I have been a fan of Skinny Puppy since my friend Pete first played me ‘Chainsaw’ on a ride through the suburban night of my teenagerhood back in the day. Their sampling of classic TV and horror, looped sounds and distorted instruments accompanying the strained screaming of front man Nivek Ogre remain one of the most amazing musical experiences ever. Along with their sound, the look of each of their albums is equally iconic.
I was surprised to learn that many of their covers were designed by one man, Steven R Gilmore. Gilmore was interviewed over at the graphic design site RockPaperInk and shared some thoughts about his relationship with the industrial band and the creative process.
You’ve been working with Skinny Puppy since 1984—do you approach projects with them differently than you do for new clients? Are you keenly aware of the large body of past work you’ve created for them?
SG: My main approach to Skinny Puppy has always been to try and create something graphically and emotionally different for each release. Having said that, I guess it does make me aware of the body of work I have created for them over the years. That’s something I’ve never really thought of before.
In an interview with Spinner.com, Ogre was quoted as saying, “As musicians, we have been dealing with a business that is eroded to such a degree that you can’t really make a living off of it. How do I exist in this world? Hawking T-shirts? All I wanted to be was a musician, and now I’ve started to become a bill collector.” Do you feel similarly about how the changes in the music industry have affected you as a designer?
SG: Because of the economy, designer’s roles have changed all across the board in recent years, but I think one of the biggest negative impacts has been within in the music industry. Besides the budgets for sleeve designs steadily decreasing, the music industry is still undergoing a major transition into the digital domain. There have always been rather pedestrian album sleeve designs out there, but sadly digital downloading has taken mediocrity to a new level. What is seemingly important now is that the front cover information can be deciphered quickly at 300 x 300 pixels.
But all is not lost for consumers who would like to see artwork for their favorite artists. Vinyl has seen a huge resurgence lately, and besides the digital booklets that iTunes has included with albums for a number of years, they are now featuring much larger embedded cover art. When all is said and done, it really is a shame that most music consumers will never experience the sheer tactile joy of holding an album package in their hands, or even a CD for that matter.
Lastly, what is your favorite work with the band? Why?
SG: My personal favorite of all the sleeves I have done for Skinny Puppy is still VIVIsectVI, which I did in 1988.
Yes! This is in my top five favorite sleeves…
SG: From the x-ray collage on the front cover (which unintentionally looks very similar to the collage I just did forHandover), the gatefold sleeve, the custom vinyl labels (a rarity for Nettwerk in those days), to the photograph of the band on the inside by Kevin Westenberg, everything just fell together so flawlessly. It will always be something I’m very proud of.