from living out his metal dreams!

And this blogger not only creates fake metal bands he’s been breathing life into them by releasing a steady stream of albums from them.

Whiskey has inspired me to do a lot of things…nothing this creative however!

Like your comic book heros?  Like 80’s album covers?  Why not combine the two!

You gotta love this Sleeveface post!

But my favorite has to be this Noise Addicts post on some photos from the Life Magazine Archives.  Ever wonder what the house Frank Zappa grew up in looks like?  Wonder no more!

If you’ve run across something you’d like to share send it to us using the feedback link at the bottom of every page on Figment.

Until next time…


Every now and then a new player arrives on Figment and within a very short time it feels as if they’ve always been part of our game.  FuriousGrace is one such player.  She’s creative, fearless and a hell of a lot of fun.  How do I know this?  Simple, look at her bands, read the news she publishes for them and of course, check out her albums.  Everything she does has an authentic spirit and flat out rocks.  So we thought, it’s high time we get to know this gal, and thankfully she was game.

FN:  Tell us a little about yourself. Are you really furious, and if so why?

FuriousGrace:  Hahaha, I can be! I am of Portuguese descent so I have very tumultuous feelings about things – on all ends of the spectrum. I am Canadian born though so I can be excessively polite as well. That isn’t a myth, eh. By day I save the world one loan at a time, but by night I save the world one pile of laundry at a time. It is a crazy and hedonistic life I tell you.

I have grown up with a love of music and life and laughter. For as long as I can remember there has been music around me – my grandfather was a folk singer in Portugal and sang with/wrote songs for the likes of some pretty amazing people, like Amalia Rodrigues (one of Portugal’s most famous singers of the Fado). He played the coimbra (guitar) and the accordian and he sang some pretty amazing and humbling and outrageous things. He and his friends would have singing throw-downs similar to rap battles, except with a few guitars and a lot of wine. My father, while not instrumentally inclined as a boy, would sing with him as well – there was this tradition around Christmas where troubadours would go door to door and sing for their supper, and entertain people from the richest to poorest. As he became an adult he picked up instruments here and there – guitar, a little bit of the keyboard.

As for me, I have always done something with music, though not professionally. I wanted to play the piano so badly as a kid that I taught myself. Same thing happened with a guitar. In high school I also took saxophone & clarinet, both bass and alto. I would love to learn a string instrument like the cello or standing bass. Or a bass guitar would be fantastic. Even now as an adult, I will plunk around on instruments when I can. I find it to be relaxing and it feels like home. Listening is just as emotional an experience for me as well – it is a full participation for me, instead of just recognizing noise and words put together into song, I really try to feel what I am hearing. It’s an international language and shouldn’t be taken for granted.

FN:  You’ve created one of the strongest all-girl bands on Figment in Cherry Vendetta, yet as you’ve probably noticed Figment is in many ways a reflection of the real rock business in that the majority of our players are male and so are the members of their fake bands. Do you think it’s harder for women in the real and fake music industry?

FG:  That is a difficult one to answer. I think in some ways it’s harder to get noticed and taken seriously, if that makes sense. It’s easy to get noticed and waved away or looked at like some sort of freak or fancy new shiny toy, you know? “Wait… a girl? A girl who performs music? A girl who performs as well as we do? We must see this in action!” And then they do their best to tear them apart. Look at Courtney Love, who admittedly was/is a car crash of a person, but it appeared as though this was emphasized more than a male lead of a band because there’s no way a woman can be strong in the industry and not be crazy or on drugs. At the same time, I think there are currently some rather strong figureheads in the music business that are trying to bring some balance. Look at great musicians like Feist, Emily Haines (lead singer of Metric), Tegan and Sara, Taylor Swift (who at the very least is poised and more polished than her counterparts from the Disney factory), Carrie Underwood, Beyonce Knowles, Gwen Stefani, Bjork, and of course that Lady, what’s her name, Gaga? (ha ha). While being in the minority compared to how many male peers they have in their respective genres, they all represent our gender quite well and are an inspiration to other aspiring female musicians. I also feel that the advent of internet sites like Youtube et al really make it easier for unknowns to gain more exposure, and this includes women.

FN:  Are you a big fan of the Riot Grrrl movement?

