Cover Stories: Interpol’s El Pintor
Cover Stories: El Pintor Interview with David Calderley
by Rob Ribera
David Calderley of Graphic Therapy has been worked as a Designer and Art Director for Interpol for the last few years, working on both merchandise and album art. El Pintor, the new album from the NYC band, has yet another beautiful and enigmatic cover—an image of hands bathed in red light, paired with the Interpol/El Pintor anagram title. It is another in a long series of incredible designs that he has been able to create not just for Interpol, but for many other bands as well. Calderley told about his relationship with the band, his process, and the story behind their latest collaboration.
Interpol, currently stuck in the massive snowstorm outside of Buffalo, NY, will hopefully arrive safe and sound in Boston for their show at House of Blues this Friday.
How did your collaboration with Interpol first start?
I was first introduced to Interpol through my agent in Los Angeles. The band wanted to work with an Art Director in NYC who could meet and be with them whilst completing the album Our Love To Admire. We arranged to meet at Electric Ladyland Studios over on 8th Street in downtown Manhattan, close to my apartment in Greenwich Village. As I remember, it was quite a claustrophobic place with soundproofing on the walls and ceilings, no windows and a labyrinth of corridors and odd spaces. I arrived on a rainy Sunday night, it was very Noir, very fitting, I thought. At the time they were practically living there, working 18-hour days on the record. It was a pretty intense, creative affair and quite impressive, I was immediately on board.
How does a design come together initially? Do you hear the music as you go along, or does a visual idea come first?
For me, each album is a little different during creative process. The one consistent thing though, is that the band is a democracy and they make decisions collectively and so throughout the process there is a circular discussion. I first receive a link to some music, or a watermarked CD, potential album titles can be the last component inputted as the visuals come together. Often the band may have a loose subject or theme and want to see it articulated or explored as a visual idea. On the previous album, Paul had been reading about the stones of Puma Punku and the Nazca lines in Peru, this in turn led to the visual direction for the album art. This particular record, El Pintor, was very much cloaked in secrecy and under wraps. It was a blank canvas with no title it all came together quite organically over time.
How much was the band involved in the new design work for El Pintor?
I was initially working on a new merchandise collection for an their upcoming tour and had been working on these GeoTagging ideas of various locations for tee-shirts. Also I was developing other ideas a possible album or tour poster. I had these vintage black and white studio images of a model’s hands from the 1930s, they had a strange quality about them and it seemed like something Paul could be interested in. I sent them to him with a short note, he immediately responded favorably, then I never heard back for about a month. Then I was asked if I would be interested to I look into developing as a possible album cover concept.
How has your relationship with the band changed over the years?
It has always been pretty consistent. I usually deal with Paul initially who in turn relays back to Daniel and Sam, for their input. I have also worked with him on some of his side projects, Julian Plenti and Banks, and so there is a working relationship. With El Pintor everything was done remotely, as they were touring at the time.
Do you feel responsible for helping to create a visual identity for the band?
Interpol have always had a very strong sense of their own identity/brand. Over the years my involvement as their Designer has been to contribute and articulate ideas within that space.
What challenges you when you first tackle a project?
I think the biggest challenge is really just aligning everything, making sense of it all. I usually collate and thoughts as a mood/storyboard so everybody is aligned and the directions are set for exploration. Interpol is a little different. The alignment is already in place. The label is usually the most challenging. Basic spanners like type placement, size etc. Increasingly they do not like to take any chances of ambiguity or missed sales. So that can sometimes be a challenge.
Are there any designs that you thought might work for an Interpol album that didn’t work out in the end?
El Pintor did go through many comps before it was approved. Originally the cover type was quite small and centered in one line of white and gray as a nod to TOTBL. When it was presented to the label they complained consumers could get ‘Confused’!? and were worried it type size. Funny as we initially wanted the cover clean with the type on a disposable sticker!
I was asked come up with some alternates. At one point it was going to be titled My Blue Supreme which the band were split on. When everyone settled on El Pintor, I decided to work in a touch of blue in reference to the alternate title, which took the palette away from the gray and distinguished it from TOTBL.
When did you first settle on the idea of using these images of hands? Can you tell me where they are from?
Like I mentioned were part of a collection of old photographs that I had had for about 10 years or so. They had something about them and felt like they could, somehow, be Interpol related. As a basic icon the words and pictures lead to many open interpretations, (Is it the hands of the artist or the hands of the subject of the artist or is it a prelude for some action) which I feel always makes for the secret ingredient of an enduring piece of art. Interpol fans can be an intense bunch and read into things more than any other fans I know of. I anticipate there will be discussions blogs as to the meaning behind them.
Can you talk about pairing the organic images of hands with the geometric shapes and clean lines of the design?
The title El Pintor/Interpol Anagram led to exploring wordplay as a graphic. Which complemented this art and science thing I was trying to achieve. The wide letter spacing and leading made the typography into a matrix. The Futura font gave it this late 80s indie nod which also felt right. In turn this got me into thinking about stripping it down only using three shapes that are the basis of all things: circle, triangle and a rectangle, the red darkroom flood gelled it all together as a look.
The design is reminiscent of the Warhol self-portraits from the late 80s—were you influenced at all by Pop Art?
Not really. I do know that piece but it did not influence the El Pintor cover. As I previously mentioned it starts off with a small idea or image which is built on and refined until it starts to take on a life of its own which in turn speaks back and is added too and refined again. The whole process of making this cover was very much like the title suggests, like a painting.
What do you think about the current revival of album art and an interest in vinyl?
I used to do a lot of 12” vinyl singles when I worked in London. The CD format was great initially then as marketing bods at major labels started to force Designers to adhere to sales demands from retailers we were left with a weird 3/4 L shape of a 5” square!
So when I do get asked to design for vinyl or in some cases double vinyl gatefold, it’s like sure, love too, nice.
Do you have any favorite artists working on album design today?
I think there a many Designers/Artists out there. The technology has democratized everything. It’s good and bad at the same time. Album cover art is not as lucrative as it was, and the music industry struggles to reinvent itself. It used to be a place where Designers tried new ideas along with photographers and illustrators; it was the medium that was the creative lead in pop culture fashion and advertising. Now it’s a totally different arena.
Most Art Directors/Graphic Designers including myself cannot work solely on album cover art to survive. It’s a labor of love. I work with artists I respect as artists whose work I like. Any other Designer or small creative teams who do the same I have respect for.
What are some of your favorite album cover designs?
Its difficult for me to isolate any cover I have done that stands out more than any other. They all have a back story, and influence my thoughts about them. When I was hired as Creative Director at V2 the workload meant working up to four albums covers a month together with singles and promos working with lots of diverse artists from White Stripes to Moby to RZA, consequently you had to get ideas quickly.
Since I set up Graphic Therapy my approach is different. I can be more bespoke and personal, which in turn makes it more memorable and connected. To that end I would say I have enjoyed the Interpol work most, purely because it has been rewarding in that way. There are so many great album covers out there for an increasingly diverse collection of genres it would not be fair to isolate.
But here are some of the covers that have inspired:
Spoonbender, I am Spoonbender
Nick Turner’s Sphynx, Xitintoday
Grace Jones, Living My Life
Buzzcocks, Orgasm Addict
Massive Attack, Mezzanine
Spiritualized, Ladies and Gentlemen We are Floating in Space
Primal Scream, Evil Heat
Squarepusher, Music is Rotted One Note