The Art of Music:

Jamie Lenman on Reuben's 'Very Fast Very Dangerous' vinyl artwork

- 03/07/2015 -

Reuben's second album Very Fast Very Dangerous is (almost) finally out on vinyl — after a 10 year wait — and so we got the VERY EXCITED (and probably not at all very dangerous) Jamie Lenman to tell us about his original vision for the sleeve, now fulfilled, and his love for album artwork.

You can preorder the Very Fast Very Dangerous vinyl in our digital shop. You can also grab the reprinted artwork t-shirt or even both together. And we still have the excellent 10 year anniversary vinyl reissue of Reuben's debut album, Racecar Is Racecar Backwards to buy at your leisure.

Jamie! How does the current vinyl artwork compare to the original vision?  How does it work better?

Well it's a lot bigger, for starters. It's really quite different to the original vision because the inlay design for the CD was designed specifically for that format, and the vinyl version excises most of it. The concept for the cover was that everyone makes a t shirt of their album covers retroactively, sort of back-engineers it into an item of clothing, and sometimes it doesn’t work very well. So I thought, what if your album cover already is a t-shirt design? Then you'd have a nice line running through everything and it would all feel very consistent, all the design work and the merchandise would be of a piece.

 T-shirt design and album artwork synergy at work

T-shirt design and album artwork synergy at work

Then, when I designed the inlay, I wanted it to do something — I always wanted our inlays to be interactive to a degree. I wanted to make that experience more involving than just looking at some artwork or reading the lyrics. With the Pilot inlay, there was a secret code in singular red-coloured letters; with the Racecar inlay you had the sort of flip-up reverse x-ray of us three as skeletons; and on this one I wanted to have it so depending on which way you folded it, you could arrange it so all three of us were wearing the 't-shirt' cover. I made loads of little prototypes to be sure it would work out.

Then when it came to the centrepiece, I was thinking more of the vinyl version which I just assumed we'd do like we did with the first record. I wanted a big convergence of all the visual elements that we'd seeded on the covers of the album itself and the various singles, and I wanted it to be a big two-panel thing. I'd been inspired by a similar thing in the inlay for Every Time I Die's Gutter Phenomenon, this awesome monochrome splatter of snakes and guitars.

 Every Time I Die's  Gutter Phenomenon

Every Time I Die's Gutter Phenomenon

I was thinking about those lovely gatefold records with the big treat in the middle like Sgt Pepper's... or (The Jimi Hendrix Experience's) Axis: Bold As Love, but also I knew it would mean I could play another folding game with the CD inlay and have it only make sense when you folded it a certain way. I'm not sure if anyone ever bothered with the folding. I'd love to find out. (Why not tell us if you did this or not? Hit us or Reuben up on Facebook — XMR)

Why was it so important to the artwork to have it on a vinyl sleeve?

Well, it was only really important for the centrepiece, which became my favourite part. Like I say, my original concept was much more centred on the CD version, with the t-shirt idea and the folding game. Then later in the process I started thinking about the vinyl and the big central artwork and I couldn't wait to see it all printed big and whatnot. I just think for some things, bigger is better, and that's one of them.

 The centrepiece of  Very Fast Very Dangerous  — notice the nod to  Racecar Is Racecar Backwards

The centrepiece of Very Fast Very Dangerous — notice the nod to Racecar Is Racecar Backwards

It was important to us to do it on vinyl cos we were all disappointed when it didn't happen the first time round — I don't think Racecar had sold enough in the vinyl edition to warrant getting them made up for VFVD, which was fair enough. Ten years later, there's now this huge market specifically for vinyl, perhaps in part as a reaction to the mp3 era which was still establishing itself back in 2005. When you're in a band, certainly people of my age, you tend to equate success with certain things, and having your music on a big, shiny black disc was one of those things, so we were sad when we missed out and now we're stoked it's finally happening.

  Very Fast Very Dangerous  vinyl, info and tracklisting

Very Fast Very Dangerous vinyl, info and tracklisting

What is it that you're particularly proud of with the sleeve of Very Fast Very dangerous?

Well I think that basically it achieved all the things I wanted it to achieve, it ticked all the boxes I outlined in response to the first question here. I think it helped give a visual identity to the album that carried through the whole era (apart from the promotional videos, but then you don't want all your videos to look the same). I think the crossover from album cover to t-shirt worked super well; I think it's a great shirt and people seemed to like it and I still see people wearing them. Like every other aspect of the band, beyond the music and into the artwork, the website, and all the various ways we connect with our audience, we put an awful lot of time and effort and thought into our t-shirt designs. Even though it was mostly myself who created the actual artwork for each one, we would still go through hours of group discussion and draft versions, and rounds of voting to make sure we ended up with something that we ourselves as music fans would want to buy. I think we did pretty good on the whole.

