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