Going down to your local record shop in the pre-internet days was unlike anything else. Scanning the shelves for that latest release, faces staring out at you from
every sleeve; getting that limited edition album home and patiently
thumbing through exclusive excerpts and original illustrations; heck,
even the smell of a new album had its own thing going on. In our digital
age, that excitement and anticipation surrounding a physical release
has somewhat dwindled, fans no longer depending on specially designed
booklets for lyric legitimacy, or saving up their pennies to bag the
poster inserted inside the case.
Sure, we can appreciate album artwork but these days, it’s an all-too-often overlooked aspect, cast aside to iPod screens we never look at, or scrolled past when reading an online review. Of course, vinyl nerds will have sleeves adorning their bedrooms, but there’s no denying the effect album art had over previous generations. Album artwork is the ultimate collaboration of creative outlets, and at the risk of sounding cheesy, it’s ultimately the most prominent visual language of “the music”. People tattoo that stuff on their own bodies, y’know? It’s important.
In 2003 – and already with a loyal following – Brand New released their world-wide dominating second LP ‘Déjà Entendu’. Not only did the songs catapult them into the mainstream, that now iconic image of a floating astronaut decorates the limbs of adoring fans everywhere. With the image ever-ingrained in the library of emo classics, it was a little design studio in Seattle that first came up with the concept. “If memory serves me correct, Brand New contacted us in early 2003,” explains Invisible Creature co-founder Don Clark. ” We were fortunate to have worked with quite a few bands up to that point, so I believe they had seen our work on other albums. I had heard of the band, but I wasn’t super familiar with their sound at the time.”
Previously working under the alias Asterik, the studio is founded by Don and his brother Ryan. Brand New gave the siblings complete
creative freedom, telling them to “do their thing.” It’s something which Don
explains is as daunting as it is wonderful. “There’s no real starting
point,” he continues. “We loved the album title and wanted to do
something unexpected, so we started digging through our archives of
found imagery that we could play with.” With no song or lyric
particularly sparking inspiration between the pair, the brothers pitched
only once to the band – a rare accomplishment in such a crucial aspect
of the process.
“I don’t remember them really giving us any art direction at all throughout the whole process,” recalls Don. “I remember them liking what we submitted, and being a pleasure to work with during the entire process. It was a really fun project.” For such a seemingly easy process, the team never thought the artwork would have such an effect on fans. “It was pretty amazing to see the response to the artwork,” says Don. “If I could go back, there are a zillion little things I would do differently. I was much younger (and greener) at the time, so some of the light and shadow work is a bit clunky - but I think the concept as a whole still works well.”
As graphic designers take on projects such as this, there’s always that curiousity as to whether the artists themselves actually like the music they’re working with. For Don and Ryan, though, it was a match made in heaven. “The album, from a musical standpoint, was way ahead of its time, in my opinion,” Don enthuses. “I think that’s why so many folks resonated with it – which is ironic when you think of the album title. It definitely made a big impact on the scene back then and we’re thankful to be a small part of that.”
Since their humble beginnings, Invisible Creature have been nominated for Grammys for the past ten years, as well as working with huge brands such as Nike, Target, MTV and Google. Music, though, is still at the forefront of their ethos. “We have been so fortunate to work with some amazing bands over the last 14 years,” Don continues. “Déjà Entendu’ was definitely a highlight in our career and managed us introduce our work to many other bands and artists.”