Creating visuals to match sounds is no easy task, especially when that visual comes with the pressure of knowing that your creation will be on signs, billboards, tour vans and not to mention an album cover that will inhabit the shelves of Best Buys nationwide. The raised level of expectations could make any artist crumble. Luckily for CES Cru and Strange Music, Rob Prior is no normal artist.
To create the cover art for their 2nd album under Strange Music, CES Cru called upon the trusty two-handed artistry of Rob Prior. Prior not only rose to the challenge but, as expected, knocked it out of the park.
One of the hallmarks of a great piece of art is that it raises more questions than it answers. What world is CES Cru in? What does Codename: Ego Stripper actually mean? Who’s the girl in the middle?
We sought to find answers to some of these questions and get insight into the mind of a genius.
Read below to see the results.
You’ve done album covers before, what are the most important things for you to consider when you’re doing an album cover?
Well first of all I think of the theme of what it is. Then I listen to the music. I have to listen to the music in order to even start coming up with anything. Then I talk to the artists, in this case Ubi and Godemis, and I’m like “Okay, just give me an idea. A basic theme.” Even if that theme is nothing that we end up with it at least sends me in a direction, because sometimes I feel that people think they know what they want when they don’t know what they want. Tech knows exactly what he wants but I’m still able to go in there and go “I think you’re talking more like this.” It helps me figure it out. But the very first thing I really have to do is listen to the music. Even when I first met Tech and I was going to do something for Something Else I had to listen to the music because it’s what drives me forward.
When someone doesn’t know exactly what they want it’s almost like you have to be an interpreter in a way.
Oh yeah. That happens more times than not. A lot of times someone goes “I don’t know exactly what I want.” In that case I come up with a bunch of questions like “What’s your favorite kinds of movies? What’s your favorite colors?” and I start making lists like that. Then I start breaking it down. Then I take that and I start mixing it with the sounds, the music and then I come up with something.
How did you get approached to do this?
I think, and I could be completely wrong, but when I first met Ubi and Godemis I met them at the KC show eons ago…or last year…both are, you know, the same. I saw them on stage and that was the first time I heard their music. I was like “You guys are really fucking talented. I want to do something with you guys someday.” I think it was Ubi who went up to Travis and said something and then he came to me and he was like “Hey, would you be interested?” and I was like “Sure.” Travis then asked me and he’s like “Okay, let’s set this up. Let’s make it happen.” Then the typical thing, “Yeah, can you do this in four days?” or whatever crazy ass number it was. I was like “Uhh…sure? Yes? Why not?” Oh, I know what it was, they told me way early on “We’re not going to need it until August,” and I was like “Cool!” Then Korey called me up and said “Yeah…we need the van wraps, so you got like four days. Is that cool?” I’m like “Yeah, sure! Give me a lot of alcohol and Red Bull and I’ll do it.”
So your first impression of them was that they’re super talented, what was it about their act and their music that you gravitated towards and thought “I want to do something with these guys”?
You know it’s the beat and the rhythm even more live for me. When I heard the songs I listened to the words but live on stage their energy was fucking dope. That’s what really drew me to to wanting to do something for them, was the energy. They’re also just such nice guys. Meeting them was like “Really? You guys are this nice? Crap…okay I can’t say no to you if I wanted to.”
Yes. That’s how we get things done around here, or try to.
Unless you’re Travis then he’s just like (impersonates Travis, voice lowers) “Yeah…Rob…there’s going to be a horse head in your bed if you don’t do this.”
You were talking about the conversations you guys had in forming the idea for the cover, what were those conversations like? Did the name of the album ever come out and have an effect on the outcome?
Well that was the first thing they said, they go “Yeah, it’s Codename: Ego Stripper” and I’m like “What the fuck? What am I supposed to do with this?” They told me the name of it and I went blank. I remember I was like “Okay…let me think about it.” I think I called Ubi back up and was like “Here’s what I’m thinking, I’m thinking futuristic” – and I think he sent me some ideas if I remember right. I wanted to do a post-apocalyptic background.
What I didn’t want to do was I didn’t want to go cheesy stripper and then make her a robot, because that immediately to me is the first thing you would think of – well maybe not. The first thing I think of, something like that or a stripper in general. I was like “You know what? Let’s make it a little deeper than that.”
I was really thinking of Phillip K Dick, he’s one of my favorite writers. That’s what kind of popped into my mind, let’s start playing with it a little bit. If it’s going to be some sort of power or some sort of experiment or something like that – that’s where I started going off on it. It’s this chick that’s obviously got this crazy ass power and they’re sort of feeding it to her on the cover. I wanted to play with more of those themes instead of doing what everybody would expect. I wanted to do something that nobody would expect. That was more it.
It was definitely unexpected. You also said you listened to the album when you created it.
