NSFW: Couch Slut's Cover Conundrum

Couch Slut Band Photo Cover Conundrum

We're not at all shocked that a band called Couch Slut had trouble printing the artwork to their new album My Life As A Woman. And that's before we even saw the image -- a nothing-is-hidden illustration of felicitous fellatio too racy for ribald 70s tome The Joy Of Sex (check it out on their Bandcamp page). We've decided not to print it here, well, because we don't want our Mom to see the image with our name right on top. Up next: we suggest the band do a companion album called My Life As A Man, which shows a dude sitting on a recliner by himself playing Assassin's Creed. Trying to get the cover printed in North America was quite an ordeal as Handshake label head David Hall recounts. We're also premiering the new Couch Slut video for "Lust Chamber." Watch it and then check out Hall's story.

Photo credit: Stefan Raduta


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I first heard Couch Slut close to a year ago. My friend Doug Moore of the band Pyrrhon (it’s his fault!) sent me a link and said “I think you would dig this.” And I did. I instantly fell in love with what I heard and wanted to hear more and was excited about the chance of working with the band on my label. I gradually heard the demos, then rough mixes of what would become My Life As A Woman – the first album/ep/whatever by New York City’s Couch Slut.

Cut to Memorial Day Weekend, 2014, Maryland Deathfest. I got the chance to meet Theo, the drummer of Couch Slut. We talked about the album and various plans and we got to the subject of cover art. “I’ve got this book of smut I picked up in Brazil, there’s a piece by a cool artist, it’s kind of like a woman’s face after giving a blowjob...”

A few weeks later, finally awakening from the post MDF haze, I could slightly recall a conversation about Couch Slut artwork. The word “smut” was really all I could really remember. I messaged Theo. “So what’s up with the cover artwork we talked about, can I see it?”

A few seconds later an email arrived. Oh. Okay. Smut. The image – the drawing - was of a woman, post fellatio. (I’m assuming post fellatio anyway, I guess a number of scenarios could be involved). The thought of unleashing this cover on the world struck me as kind of funny, especially given the title of the album.

Now, I’m not going to pretend to speak for the band or their logic for wanting to use this image, and the other images from the same artist that make up the design and artwork for the album. Personally, I think the drawing and design works. It’s a drawing of a woman giving a blowjob. You can make up your own “narrative” regarding the image, but on the surface, it’s a drawing of a sexual act, plain and simple. Is this something that should be on the cover of an album? Is it offensive? Is it inappropriate? Is it shocking for the sake of being shocking? I mean, yeah, I don’t think the album is appropriate or children to look at, but other than that, it is what it is.

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The first gleam of trouble came when it was time start the printing process. The decision and design process of the album art took a long time - like five months. There was a lot of discussion amongst the band as to whether or not to roll with the cover as it now appears. I don’t really know what those discussions were about or what was said or debated. It’s not really my business; it was something the band had to decide. I merely told them I’d run with whatever they decided.

The first email came from the record pressing and printing plant. This is the company I’ve used since I started the label and they’ve always treated me extremely well. My dude at the plant was upfront and honest about what he had to tell me. “The cover artwork is not gonna fly with our printer. I’ve seen stuff less graphic than this been turned down, so I could go through the motions and submit this, but I just know it is not gonna happen here.” Okay. Fair enough. At least he was upfront and honest. Plan B. I called a few other vinyl places and explained the situation and was told pretty much the same thing: not gonna happen. I thought it was weird, I mean, the image is ‘pornography’ but I’ve seen way worse and much more graphic shit on gore and brutal death metal albums and as far as I know that stuff gets made without so much as peep.

Okay, so no one in the USA, it seemed, was willing to print the cover. I’m Canadian, I live in Canada, we’re known for our liberal views on art, right? (Are we? I don’t know, actually – maybe not.)

I called a Canadian printing company and explained the situation. “Oh yeah, no problem. As long as it’s not racist, or depicting anything really horrible happening to children, we’ll do it.” Perfect. I typically print all my stuff in America because it’s waaaaaaaaay cheaper, most of my deliveries are in the states and so it’s easier and cheaper in terms of shipping, and honestly, Canada is just not that great a place to do business when it comes to anything artistic. But now it seemed my Canuck brethren would prove to be useful. I sent the file to the printer, gave the specifications, and waited for an invoice. A few weeks passed. Nothing. I called the company and left a message. Nothing. I emailed. I called back. I left messages all week before I finally decided the company had blown me off. I tried another company and the exact same thing happened. Super friendly and accommodating on the phone, but after I’d email the artwork all communication ceased.

Back to the USA. Freedom of Speech and capitalism and please just print these fucking covers! I called a big printing company I had used before and spoke with a rep. “Hi, I have to print some record jackets, and the artwork might be construed as being offensive to some, and I was hoping you could help me.” The rep laughed and then informed me that as long as the artwork wasn't depicting or promoting anything racist, they could do it. YES! I was super relieved and even though the cost was more than I was used to paying, at that point I just wanted to get the things done as the records were set for release in just over a month. I paid the hefty amount upfront and submitted the artwork. I let the band know we were good to go and happiness and relief abounded.

Well…

A week or so went by when I got the message. At least the company called me instead of ignoring me like the other places. Still, it was not good news. Though the parent company and its employees had accepted the job, the workers at the printing plant did want to work with the Couch Slut cover. And X Company promotes an environment of inclusion and respect of our workers’ decisions. I called the company and demanded to speak to the president. How is that these workers determine what you do and don’t print, I wanted to know. What kind of socialist nightmare were we dealing with? The WORKERS control the means of production? Goddamn. The company, to their credit, did come up with an alternative way to print the jackets with tabs and glue and feathers or something, that would enable them to print the record jackets “in house” and thus bypass Marx and Engels at the printing warehouse, but that did not appeal to me. If I ordered a record and on receipt saw some funky tab and glue shit instead of just a normal record jacket, I’d think some weird shit was going down.

I rescinded the job and went on to Plan F. I started cold calling printers. The band asked, via social media, if there were any printers that could handle the action. Lots of suggestions came in; they were a bust. It turns out that all, or most anyway, of the record printing plants in the USA use the same or one or two of the same, printers – they outsource the jackets to the cock-blocking Communists.

After weeks on the phone, massive amounts of emails and “let me get back to you, I’m pretty sure we can make this happen” promises that never amounted to squat, I came across a company that has taken on the job and promised to deliver. The job has to be printed overseas where either the workers don’t mind looking at a drawing of a blowjob or simply don’t care what the hell is put in front of them as long as their paychecks clear.

It’s been a real eye-opener in terms of the process required to print something deemed “offensive”, and it’s been trying for fans of the band and the band too. The record release show came and went without records. People that have paid for a vinyl copy over two months ago are still waiting. There hasn’t been, that I’ve seen anyway, any complaints about the artwork online, no one has really taken it to task or made a stink. The reception to the music has been amazing. I’d say next time we’ll just roll with something ‘non offensive’ but that probably won’t be a reality.

The last time I spoke with the band they informed me that for the next album, they’ve been talking with a great artist who specializes in “torture porn.” Czech Republic…start your engines.

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