RockPoP Gallery's Mike Goldstein interviews designer/musician Regan Hagar about his design work for Eddie Vedder's Ukulele Songs album cover and limited-edition songbook.
The recorded music industry today finds itself with quite the dilemma - does it continue to push towards digital promotion and product distribution, which is what the "younger generation" expects, or does it persist in devoting resources to producing packages that combine something tangible - typically, shiny metal discs - with "collectibles" (posters, DVDs, premium downloads, etc.) in offerings for Boomers and lovers of all things hand-made and/or retro? Invest for the future, or feed the needs of those with the money NOW?
While there are pundits who make convincing arguments for either/both approaches (and many attempting to craft a compromise), there are musical acts and record labels who simply want to focus on the varying depths of the relationships that seem to exist between themselves and their fans. In the case of singer/songwriter Eddie Vedder, what seems clear is that he has been greatly influenced by the talents of many in the various fields of art and artistry that surround him and, more importantly, he thinks that it is important for his most-committed fans to look seriously at these things if they a) want to understand him more fully and b) really want to appreciate and respect what it takes to "make great art" (of all types).
Keeping this in mind as he (and his team) approached the task of creating the packaging and ancillary materials that would accompany all the retail versions of Vedder's solo album titled "Ukulele Songs" (released in May, 2011 on MonkeyWrench Records), Seattle-area designer Regan Hagar brought his unique combination of perspectives as a graphic artist, musician and long-time friend of Vedder and his Pearl Jam bandmates to bear when approaching this assignment. Given that it was his client's desire to provide products of exceptional quality, value and insight into this musical act's motivations and respect for the timelessness of the music being offered (and the instrument it was being played on), Hagar relied on both Vedder's instructions and his own innate talents to create a series of products that - in the case of the limited-edition package offered to fans via Vedder's web site - were so highly-anticipated that all 5000 copies sold out well in advance of their release!
Wanting to know more about how the process worked and how friends/fellow-musicians worked together to produce these packages, I contacted Regan in late August, 2011, to get the details in his own words and deliver them to you, our loyal readers, in the following article. I know that I "Can't Keep" you waiting much longer, so please read on...
In the words of the artist, Regan Hagar (interviewed in August, 2011) -
I have bounced around the music industry for most of my life and first met Eddie when he moved to Seattle to become a member of Mookie, which would soon change names and become Pearl Jam in late 1990. I have known the other members of PJ for many years prior, but always as a musician and not a designer. After my stint in Malfunktion, I had to find work because music pays very little to most musicians and I spent time working on design projects because I had to make money to take care of my family. Music was my priority up until I had kids and, once I had two kids, I took long periods off from playing music. I don't think that Pearl Jam initially thought of me to do the graphics for their records due to me being a musician. On the contrary, being a musician has kept folks from taking my design work seriously, perhaps. Years later, I designed a book for photographer Lance Mercer titled 5x1 - Pearl Jam Through the Eye of Lance Mercer featuring text by Cameron Crowe, Pete Townshend, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Stipe and others. From that point on, I was on PJ’s radar for design work.
After contracting with PJ for design work a few times between 2006 and 2010, I was asked to come on full time as their in-house designer. The special assignment for the Ukulele Songs limited-edition book was given in tandem with the work we were doing for release of Eddie’s album. Ed and I had also worked on creating the Ukulele instructional book which was going to be part of the other retail packages.
At first, I thought that this would be a quick album package job, driven mostly by Ed’s ideas. The image for the CD cover was brought to me by Ed. He had a clear idea of what he wanted it to look like. I just had to bring it to fruition. He had seen works by the artist Jason deCaires Taylor and thought that they'd provide the concept for the cover image. We looked at a few shots of Taylor's sculptures and Ed was really intrigued by one of a man sitting underwater at a desk using a typewriter. Ed has an affinity for typewriters and uses them frequently so, with the typewriter as a connection to Ed, we knew that the photo of the Taylor sculpture worked immediately.
After that, everything fell together quickly. We obtained the licenses for the photos of Taylor's sculptures quickly and then Ed brought in one of his vintage typewriters that types in cursive. So, instead of using a computer font, we decided to use that for all the text, which was really unique. Soon after Ed had a photo session with Danny Clinch which provided a plethora of amazing images to use. Danny's photos were all really nice, so I picked my favorite two dozen or so and then put those alongside Mr. Vedder's faves. When we agreed on images, they were used and, in a few instances, I was able to include some "outtake" type shots of local fauna, etc.
Pearl Jam had used a “pizzoli” style packaging for the last couple albums (Editor's note - this is a style of packaging where a CD or DVD holder - called a "slip sleeve" - is glued on to the cover of a book) and Ed wanted this album to be in the same format.
The number of elements in the packages started to grow as we started into the vinyl. Ed wanted a leather bound look for the lyric book to be included with the vinyl, and this would be similar to the inset of the CD package, with the addition of a faux leather cover. Soon after that, Ed decided that he wanted to add sheet music. At this point I was thinking I could design it to have a "vintage mid-century school book" look and feel - it was my version of a school science book cover. This was to also be faux as it would be inserted to the vinyl package.
In the end, both of the books were combined to make the hard cover version, which would be sold as a separate item altogether. The hard cover book ultimately was the only piece I was able to create from a concept aside of Ed’s initial request. This was an opportunity for me to present Ed with a separate look. I had made a faux softbound version that looked like a green text book. Ed responded well to the idea of having a separate cover from the album - one without an image. The concept just grew organically - I had to just pick the right materials to make it real. Adding the marker thread, the dying of the paper edges... all these things tied into the original concept.
