Thursday, October 13, 2011

Dust-to-Digital designer Susan Archie discusses a few of her favorite things

Posted By on Thu, Oct 13, 2011 at 6:15 AM

This week’s CL's cover story, "Soul Searchers," traces Atlanta-based archival label Dust-to-Digital Records' journey from its beginnings to it's latest offering, Your Past Comes Back to Haunt You, a five-disc collection that unearths folk-blues innovator John Fahey's earliest recordings.

The set’s designer Susan Archie disccussed five of her favorite projects from the past decade.

Tell me about a few releases that best represent your work as a designer.

Charley Patton
Screamin' and Hollerin' the Blues: The Worlds of Charley Patton
(Revenant Records)

The most intense work product, a professional roller coaster. A solid year of work culminating in a press-check in L.A. to make a thing unlike any other before it. I was very excited and confident that I had "made it" in the business. There was a lot of turmoil, Fahey (Revenant co-owner and head producer of project) died during the spring, then when I got to L.A. in August, the shop had done everything wrong. I had to prove it was them, not me, threaten legal action, etc. — I had a "mini" nervous breakdown. Then 9/11 happened which drove our schedule even further back. Then a Grammy nod and the surreal experience of a Grammy win — walking up to accept on stage at Madison Square Garden. Surreal as in having Tony Bennett and then Bootsy Collins give ME the thumbs up.

Captain Beefheart
Grow Fins - Rarities 1965-1982
(Revenant Records)

This was my most fun work. Jeff Hunt (of Table of the Elements) chose colors and I played 'coloring book' with an abundance of Beefheart images from all kinds of people. Some worked, some didn't, but again, it was a piece like no other. We did a "multi-media" disc with films, which was a big deal 13 years ago. I was inspired by the art, cult and insanity of Don Van Vliet. This was my first CMYK job, all previous work had been spot color.

Goodbye, Babylon
Gospel Recordings (1902-1960)

This (not Patton) was the actual game changer. I had no idea when we started that it would become a "landmark" piece. Lance had a vision of what he wanted and I was able to deliver solid designs and concepts to support that vision. I lacked the expertise to do exactly what he wanted with the illustrations, but I made my best effort. I was really inspired by the material, and still think this is the best set of music on which I've worked, and it continues to have a life of its own. When a GB song comes up on my iTunes shuffle I get all melancholy — those were the days when it was all possible. At the Grammys, we lost to Stefan Sagmeister's Talking Heads 3 CD wide book. No one is still talking about that set.

Rhys Chatham
An Angel Moves Too Fast To See
(Table of the Elements)

Rhys was a local art god when I lived in NYC in the ’80s. His influence was all over the bands/music/dance I was interested in — Sonic Youth, Z'ev, Glenn Branca, Hugo Largo. I didn't know anything about LaMonte Young and the minimalists, but I absolutely love overtones and dissonance and so I lived this scene as an audience member. He had a great portfolio of photographs and Jeff [Hunt] chose a great palette of silver, blue and black. This is a stunning box and I thought it would be my ticket in to New York cool / the next level.

People Take Warning
Murder Ballads & Disaster Songs. 1913—1938

(Tompkins Square)

This is pretty much my baby and it was a hit. The producer Chris King provided the brilliant cover painting of his dream of the sinking Titanic and these horrific photo panoramas of early 20th Century destruction and I went from there. My opportunity to work with King, another young gun in the 'old-time' genre, and an upstart label Tompkins Square. Chris and I have gone on to work together very well as storytellers, we have the same sensibilities. I've gone on to do quite a few pieces for TSQ as well.

Give me a quick run down of your Grammy nods and wins.

Patton 2003 — Win! Best Historial Album
Babylon 2005 — Nominated, but lost to Talking Heads.
Albert Ayler 2006 — Nominated (with Noel Waggener). Lost to Johnny Cash.
Fonotone box 2007 Nominated (with Henry Owings). Lost to Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Simply calling what you've done with these releases "graphic design" sells your work short, especially since you take the music to a third dimension.

These pieces are histories, they tell a story. That is what I'm best at. I'm not particularly good at creative: logos and illustration, but I am a damned good storyteller. I interpret what I'm given, try to give it the most impact, give it a place and context. I like to think of it as documentary making in print.

Also, I grew up in the ’60s/’70s when album art was an art form. I remember sitting with albums and examining everything while listening to the music. It was a great escape and I work hard to recreate that experience of discovery.

How does the music of each project influences your approach to the object you are creating?

I have learned so much from the music. I have always been as much about the literal/story/poetry as I have about the music, so hearing and learning the roots of music from "slavery time" gospel and field hollers colliding with English "story-telling" ballads to make blues which then made R&B and rock and now rap and hip-hop. It's all a flow.

Obviously I try to make the fonts and feel match the period. I have an art degree from Florida State and have studied a lot of art history, but I am self-trained as a designer, so I definitely try to let the music speak to me to do my best to convey the feel. I'm not the best designer, but I do try my hardest to convey the experience of art and understanding.

What's next for World of AnArchie?

"Game is the same, gotta buy another level." Luckily, there are still some people who want to have and hold something real in their hands, so I will keep looking for those opportunities. I have a friend/colleague coming in from NYC this weekend to start working on an e-pub strategy for art and music. I am also working with a friend on some web development projects for small businesses and universities, aptly called Take2Digital, since it's the second time around for both of us in a small business venture.

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