In 2000 I found myself with a French record company and an American indie label – my first time out of the major leagues. The good was they were happy to have whatever sleeve I wanted, the bad was I had a budget which was a small fraction of those I'd had with Universal. Hiring Michael Nash again was out of the question. I had spent much of the previous year, while lawyers were going back and forth (and often sideways, as there were 3 sets involved – mine, the new label's and Universal's), learning to build my website and much of this is graphic design, I suppose. I'd become fairly fluent in Flash. So I decided to design my new album sleeve using Flash, and nobody told me not to. I knew nothing of pixel resolution, print resolution, etc, I just figured if I could design it, the in house designers could work with my files and, for the most part it worked well. With the exception of the single sleeve for What's Wrong With This Picture? where the text wraps around when it is not supposed to the sleeves look like I wanted them to. In the US WAR?'s initial numbers quoted to produce and all card and paper sleeve like the French one were incorrect, so at the last minute the sleeve was changed to work in a jewel case. I still don't like it.
In 2001 XIII Bis said they wanted to put out more material and were willing, amazingly, to go through with the Universal legal rigmarole again. They wanted to release the remainder of the 1996 album and they liked Plastic Wood! So, all of a sudden I had two new albums and a boxed set that they wanted to make… Fortunately this is when Hosuk Lee Makiyama (then a director of the ad agency Leo Burnett) contacted me offering to help with sleeve design. I think today he may wonder what he was thinking – as he's been with me ever since and must have done about a year's worth of unpaid design work for me and made it possible for me to work with the smaller budgets and still deliver artwork of the very highest caliber. I would never claim to be the best songwriter or singer, but I'll stand my album sleeves next to any other artist's. And much as I love the work Michael Nash did for me, I think Hosuk's sleeves are superior. I am very lucky.
The first thing Hosuk told me was that he loved the MN sleeves, especially DGWOMB, and that he hated the Negatives! He tried, several times to get me to change it. He was appalled by the quality of the text (it's true that if you take a magnifying glass to the sleeve it does look a little rough) and he didn't like my cousin Mark's photos. We didn't have any other photos to use in 2001 and I recall I wasn't in the mood to have more taken – the cost was an issue and I don't think I was enjoying my new obviously 40 something look.
Hosuk took the aging idea and turned it on it's head. He took the image from the Commotions 1984-1989 and degraded it as if it had aged. He then asked me if I still had the clothes I was wearing in that shot – I did – he wanted me to photograph them. I did. The front sleeve is my work.
Here's his mock-up with a jacket of his own.
Plastic Wood took longer – initially he wanted to follow the MN lead and use great art on my sleeves (like the Nan Goldin on Like Lovers). This is the Goldin Sketch –
A Gerhard Richter –
I think it took H a little while to believe that his and my ideas were best for my sleeves, rather than someone else's. The turning point came when H came up with a joke that I loved. The gallery, or the signage itself as art.
From there he worked the idea of the sleeve as a painting and he took an old Joe Shutter from 1986 and treated it to look like an oil painting. Voila. Maybe the humour was taken a little far with this proposed sticker, so we didn't use it. Judging from some of the comments I've seen, from the those bemused by my decision to make an instrumental record, maybe we should have kept it.
For the boxed set H hit his stride and has received much deserved praise for creating a real work of art to have and hold.
The first page of the booklet appears to be a work of abstract art, which it is, but it began its life as a live photo of the Negatives. I'm afraid I cannot locate the original but I can tell you that that's Jill in the foreground.
Around this time I began thinking of making a song book. I have angle I like and so does Hosuk. I don't believe it has been done by anyone yet so I'm not going to tell what it is here. I haven't given up on the idea, so it may surface before I'm done. I've used Clairefontaine notebooks for my note taking since I first fell in love (yes – I am something of a stationery fetishist) with them in Paris, 1984. Perfect Blue was the first song completed in one, the night before our gig at Le Palace. Here's how the book might have looked like if we'd made it in 2001 –