When Evan Leake designed his first album cover for Gym Class Heroes‘ debut album “The Papercut Chronicles” back in 2005, he said the Geneva, NY-based rock/hip hop group had “just been freshly signed” to its label, Decaydance Records. Six years and a few albums later, Gym Class Heroes’ sequel to its debut album is number 10 on Billboard’s Rap Album chart (week ending December 3, 2011), and Leake has yet another dynamic cover design to his credit.
Recently, Leake–who earned his bachelor of fine arts from Western Illinois University’s Department of Art in 2006–was tapped to produce an album cover for Gym Class Heroes’ sequel to its debut album, “The Papercut Chronicles II.” According to Leake, he designed this second album cover so that “the artwork flowed seamlessly between the two albums, side by side.”
Charles Wright, art department chair at WIU, and I sent Evan some questions about his latest vision and creation for Gym Class Heroes. Following are Evan’s answers he sent to us via email.
Q: How did you first come to be involved with the album cover project for Gym Class Heroes?
Leake: I did the original “The Papercut Chronicles” album back in 2005, when Gym Class Heroes had just been freshly signed to their label. I had worked my way up to getting gigs with major and large independent record labels, and this project was given to me randomly. When the latest album, “The Papercut Chonricles II” came around, they contacted me to do the artwork once again.
Q: How did you conceptualize the first album cover for the band? Can you explain how the creative process works, between you and the band members?
Leake: I usually send artwork to the management and label people, who then, in turn, send the art to the band, so I don’t always get in touch with the band members themselves. This time around we had a couple phone conferences with Travie McCoy [lead vocals] up front to talk about art and photography before we began to get everyone on the same page. After that, we collaborated through management.
I don’t think the band had much in mind when we developed the original artwork. I know we wanted something brightly colored but “urban” and interesting. I took some of the standard iconography of hip hop culture, street art, etc., and made art that resembled stencil graffiti or something to that effect. We also incorporated photos of the band into a sort of collage.
For this most recent album, it was very important to the band’s lead Travie McCoy that the artwork for both albums fit together side by side, like puzzle pieces. I created the new artwork with similar, yet refined techniques and developed the cover for the album to match up directly next to the original.
We then fleshed out the inside of the booklet using portraits of the band again, but this time we gave each member a “totem,” featuring photos of them through childhood, a picture of them from the era of the original album, and then a modern portrait, stacked up to represent growth and reflection.
I was also able to create three single covers for songs that should be hitting the airwaves soon. These covers are designed so that they fit side by side with the cover and match up seamlessly as well. I am very excited for the success of this album, more than anything else I’ve worked on yet and am grateful for the opportunity to work with such talented musicians.
Q: Does the creative work (music) of the band influence your album cover design(s)? If so, how?
Leake: I always consider the band’s music when developing artwork for the band. I like to try new techniques for each CD I do. Sometimes bands will request a style similar to what I’ve done in the past, but I usually try to differentiate each layout so each CD has its own tone that suits the music. I usually like to listen to the record while working on the artwork, but sometimes it’s not so easy. It took a while for me to get a few watermarked MP3s for this latest release, and I didn’t hear the full album until it was released, but when I was working on the original, I had the full album 6 months or more before it came out. But that was a while ago, before the all the early leaks and filesharing.
Q: How did you create the album cover designs?
Leake: I used Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator to create the artwork. The original “Papercut” layout was entirely created in Photoshop, but this time I created the artwork as a 100 percent vector graphic, so that it could be easily adapted to other kinds of merchandise and stage backdrops, etc.
I feel like I was able to create a more interesting layout this time around, using photo collage based on photos the band provided me. I feel like the newest package is much more intentional than the original release. We were kind of just messing around back then, and so was the band. So I think the growth musically and visually really go hand in hand.
Evan is the owner and lead designer of Pale Bird Design Studios. He is a native of Macomb and lives in Macomb. For more about Evan and his work for other bands, like Fallout Boy, Alkaline Trio, Atreyu, The Academy Is and Trapt, check out, “Local artist designs hit album covers,” which appeared in the Nov. 29 issue of the McDonough County Voice.
Bruce Walters, professor of art at WIU, contributed to this post