 A colourful collection of Reuben  VFVD -era covers

A colourful collection of Reuben VFVD-era covers

When it comes time to be working upon artwork (for this and any other record), is it obvious to you what will work or do you play with ideas a lot?

When I used to do it a lot for my band, and others, it was always very impulsive. I would always listen to the music and straight away I would get an image or an idea and then I'd just follow that through, working and refining until I have the finished concept. The downside to this impulsive approach, as opposed to a long period of gathering different ideas and trying various things out, is that what you end up with isn't always the most original concept. I think you have to try very hard if you want to be truly original and if I'm honest with myself, I have to say that this has been a rare occurrence in my own career. Which doesn't mean to say there hasn't been some good stuff — the red skeletons from the first album came across as a very strong image which resonated loudly with folks and I think the truck did too, although I haven't seen quite as many tattoos of the truck on people's bodies! (Although, do show us if you have please! - XMR)

 Artwork aplenty

Artwork aplenty

Do you have a particular record artwork that you are inspired by or made you want to illustrate? What and why?

I was a little bit obsessed with White Zombie's Astro Creep album for many years. In fact, I used to carry it around with me wherever I went, like a child carries their favourite toy with them. Not only is the music incredible but every song on the record is represented in the inlay, with its own page featuring the lyrics and an individual illustration by band leader Rob Zombie. It's all different styles and it's all jumbled up — some more cartoony, some more figurative, bits of collage work here and there; all brilliant. That idea that he was this great rock musician but also a great illustrator was hugely inspiring to me and I wanted to follow the same path. I remember reading an interview where he was being asked about his approach to album art and he said that when he bought records, he would always be disappointed if it was a real skimpy inlay, like just a photo of the band and maybe a few lyrics. He said he wanted to feel nourished by the inlay as an equal part of the experience of that album and that he always tried to make sure his records did that. I took that on board in a big way.

 Rob Zombie's  Astro Creep  artwork

Rob Zombie's Astro Creep artwork

Do you think the art of the record sleeve has been lost (and what can we do about this travesty)?

I don't think it's lost at all — it's definitely still there but it's moved into its own boutique space and there's not as much of it is all. If anything, you could argue that this has strengthened it, concentrated it; like, if people are going to bother at all, it'd better be really good. That's definitely the approach I took with the records I recently had out with Xtra Mile — as far as I was concerned they represented the zenith of my own personal endeavours with what a record sleeve could be, both in a decorative sense like the Muscle Memory inlay or in a functional sense like the self-assemble zoetrope with 'Gentleman/Things'.

 Jamie Lenman's 'It's Hard To Be A Gentlemen/All The Things You Hate About Me, I Hate Them Too' zoetrope and  Muscle Memory  artwork

Jamie Lenman's 'It's Hard To Be A Gentlemen/All The Things You Hate About Me, I Hate Them Too' zoetrope and Muscle Memory artwork

That said, I think there is a case to made for going the opposite way, to contradicting ol' Bob Zombie up there, and there is an appeal in very simple, sparse artwork. To use an appropriate example, and being very aware of the website this article is on, I thought the artwork for the Möngöl Hörde album was just perfect. One slip of paper, cool hand-drawn skull/logo on the front, one picture of the band on the flipside, and an extra — extraordinary — live shot on the back. That's it. Sometimes that's all you need. That album stands on its own without  frills or spills or fold-out cardboard toys, for cripes sake!

 Simple, sparse, and cool hand-drawn skull/logo (plus extraordinary live shot)

Simple, sparse, and cool hand-drawn skull/logo (plus extraordinary live shot)

So, I don't think anything needs to be done, I think it's all great. If you're going to do it, do it properly. And if you're not going to do it at all, then the songs better be fucking good!

Let's talk about artwork! Are you psyched about Jamie's vision finally being realised with the vinyl release of VFVD? Did you enjoy the alternative Racecar sketches on that vinyl reissue? How do you feel about album artwork and sleeves? What are you personal loves (lyrics? live photos?) and pet peeves (no lyrics? lack of personal touch?)? Let us know via Facebook, Twitter @Xtra_Mile, and contributions[at]xtramilerecordings[dot]com. Go!