FG:  I am a big fan of any movement that allows me to rock out with my frock out (I’m censoring myself here but you get the point). I was a young teen when a lot of those bands became really popular (along the same time as grunge ruled the world) and it was really empowering to see these women taking on roles that were primarily led by their male counterparts and in some cases doing it better. It answered to something primal and angry in me (and in my generation in general I guess). I especially loved Sleater-Kinney and L7, but I listened to it all. At an age when you are starting to figure out who you are, it was pretty amazing to have all these women screaming out about how awesome we are and can be.

I feel the early 90’s in general brought some really interesting music and I’m kind of sad that a lot of what I hear lately is the same noise using those voice synthesizers and ugh. Do I sound old? I think I sounded old. Hmm.

I also loved rock and punk from the 70’s. Music was different then. I don’t know. Maybe it’s a generational thing. I grew up in the 70’s listening to my father and uncles playing the Beatles and Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd and Iggy Pop and all that noise. It just shapes you in a way that is hard to explain. Like that apothegm “you are what you read” except exchange it to refer to music.

Honestly though, I love ALL kinds of music. There is very little I won’t listen to or at least appreciate its aesthetic. My preferred genres however are metal, grunge, punk, rock & roll, classical, goth, jazz, industrial, indie… you know, this list is getting ridiculous, I should stop now.

FN: Squidbitchez are another all-girl band that you created, but they seem to be more rooted in the goth/industrial scene. What was the creative impetus behind that band?

FG:  I was pandering to a very specific audience when I created that band, but also, I went through a huge goth/industrial phase through high school that I never really outgrew. I loved bands like Cranes, Switchblade Symphony, Depeche Mode, The Cure, VNV Nation, and others, and felt it would be nice to make a tribute of sorts to them. I have a serious love for cephalopods, and this is a nod to the most awesome of them – the squid. It has a bit of a Lovecraftian bent as well which tickles my fancy.

FN:  Had you ever created a fake band before playing Figment and if so, what led you to do so?

FG:  Of course I have! My friends and I in high school were all music nuts. We’d talk about what our ideal band names would be and figure out entire albums and what we’d say in interviews etc. What led us to do so was that we’d sit in my friend’s basement jamming on our guitars or in general watching music videos, playing music, being all deep and shit. We had it all figured out. We’d be famous but not infamous – a “quiet” fame, where we could still be free to bum around without being trampled, but allowed to live off doing what we loved. None of us actually got around to doing it, but it was awesome to dream it all up.

FN:  What’s your band creation process like? Are your bands influenced by real bands or do you simply decide on a genre and go from there?

FG:  My bands are a complete figment of my imagination. There isn’t any real influence by real bands but there is an inspiration or kernel of multiple bands in some of them (like Cherry Vendetta). The process is pretty simple – I choose the genre, and then try and figure out how to make it mine. It is in some ways easier because I am in the minority here – there is little in the way of competition with other female players, so I am free to extend my imagination without having to worry about doing something that’s already been done. The names are kind of playful things that come from tossing words together until they fit.  Squidbitchez was easy – I have a friend who also loves cephalopods and I made a “harem of musicians” for him. He is a user on figment as well – creator of some fantastic bands like Lucifer and the Long Pigsformerwageslave.

After I figure out a name for the band, the rest sort of writes itself! I find images that make me think of the name – this can take a lot of digging and time to find something. I think about what a member of the band would be like – brief histories, if you will, that I have yet to fill in but they are there in my mind. When I decided to create Cherry Vendetta, it was on a whim – I was listening to the Tank Girl soundtrack (it is still a solid soundtrack in my mind – and that story made me want a tank in the worst way! Still do!) and it made me think “hey, I haven’t heard of a riot grrrl band in forever!” so I discussed it with formerwageslave and he agreed it would be pretty kick ass. I toyed around with names and when Cherry Vendetta came to mind, it’s like the imaginary band wrote the rest for me – I just knew exactly how it would be. Angry and raunchy and in your face. It was so easy to do as I already had the background exposure. I’m thinking my next challenge will be something jazzy. We’ll see.

FN:  I’ve noticed that you’ve made a point of creating members of each of your bands. So for instance, Sexasaurus Rex in the Truth Finders. Do you think that adds another level of reality to your bands and/or gives you more ways to be creative with the band?

FG:  Absolutely! It breathes life into what I would otherwise consider to be a 2-dimensional process. I’m not casting any aspersions against those who choose not to take it to that next level; I just find it makes things more interesting and fun for me in the process. By giving the band a “voice”, it puts the figment to another level – there are more opportunities to interact (jam sessions with other bands etc) and in general gives me a better feel for how I can describe albums (where they came from, what was happening at the time) and posting news items (more like a blog, which is how most real band sites handle their news items anyway).

