Being a modern musician, as many people comment on, is a job of many parts, or hats as De Bono explores. I set to work on my latest album, Aspects, at the beginning of the first lockdown, as an expectant dad to my now nearly 3 year old son, so I have two very solid marker points to know just how long this project has taken!
The music itself took just over two years to complete, with a further 3/4 months of mixing, tweaking and mastering (mastered by the amazing Chris Latham!).
The branding side took about the same amount of time. Which may sound like a long time, but there were ALOT of different layers to this, so I thought I’d take some time to breakdown elements of the process to expand on some of the parts I’ve talked about in interviews and dig deeper into how Aspects formed into a truly multi-sensory project.
The first part of this is faith. I had faith in the music I was making. I’ve worked with musicians who are following the steps but do’t fully believe in the music their making. I did. I’m incredibly proud of the music I’ve created with Aspects, it’s deeply personal and reflects my journey and growth as an artist and human!
Next up was taking this project in it’s musical form and shaping it into a creative vision. In comes Nearski. I have long followed his work, from his personal projects to his work for High Focus Records and many more. His layering and attention to detail are next to none, so I reach out to him, and for a few weeks we chatted, explored ideas and started getting early sketches together. We’d spoken about old toy blueprints, I remember when I was little my Grandad had loads of technical diagram books (he was a very gifted engineer and technician) and the drawings always amazed me. Old, yellowed pages that delved deep into the nuts and bolts of things we take for granted and somehow made them beautiful. This, alongside exploration and connection became the basis for the artwork.
EARLY INSPIRATIONS FOR ALBUM ARTWORK:
The concept of the rocket emerged, and Nearksi began working on early sketches and developing the colour palette we would use across the album and promotion... EARLY ASPECTS ALBUM COVER STAGES:
Since the early stages of Aspects exploring connection, I’d wanted to have some additional elements to offer a more complete experience. I’d been talking a lot with my wife (who has some brilliant creative ideas) and also Chris Beschi aka Poet Curious and Curio (we’ll get back to him later!) about how the launch party could really expand on connection in different forms. With that, I set about putting together a funding application to Help Musicians and MOBO. If you’re a musician and you haven’t gone through the funding process before I would urge you to do it. I’ve done a lot of funding applications for varying elements of music and youth work over time, and it really helps to solidify your ideas and bring a new level of focus to your development.
It also meant I could begin contacting people I really wanted to work with on different parts of the release and get quotes together, alongside initial idea development. By this point (around March 2022) the album was pretty much done, so I started sending it out to various creative partners to get their take on how they could be involved and begin to shape my plans.
The album artwork process was amazing. Nearski is patient and highly creative, and really invested time in the project. Once we had the cover sorted we started work on creative ideas to bring it to life. The initial ideas of blueprints became the back cover of the album, with a detailed technical drawing approach to the design. In addition, I have always wanted to create a cutout inlay, inspired by The Beatles and others, to make the album have a playful angle.
FINAL ROCKET DESIGN:
This became the basis for the launch party. 100 guests being able to interact with the space including making their own paper rockets! This expanded over time, with various elements to make the event special and memorable. The event included a wide range of elements;
A 30 minute performance outside in the court area of Lost Horizon by Thalassic (sax) and Gaspar Sena (drums) playing an improvised jazz yet. Meanwhile there were space themed dutch pancakes from Cheeky Pancakes. There was also a hand drawn sign by RPK, a Bristol based sign-writer. There were canvases and markers out for people to write what connection means to them:
(All photos in this article by Dominick Mortier)
After 30 minutes the crowd were gathered around the entrance to the venue, and when the doors opened they were met with a plume of smoke, a light show with a interplanetary aesthetic, Mista Trick DJing with an exploratory set for the first 10 minutes, and announcements over the PA in the style of airport announcements explaining to the crowd what was happening and what to do next.
On the screen were instructions. It explained to them the 6 different things they could do for the next 45 minutes:
Whilst Mista Trick moved onto a soulful set, the audience opened black boxes (sprayed in white stardust) which contained the paper rockets, a custom drinks menu, scissors, glue, Merch from Monkey Shoulder and Aspects stickers.