Yeah, they sent me all the music and that’s all I played the whole time I was painting it and working on it. That’s all I played. The more I started listening to it the more I was like Let’s take this further. Instead of making it like a normal city, let’s make it this crazy, post-apocalyptic thing. Even some of the art on the inside, I wanted to keep those slightly darker themes, playing more with the “Codename” than the “Ego Stripper”. Like who gave the codename? and that kind of thing. I love to overthink shit.
For a project like this do you still get nervous?
I think the day that you don’t get nervous you just need to fucking stop. It’s not even about it coming too easy. If you’re not getting a little bit nervous in some way shape or form then I don’t think there’s as much passion behind it as there maybe used to be. I’m nervous all the time when it comes to doing a project because I’m like “What if I don’t think of the right thing?” Then as an artist, I think all artists get that thing where “I hope it’s right and I hope they like it.” So yeah, I believe that that nervous energy drives the creative juices.
How do you feel about the final outcome?
That’s a two-edged sword. I’m very happy with how it came out but I always look at whatever it is I paint and go “Man, I could’ve done something better. I could’ve done this.” Maybe not something better but I could’ve added this. I look at everything I do like that. Here’s the good times: usually ten minutes after I do something I look at it and go “I hate this.” With the stuff I did for Tech and the cover I just did for CES Cru I was like “Alright…alright…” You know? I can always do better but I like it.
So when you look at something and you don’t hate it, then it’s probably not too bad.
Yep. That’s pretty much where I come from on it. If I don’t hate it, okay…cool.
What did you think about the album itself?
It’s fucking dope. It’s really creative. The songs just drive you – they drive you fast and furious man and just push you along. Some of them are just relentless, like you just have to move. That’s what I love. The great thing about it is that it’s both raw and slick at the same time and that’s why I like it.
Those qualities are represented in the cover pretty well. It’s extremely well done but achieves a certain grit with the blues and the blacks. Is that something you think of, a color representation?
There’s two things there. I remember asking Ubi, I was like “What colors would you prefer?” I know blues came into it but had I seen it and disagreed I would’ve been like “No, no man. We need to go this route.” But it just happened to all work and it just fit the album. It fit everything. The blues sort of give it this raw feeling of “unfinished” yet I tried to make it as slick as I could underneath, bits and pieces of it. That’s why when you see the poster of it, some of it’s really sketchy and raw and some of it is really polished.
There’s some music producers that say they see colors when they hear sounds. Do you have the experience the same phenomena?
Oh yeah. As corny as this is going to come out, Fantasia…man you can’t tell me that the animators for Fantasia weren’t doing all kinds of drugs and going “Yeah, I see this color! This is great! And it dances!” So yeah, I see color to sound all the time. It fits not only with my art but with my filmmaking or anything that I’m working on. Sound and art to me go hand in hand. I can’t paint without music and I whatever it is I’m doing I sort of have to fit the music to whatever it is I’m painting. Yeah they correlate perfectly.
Is that something that always came to you?
I’ve probably been doing that as long as I can remember. I remember being trained to be an artist all my life. I know that even my parents when I was very young would play music while I painted and while I drew when they were teaching me when I was three, four and five. So I think the correlation was always there for me and it just got stronger and stronger. I can’t paint to silence. I just sit there and stare. I can’t do it. I have to have something happen.
It seems in your case that it’s a thing that you can’t turn off.
Oh yeah, I’m a crazy fucker when it comes down to it. I can’t turn it off. It’s always there and it’s always coming out in some way. That’s the rub of it. It’s maddening most of the time. I was sitting there talking to my wife at breakfast and she’s like “Can’t you just turn it off for five minutes?”
You said you had to get it done pretty quick for the van wrap. Have you seen the tour van?
Oh yeah that was the coolest fucking thing I’ve ever seen. I was just like “Holy shit!” My art has pretty much been on anything you can imagine but it’s never been on a van. Now I’m like “That’s cool! That’s the coolest thing ever!” I wish it was in the city driving around so I could be like “Spotted the van again!”
How did CES respond when they saw the artwork?
If I remember correctly, Ubi was like “Oh my God, that’s fucking insane and so dope,” and I was like “Cool, I’m really glad you like it.” Then he’s like “No, no, no, no…it’s really cool.” I felt like it was more of shock because it had to be done so quickly that I don’t think anybody knew what exactly was going to happen. So, that was it. I remember they sent me photos over because when I’m working on on likenesses if I don’t have photos of people they end up looking like a smiley face. Yeah though, I think they really liked it. I really do. I remember Travis called me up like “Dude, you’re fucking insane. That’s so dope.”
There’s nipples on it and now there’s nipples on a van all across the country.
(Laughs!) Yes! What? Oh…you’re a crazy bastard. Well at least I didn’t hide any dragon dicks in it.
Anything you want to say in closing?
I just think that the fans are going to freak out. I think that they’re going to be shocked and amazed, not because of my artwork but just because of how fucking good the album is. That’s what I think. They may not be shocked because everybody knows it’s going to be great, but it’s really good.
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