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Mueller recently took a break from his hectic schedule to field a few questions from LAS Managing Editor Eric J Herboth.
LAS: What sort of process do you go through to achieve your images?
Andy Mueller: Every project goes through a different process. It really depends on what type of project it is. For music packaging, the ideal process is to be involved with the music or the band long before the "art" is due. I have been fortunate to work with a lot of bands that appreciate this involvement. It's great when I can get a rough mix or earlier demos and listen to the music or see live shows and help determine what the music should look like. Giving music an image is a very powerful thing that leaves a lasting impression... it's great when there is time to make it work together.
Do you look for something specific in the music for each album that you do the artwork for?
Yeah, I definitely try to find something in the music that can help spark the visuals. This seems to have shifted a little as of late in terms of content... but there is usually something that influences the art. The new C-Clamp album [Longer Waves], for example, is abstract and graphic but the overall mood and color scheme comes from the music. The last HUM record [Downward is Heavenward] is kind of an interesting story - After listening to the demos and early versions of the record the song that stuck in my head was "Aphids." I really liked the organic quality of this song - I liked the idea of the insect and plant world as mentioned in the lyrics. It's kinda of funny that the label, RCA, and the band agreed to go with that cover design even though the song was cut from the record. But even thought the song was cut, the overall feeling persisted throughout the rest of the songs.
When you come up with an idea do you go right out and try to create it, or do you stew on it and wait for the image to come to you?
I think the artwork on album covers is really divided in terms of the process. The first grouping would be those that use art that I have archived or created on my own or luckily happen across. I shoot photos all the time, especially when traveling outside of Chicago. I'm always collecting things, saving objects, and collecting references. Sometimes a record will just happen to fit one of these archived images. The Castor record [Tracking Sounds Alone] was a perfect fit for a group of images that I happened to take just a couple weeks before they contacted me about the project. It fit so well, I couldn't have wished for a better photo to fit the mood of Castor's record.
And then there is a second grouping, which would consist of art for those that I go out and shoot once I figure out what the music should look like. The Number One Cup CD [People People] is a perfect example of this type of work. Very conceptually art directed, sketched out and then produced. These type of projects are really fun... they just take a lot longer to bring to life.
How much influence do you think your work has on the consumer? Years ago I actually bought Static Prevails by Jimmy Eat World just because you had done the artwork, and it turned out that I liked the record. Of course, like everyone, I have bought albums on a whim, due to the artwork, and hated the music.
Design of any sort influences the consumer. It's funny how nobody wants to admit that there are genres of design. It's funny how people say "Oh that record looks so Techno, so Indie," et cetera. I've tried to mix it up and create a new style. It's kinda too bad that there are limitations to what can be done with record packaging, in terms of breaking the rules. What would you think if the next HUM record had swirls and 3-D rendered floating space balls? You'd think they had gone crazy. One of the most memorable album covers of late is the new Ben Lee cover - I don't really like the art, but I love the fact that it is braking the rules; it's mixing the art of all the genres... hip hop, techno, soul, with an "indie" artists. I'm curious to see if the music has changed. But back to the question - I think good design can definitely compliment record sales, but it's hard to sell music on the art alone. I have bought records based on the art alone, but I also buy a lot of records even if the cover art isn't so good.
Do you have any formal art training?
I have been taking photos for about ten years. My parents ran a school photography business. I hated photography for the longest time and then I realized how empowering it is. It's been great to me - it has allowed me to see things that I would never have otherwise seen, especially shooting for newspapers and magazines on assignment. It's always so fun to go out on assignment. I'm pretty much self-taught; I took a bunch of photo classes in college in Champaign, but have learned the majority by shooting thousands and thousands of photos. I have no formal design training, but I feel into it. In college I was shooting rock bands and somehow a bunch of bands needed design help. I knew how to silkscreen T-shirts so I helped design some shirts and then print them and that lead into helping them do their album covers. The first couple of design jobs were for Honcho Overload, Mother, and Hardvark, all Champaign bands. One thing lead to another and now it's six years later and I'm a full time art director slash designer slash photographer. I've even had the opportunity to direct music videos and "action sport" commercials for snowboard and skateboard companies.
What is most interesting for you, as an artist, to create?
I've really enjoyed the freedom of being able to jump around from design to photography to abstract painting. It's all fun and enjoyable.
You are probably best known for your album covers, but what other projects do spend time on?
Ohio girl is a full service design studio. Besides music packaging we've done logo development, catalogs, snowboard graphics, web sites, music videos, TV commercials, show posters, collateral materials, sales booklets, signage... Just about every kind of design you can imagine.
Recently, just after our interview, Mueller relocated from the Windy City to the glam and glitz of Los Angeles where he will hopefully "make it big" and live high on the hog. In addition to his design and photography work under the Ohio Girl imprint, Mueller also occupies the head office at the Quiet Life clothing company, and is the art director for Girl skateboards and Lakai footwear. To keep abreast on his artistic goings on, get in the habit of stopping by the gallery/blog site Art Dump, where Mueller communicates with the web world alongside Andy Jenkins, Tony Larson, Jeremy Carnahan and an ever-evolving cast of other creative types. SEE ALSO: www.ohiogirl.com
SEE ALSO: www.thequietlife.com
SEE ALSO: www.theartdump.com
Eric J Herboth
Eric J. Herboth is the founder, publisher and Managing Editor of LAS magazine. He is a magazine editor, freelance writer, bike mechanic, commercial pilot, graphic designer, International Scout enthusiast and giver of the benefit of the doubt. He currently lives in rural central Germany with his two best friends, dog Awahni and cat Scout.
See other articles by Eric J Herboth.
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