The menu contained 3 drinks. Every time included 1 free cocktail. I worked with Hip Hop Coffee Shop to create a bespoke decaf coffee for the event called “The Aspects Decaf”. Monkey Shoulder’s award winning mixologist Callum Rixson then took this coffee and created 3 exclusive cocktails fusing the coffee and Monkey Shoulder. The audience had a menu that talked about the interests and personality and the cocktail chose them through a multiple choice personality quiz (150 cocktails were made and sold out in an hour!):
There was a portrait exhibition from Chris Beschi, featuring 14 of the artists featured on the album, including my wife Sam and son Eben. The portraits use galaxy maps and found documents to create a vintage exploratory feel to the image, with an adventure theme. Alongside the photos, Chris created a text based artpiece using the quotes from all of the artists involved in the shoot explaining what connection means to them:
After an hour, live performances started. Featuring a range of collaborators, starting with a spoken word set from Poet Curious. Then leading onto a beautifully soulful set from Ellie Harris. Followed by a soul/blues/Hip-Hop fused set from Mac Lloyd. Thalassic played improvised saxophone on all of their sets to tie them together and further build the element of connection.
All of the sets had accompanying visuals, and once the artist finished it moved back to a holding screen for the Aspects launch. The event ended with a 40 minute video produced by Dominick Mortier, who created a visuals for the whole of the Aspects album, adding a visual element to the piece. As this was a sit down event, the space became more of a cinema feel, with people eating pancakes and snacks.
It was a truly special event, all captured by Dominick Mortier taking photos, and Cease To Function filming the event.
The video roll out agreed was to create a short, 10 second video for the following day (25th May), the day before the album release, to show the crowd entering Lost Horizon through a plume of smoke. This was followed by a series of short videos breaking down different elements of the event, and finishing with a 1 minute long after-movie of the event as a whole and all of the elements. This was built around the photos being interlaced as shareable assets to help build momentum. The album and launch were highly collaborative, which led to a range of collaborative opportunities online.
For the release day I worked with an animator called Altay Basar who created a short moving version of the album cover.
In addition I worked with London based animator Turqoyse on a variety of short videos for both socials and to create a Spotify Canvas animation. I love anime, and wanted to add an element of this into the campaign. Turqoyse took "Get Back" featuring Steph Pockets and created a dynamic piece that worked as a social only music video:
Following the release I had a 1 month social plan for sharing a range of promotional assets, from videos, to photos, interviews, audio, resharing clips of the released music videos and one of the stand out moments was Olvia Odiwee creating a clay version of the album cover. I love the physicality of music, and the idea of a clay cover was very inspiring to me, and she smashed it!:
The photo exhibition created by Chris Beschi now has a permanent home in Bristol’s BiMM University, to be seen by thousands of students on a weekly basis.
When sending the vinyl release to people through Bandcamp, I used the black boxes as the packaging if they had also purchased a t-shirt. The t-shirts, designed by Nearski, are sustainable produced cotton tees, printed in Bristol, with a bespoke design taking the elements of the rocket on the back cover and constructing these, with the keys themes and genres of the album used as the legend. Alongside the launch and the album branding, the Help Musicians / MOBO funding enabled me to work with one of my favourite videographers - Oliver Whitehouse of Sektion Red. I've been a fan of his work for a long time and was keen to utilise his storytelling abilities to create two introspective and beautifully crafted videos that reflected connection. The first video he created was for the album's lead single "Connection" featuring Blu and Napoleon Da Legend on vocals. Oliver went to New York, and with the initial direction of Spike Lee-esque portraits, he explored the city, filming people in their environments with little staged interaction. The end result was a thing of beauty:
Next up was the visuals for "Hollow" featuring the incredible vocal talents of Mac Lloyd. This is a deeply personal track for Mac, who reflects on past hurdles and overcoming them to reach his current, much more positive life situation. Through the three of us talking over the course of a couple of months we decided on a reflective and timeless video, following Mac on a personal journey in which he was letting go of the trappings linked to modern life and finally reaching a place of peace and opportunity. The concept was intentionally to leave the message open to interpretation. During a day long shoot using 1 camera and a drone, Oliver masterfully caught the little details that really bring the video to life and represent a song that is one of my personal favourites:
This has been a massive project to navigate, with many strands and a wide variety of elements. There are many more moments I could explore, but I think I'll leave it here for now! I’m proud of everything we’ve achieved, this was very much a team effort, and it’s set a standard for my future solo releases that I’m excited to explore.
(All album graphics created by Nearski)