Death Cab For Cutie: Transatlanticism

A more ‘art’ than ‘design’ album cover is Death Cab For Cutie’s 2003 release ‘Transatlanticism’. It’s by artist Adde Russell, who created everything for this cover from a dusty, spider-infested basement in Seattle. Apparently she was a tad embarrassed when the band came round to check out her work in progress.

I remember being struck by the imagery of this cover as soon as I saw it – the music being so good was a bonus.

I asked Adde a few questions about the cover:

How much direction did you have from the band / record company when coming up with the concept and design?

At the beginning there was not much direction given. I believe all Nick Harmer mentioned was that he’d like the cover to be “iconic”. Later they were more specific and direct, but from the get-go they were always open to anything – allowing me to take liberties. They all were very encouraging and made me feel as if it were a group effort.

How many concepts did you come up with for the band to choose between?

I don’t remember. A lot. Some concepts were barely realized – consisting of markers, spray-paint and a pencil sketch. The band has a wonderful ability to see very little of an idea and get it, so most of the time the feedback was instant and suggestions were made right there. If an idea was worth holding on to there was no delay in moving forward.

Did you deal directly with the band?

Yes. At the time I worked in the basement of my house in Seattle. It was really gross. Dust, spiders and leaky pipes. I remember being really embarrassed.

How did you come up with the idea for the bird & string idea? Was it inspired by the music itself?

The bird and string concept came from going to a craft store and picking up whatever I thought might work for anything. The first bird I believe was this sorry little white styrofoam bird with red string wrapped around it. Really messy and not well thought out. When I showed the various concepts to the band, that bird idea was an afterthought in the mix. I was more excited about just the red string and really didn’t think too much ahead of that. If I remember correctly, it was Nick who was really into the bird and string thing and said to keep working. Once I was able to hear the music the idea became more solidified.

Have you designed any other record covers?

Death Cab for Cutie – Plans
Death Cab For Cutie: Plans

Death Cab for Cutie – Directions

The Long Winters: Ultimatum
The Long Winters: Ultimatum

The Long Winters – Putting the Days to Bed

Fine Lines – Substratosphere

Cydney Robinson – Spokesman for The Shoeless

Rocky Votolato – Brag & Cuss

Jared Bartman – I Refute Technology

Cub Country – Stretch Your Skull Cover & Smile

What were the results of having your work on millions of cds and records?

Transatlanticism was one of the first design projects I’d ever worked on. The fact that Death Cab entrusted me with the artwork and design from start to finish still amazes me. I knew that the music was very good and that they should be very proud of their work, but I had no idea I’d get a VHS tape from my mother that consisted of clips of the O.C. where the artwork was on a kids wall or when Death Cab was mentioned. It’s a goofy feeling seeing something you’re associated with on television.

The opportunity has allowed for more design work and has pushed me to learn more about the design process. I love what I get to do.

What are you currently working on?

My website. I just finished up the artwork for Cub Country / Jeremy Chatelain (formerly of Jets To Brazil). I’m also getting back in my studio painting and looking forward to a show in 2009.

Adde has also been good enough to send us a few contact sheets of some of the work:

Contact sheet
Contact sheet
Contact sheet
Contact sheet

Check out the full audio cassette cover I found! Who buys tape ?!?
Tape cover

Death Cab For Cutie: Transatlanticism

Death Cab For Cutie: Transatlanticism

A more ‘art’ than ‘design’ album cover is Death Cab For Cutie’s 2003 release ‘Transatlanticism’. It’s by artist Adde Russell, who created everything for this cover from a dusty, spider-infested basement in Seattle. Apparently she was a tad embarrassed when the band came round to check out her work in progress.

I remember being struck by the imagery of this cover as soon as I saw it – the music being so good was a bonus.

I asked Adde a few questions about the cover:

How much direction did you have from the band / record company when coming up with the concept and design?

At the beginning there was not much direction given. I believe all Nick Harmer mentioned was that he’d like the cover to be “iconic”. Later they were more specific and direct, but from the get-go they were always open to anything – allowing me to take liberties. They all were very encouraging and made me feel as if it were a group effort.

How many concepts did you come up with for the band to choose between?

I don’t remember. A lot. Some concepts were barely realized – consisting of markers, spray-paint and a pencil sketch. The band has a wonderful ability to see very little of an idea and get it, so most of the time the feedback was instant and suggestions were made right there. If an idea was worth holding on to there was no delay in moving forward.

Did you deal directly with the band?

Yes. At the time I worked in the basement of my house in Seattle. It was really gross. Dust, spiders and leaky pipes. I remember being really embarrassed.

How did you come up with the idea for the bird & string idea? Was it inspired by the music itself?

The bird and string concept came from going to a craft store and picking up whatever I thought might work for anything. The first bird I believe was this sorry little white styrofoam bird with red string wrapped around it. Really messy and not well thought out. When I showed the various concepts to the band, that bird idea was an afterthought in the mix. I was more excited about just the red string and really didn’t think too much ahead of that. If I remember correctly, it was Nick who was really into the bird and string thing and said to keep working. Once I was able to hear the music the idea became more solidified.

Have you designed any other record covers?

