The Project

I’ve written elsewhere that all I ever needed to know about professional creativity I learned in anonymous rock bands. Part of that was cutting my teeth with some rudimentary design work on album artwork. Every band I’ve ever played in was an amateur experience, but my very first band The Mojo Wire was almost ridiculously so, including the home-made CD-R covers I created for that group’s four releases from 1997-2001.

This past December the first of those albums, Battery Acid Blues, turned twenty years old—so to celebrate that anniversary I redesigned the art for all four releases. Each album got a 20-page booklet—with photos, illustrations, liner notes, and quickie essays all crammed into a PDF. I remastered the audio, uploaded everything to Bandcamp, and called it a “digital reissue.” Most of the tunes are basically unlistenable, but that doesn’t mean the overall experience wasn’t fun or merely a nostalgia trip.

Applying my professional skills to amateur pieces I’d made decades before, without software or scanners or any real design knowledge beyond instinct and middle/high school art classes, was a unique exercise in discipline and humility. I was re-scanning or retouching old photos, digging up illustration credits (in the rare cases where I didn’t draw a given image), and—in one case—replacing an entire amateur watercolor piece with heavily manipulated NASA photos just to edit some type and add a few pages.

Why go to such great lengths for a questionable collection of unabashed juvenilia? It validates what I do now—and not just for music project hobbies or album art design work (which I’ll do anytime at all). It shows me that I’ve learned a lot in the past two decades, but that many of my then-untrained instincts about taste and visual communication were good ones.

I also did it because, well, people can be a bit weird about their first band. Especially if their first band was actually three bands amateurishly playing what nobody wanted to hear. The seething college town of Isla Vista, CA was definitely not ready for hapless retro-rock in the late ’90s. Follow the link at right for the whole sordid saga.

—Keir