In the spirit of Halloween, this issue, Format has a treat for your goodie bag. Instead of our usual “examining thematic rap covers” piece, we dug a bit deeper to bring you the making of the Bazooka Tooth album cover. Yes, it was released in 2003, but good art, like good music, is timeless and we couldn’t sit still for another second without giving Tomer Hanuka and Aesop Rock their just due.
Format: Introduce our readers to your artistic style.
Tomer: Narrative visuals, I like drama. I want to tell a story in one scene, but compose it where you get many points of view and the situation is boiling toward some sort of climax. I try using the color for atmosphere, and to manipulate the eye a little, control the way you interpret what’s important here, and what is the driving force.
Format: We’re covering your piece for Bazooka Tooth this issue. Explain the piece how you see it.
Tomer: The best way would be to look at it, trust your eyeballs, not my words.
Format: How did Aesop approach you with his concept for the cover?
Tomer: He told me the back story which I believe is in the lyrics of Bazooka Tooth — a kid that has a Bazooka gun implanted in his mouth and every time he talks he can blow up your face. It’s a pretty good analogy to Rap I think.
Format: You do a lot of magazine work, in addition to your comics. How was your experience with Aesop different than other projects you’ve work on? What was the process like?
Tomer: It was different than straight commercial work because I was very excited about the subject matter and was truly inspired by the early tracks I got to hear before the album was released. It touched me on an artistic level and that’s something that can’t happen when you’re doing art for the cover of the New York Times Magazine. You can be passionate about the article maybe, but you are first of all giving a service. With Bazooka it was like an experience. Here is the music and the general concept, now go do your thing. We met once and spoke for a couple of hours, then I had a few directions that I sketched out and once we decided on the best one I created the art.
Format: The cover has received a great response from the hip-hop community, exposing your work to a whole new demographic. Has creating this piece opened up any doors for you?
Tomer: I didn’t do any other rap album covers and I don’t feel like my work is associated with the hip hop industry which is ok. Most of my work is for magazines with National distribution: The New Yorker, Time, Rolling Stone, etc., and the other part of my work is a comic book that is anything but mainstream. So doing this image was like doing something very personal in theme but public in distribution.
Format: Let’s talk a bit about some of your other work. Tell me about the Bipolar comics.
Tomer: Bipolar is a comic I share with my twin brother Asaf and writer Etgar Keret. It’s experimental anthology where I contribute short stories and Asaf and Etgar have an on going story.
Format: What else have you been working on recently?
Tomer: A book collection of my illustration work and a graphic novel.
Format: Any parting words?
Tomer: If the revolution won’t be televised, I’ll probably miss it.
More info on Tomer Hanuka: http://www.thanuka.com
Format: Almost all of your cover art so far has been heavily art influenced. Why have you decided to go this route?
Aesop Rock: Well, a few reasons. One is that I did at one time in my life go to art school. Two is that it is no secret that rap music consistently has the worst album covers of any genre, and it’s only getting worse. Three, a picture of me, or my face, or my people, or my most sinister look, just wouldn’t fit. I try to find some artwork that will match the record. I find that way too often artwork is an afterthought. People do the music, then it’s, oh shit the art is due next week, and it gets thrown together. It’s funny cuz people do and forever will judge a book by its cover. Not to mention the artwork for an album is just more of a blank canvas for the musician to create something that will relate visually to the music inside. It all too often goes wasted.
Format: What led you to choosing Tomer Hanuka for the Bazooka Tooth project?
Aesop Rock: I had been keeping my eyes out for artists I was interested in working with. I had a saved copy of the New York Times magazine, where Tomer had done the cover and I thought it was really sick. I could see his style, but I could also see how he was compromising a bit for the story. So, I looked him up further and found that the less he compromised the better his stuff was. I was like, this is who I need, and I need him to not compromise. I just wanted to give him the bare minimum of input and see where he could take it. It was a long shot cuz I didn’t know him at all.
Format: What kind of direction did you give Tomer for the artwork?
Aesop Rock: I went to his apartment. At the time I had about four songs that I knew were being kept for the record. Tomer is not by nature a hip-hop fan, but he’s not anti-hip hop either. He’s just not all about it. I played him the four songs and he was like, your stuff is weird. I was like, so is yours, that’s why I’m here. I told him a few things on what I envisioned as the character for Bazooka Tooth, more like situations he would get himself into, the type of person I felt he was, played some songs, etc. I left him the CD after chilling for maybe three hours. We are both huge Chris Ware fans, so as soon as I found that out, I knew we had something going. That was it. I wanted him to get a taste of the music, a taste of me as a human being, and use that to do what he does best.
Format: How was Tomer to work with? What was the process like?
Aesop Rock: He was awesome. The perfect balance of creativity with a small amount of business, only where necessary. But this is obviously a man that draws all the time. It was great though. I didn’t know him before this and he was inviting me to his home to build about artwork for an artist that he didn’t even know about prior to that. I gave him a couple ideas and a tiny bit of direction, but most importantly gave him some music. A week later he had preliminary sketches done of three different possible versions of the cover. One week after that I was staring at the completed art. It was amazing.
Format: What is your interpretation of the work, and how do you feel it reflects the albums content?
Aesop Rock: Man it was so great to receive the finals. It was very close to what was in my head, and I felt it fit what I needed so perfectly, that even the picture in my head over time morphed into what Tomer had drew. I mean, you can discuss what you want all day, but until you see the characters you have nothing. He really nailed it on the head though. It was the perfect dark, sinister, somewhat funny but more evil cover. Friends were telling me that it was legitimately frightening them, so I knew I had a winner. It reflects the content perfectly. I was going through a really weird time in my life during the creation of that record. The character Tomer created just about sums it up. He looks like he is about to explode in every way.
Format: You studied painting at Boston University. Do you feel studying art has made its way into your music at all?
Aesop Rock: I would say yes. I mean art was a huge part of my life from when I was quite young to a year or two after graduating in 98. I find myself having different views on things that can only be explained by my background. It’s hard to describe, but the amount of looking and studying of people and/or objects in art school definitely applies to writing.
Format: Who are some of your favorite visual artists?
Aesop Rock: Well I have a pretty broad spectrum of favorites. I went to a very strict and old school thinking school. It’s hard to not say Rembrandt, Vermeer, etc. I also had a large attraction to graffiti growing up, so in that sense I’ll take people like Ewok, Gaze One, Ghost, etc. I also like a lot of the illustration stuff that’s going on right now in the newer, younger galleries, like the Barry Mcgees and the Jeremy Fish’s, etc. I am as I mentioned a massive Chris Ware fan as well. Henry Darger, Degas drawings I liked a lot. I don’t know, I could do this forever.
Format: Finally, when are we going to see some of your artwork grace an Aesop Rock cover?
Aesop Rock: (Laughs) I don’t know. It’s been a while. I painted for very many years of my life but I stepped out of it as music took the front seat fully in about 99 or 2000. It’s hard to have the confidence to do it these days. I guess it’s not impossible, but we’ll see. When I stopped painting I was doing massive work, stuff that I would never be able to fit anywhere right now, so I’d have to totally re-approach the medium. I’d like to try it all again. We shall see…
More on Aesop Rock: http://www.definitivejux.net/jukies/aesop_rock/