FN:  Are the band members in your fake bands completely made up or are they based on real people?

FG:  For the most part they are completely made up. Some of the things that come from Cherry Vendetta and Squidbitchez are aspects of myself and my friends though. The names of the people in Truth Finders are the internet pseudonyms of people I interact with on another site.

FN:  Is there a member of one of your bands that you think most reflects you as a person?

FG:  Hmmm. Good question. I’m not as angry as Cherry. Probably Antoinette from Squidbitchez or one of the other Vendetta girls. Definitely Furious Grace from Truth Finders, since that band is a bit of a tongue-in-cheek creation for people I know rather than a sincere contribution here.

FN:  How did you find out about Figment?

FG:  This will make you laugh, but figment came to my attention when I was busy trying to win an apprentice-type competition for my gang in a web-based rpg called Hobowars. (You get to be a hobo who fights other hobos for fame and fortune. Need I say more?  We were split into teams and my team won this particular aspect of the comp – to create a fake band here and make an album, etc. I found however that I fell in love with the site – it really resonated with me on a personal level because I’ve been that dreamer, you know? As team captain, I was tasked with creating the figment account (rather than bombarding you guys with a kazillion different individual ones). We made two bands – Squidbitchez and Truth Finders – so that there would be one completely made up and one that sort of represented everyone on our team. It was a lot of fun, and I stuck around even after the others lost interest. I haven’t looked back and I even got my daughter hooked on it.

FN:  Was there anything in particular that made you want to play the game?

FG:  Everything! I found the whole concept of making up the band name and song titles and album cover and all of that so alluring, since it’s something I kind of did in high school anyway, plus I am a very creative person and this was just one more outlet for me to plug in to. The feedback is addictive and so far I’ve encountered some really cool people. My only issue is with communicating on the site – it gets a bit frustrating – but we manage somehow. I’ve had some real life issues and commitments that took me away from it for a while, but I have had things swimming in my head anyway stored up for my return. It’s a new year after all and it’s full of possibilities!

FN:  What do you think the key is to having a successful band on Figment?

FG:  Beats me! I don’t consider myself as having one. I guess the answer is to be creative, know your genre, and network! Don’t be afraid to push boundaries, and communicate with other creative minds. I’m not really sure how I managed to be as “successful” as I was as quickly as I was. It was probably Cherry’s gutter mouth and my dedication to the role play in the journaling and everything else. You have to really commit to this, it isn’t enough to spam out “go check out my band, check it out, I busted out another 50 albums just now, c’mon c’mon c’mon”. It’s too much. It isn’t enough to just rest on your laurels and wait for things to come to you either, but there are other ways of putting yourself out there – dedicate yourself to interacting with others, find like minded people, create a twitter, and do stuff that way – it isn’t rocket science.

FN:  Your album covers are simple but very visually effective. They really create an image for the band without too much text or image manipulation. How do you decide on an album cover image and is it the genesis of an album or do you have an idea and then look for a corresponding image?

FG:  I use the K.I.S.S. method. Gene Simmons really had something there. Har har. Seriously though, I figure out my album first and then look for the corresponding image, though sometimes both come to me at the same time. Sometimes one will shape the other. I try not to cross genres – doesn’t make sense to have a bunch of flowers and pandas for a goth industrial band that worships Cthulhu, but a skull with bones that look like tentacles are perfect. Sometimes I just type random words into google image finder and see what I find. It can take some digging. Literally hundreds of pages. Mine is a labor of love.

FN:  What tools do you use to create your album cover and band images?

FG:  At first I used MS Paint (no lie!) and then I remembered I had Photoshop. I am also a fontaholic. I can’t help myself. So I am constantly trolling for new fonts. I troll the internet for royalty free photos or images that are so deep down in the trenches that their owners wouldn’t even recognize them. Then I polish them up or rip them to bits and make them my own. I don’t use any special tubes or addons or anything for photoshop either – just the bare elements – and sort of fudge things together until they come close to what I had envisioned. Sometimes I’ll ask for feedback from others but mostly it’s a haphazard process and I just play it by ear. Not very professional, I know.

FN:  Your fake record label has quite a cheeky name. Is that part of your Riot Grrrl aesthetic or simply a joke?

