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May 12, 2019

"It's Been So Long" Weezer Fan Club Exclusive 7"!

I recently had the honor of illustrating the jacket and label art for the 2019 Weezer Fan Club exclusive 7" record. The project was art directed by Karl Koch, the band's longtime archivist and "jack of all trades." Unlike some of my previous illustration projects with Weezer, I had plenty of time to work on this one, so I had a lot of fun loading the illustrations up with tons of detail. Below you can see some behind the scenes photos from my process. (You can click on any of these images to see them bigger!)

This is the third Weezer Fan Club exclusive 7" record, and it features a great track, It's Been So Long. Karl described it to me as a 2014, Everything Will Be Alright In The End-era b-side, similar in spirit to the Beach Boys song Do It Again. He asked that I try out ideas that were more abstract than just literal interpretations of the lyrics, and suggested an idea of the members of Weezer driving in their first tour van, Betsy.  Below, left, you can see my sketchbook page where I am trying to process all of this information, along with considering the previous fan club 7" record designs.

I thumbnailed about 30 ideas and the culled the best 15 to send to Karl. The one he liked best was a design from the point of view of Rivers driving Betsy through the desert at sunset (above, right). Once he had selected that front jacket design, I thumbnailed a back jacket design of the van broken down (which Betsy apparently did quite frequently).

This seemed appropriate, but there was a problem - the designs depict the band in 1994, when Matt Sharp was the bassist of Weezer, but "It's Been So Long" obviously features Scott Shriner, Weezer's current bass player. It didn't seem right that Matt should be on there, but not Scott, but it also felt wrong to leave Matt out of the history of this image. I then had the idea to have Scott driving by on the freeway, blissfully unaware of the small touring band broken down on the side of the road, which he would someday be a member of. All the guys were living in California at the time, so this could have happened! As the cartoonist Don Rosa often says in the notes of his historical fiction stories: "Prove that it didn't happen!"  :)

Karl set me up with a dozen reference photos of Betsey, the band, and various ephemera from that era, and then we both did a deep dive on Google Image Search for dashboard and interior photos of 1985 Dodge Prospectors (the van) and 1980 Dodge Challengers (Scott's car). Overall, 60 reference photos were used to ensure maximum accuracy.

I started with the front jacket illustration. Below you can see the in-progress pencils next to the finished illustration. When I'm working on something really detailed like this it helps me to use multiple lead colors (black, blue, red) to visually keep track of different parts of the image.

The image is loaded with "easter eggs": 1) In Karl's reference photos, there was a Jabba the Hutt action figure velcroed to the dashboard, which sat in a custom-cut piece of white carpet that lined the entire dashboard. 2) I set the odometer to 99,999 miles, so this illustration is taking place in that magic moment when you "turn over" the odometer back to 00,000. Also the trip odometer is set to 199.4 miles, to hint at the year of this tour. 3) The only lyric I directly lifted from the song was "It's been so long / since we put the Smashing Pumpkins on" by including their album Siamese Dream (released in 1993) on CD, plus a tape-adapter. There are also Beach Boys and Led Zeppelin tapes hiding in the back there. 4) Strapped to the visor are a collection of backstage pass laminates from this era of Weezer touring. The one seen in the front is from the band Lush, which Weezer opened for in the summer of 1994. 5) This is the first, really poor quality Weezer sticker that their label initially printed. They were just cheap paper stickers - the very first Weezer promotional "merch." 6) I remember vividly Rivers having a band-aid on his right middle finger the first time I saw them perform live, and he said it was from playing guitar every night. So I included that here. 7) I also drew Rivers's eyes a bit bigger than normal in the rearview mirror because it seems like in all the photographs from that era his glasses lenses were really thick, and his eyes always seem a bit enlarged.

Instead of pencils for the back jacket art, I thought I'd include the digital sketch that I mocked up in Photoshop, which shows how I modify the reference photos to make sure their perspectives are both heading towards the same vanishing points. Then I print that out and use a lightbox to trace it onto a piece of bristol board. In this image Karl and Pat are trying to fix the engine, Rivers is noodling on his guitar, Brian and Matt are playing hacky sack (a nod to the Say It Ain't So video) and Scott is serenely cruising by. Every detail of this image is meticulously researched, from the outfits and shoes to haircuts, tattoos, etc. My only liberty was giving Scott the license plate "SGS 711" which I'm not sure if he had or not back then, but thought he would appreciate now.

If it had all ended there, this would have been the coolest illustration gig of my life, but then I also got to design and illustrate the labels for the 7" vinyl record! In the first "thumbnail" image you can see some of the ideas I pitched Karl for the A and B sides of the label. In the end, we decided to pull circular elements directly from the car, but replace the lettering to give information about the song. It was interesting trying to evenly distribute lettering and other design elements radially.  The A side label was one of Betsy's tires, with the lettering "Remington Wide Brute" replaced with the band's name and the song title, matching the style of type.

For the B side label I redrew the speedometer and odometer from Betsy's dashboard. The "miles" were set to "WFC003" (to mark that this was the third Weezer Fan Club release) and the trip odometer was set to 201.8 miles because I drew this in 2018 and I thought it would be released that year, but it was delayed for various unknown reasons. Also, the little blue light that turns on when you activate your "brights" has a little Weezer logo in it, instead of the lightbulb icon. I sent these files off to the printer and a few months later, Karl sent me a copy in the mail. It was only then that I found out the track had been printed on "Weezer Blue" vinyl!! <3 p="">

This is, without a doubt, the coolest illustration project I've ever worked on! Thanks so much to Karl Koch for hiring me to illustrate this, and I hope all the fan club members appreciate the time, energy, and love that I poured into these drawings.  If you would like to get a copy of this record, there's only one way to do that - sign up for the Weezer Fan Club and purchase a 2019 fan club bundle, which includes the 7" record along with some other exclusive items. It's a really exciting time to be in the fan club, with the band releasing new music, touring a lot, etc. etc. etc.  =w= 4 eva!!!

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