Boasting over a million followers on Facebook, headliner at Vans Warped Tour 2016 and topping Billboard’s Top Rock Albums chart with its new album Retrograde, Texas rock band Crown the Empire are getting bigger and better and for their latest No.1 album they asked BA (Hons) Graphic Design grad James Usill to design the artwork.
We caught up with James to find out about his inspirations behind the work and what it’s been like designing for one of the biggest metalcore bands right now...
Hi James, so how did you get involved in designing the artwork for Crown The Empire?
"Well, the band found my work through Behance, a creative network I really recommend being a part of.
My portfolio is made up of work produced on my BA (Hons) Graphic Design programme, and also projects I have undertaken since graduating. One thing I really liked about the course is the way there is no set 'look' to any of the work that is produced.
They encourage us to be aware of, but not fall victim to, current trends and develop our own particular style instead of being pushed into any sort of 'house style' dictated by the college.
Whether you’re an illustrator, photographer or a designer, Behance allows you to present your work in a really professional way and its inbuilt community of creators and host of potential clients browsing the site for creatives, for me, give it an appeal beyond even a personal website.
"The main idea behind the image was to create a depth and physicality combined with a spatial ambiguity."
Tell us about the artwork and how you came up with the design.
The band had a really strong idea about what they wanted. Crown The Empire are a metalcore band, with this latest album they had developed a more atmospheric and textural sound, with this shift in sound they also wanted a change in visual style.
They sent over a detailed set of style references, which included cosmic visualisations, 20th Century sci-fi and contemporary 'New Aesthetic' art movements.
Among these references were images by designer Leif Podhajsky, painter and designer Samuel Johnson, and illustrator Kilian Eng who are all huge influences on my style, so I knew straight away that they 'got' my work and that it would be great fun working in the aesthetic they had developed for the album.
The main vortex artwork is a piece of glitch art. It was created by taking simple 3D shapes and corrupting the code of the files as text in Wordpad to break the models, creating dynamic, crystalline forms which I then composited in Photoshop.
"I have an online journal for curating and cataloguing these influences, you never know how these unique perspectives and ways of creating might be utilised in your own work."
The main idea behind the image was to create a depth and physicality combined with a spatial ambiguity. This is an idea I had explored with the artworks I created for EerieSounds - The Underdog, which I am still really happy with, but I feel this cover has an illustrative quality that sets it apart from anything else I've done.
What are the main inspirations behind your work?
Design collective Tomato call what they do 'applied art', and I think that sums up the kind of work I like to do perfectly.
I also draw inspiration from the way Tomato's John Warwicker describes his process in creating the motion visuals for Underworld's live shows, using visual inputs as 'raw materials' and processing them through the work in an expressionist way to create something that might end up unrecognisable...that really resonates with me!
“James involvement allowed us to unlock that visual medium and he was able to capture the essence of what the record was and apply it to create something completely new and original." – Brendan Barone, Creative Director of Crown the Empire.
I draw inspiration from numerous tangential sources, including architecture, fashion and film. I have an online journal for curating and cataloguing these influences, you never know how these unique perspectives and ways of creating might be utilised in your own work.
Where has your design for the band been used?
The artwork had tons of merch applications, including wall flags, sticker packs, cassette tapes, and a Limited Edition Electric Blue + Magenta Splatter Vinyl, which is really aesthetically pretty and probably my favourite of the merch items.
The campaign used the artwork in promotional materials featured in Target stores across America and it was also used as a backdrop on the band's tour.
In addition to the main artwork, the suite of eight additional images I created were used as track artworks and featured in the CD booklet and also in YouTube videos and promotional videos for the album.
"There is a real community built up around the band, which I'm happy my artwork could be a part of. It was a great project to work on and a really nice piece of work to have in my portfolio."
How does it feel seeing your work out there with such a well known band?
It's been great to see the way fans have been interacting with the album, from the artwork appearing on painted fingernails and fan edits to the hundreds of fans that sent in pictures holding the album when it first came out.
There is a real community built up around the band, which I'm happy my artwork could be a part of. It was a great project to work on and a really nice piece of work to have in my portfolio."
Creative Director of Crown the Empire, Brendan Barone praised James on his work for the album, “It’s always a difficult thing to capture a feeling or an emotion into something tangible like a piece of art.
“It’s not the normal way people see the world, and it takes a unique talent to learn the techniques and discipline to create what you feel.
“Working with James on the Crown The Empire album cover for their third LP ‘Retrograde’ was a task that definitely exemplified this level of creative control.
“We had a collection of art references that acted as a homage to the spirit we were essentially trying to capture both sonically and visually with this record, but being that the band and myself lacked the skills to actually apply our train of thought to an art medium, other than music, we had to find an artist that could understand our vision and run with it.
“James involvement allowed us to unlock that visual medium and he was able to capture the essence of what the record was and apply it to create something completely new and original.
“It was an extremely easy process for us, and we couldn’t be happier with the way it turned out, or our experience working with James. Thank you again!”
Keep up to date on all of James’ work here:
CTE Artwork: behance.net/gallery/42179145/Crown-The-Empire-Retrograde