FG:  It was the name of my team in the above-mentioned Apprentice competition. Team Pocket Taco. I loved it and kept it because it made me laugh. Plus I tend to be rather cheeky and smarmy so I felt it represented my ‘non-furious’ side rather well. It was a good holla at the Riot Grrl movement as well without being a bitch about it. But also a bit of a stab at the Record industry as a whole – they are a bunch of pocket tacos except I’d start spelling that with a C instead of a P. I am a fan of independent labels and self-publishing folks, I hate the idea of musicians working for pretty much nothing and not even owning the rights to their own materials at the end of the day. This rant could go on but I won’t go there. I think I’ve made my point. 🙂

FN:  What are some of the real and/or fake bands that you would say have influenced your fake bands?

For Cherry: Sleater-Kinney, L7, Bikini Kill

For Squid: Switchblade Symphony, Cranes

For Truth Finders: None really, I was just farting around trying to see what the site was about.

FN:  Any Figment players who you’d like to laud for their work?

FG:  Oh gosh this one is tough. There are so many! formerwageslave to be sure. Even though I am biased with his being my friend, I am really really proud of his contributions here! And he is this incredibly talented person outside of the figment universe – he’s one of those lucky bastards that has a really real band as well, you know? Just all around a great person.

I also love inflatable_twerp, he’s just hilarious and is really super dedicated to his chosen genres. Our collaborative efforts between Cherry Vendetta and the Chosen Rejects was really fun. I am hoping to get into some more collaborative efforts with him or other members of the community.

JoshTheRadioDude has some pretty cool stuff. Pretty creative.

poppinfresh is pretty f’ing fantastic – I absolutely LOVE the whole Bleatles thing, coming across that stuff just made my day. It is incredibly creative and cheeky.

frizbee’s work with Eccentric Arcade is nothing short of awe-inspiring. He really takes figment to an entire new level and his dedication is nonpareil.

TMTYTF has some amazing output with Stonekrank and I find the list of albums he’s put out rather intimidating, but I guess it comes of being here forever.

There’s tons more but those are in the forefront. I’d mention my daughter’s creative output but that would be nepotism. Plus I don’t want to out her.

FN:  If you could make one of your fake bands real and then join the band, what band would it be and what instrument would you play in the band?

FG:  Again, this is a difficult one to answer. I don’t know if I’d have the same energy at 34 to put into a band like Cherry Vendetta that I would have had at 17, but I would probably love it. Squidbitchez would also be fun. I would love to be like Antoinette and play the violin in some awesome gothy way, you know? Be all “that’s right bitchez, I rock this violin like there’s no tomorrow! Now let’s sing about how there’s no tomorrow!” Breaking strings with how mad I slam that bow across the thing. Plus I think it would come as a quiet fame like I mentioned above – not really in your face, a very select audience, but still worthy and life-fulfilling. And fun. Especially that.

FN:  What is the band and/or album you’ve formed/released that you are the most proud of?

FG:  Cherry Vendetta’s “Screw The Scandals”. While Peepshow is fun and I find the album cover really came out well, Scandals had a more hand-crafted feel – the typical garage band with no money scrapping together enough coins to put together a small number of songs they are really proud of. They didn’t have enough money to hire a cover artist so they just went through some old photos and found something crazy and slapped on a title. I think I pulled it off perfectly. The band itself is something of an accomplishment – I am still sort of in shock over how well it was received by people in general and it inspires me to continue on. So thanks, everyone. You rock. Really.

FN:  If someone asked you why should I play Figment what would you tell them?

FG:  I would tell them that if they love music and have always dreamed of having a band but didn’t actually have the time or talent to be in one, this is a great way to live vicariously. I’d show them how it works, what I’ve done with it, and get them energized about it. But most of the people I’d recommend the site to, would already understand. Because it would hit them just like it hit me – a bullet through the breastplate to the heart. I love this site. Kudos to you.

Welcome to “Cover Stories”, where we allow a Figment player to describe an album cover he/she designed in their own words.  From the original idea to the finished product, we’ll hear the story behind the cover.

This week we hear from thehoseman, who gives us the story behind the cover of the recent Zandergriff Miggs & The Parliament of Owls record “Erwin Schrodinger Brought Him Back.”

thehoseman:

When I first stumbled upon Figment, I had absolutely no experience with photo manipulation or graphic design. The writing part has always come fairly readily to me, but it’s taken quite a bit of experimenting and trying different things in the hopes of developing my own style of cover design. I wish I could say that the outcome and/or look of every cover is plotted, planned and known in advance of the creation, but, that’s not really the way I work. I start with an idea and then just dive in and see what happens.

