Total Control’s 2011 debut Henge Beat, called to mind acts such as Suicide, Cabaret Voltaire, Devo and Joy Division. The album drew praise from critics and punters alike, though its abstract artwork left many scratching their heads.
And so it is with the quintet’s new album. The cover image, featuring an Associated Press photograph of a crow attacking a dove released by Pope Francis in St Peters Square, has already become a discussion point.
The new album also includes an insert poster designed by Total Control drummer James Vinciguerra which features text and poetry.
It’s a rare band that spends so much time on its album artwork in 2014, so we caught up with Vinciguerra to chat about Total Control’s art and design.
The 'ugliness' of Henge Beat has been polarising. Were you surprised by the reaction?
The album sleeve of Henge Beat sticks out as being either astonishingly good or astonishingly crap. This is a good thing. I assume some of the people who go on and on about how ugly it is have never seen the object in real life. It’s very different to pixels on a screen. I am glad people don't like it. Taste isn't entirely subjective. Trends come and go. A lot of things are aesthetically driven and I don't see that as an inherently bad thing. I would say the sleeve of Henge Beat is internet art. I am surprised that in the almost three years since the album came out that the style (of art) has continued to flourish and become apparently more idea driven. There's some great work being produced, but also a lot of absolute garbage. The music we make is a sonic retread. Should this be followed through into our record sleeves? Would that make people happy?
Who is behind the design of Typical System?
I really wanted to get Bart de Baets to do the sleeve because he's always ahead of the curve when it comes to his use of typefaces. His style is generally quite classy while still retaining something not quite right. His initial proposal was rejected because it was decided by the gang it wasn't ‘us’. I decided to imbue him with a sense of what ‘we’ are all about by sending him a litany of emails, often with conflicting ideas and information and which, looking back, were also kind of emotional. I think I was trying to provoke a reaction from him that would give him a sense of who we are, or at least who I am. But it kind of backfired – sorry Bart!
The idea of using that particular image on the cover was Bart's, and it was an inspired choice, definitely. Because he is an expert typographer I really wanted to harness that, so I/we asked a range of different people to write material, all of which is quite disparate.
I wanted to create the same sense of confusion people have when they look at the sleeve of the first album, only this time using words. The project became a bit full on and I ended up making the poster insert. It's not very good. This is Bart's first album sleeve and he has done a stellar job.
The Sub Pop 7" seems pretty elaborate, with a photograph of a sculpture on the back and presumably its components laid bare on the front.
Correct, it's a sculpture Karl Nawrot made specifically for the record. Karl, in my opinion, is one of the best and most interesting designers in the world right now, though he has zero interest in any public profile. He always covers his face in photos. At the end of 2011 I started my own, modest publishing company and the first two things I did were booklets for Karl and Rasmus (Henge Beat designer). I've used three of Karl's typefaces on various Total Control shirts.
It seems you're fond of European designers. Are there any Australian designers who interest you?
I don't think there is much of a distinct Australian graphic design voice. There used to be more of one in commercial design but it's been diluted and kept quite safe. But over recent years a lot of people have been doing good stuff, like Jack Mannix, Sean Bailey, Matthew Hopkins, Chris Hell and Josh Petherick. Zephyr Pavey, makes sick posters. The posters that come out of Sydney at the moment are ill and Meatdog all spring immediately to mind as being really good.
I personally really enjoy making shirts for the band and the second and third singles were a lot of fun to do as well, but I don't think I'd like to tackle an LP. My friend Scott did the cover for Thee Oh Sees’ Split, and he's Australian as!
Typical System will be released June 20 on vinyl, CD and digital independently through Inertia in Australia/NZ and June 24 through Iron Lung in the rest of the world.