French rock duo The Dukes are a must-hear group whose music is just loaded with riot-inducing rigor. We might be drunk but think Rage Against The Machine meets Muse, or maybe Primal Scream on steroids.... or something like that. We are digging the guys' new full-length Smoke Against The Beat -- which was produced by Jamie Candiloro (REM, Ryan Adams) and out now via Concrete Entertainment -- so much that we wanted to learn more about it's cover artwork. Here's what Francois "Shanka" Maigret had to say about it.
What was the inspiration for the Smoke Against The Beat cover artwork? Francois "Shanka" Maigret: It was mostly religious iconography. When I was a kid, I’ve been very impressed by pieces like the Issenheim altarpiece, or the Apocalypse’s tapestries. The symbolic power of those masterpieces is insane. Also, it has something both disturbing and majestic that I really like. I wanted a front cover that would be intriguing and mysterious, but also visually striking, so the portrait of both of us with the masks and instruments made sense.
The SATB album cover is crazy-cool. Tell us about the artist and how you find him/her? "Shanka": I found him… in me! Here’s the story: I used to draw a lot when I was bored in high school, but then I stopped because I didn’t have time to do it anymore when I started to work as a pro musician. I hate to draw in the van, I tried but it’s just not my thing. When we started to think about the artwork, since we didn’t have enough money to pay someone to do it, I thought I would simply do it myself. It might have flaws, since I’m a fully self-taught artist, but at least it would be meaningful and personal. I just reconnected with the bored teenager inside of me, and got straight into it - we hope that you like it!
Please elaborate on the medium(s) used when creating the art. We'd love to know how the artwork was created. How do you incorporate the art into your live shows? "Shanka": I’m using several different techniques. The front cover was made with a graphic tablet, but I don’t think that I will use it again. I like using pencils and brushes - more and more every day! It gives a lot of expressivity to the artwork. All the cartoon animations I make for the live show and music videos are made simply with paper and sharpies. I scan the sequences one drawing at a time, but it’s worth it! I like the roughness it gives to the animation. Then I use a video projector and a technique called video mapping to project those animations in sync with the music on our gear (kickdrum, amps, etc.). It looks expensive, even if it’s not! The white paper and black sharpie thing is a tribute to the 80’s DIY fanzines and Xerox culture. When we were on the Warped Tour, since our merch tent was clearly the cheapest on the whole festival (true story), I started to draw on it with a sharpie to make it look better, and it accidentally became a sensation: people just loved the live drawing thing! That’s what I love about the punk-rock philosophy - turn your weaknesses into assets.
Did you do all the art yourself, or did you work with other people? Did you consider them as additional band members? "Shanka": We also worked with other visual artists on this album because I love to collaborate with talented people. Their work is not part of the album’s artwork, but you can see it all on our website. I asked them to give us their own interpretation of my "Smoki" character. My deal was simple: I had a budget for everyone (it was my way of saying “I respect your work”!), some of them took the money and others did not want to. In that case, I gave the money to charity on their behalf. Though I can’t consider them as additional band members, for some of them the collaboration will continue, on future records. We created our own artists community! For example, Charlie Adlard (The Walking Dead), who did our vinyl cover artwork, and told me he’d love to do the CD’s front cover artwork next time! You just can’t say no to a proposition like that. Guys like Eric Hérenguel (amazing French comic book artist) or Paul Toupet (French sculptor who did our "Smoki" masks) will also definitively be in the loop for the next album. What’s great about it is that I learn a lot from those artists.
Watch the band's music video for the song "Black Hole Love"
Have you ever purchased an album solely because of its album artwork? If yes, did the music live up to the artwork? "Shanka": I don’t think I ever did, but my wife did that a lot when she was a teenager! For example, she bought her first New York Dolls album because of the front cover. She thought: “Who ARE those guys? I love the attitude; the music must be good!” And it was, she’s been a huge fan ever since. I always tell Greg: people technically see you before they hear you, since light travels faster than sound… So it’s definitively a very important thing.
With the increasing popularity of digital music, most fans view artwork as just pixels on a screen. Why did you feel the artwork was important? "Shanka": Even though the digital revolution changed the way people consume music, I think the visuals are more important than ever. If you see a sponsored link on Facebook for example, you won’t hear anything unless you click on the link, it’s the visual you’re seeing that will trigger your click! Besides, it’s a very interesting journey for us. Because today, in my opinion great music is simply not enough. If you want to get noticed, unless you have the money to pay to exist (which pretty much solves every problem) you have to create stand-out visuals as well. To catch people’s attention, a band needs to create a full universe, with a strong identity.
Have any favourite music-related visual artists? "Shanka": I’m a total Charles Burns fan. The cover art he made for the SubPop label, or for Iggy Pop is mind blowing. I’m also a huge fan of rock poster art, it’s an endless source of inspiration. Another example that comes to my mind: I love the work of a surrealist painter named Viktor Safonkin, I know his work because Killing Joke used one of his paintings for an album cover. It’s brilliant, like a modern version of Hieronymus Bosch. As a musician, it’s my duty to build bridges between music and painters or visual artists in general, they go so well together! Someday I hope to be able to ask my painter friends Gretchen Ryan or Patrick McGrath Muniz to do some artwork for The Dukes. that would be terrific, no doubt.
What are your thoughts and/or the pros and cons about digital art versus non-digital? "Shanka": Digital and analog tools are just tools. It all depends on what the artist is going to do with it. Although I personally think that non-digital tools like brushes, ink, charcoal, pencils and all that, are much more fun to use. To me, the creative process needs to be fun, and working with your hands is more joyful and intense than working with a touchpad or a tablet. I couldn’t work without any “real” tool because it would become too cerebral for me. I need to feel the materials I’m working with in my hands, it’s a real physical thing and you can feel it when you see the result. Also, I like the natural flaws of the non-digital. It gives the art more character, more life! These days, what happens is I’m do the whole drawing with non-digital tools, but I finalize the piece in Photoshop. For example, if there are big black areas in the drawing, I just draw the outline and fill it in Photoshop. It saves me some time… And some ink!
Was the album art influenced by any of the themes explored on the band's album? "Shanka": Since I’m the one who does the artwork and composes the core material of the music, everything is pretty much entangled in my head! There are some things I want to express that cannot be translated into music. For example, the social aspect of my message is very much present in my drawings, but it’s subtler in the lyrics. Same thing for the humor and irony. On the other hand, the anger is more obvious in the music than in my drawings. I think music and visuals totally complement one another!
How do you think the album art will affect the listener's perception of your album? "Shanka": Hopefully it will help the listener to have a clearer perception of what we have in mind, of our vision. It might also stimulate their imagination. I personally love to look at the booklet while I’m listening to a record, it makes my mind wander even more. That’s why I illustrated every lyric’s sheet in the album’s booklet, I wanted to give the listener’s mind a little extra something to chew on! Visuals can open more doors in one’s mind than the music itself. It gives me more control in a way, because I can show the listener the doors I want!