One of the things I have been messing around with is what I like to call “old fashioned cut & paste”. I am constantly raiding magazines and newspapers to build up a collection of images, then grouping the images into collages and photographing them.  I’ve used this method for a number of recent albums.

This album started with a phrase. A play on the old wives tale, “Curiosity killed the cat. Satisfaction brought him back”. I’ve had the line (that comprises the intro and closing coda of the album) written in one of my notebooks for months. “Curiosity killed the cat. Erwin Schrodinger brought him back.” I don’t remember if I read it somewhere or made it up myself, but I knew I wanted to use it. If you dig into it, you can find multiple meanings and I thought that fit pretty well into what Zander & the Owls were all about.

All the images were cut out and grouped into the design using an actual album cover as the background. It’s completely black with limited text that’s easy to cover with the images and it makes it easy to create a square, album sized design. I acquired a cardboard display sign for a t-shirt design that had an eagle whose wings look like the 2 tiered manuals of a Hammond organ. (if you look closely you can see the drawbars.) Everything about it was perfect, except it was an eagle and not an Owl. I cut out the head of one of the owls I used on the “Down The Owsley Hole” cover and placed it over the eagles head and voila…the eagle was now an owl.

For Zander, I took a pic of myself as him with my computer’s built in camera, printed it and cut out just his torso and head. The cat and foliage in the background were found and cut from random magazines. I had a hard time figuring out how to do the box (necessary to tie in the Schrodinger’s Cat theme). I eventually found this image online, printed it and cut it out. I tried setting it up in a variety of ways, none of which really worked out. I settled on the overturned placement…as if the cat were just freed from Schrodinger’s experiment. (which was his way of trying to visualize the abstraction of quantum uncertainty in a tangible, physical way. For those that are unfamiliar with the experiment, I won’t bore you with the details.)

Once the images were assembled into the cover design, I photographed it with an old point and shoot digital camera and dumped it into iPhoto where I darkened it and over saturated the color as well as cropping it square.

The text was added in Pages (a Mac word processor). I kind of screwed myself a little here by not leaving very good space for the album title. I like the band name “painted” on the crate, but the album title placement was a total punt (though I do think it somehow manages to fit the style.)  Then the file was converted to jpeg and uploaded to Picnik.com for some additional effects and filters. (I don’t have Photoshop at my disposal.) I’ll keep the exact parameters used as a trade secret, but I will say there are about 5 or 6 layers of filters and effects added, all faded down to between 10 – 30% opacity. All of the effects were built upon each other to make the cover look more like a painting than a photo. I wanted to wash out the glossiness to give it a faded, early 70’s vibe. I also needed to cover up the flash reflection from the camera that sits disturbingly in the middle of the design. For that I created the spiral (that sort of becomes the owl’s vapor trail as it swoops in to the scene) using the Hypnotic effect. I used the Circle Splash effect to create the beams of light projecting from the owls eyes. Finally, for purely aesthetic reasons, I rounded the corners to again, give it a vintage, uniqueness, just a little detail to define a style.

It seems so totally egomaniacal to say, but I was really thrilled with the way it turned out.

I had already hashed out some song titles and with the complete cover, the rest of the songs and description fell into place. In some of the song titles you will see not too subtle nods to songs by bands that the Owls would consider influences. I’d be curious to see if they are easily recognizable or not. (yes…feedback requested.) All in all, from start to finish this project took me about 4 hours. Once I get rolling, things kind of just pour out and I run with it until It seems finished. I don’t very often go back and make changes or edit…(though some would probably argue that I should! – and as I look at the cover image now, I see many things I would change or do differently.)

I certainly don’t have the knowledge base or skill set of some of the designers on Figment, but I think I have a decent eye for art and through experimentation, I have found ways to utilize the limited tools at my disposal. I definitely attempt to tie each cover in so it makes sense with the band/genre/album it is for and that the overall “feel” of the cover fits the album. (which is highly important to my buying/listening to other albums on Figment.)

I hope anyone who reads this will find it at least somewhat interesting. I look forward to more of these Cover Stories, because I know I am totally curious to find out how all the rest of you create your covers!