Community Content Spotlight: Live in Chicago '23 By Epicenter Records

Epicenter Records has produced what is surely the most detailed and unique take on the latest Official Bootlegger release: Live in Chicago ‘23.
For this community art spotlight, they take us behind the scenes for what goes into creating this 1960s-styled, charity-fundraising, venue-themed box set.

W.B.T.G. Slinger: Can you tell us a bit about the team behind this and how it comes together?

Mark: Part of my focus for Epicenter Records, and the larger Headwave Media brand, is centering artists and empowering them to execute their vision. Therefore a huge part of this project, and all future projects is ensuring that the art and design aspects are being thoughtfully and intentionally addressed.
I’ve been so lucky to work with Shan and Ezra on this – this is all of our first time working on a record pressing project, so there’s been a lot of self-education happening regarding the various steps of the manufacturing process and making sure that we’re equipped with the tools to ensure the final product is high-quality and matches our vision. It was really Shan’s art concept that kickstarted this whole project, and as the creative director of the project, they can speak better than anyone on what all went into bringing the design of this project together.

Shan: For the artwork, I really wanted to take inspiration from not only the color palette and vibe of a Morton Salt shaker, but also vintage psychedelic album covers and even the old syndicated Beatles cartoon from the 1960s. The limited color palette (light blue, yellow and white) and bold shapes create a whimsical, trippy universe in each illustration. I also took a ton of inspiration from each setlist to inform the concept and easter eggs for each individual night’s artwork.

My process starts with a rough sketch and a list of concepts. For example, for Night 1, I wrote things down such as: Trapdoor, Dragon (referencing Stu randomly saying ‘Dragon’ before playing Gaia), and of course The River/gator motif the band is so well known for. Rather than going straight for Jason Galea’s concepts and designs, I wanted to use them as inspiration with my own spin on things. I usually would do a ‘rough pass’ of the illustration with the three colors, followed by a tightened clean pass, which means the shapes are really clean and tight in the final, creating a very graphic look. Then, I would pass off the artwork for Ezra to add the final text.

As a Gizzard fan since 2014, this artistic endeavour of a project meant the world to me. Being able to follow them for the residency tours, where I met so many friends and fans along the way, was such a life changing experience. I feel like so much more than a Gizzard fan, I feel like a member of a very special community. Going to Chicago was a last minute decision for me, and I saw them play on my birthday on Night 3, creating an unforgettable memory. As a professional illustrator it was a blast to let loose and create something way outside my comfort zone, and have complete creative freedom over the concepts and designs.

Mark: Shan’s vision has been our guiding aesthetic, and Ezra’s eye for design has been vital in honing the layout and overall presentation of the packaging. Simply put, without them on the team, it wouldn’t look nearly as good as it does! Getting to be part of their process was quite insightful – I feel like I’ve come out of it with an improved design sense.

Ezra: This project was fun for me, because usually I’m both the illustrator and the designer! So it was super cool to come at this one from a different angle and riff on what Shan’s vision was. I think we have similar tastes as far as vintage design goes, for example the 60s Beatles cartoon. So it was a matter of understanding them and their art, and creating something that fell in line with that vision. To expand on the vintage inspiration, I dug into vintage package design, specifically the designs of Sainsbury’s store brand packaging from the 60s.

The way they use type specifically, it’s very restrained and yet I feel like it shines despite that. It was important to make sure Shan’s work wasn’t being overshadowed by the type, so those simple yet friendly sans-serifs really fit the bill.
The final design identity of the project became a mashup of 1960s cartoons and product packaging, which I think works well as a record, an homage to the history of the venue, and encapsulates the playful nature of a lot of King Gizzard’s music.

