I think for me, the dam broke open when Spencer Hickman and I were figuring out how to express the LP soundtrack for the AppleTV+ series, SEVERANCE. (which you can plumb the depths of my deep dive into that giant project, HERE) We spent much of the time sorting out how to exploit every possible, and eventually, practical way of expressing the story of that series here in LP form. It was the first eureka moment for me since working on DUNE’s LP soundtracks where I really started to see how vastly rich the narrative part of the landscape of these packages could be if you worked at it. For a dyed in the wool story guy, this was a summit to break the heart open wide. These LP soundtracks weren’t just like a movie poster project or a book cover with a music component now… they were an opportunity to express a story not just in using the multiple images asa means, but the WAY you physically interact with the package, meet it, unfold it, pull out flip over and arrange to became part of that narrative landscape. And you’ll get to see how that lesson gets applied to the coming LP soundtracks for Westworld, Servant and Infinity Pool over the coming months and weeks… but today it’s magnum opus in Sarah Shachner’s vastly moving score for Dan Tractenberg’s PREY.
Like most excellent creative partnerships, when I look back on choices made or even the initiating impetus of a particular project, I cannot for the life of me recall who had what idea. They all become fused in the outcome, and individual input beyond that collective effort seems irrelevant. So I don’t know who had the idea to do this or not, but I remember seeing PREY for the first time and being captured fully not just by the vast expansive plains of Comanche territory Dan filmed in bringing us into this world, but Sarah’s deeply moving music that became an essential voice int he narrative. When Naru, played by Amber Midthunder makes her way home through the camp of her people, the swelling tones and soundscapes was bracing. From that moment I remember thinking… “Oh I have got to get Spencer in on this so we can do this LP”. I think Spence had the same notion because the next thing I recall was us working on it
The first thing we did was start with the physical construction, and that meant breaking out my clunky cardboard mockups to see how the thing could unfold to tell it’s story. He had one on his end that was a kind stairway thing we started out with, but quickly found it wasn’t;t singing the righting for this story, so we pitched over to a series of triangles. In the film the three corner shape resonates from the shape of the teepee where Naru and Anuka prepare Naru’s recent kill, to the targeting system of the Predator and beyond. Once you see the code of a story, it starts revealing itself in ALL aspects of the story. Like any conspiracy addict might tell you… once you see the little green men, you see them in all things.
One the practical fences of this format remains in it’s essential purpose: the LP and the square sleeve that needs to contain it. I happily LOVE a square format for art making, and besides that, my decades long love for records makes these a new and truly exciting part of my creative life. When we finally wrestled our way down into a manner that would be most expressive to the story of the film’s music, and what could be practical for us so it doesn’t end up costing $600 per album, the rest was the Candyland of expressing the Severance principle in full: finding how and where to squeeze in wherever we could the details and narrative through lines that could tell our take on the story best. First always is the cover and outer jacket to set the style and tone and pace. I did a number of attacks on this one, various forms of Naru hunting/being hunted by the Predator invading her people’s land, some so it became a portrait of her in action and the unfolding revealed her prey… and then thinking to reverse that action on the interior side o this trifold… every certainty failed to deliver until we found the right approach that wasn’t really any of those initial ideas, but because of them became an outgrowth of them. I’m not a huge on preplanning generally speaking in most creative things- I find I learn what it is I am making by the act of making it. Know the Path by walking the Path, etc… and this was no different. The idea of the predator/prey dynamic was cute as a compelling idea, but this really is Naru’s story. The Predator creature is really a means to HER arc. His arc isn’t relevant aside from how it affects hers, so the cover became a long 12″x 35″ spread of Nauru face to face with the utterly alien enemy she was there to fight.
The inside of that trifold didn’t need to respond to the outer in an overly obvious way anymore, and it was an opportunity to really showcase the gorgeous rolling landscape of the landscape of this time period, and still keep to the idea of the hunt as a central idea. SO Naru and her pup Sarii off on their lonely hunt in towards the rising sun as the arrival of the Predator ship cuts a swath through the sky overhead was where we went. Again keeping in mind thanks to comics, how we in the west at least, read images… left to right. So in three connected panels, Naru & Sarii, the Land, and the falling Predator ship and the rising sun.
