Subject – Aimee Mann – The Forgotten Arm, a 2005 release on SuperEgo Records, with cover art direction by Aimee Mann & Gail Marowitz
Based on a story about the relationship between a small-time boxer who’s a Vietnam vet who returned with a LOT of emotional baggage and his small-town girlfriend – who both simply want to run away from their problems – singer/songwriter Aimee Mann’s concept album and her band take the listener on a cross-country musical tour that ends with our two young lovers breaking up, facing their demons and, ultimately, getting back together – well, sort of…
Aimee Mann’s career – from her beginnings in Virginia and Boston at the Berklee College of Music, to her musical travels through punk (The Young Snakes) to New Wave success (and an MTV Video Award for “Best New Artist”) in the mid-80s with ‘Til Tuesday (Voices Carry) and then finally as a well-regarded solo artist, independent label owner and an Academy Award nominated songwriter (in 1999, for music and songs written for the film Magnolia) – has also had its share of heavyweight successes and the sucker punches that only an independent-minded artist suffers in the music business, but in the end, she’s found true love (with singer Michael Penn, whom she married in 1997) and keeps delivering her music to her fans, her way.
The title for this recording is borrowed from a boxing term and serves to prepare the listener for the danger, scuffling and unseen roundhouse punches found in Mann’s songs about both John’s boxing vocation and in his relationship with Caroline. Representing that visually was the challenge that Aimee and her long-time cohort in design – art director Gail Marowitz – took on together, with the results so impressive that they were awarded with a Grammy in 2006 for “Best Recording Package” (single CD). The journey to this lofty place in the music and design worlds is documented here in today’s Cover Story interview…
MG – Thank you for talking with me today. I want to focus first on the artist you were creating packaging for. How is it that you were first introduced to Aimee Mann’s music?
GM – I met Aimee at Imago (Recording Company, and now-defunct BMG label. Gail’s creative relationship with Aimee Mann has spanned more than ten years, designing all of her CDs since 1993’s Whatever – MG). I met her more as a big fan, as I really liked her in ‘Til Tuesday. You could tell by her voice and her song-writing that she was truly unique – no one writes better lyrics. We worked on album design – cover, liner, etc., – as true friends and collaborators. The only other artist I’ve worked with who showed this degree of dedication was Patti Smith.
MG – In coordinating all of the artists, writers, lithographers, and licensing folks, how long did this process take – from start to finished product?
GM – My first conversation with Aimee took place at the end of October 2004 after she was almost done with her record. She sent me some of the initial mixes and told me that the record was conceived as a concept album about a boxer coming back from Vietnam, falling in love and wrestling with his addictions, She had seen Owen Smith’s (the illustrator) show at La Luz De Jesus (a well-known gallery in Los Angeles), and I was familiar with the beautiful magazine covers he’d done for the New Yorker magazine, so I contacted him about this project and, luckily, he had heard of Aimee Mann and accepted the commission. We spent the next 3 months working together and had the package in production in March 2005 – a luxurious amount of time compared to the regular major-label process – I’ve often had only 10 days to put together a package!
MG – Gail, was there a track on The Forgotten Arm that guided your vision?
GM – Although no particular track inspired the work, the song “Video”, which has themes of loneliness and addiction, galvanized the whole package’s “bones”. The Owen Smith illustration we used inside the package for “Video” was the one that we saw at his show (it shows an exhausted boxer with his head down) that drew us to his work. The term “Forgotten Arm” stands for the arm that comes out of nowhere to clock you when two exhausted boxers are leaning on each other.
MG – What “guidance” – or specific instructions – did you provide the illustrators or the designers that created the key parts of your package?
GM – We just tortured Owen Smith in front of his wife and two kids! He’d heard Aimee’s music and responded to her artistry. I did my usual synopsis of each song on the album and provided him with that as guidance. He did pencil sketches, which Aimee and I reviewed, and went back and forth until the final product was ready and we were all happy with it. I did struggle to come up with the right type style for the lettering – I wanted a “pulp-fiction novel feel” to it. While I was upstate at an auction, I bought a bunch of old pulp fiction books and found my inspiration in a book I’d bought and adapted a font and color palette from that.
MG – Did you consider your efforts to be works of self-expression, or did you take your lead from your client (or the artist)?
