[28 January 2009]
When Baltimore’s Oranges Band announced that they were headed into the studio to begin work on their new record, having soldiered through personnel changes and struggles at their label, Lookout Records, it seemed like an excellent time to catch up and to allow them to speak for themselves by cataloging the happenings. Blog entries One through Five tracked them from the very beginning of pulling the band together for the first time in the studio, to laying the album down piece to piece, to looking into just why albums can sometimes take so incredibly long to finish. In entry six, with the album largely tracked [Editor’s Note: It sounds incredible], Oranges Band frontman Roman Kuebler took a break from writing about the experience of recording to providing the photos that come along with it. In this final installment he explores the inconceivably painful and time-consuming task of coming up with cover art, once again with the same [much-appreciated] humor, attention to detail, and self-effacing honesty that has marked all of his entries.—Jon Langmead
The final product
The Oranges Band Are Invisible. An album is not an album without a name. And after what seems, now, like an eternity, this collection of songs is, officially, an album. Not only because the album now has a name but also because it collects the experience of writing and rehearsing it, demoing and recording it, mixing and fixing it, and yes, naming it.
For me, processing and reflecting on all of the stages that went into the making of this album is rather overwhelming. Our last album was released close to four years ago and this new album, because albums are the benchmarks of a band’s history, is responsible for gathering all the experiences since then and, somehow, defining the band through these songs and under this title, The Oranges Band Are Invisible. Easy enough to consider that no album could really comprehensively sum up four years of any band’s history, right? Well, what is overwhelming about that concept is that I might be the only person in the world for whom this album really CAN do that.
A band’s album is so many levels. It’s songs and performances and ideas and potential but at the end of the day, it’s a product. A physical product that has a name and a visual reference so that it can be classified among the other albums that people experience. What this means is that after working forever on getting your music where you want it to be, you have to wrap it up in a package to sell it. It needs a name and artwork that will classify and define it. Now, assuming the responsibility for just about everything in the progression of a band has it’s advantages… I guess you can claim all the credit for your, many… errr, ummm, well, some of your successes. You know, you get to ride in the convertible at the parade! You get, also, to own (outright) all failures! The fringe benefit, the one that people don’t see, though, is that you get to wake up in the middle of the night realizing that the artwork is not going to complete itself.
I really like doing the artwork for albums but not necessarily for my own albums (even though I’ve done every one). It deserves so much focus and attention and I found that, after having “left it all on the field” during the recording, the artwork can be a daunting task. Not only it is creatively stressful but it is also a technical exercise that requires patience and administration, commodities in short supply at the end of the album-making process. It was with this in mind that I sat awake in bed one night devising ways to get around doing the artwork this time. The obvious answer was to have someone else do it. Employ one of my many talented and artistic friends to create a great concept and execute it, visually, to perfection. Sadly, it’s an idea as simple as it is unrealistic. I have tried this many times and it has been my experience that artists, myself included, are as capitalistic as the next guy. Well maybe not if the next guy is an investment banker or something, but we still operate on the “time is money” concept and creating an album cover takes a LOT of time. Of course most bands, ours included, find that money is another commodity in short supply at the end of the album-making process so that didn’t seem like a workable solution.
CDs were hand assembled while watching football
Still lying awake, racking my brain to figure out how to get out of doing the artwork, I was nearly resolved to having to put in the hours of being shackled to my computer, staring at the screen when, in a MacGyver-like flash of inspiration I thought, “What if there is NO artwork?” Wait… what?! The basic thought of an album with no artwork is a little too easy. I mean, again, an album needs to be represented visually in some way and needs to be a physical product so it had to be something but an adjusted concept that eliminated paper sleeves and tray cards did seem legitimate. Not only did it seem manageable, but I was quickly aware of how the idea of a “paperless” album actually challenged the popular concept of music packaging at a time when the music industry is struggling to define the value of music and the legitimacy of the compact disc format against, obviously, the digital format which has no physical representation. I liked it’s environmental statement as well, even though it’s still a lot of plastic… well, we won’t sell too many then, out of concern for the environment.
Ok, so having convinced myself I can get around the idea of artwork, at least in the traditional sense I still had to name the album. Easy enough, if the Beatles did the “White Album” with the all white artwork and Metallica did the “Black Album” (uh, I mean Spinal Tap-never figured out if that was a joke by Metallica), then we were going to claim the “Clear Album”. Knocking it around a bit I thought it best to shy away from inviting comparisons to the Beatles, which would seem a little self important, and came around to the idea of the “Invisible Album”. But you can’t write it on the album and say it’s the “Invisible Album” and I am sure we wouldn’t get the opportunity to nickname our album through the press or anything so I had to figure out a way to call it something that included invisible. By the way, I am still lying in bed thinking about all this. Even though it takes a couple hours to sit and recount the episode in writing the whole thing developed in about three minutes I would guess. Crazy, huh? As I am cycling through a number of album title options utilizing the “invisible” theme, I thought about The Oranges Band Are Invisible. I think some of the others were just Invisible or The Invisible Band or just stuff like that but when I got around to The Oranges Band Are Invisible, I was immediately reminded of The Fuses Are Lies. The Fuses were one of the great Baltimore bands of the late 90s and have inspired many Oranges Band songs and, along with a handful of other local Baltimore groups, are largely responsible for me playing in bands at all. This album draws deeply, both lyrically and musically, on that music and that time in my life so this association with the title really felt right to me. I love it when a concept comes together!
Finally, in thinking about the title I was toying with the idea of an invisible band. The Oranges Band have always felt a little bit like the invisible band, kind of hiding in plain sight. Not necessarily the underdogs or the attention-getters but more the guys who fade into the landscape a bit. I don’t mind that so much as it sort of accurately describes our perception and maybe our place. We have an understated appeal, that’s all. I appreciated how the title of the album is a statement about our band from our band. And hey, I mean the Invisible Man, right? Who hasn’t dreamt of being the Invisible Man? He’s easily one of the coolest superheros–or was he a menace?! I guess I didn’t see that one.
The CD covers were hand screened by Alex Dondero. This is the artwork for the screen. Thanks to Alex for his help.