Interview by Spike
Jesse LeDoux will not be constrained by a five inch square canvas. Read on.
Occasionally a record appears featuring artwork so visually arresting -- so completely in tune with the musical content -- that it becomes almost impossible to separate the two. It’s as if the proverbial creative egg cracked, and the songs and the artwork teetered out together to have a squint at the world. Chutes Too Narrow by The Shins is one of those teetering squinters, and the man behind the wildly creative die-cut artwork and packaging is Jesse LeDoux. Let’s see what he has to say about all this.
Had you heard any -- or all -- of Chutes Too Narrow before starting on the artwork?
Jesse: I did! I had a copy of the record about an hour after The Shins finished mixing it. I had heard a couple of the songs during a trip to the recording studio, but I felt it was important to hear the album in its entirety before starting on the art. The songs on the record are rather varied, so I wanted to be sure the art encompassed the vibe of the entire album. At least that was my excuse for needing a copy of the record IMMEDIATELY after it was finished -- the bigger reason being, I really like the band and was eager to get my hands on the new album.
Was it a collaborative effort with The Shins? Or were you pretty much left alone to do your thing?
Prior to starting on the album, James (Mercer, The Shins’ songwriter) and I sat down for an hour to talk about the artwork. We looked through a bunch of books and magazines, but by the end of our meeting the only direction we decided to go in was to have the art be a significant departure from the monochromatic simplicity of Oh, Inverted World, and to include his handwritten lyrics in the package somehow.
I kept the band in the loop throughout the entire process, but at the same time they were really great about trusting me to come up with something. They all seemed genuinely happy with what I came up with. It was really a dream project in a lot of ways.
Have you noticed downloading/iTunes affecting record packaging at all? Originally I thought it would affect it adversely... but from what I see in stores, it seems the opposite. The CD/vinyl release often looks more deluxe than ever, to entice fans into wanting to own the actual record.
I would agree with that view in theory, but from the album packages I’ve worked on, labels seem more inclined to offer bonus tracks or DVDs to entice buyers more than spending production budgets on crazy packaging.
Sub Pop has always been great about placing a high value on how their records look, and this has made them a unique label. Although the Chutes Too Narrow package would have initially been cheaper to produce without the die-cut booklet, the die-cut helped it to stand out from the rest of the albums on the record store shelves. Plus, the cost of that die, when distributed over the amount of units sold, only adds a fraction of a penny to the cost of each unit. While it’s typically pretty easy to convince bands that fancier packaging is a good idea, it ultimately depends on the record label. Some labels are cutting loose and making the packages more exciting -- others are, unfortunately, reining it in and viewing CDs as a near extinct format, which really only expedites their demise.
You’ve got such a cool body of work now -- not to mention a Grammy nomination. Your name must really be out there as a designer of choice for lots of folks. Any bands or solo artists -- from small to huge -- that you’d really love to work with?
I’ve found the bands I really like are the most difficult ones to create artwork for. I end up trying too hard to make everything perfect, overthinking the artwork in the process. I’m typically able to break through this “stage fright” period. However, it certainly adds time to the project -- and usually results in a few sleepless nights.
Ultimately, a dream job for me would be to work with a band whom I’ve never heard of -- which isn’t hard, as I live with my head under a rock most of the time -- who turns out to be really good, and is willing to let me do my thing and get a little wacky with the packaging. Either them or David Bowie.
For more of Jesse’s artwork, including t-shirt designs, limited edition prints, and even a line of toys, go to LeDouxville. Also, check out the preliminary work Jesse shared after the interview:
Here’s my original folding mock-up “sketch.” I made it while my bus was stuck in gridlock on the viaduct on my way to work one morning. All I had on me was that week’s Stranger, so I ripped it out and started cutting it up. By the time the traffic started flowing and I got to work, I pretty much had the concept set.