Death Cab for Cutie – Plans
Death Cab For Cutie: Plans

Death Cab for Cutie – Directions

The Long Winters: Ultimatum
The Long Winters: Ultimatum

The Long Winters – Putting the Days to Bed

Fine Lines – Substratosphere

Cydney Robinson – Spokesman for The Shoeless

Rocky Votolato – Brag & Cuss

Jared Bartman – I Refute Technology

Cub Country – Stretch Your Skull Cover & Smile

What were the results of having your work on millions of cds and records?

Transatlanticism was one of the first design projects I’d ever worked on. The fact that Death Cab entrusted me with the artwork and design from start to finish still amazes me. I knew that the music was very good and that they should be very proud of their work, but I had no idea I’d get a VHS tape from my mother that consisted of clips of the O.C. where the artwork was on a kids wall or when Death Cab was mentioned. It’s a goofy feeling seeing something you’re associated with on television.

The opportunity has allowed for more design work and has pushed me to learn more about the design process. I love what I get to do.

What are you currently working on?

My website. I just finished up the artwork for Cub Country / Jeremy Chatelain (formerly of Jets To Brazil). I’m also getting back in my studio painting and looking forward to a show in 2009.

Adde has also been good enough to send us a few contact sheets of some of the work:

Contact sheet
Contact sheet
Contact sheet
Contact sheet

Check out the full audio cassette cover I found! Who buys tape ?!?
Tape cover





18 Comments

  1. This has been a fave of mine since it came out. I remember Death Cab were touring in Australia with Something for Kate around this time, and then the next SFK album (The Official Fiction) had an old camera with red string around it on the cover. I always thought this might be some form of conversation between the bands but I was never sure. If anyone could find out, it would be great to know.

  2. Her artwork is beautiful. It's a shame the text is done so artlessly. What's that thing called again… ummm, oh that's it. Graphic design! Text/image. It's all about communication, which the art here does so very well, then is shat upon by the uninformed, uncriticised slabs of default desktop publishing-style information. Opportunity lost.

  3. always loved this cover, and yes, it came out at the same time as SFK's The Official Fiction. I did the cover for that album with Something For Kate, and it came as a total surprise to all of us to find that Death Cab used the red string also. They had just finished touring with them (I think) when the albums came out and I remember all of us freaking out a bit about it. The string for the SFK album was Steph's idea (SFK bass player) and a total coincidence. kinda cool though, must have some weird thing going on there.

  4. Hey Dave,

    I really liked that moment – it seemed bigger than the both of them, if you know what I mean. btw, You have been working with my wife Rachael at Secret Service recently. Small world.

  5. Just a bit of a vent: It's such a pain in the c*** when the band / label / management / everyone involved gives a brief to “make it iconic”.

    It's not like designers don't shoot for the highest echelon, it's not like we're not aiming to be 'iconic', but 'iconic' isn't reached through design alone. Do they think Dark Side of the Moon's cover would have been iconic if the album wasn't amazing? Same for Unknown Pleasures?

    I believe in the power of design but like one of my favourite bands spout, good frames don't save bad paintings, and great design doesn't make an album of by-the-numbers floppy haired indie pop iconic if the music is shite.

    For the record, I think this album is fantastic, I'm just venting about clients that blame the bombing of their album on design choices.

    Ok, going back into shell now.

  6. P.s. I also think this design is rather special.

  7. Always good to vent and a good call. Asking for an iconic album cover is like asking for a hit song or a viral video.

    Why dont they just ask “make us the best damn cover you can do” or” make something you'll be proud to show off” that might be a better way to say it. hehe album designs become iconic due to their place in history. They first need to start out as “interesting”

  8. …or the old classic “We want this to be the best damn cover you can do, but it MUST include this crappy biro drawing of an eye that our bass player’s boyfriend did when he took mescaline”.

  9. hahah i've heard many stories like this

  10. LOL. Yes, in the past (not with Trans), I've been told to make the best album cover ever!, etc. I've also heard: “I don't want to tell you what to do, but could you do this and this and add that…”. I guess it's the nature of the beast. I feel that my job is to represent the musicians. In the end it's their music and ultimately about them and not me.

    For the record, after working on Trans. for some time, the word “iconic” became a funny buzz word that we'd laugh at. The term “iconic” and all that wasn't lost on us. There is something oxymoronic about “making it iconic”.

    I almost forgot about the coincidence with that SFK album. None of us knew about it until everything was finalized and almost to print. I remember discussions to change the cover and start all over. I don't think anyone wanted to offend SFK. In the end, the two covers were different enough to be seen as a neat coincidence.

  11. i think it speaks to the strength and integrity of the band – i don't think they were necessarily another one of these clients – they actually had a sense of what this record would do and become, and wanted art work to match it. sometimes we designers are a bit sensitive.

  12. Amazing job.
    Wonder if Adde could do one for my “Coming Soon” CD.
    Congratulations

  13. The artwork is beautiful, it fits the positive, chilled out music perfectly. Such a classy band.

  14. The artwork is beautiful, it fits the positive, chilled out music perfectly. Such a classy band.

  15. i was certain for years that this image was inspired by 'the secret of NIMH”, pretty surprised it aint…

  16. I agree, I definitely thought of Secrets of NIMH when I saw this cover. It’s the exact same image. I don’t see how it couldn’t have been inspired by that.

  17. I’m glad to read others thought of the Secrets of NIMH when seeing this cover.

  18.  Agreed – I was sure that The Secret of NIMH was the inspiration. Im not sure whether to be dissapointed that it isnt or impressed by the originality.

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