Decibel's coverage of the debut LP from Richmond, Virginia dark thrash stalwarts Iron Reagan has been fairly comprehensive -- last month Chris premiered a stand-out track off Worse Than Dead in this space and there is a short profile of the band in the print issue on stands now -- but one aspect of the album we haven't quite delved into is the uber-sick cover artwork created by Magic Bullet Records proprietor/Highness guitarist Brent Eyestone, a true punk rock renaissance man who graciously agreed to walk us through the inspirations and processes that led to this slab of Visual Violence... Oddly enough, in spite of 86 mutual friends (by Facebook's estimation), probably dozens of the same shows, and less than 50 miles from my doorstep to his here in Virginia, Tony Foresta (Municipal Waste, Iron Reagan) and I actually didn't even meet each other until about three years ago -- out in Indianapolis of all places. Later that summer, I was dating one of his friends back in Richmond and we got the chance to hang out quite a bit. I quickly learned how passionate he was about specific kinds of music and it was very easy to hit it off and bond over a lot of mutual bands and records that had accumulated in both of our collections for the better part of three decades. Toss in a bunch of fun hangs out in nature with grills and beverages during those summer months, and I had come to appreciate Tony's friendship and kindness quite a bit.
Fast forward about year or so later: Ryan [Parrish] quits Darkest Hour and immediately starts new bands with Tony -- Iron Reagan -- and myself -- Highness, Bleach Everything. Everything starts making sense and getting even more incestuous accordingly, with Iron Reagan also nabbing fellow Darkest Hour-bailer Paul Burnette and Phil Hall from Municipal Waste. All of a sudden we're all in these new bands and super excited about what's happening.
Iron Reagan gets off to the fastest start, having a demo out within what felt like weeks of the first practice. It's completely great and, naturally, I let both Ryan and Tony know how much I appreciated the sounds they were making with Iron Reagan.
Around the same time, I was releasing a slew of new records on Magic Bullet. This brings us to the first album that influenced the decision-making behind the Worse Than Dead cover:
1. BIG CHINA & LITTLE TROUBLE Lo-Panning LP (Magic Bullet Records)
This record came out in April of 2011. Musically, it's myself and my friend Mike Haley making super dark soundtrack music inspired by our love for bad/great horror movies. Since this one was called Lo-Panning, I decided to get literal with the drawing and make my own rendering of the iconic scene where David Lo-Pan works his magic in the film Big Trouble in Little China.
To make it extra cool, I decided to utilize silkscreen printing when it came time to make the jackets. Every color is a spot color and I employed a metallic gold in the scheme to lend texture over the natural chipboard stock I had selected for the job. Shortly before sending it out, I made a mockup of the cover and posted it on Facebook to let friends know it was coming up.
Tony was on tour at the time and immediately commented on how much he absolutely loved the art. From there, he initiated a discussion about having me draw the cover for the Iron Reagan full-length they were writing. Normally I don't have time to draw for releases on other labels -- I didn't know at the time that it would end up on Magic Bullet and A389 -- but because Tony was always such a kind and cool person to me, it really didn't take any arm-twisting at all before I had gotten started with some sketches. I'm always happy to work with nice people that keep it fun and interesting.
DEAD KENNEDYS Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death LP w/Fuck Facts supplement (Alternative Tentacles)
Because of Iron Reagan's sound and a lot of Tony and my previous discussions about the music we grew up on, it was super easy to immediately start thinking back to Dead Kennedys records. As kids, we'd spend hours, if not days, poring over Winston Smith's totally insane artwork and collages for the band. There was always something politically menacing about what he was doing and it's resonated on and on throughout the years.
In my copy of this record, there was not only the regular insert, but also a copy of Fuck Facts, which is a gigantic, newspaper-size publication featuring Smith's collage work. If memory serves, it was originally a supplement to the Bedtime For Democracy LP, but my pre-pubescent self had slipped it into my copy of Convenience at the record store since I already had Bedtime on tape. Pretty sure the statute of limitations long expired on that infraction.
Tony had mentioned wanting Reagan's face featured on the cover. Early drafts had involved Reagan's "real" face coming out of a Reagan mask and some other concepts, but as we went along, a lot of the 80's topical references and straight up weapons started making their way into my sketches. That's where the Fuck Facts themes began permeating the piece.
3. MDC Multi-Death Corporations (Crass Records)
At one point after drawing so many weapons and war-like imagery, I said to Tony, "man, I think I'm going to make this look like an MDC record." I had this 7" in mind because it also featured war imagery and obviously came from the same era I wanted to tap in via the DK/Winston Smith influence. MDC is another band we both love, so it was like asking someone "hey, do you like dessert?"
I began playing around with Reagan's head spewing out weaponry inside of a circle and even mimicked the Crass lettering for the band name. Immediately, we both felt it was too literal of a nod and far more important to put out a more original presentation. There's seriously too much "tribute" or "parody" artwork completely plaguing hardcore records these days. Yeah bro, I totally "get" that you changed that sheep from "Out of Step" a little... what a statement. I don't think we wanted to be a part of that trend or problem, so I knew I was going to have to draw my ass off all the way through.
4. HIRAX Raging Violence (Metal Blade Records)
When I was 8, I was already reading Pus•Zone in Thrasher and most of my early record purchases were on Pushead's label at the time, Pusmort Records (and later, Bacteria Sour). I was fluent in his language and visual style before I knew my multiplication tables in school. I loved what he was doing and would often purchase records unheard...just because Pushead did the cover.
When it comes to illustration, I've noticed that I naturally/instinctively see things through a similar lens. Everything's always a bit expressive and usually violent. Or the result of violence. I don't ever mean for that to happen and it's not a conscious thought while drawing or planning. It's just what comes out when I start putting pen to paper.
What's interesting to me -- in hindsight -- with this cover is how both Reagan's eyes in my illustration and the egg's eyes on the Hirax illustration both have a super-expressive squint going on. I didn't reference Raging Violence directly in the illustration process of Worse Than Dead, but in sifting through Pushead-drawn covers for this article, it's pretty obvious to me that the former was pumping strong in my subconscious throughout every step.
5. V/A Flex Your Head compilation LP (Dischord Records - 2010 color scheme)
The last thing to figure out was a color scheme. There was talk early on of going purely black and white -- a la that MDC 7" and 10,000 other amazing punk and hardcore records we love. Somewhere around the MDC-style layout ideas, I had been plugging solid silvers and reds behind everything I was doing...just to see how it looked. Unintentionally, one of the red variations -- with the Crass-style letters -- ended up having a feel similar to Vitamin X's Down the Drain. We both wanted to avoid that -- see the original MDC-eqsue concerns -- but we liked the idea of the color red finding its way into the mix.
In the end, we got rid of any overt Crass, MDC, Vitamin X, etc. elements and went with a solid red background to help make the black and white elements really pop. And while the 2010 version of Flex Your Head doesn't offer much in the way of stunning artwork or anything, it was sitting on my desk at the right time and reminded me of something important with hardcore records: Primary colors just flat out work.