Image is everything and for the cover of Tech N9ne’s biggest album, Photographer Dennys Ilic was tasked with creating a lasting impression.
With an incredible résumé of work that includes names like Daniel Radcliffe, Edward James Olmos, and Flo Rida, Dennys Ilic has carved out a fantastic career in photography and visual media.
In fact, Dennys’ visuals may be familiar to Strange Music fans thanks to his work on Tech N9ne’s Therapy EP cover. It was this veteran experience, coupled with a working friendship with Strange Music over the years, that made Dennys the obvious choice to shoot the cover of Tech N9ne’s The Storm.
We spoke with Dennys about shooting The Storm album cover and what Tech’s newest project meant in his eyes.
What inspired the album cover for The Storm?
We had a couple of discussions with Tech N9ne and Travis about what the cover would entail, but it really actually came down the line at the last minute with Tech when we were at his place, trying to figure it out and getting inspired by listening to the music from the album.
Essentially, The Storm tried to inspire as much from the simple name of the cover and the progress he’s made in the past twenty years… the fact his first album was called The Calm Before The Storm. I think we worked out that we wanted to do something that was not too cliché, emerging from the storm and we played around with concepts with lightning and tornadoes and whirlwinds and things like that.
I think just the beautiful, subtle rain at the end of the day was what we ended up going for. He’s just emerging from it. His hands are spread out, and he has that pose for that photograph, which I’ve done that pose many times with Tech before, in different ways. It has sort of a religious connotation for me as well so I wanted that beautiful, soft feel of the photo – with the way he’s standing, but with the turbulence and the violence of the rain and the clouds behind him.
When you brainstorm these ideas, is it a combined effort of you and Tech? Or do you take the reins with it and help create it?
I think it’s very important to collaborate with the artist as well, and this one was a little bit of a discussion with Tech and also with my business partner, TJ Scott, who was there for the shoot as well. It was pretty much TJ’s idea to run out and grab all these sprinklers and faucets and extensions. We hung them from the cross wiring in Strange Music’s studio. We had all this water pouring down on him.
That approach came about slowly treading with Tech while we were listening to the music. To me, it’s really important to hear the music again and again and again. I listen to it in the car wherever I go to get visually inspired by the sound. You know, Tech’s music is very, very visual and it really brings the love out of you and out of your imagination. We sat there in his living room and he was just playing the tunes and we were just hashing it out for a few hours together.
What went into shooting the cover?
We needed to have physical elements to do what we wanted to do. We didn’t want to do too much post-production work and create things digitally too much. Essentially, we had him sitting in a wading pool so water wouldn’t just be running out all over Strange Music [laughs]. We set up this crossbeam and set up the sprinklers above it, and we had the water pouring down on him.
He went through various poses. There are a lot of other photographs where he’s doing very different, cool things that came out of that. The one we ended up going for was the quite intense, but serene photo. It’s a really weird look that he’s got on his face – it’s very powerful and it’s intense, but it’s also very calm. He looks very strong to me in that photograph and that’s kind of the pivotal theme about the album. It was great.
We just had water pouring, we had a smoke machine going in the background to give some base for the clouds effect that we did in post-production afterwards as well, and then added a little bit of rain. There was this beautiful artwork [of the photo] by Scott Harben done for us after the fact and a lot of people look at it and see the photograph, but it looks like a painting. People come up to me – we got an 8-foot metallic version of that photograph here in the studio in Hollywood, and people would go up to it and look and say, “Is that a photograph or a painting?” And I say, “Yes”. [laughs] It’s a little bit of a cross-between of both.
One thing I really want to point out is in posting the photograph – people have eluded to the fact that we Photoshopped the 6-pack on Tech because the t-shirt is clinging to his stomach. It’s a wet t-shirt. We were all like “Holy cow!” once he got wet, it was all there. There was no post-production work done for Tech in his face or his body – it was just purely what you see is what you get.
People got to realize what he does on stage, when he tours for 3 months or 4 months straight. You got to be pretty physically fit to do that sort of stuff. I just wanted that out there as well – we did not do any body work on Tech on the cover, which is really beautiful.
What message do you want people to get from the album cover?
I think the message that we really want to portray on the album is it is kind of like a sentimental album for him. The next album will probably – 20 years from now, 10 years from now – will be The Calm After The Storm or something like that [laughs].
For me, it was that pivotal “coming-out” for him really being a very powerful voice in this music industry. From everything: the way him and Travis run a beautiful, un-cynical company that creates and supports great talent, to this very powerful element he’s created that is the pivotal point of his journey. There are songs that are quite beautiful and there are songs that have a lot to say – in every aspect, politically and everything.
To me, that album cover – the story I want to tell – is that it is a very powerful album and it’s a very personal album for him.
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