While there are a lot of acts that defer to you as a designer, Ed is very hand’s on. He'll pick the images, type styles, etc. that he likes and, during the process, I have the opportunity to create and modify things, introduce other type styles, etc., so it does become a collaboration. I like to listen to the music to which I am designing. As I was raised on staring at album covers while listening to music, this is always something I ask because I think the connection in undeniable between the visual and audible art in a package. While it seemed like the process was always in a hurry, I feel working with quick deadlines is a good thing because it keeps you from over-thinking things. Ed had an upcoming tour to go on and we needed to get a lot of things done - three books, including combining the soft-cover lyric and sheet music books to make a new “better than ever” stand alone package separate from the album release - plus the gatefold vinyl and CD packages.
And so we dove straight in - no comps really to speak of, but there were ultimately some variations of images, sizing etc. I knew it had to be rich in feel in order to entice fans that had already purchased the other pieces. For the hardcover book, we used a linen cover with debossed text that was inked, while another quality effect we wanted to include was a way to allow the photo images to pop off the page while still having the vintage parchment look to the paper. A key to this was to use white stock on pages that had photos, and then match the color of the pages with text, which were printed on an unbleached stock. This allowed the whites of the images to jump off the page and still match the other pages. The book also includes a ribbon for saving your place, and dyed paper edges. All of these things pushed the price up but, in the end, it is all well worth the cost to give fans the chance to hold something that felt hand-made and special. In total, I spent about a month working on all the pieces of this project while at the same time having to spend time on several other pieces I had brewing in the office for Pearl Jams 20th anniversary.
In comparison to the 380-page PEARL JAM 20 retrospective book, the Ukulele packaging - including the hard cover book, at 104 pages - was "easy breezy".
About the subject of our interview - Regan Hagar -
For the past 2 years, Regan Hagar has been the Creative Director of Pearl Jam, Inc. in Seattle. A Seattle-area musician for the past 30 years, Regan began his musical career playing the snare drum in school ("back when schools had art and music teachers") and, at Bainbridge High School, met Andy Wood and started playing a drum kit.
According to Hagar, it was seeing that you could be in a punk band without having to be a great musician that opened the door for him. He soon was bashing it out in his/his friends' basements and hanging flyers for shows at the Showbox Theater in exchange for free tickets to events there. This soon led to a job as a ticket-taker there and, during his breaks, played in a back room with whoever was around. His friend Andy then asked him to join Malfunkshun and "that was it, that was all I did and all I cared about - everything changed from that point forward."
Malfunkshun (who, in addition to Andrew Wood, included Kevin Wood of Mother Love Bone) is considered to be one of the "fathers of grunge". After the band dissolved in 1988, Regan played in a series of bands and/or projects - including Satchel and Brad - which included members of other top Seattle acts. He also co-founded his own record label - Loosgroove Records - which produced records for a number of rock, hip-hop and funk acts including Malfunkshun, QOTSA, Devilhead, Weapons of Choise and others until its closing in 2000. In addition, he's worked as the assistant tour manager for Neil Young, “when he travels with a full band.”
As a budding album cover designer, his first design gig was producing the album cover for World Full of Hate by “The Fartz”, a band on the Alternative Tentacles label that would later feature future Guns-N-Roses bassist Duff McKagan on drums), when he was 14 or 15 years old.
He's the father of two children - daughter Chase (seen above) and son Shade.
To see more of Regan's work, please visit the official Pearl Jam web site at http://www.pearljam.com
To learn more about Eddie Vedder's Ukulele Songs album, please visit the Pearl Jam web site - http://www.pearljam.com/news/new-eddie-vedder-record-and-dvd-coming-may-31
The Ukulele Songs LP includes a digital download code, 44 page booklet and a 48 page songbook, while the limited-edition Book/CD package - at 104 pages - includes a 2-page "Ukulele 101" instructional guide (tuning, fingering, strumming), a one-page Ukulele Chord chart and a one-page guide to Eddie V's chords. All of the text in the book was typed by Eddie himself using a vintage (1961-62) Torpedo Model 18B typewriter, and the principal photography for the booklet was done by Danny Clinch, with additional photographs supplied by Bob Whittaker, Anna Knowlden, Gary Ashley, Sonny Miller and Stefan Mentil.
To see more of the works of artist Jason deCaires Taylor, please visit the gallery on his website at http://www.underwatersculpture.com/pages/gallery/evolucion-silenciosa.html
Special thanks to Mike Jones of A to Z Media in Portland, OR, for his help with this interview. A To Z's creative packaging experts were hired to supply the CD that accompanied the limited-edition hardcover version of the Ukulele Songs package and have worked with Pearl Jam on a number of projects including the 2010 Holiday single package for Fan Club members, the limited-edition vinyl version of the Avocado album and the 4-LP box set for their 2006 Live At The Gorge release. You can learn more about Mike's company by visiting his web site at http://www.atozmedia.com/cdforge/
About UnCovered -
Our ongoing series of interviews will give you, the music and art fan, a look at "The Making Of" the illustrations, photographs and designs of many of the most-recognized and influential images that have served to package and promote your all-time-favorite recordings.
In each UnCovered feature, we'll meet the artists, designers and photographers who produced these works of art and learn what motivated them, what processes they used, how they collaborated (or fought) with the musical acts, their management, their labels, etc. - all of the things that influenced the final product you saw then and still see today.
We hope that you enjoy these looks behind the scenes of the music-related art business and that you'll share your stories with us and fellow fans about what role these works of art - and the music they covered - played in your lives.
All images featured in this UnCovered story are Copyright 2011 Regan Hagar and Pearl Jam, Inc. - All rights reserved. Except as noted, all other text Copyright 2011 - Mike Goldstein & RockPoP Gallery (www.rockpopgallery.com) - All rights reserved.