I’ve made a lot of just-for-fun Gizzard bootleg concepts for myself over the last several years as a fan, and it’s a bit surreal to work on one that will actually go to production! One of my favorite things is to show my appreciation for the things I love by making art about it, and I love how Gizzard is so encouraging of fan works. I think it creates a really strong community and a fanbase of remarkably friendly and creative people. It means a lot to be able to work with another artist like Shan, who I met at Red Rocks this past year, and create something about the band we love together!
And on a more technical level, it means a lot to be able to develop my design skills in this manner, with a team of people who are so supportive and creative! I think a lot of graphic design is about problem solving, and being the middleman between an idea and a final project is a really neat position to be in.

Dan Rzicznek: What is your relationship with vinyl as a medium?

Mark: I’ve always loved physical music formats. I collected CDs from the time I was very young, and for me the vinyl format and packaging is even more engaging. I love that the art is bigger, there’s often additional artwork, and the design possibilities for the wax itself are so expansive. Looking at what pressing artists like Wax Mage are doing gets me really excited about the possibilities for the future of the craft. I’d love to get my hands dirty doing pressing myself, immerse myself in an apprenticeship situation – it’s on the (very long) list of skills I aim to acquire. I also love the vinyl listening experience. It’s very intentional – carving out time in your day to stay in one place and listen to part or all of an album.
Overall, the vinyl manufacturing process, especially for a box set of this scale, is quite complex, so having a company like Digger’s Factory to manage most of that has simplified that aspect of the project and allowed us to focus on developing a thoughtfully crafted product with minimal capital investment and without the need for supply chain management. There are, of course, drawbacks – less control over the process, limitations in options for various aspects of the product, and less revenue. Some difficult decisions had to be made, particularly with regard to the splitting up monolithic tracks (The River) and smooth transitions (Hot Water/Hypertension) due to the imposed time restrictions per disc side, but I think this was a right choice for us as a team that’s feeling out the market and learning as we go.
After this project, after gaining a proper understanding of the basics of the processes, I’d like to bring the supply chain local to me, and maybe at some point bring it in-house – though that’s a long way off! I’m so glad that this is the first release that I’m working on. King Gizzard’s music is very special to me; I started listening to them when I had somewhat limited musical taste, and I feel like my taste has grown and expanded at a similar pace to their stylistic output. Being able to contribute to the community is extremely fulfilling to me, and I hope I can continue to do so for a long time to come.

Dan Rzicznek: Will you be pressing more Gizz, or have you considered other acts as well?

Mark: More Gizz for sure! And eventually we’ll support some other acts – there aren’t any immediate plans, but when the time is right that’s definitely on the road map.

W.B.T.G. Slinger: Can you explain about the charity you are supporting with this release?

Mark: We wanted to support a charity in the Chicago area – we knew that from the get-go. When I ran the charity raffle for the meetup connected to this show, the Greater Chicago Food Depository was suggested by a local. They provide such a vital service to the Chicago community – food insecurity can affect a broad range of people, it’s definitely a worthy cause and, in my mind, aligned with the King Gizzard ethos and so they will receive 25% of the profits.

Dan Rzicznek: Tell us more about the Headwave Brand. Do you have more raffles planned for 2024?

Mark: Headwave Media is my vehicle for artistic pursuits – there are so many places I can see it going, and right now I’m just letting the opportunities that present themselves guide me. I’m grateful to Echo for presenting me with the opportunity to organize several of the charity raffles on the residency tour – they were a bit of a shit show, but it gave me an opportunity to meet a lot of cool people that I probably otherwise wouldn’t have because I tend to stay in my shell in unfamiliar situations. I have so many improvements I want to make to the way the raffles are organized for the 2024 tour, but honestly haven’t started planning yet, I’ll definitely be doing a little run in the Northeast and do something big for the Gorge. You can also expect some surprises coming up surrounding this vinyl release once we’ve closed out the campaign ;)

Live In Chicago '23 by Epicenter Records is now available to pre-order at Diggers Factory with an expected ship date of January 2024. Each night is available separately, or all together as a box set, and The Garden Goblin as a 7' single. 25% of profit from all sales are donated to the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

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