When you open this fully, the far right section houses the LP- in this case below the glow in the dark special edition version we created for the Texas Frightmare release. (There’s a larger edition of with the selfsame everything, just minus the GID effect with a tricolor LP that is equally splendid). On the left the magic furthers with the pulling out of the art filled credit information sleeve, so we could keep as much of the copious copy legal and credit lines away from the outside art… but also an opportunity to dive deeper into the narrative. In this case I got to use one of the first and only surviving initial piece I created for this project focusing in on Naru and Anuka preparing the food and gear in their teepee. Another was the chance to show the Predator in the cool horror mists of the land in counterpointed cold colors as he stalks and lines up his target with his tri-corner targeting gear. The triangle shape from before plays an important part in the story but offers us as well a chance to make of the trip-panel package something in particularly cool… you can build a teepee with this sleeve to showcase either the Naru/Akuna scene or the Predator lurking outside it. I’d like to say we had this planned from the beginning but while the idea of making a teepee part of the physical design did come up in the early stages, we’d left it behind to focus on the course we had shifted to… not realizing that we were still on that path until we met this goalpost, surprised and delighted by the congruence. The inverted triangles using the same scenery from the interior spread, but at night as Naru returns home to her people holding the fruits of her hunt: the head of her prey in hand… all of this came while making it just listening and obeying the song of piece.
And let me sidebar for a moment to say this is a dynamic that I find happens a LOT, when you’re doing the job right. When we were doing MEADOWLARK, we kept sort of instinctually coming back to animal metaphors to express the underground story of the narrative, the hawk and snake, the one eyed fox… the Mexican flag with the eagle eating the snake, one and on… we kind of knew what we were doing, but we also were in many ways at the mercy of what the story was telling US to do. when the tale you’re telling starts talking back to you, informing you and shaping the process… that’s when you know you’re in partnership with the creative force in the best possible way. It’s a check on your synchronous relationship with the piece… it doesn’t always happen, but when it does it literally feels like how magic should feel. At the very least a confirmation you as the creator are on the right path with the story, and if you surrender enough to it, the more fruits of that waltz with the whatever becomes. for my now thirty plus years of this work, the projects where this was a regular occurrence are rarer than their should be, but so frequent as to make those projects shine a whole other level of light on things I could have never otherwise expected. They live in a place bigger and fuller when I look back on them. Like capturing lightening and being able to use it to fuel a rocket ship to unknown galaxies… as ethereal as I’m making it sound, it’s all borne of the practical physical aspect of art making- the process that is so essential to making true and good art. And why I don’t think I’ll ever hold much respect for AI or any digital process that denies this aspect of art that makes art a true and real human experience.
SO- we’ve done it, and now finally having made all this back in December I get to hold it in my hands at last and play it on my turntable. The absolute final cherry on the top of LP design and illustration. it fills me with a pride and a thankfulness I can never really express- I think close to how I feel when one of my books comes to me in this big boxes…. but more so because it’s not just a readable object, but one for the ears too. It’s a medium that right now feels exciting and endless to me, much in the same way I felt back in the 90’s when I truly discovered what comics as a medium could promise. A wild and wide and terrifying world of possibility, threats of failure… all the ingredients essential to an exciting creative experience. The opportunity to work on these and interact and sometimes even become friendly with the directors, actors and composers of these pieces is a tremendous bonus on top of it all. Getting to do this at all is a gift, but there’s something about this new unexpected turn in mediums for me that, like all new and undiscovered territories are, thrilling and mind expanding. PREY was just another undiscovered country more of a project and I am so very excited to take the lessons from it forward to the next ones coming down the lane.
I am loving my time with the LP world, look forward to much more and adore how popular this favorite medium has become again. For me physical media is all and being able to hold and posses the music, to express its narrative in the art that surrounds it is a perfect marriage and a dream job I never imagined even existed as a possibility just a couple of years ago. Ditch the digital and get your hands on the real, and I promise you you won’t go back.
You can get a hold of this absolutely stunning collection of music, via the Mondo website store, HERE.
Currently the only place to see the film, is on HULU, HERE.