GM – This was not a work of self-expression. I want to bring the artist’s vision to life and, in this case, Aimee comes “fully-formed”, versus many other artists who might be clueless as to how to approach this part of producing their record. Once we’d agreed that the theory behind the package was “chapters in a book”, I felt that the lyrics should be presented looking like pages in that book. She worked hard as a collaborator with me to re-write the lyrics in this fashion to fit the art direction.
MG – Here’s a more general item I’m interested in getting your opinion on – With the electronic delivery of music products growing at a fast pace, are you noticing any more/less enthusiasm on the client’s (or artist’s) behalf to invest time and money in packaging that stands out?
GM – The major labels don’t seem eager to invest in packaging. The majors are like the Queen Mary making a turn, where the indies are more like speed boats, so they’ll most probably be more interested in this sort of investment. I think that the best ideas will focus on doing limited-edition artwork delivered on multiple platforms, and special packages for the fans – bonuses that will separate these products and keep them unique. These can be delivered online, too (as Apple has demonstrated in their iTunes store, offering special versions of downloadable album cover artwork/notes for some albums – MG).
MG – Thanks to you and best of luck in your career – we look forward to seeing more of the fruits of your labor in upcoming years.
Editor’s Note – in addition to the Grammy, the packaging work for The Forgotten Arm was also honored in late 2005 with an Alex Award at the Entertainment Media Expo. Gail has continued to produce great packaging and online products for her label’s roster of talent, including images for Evanescene, Seether, DrowningPool and Scott Stapp from Creed.
About the art director, Gail Marowitz –
Gail Marowitz – winner (as art director, along with Aimee Mann) of the 2006 Grammy Award for “Best Recording Package – Single CD” for “The Forgotten Arm” by Aimee Mann. For over 17 years – currently as V.P. and Creative Director for Wind-up Records and previously as V.P. of Design at Columbia Records, she has been designing music packaging, having designed covers for Patti Smith, James Taylor, Bette Midler, Aerosmith and Bob Dylan. Prior to her stint at Columbia Records, she was Director of Creative Services at the now defunct Imago Recording Company where she worked with such diverse artists as Henry Rollins, Paula Cole and Aimee Mann. She has received numerous awards and has had her work published in various design annuals. She has lectured at the Type Director’s Club and been the Moderator of the panel “Art Directors Talk Shop” for three years running at The Entertainment/Media Packaging Summit in Los Angeles.
Shortly after winning her Grammy, Gail started a new career at Wind-Up Records, the largest independent label in the United States, where she oversees the entire label’s visual direction, from packaging to videos, as well as satisfying her need for listening to blistering hard rock in the office with no fear of being asked to turn it down.
She graduated Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT with a degree in English literature. Much of Gail’s youth was misspent in record stores, staring at album covers (much of her adulthood is spent the same way!). Some things, fortunately, never change.
For more information on Gail Marowitz’s company – Wind-Up Records – please visit their website at http://www.winduprecords.com
For more information on Aimee Mann, please visit her website at http://www.aimeemann.com or the United Musicians site at http://www.unitedmusicians.com/temp/index.html
For more information on RockPoP Gallery, we invite you to visit our site at http://www.rockpopgallery.com
About Cover Stories – Our weekly series will give you, the music and art fan, a look at “the making of” the illustrations, photographs and designs of many of the most-recognized and influential images that have served to package and promote your all-time-favorite recordings.
Every Friday and syndicated the following week on the Rock and Roll Report, we’ll meet the artists, designers and photographers who produced these works of art and learn what motivated them, what processes they used, how they collaborated (or fought) with the musical acts, their management, their labels, etc. – all of the things that influenced the final product you saw then and still see today.
We hope that you enjoy these looks behind the scenes of the music-related art business and that you’ll share your stories with us and fellow fans about what role these works of art – and the music they covered – played in your lives.
Cover image Copyright 2005 SuperEgo Records – http://www.aimeemann.com/ – All rights reserved. Gail Marowitz photo image Copyright 2007 Wind-up Records – http://www.winduprecords.com Except as noted, All other text Copyright 2007 – Mike Goldstein & RockPoP Gallery (www.rockpopgallery.com) – All rights reserved.