If it’s escaped your radar, the new Cut Worms is something of a heart-worn gem — an album that’s rooted in the lonesome cowboy strain that infected the West Coast rock songwriters from Gene Clark to Michael Nesmith. There’s an earnest nature to the record that’s bittersweet but able to walk into the wind and wilds with determination. Now while most know Max Clarke for his songwriting he is, in fact, an accomplished visual artist as well and his works have graced Cut Worms covers in the past, including the sculpture from 2018’s Hollow Ground. For the latest release, he’s created a series of inspired illustrations that mark each single on Nobody Lives Here Anymore. I spoke with Max about the ideas behind this new series and some of the design inspiration that drives him and his work.
For this one he let another artist work on the cover itself, though he didn’t stray far from home. The cover for Nobody Lives Here Anymore “is a photograph that Caroline (my long time partner) took,” notes Clarke. “It is very painterly though and almost looks illustrated which I love.” Illustration plays no small part in the new album, with the single artwork having been designed to reflect the temperament of each song. The songs themselves were constructed from rough ideas rather than set demos and recorded with producer Matt Ross-Spang at Sam Phillips Studio. Using these as a framework, he layered lush orchestration around them until the filled out an 80-minute double LP that’s an exercise in its own confrontation of disposable consumer culture.
As key songs came into view, so came a new illustration — curios in their own way, totems that capture the spirit of the album like roadside tchotchkes, or as I’d mentioned like panels from the tarot. Clarke doesn’t deny the connection is intentional. “Yeah there’s certainly a nod to tarot cards in the illustrations for each song,” says Clarke. “Each one is a kind of cross between a tarot card and a comic panel. I admittedly don’t know a lot about tarot but I’ve always liked the drawings on them and I like the idea of these illustrations that represent some sort of archetypal aspects of the human soul…or something. Maybe fate has something to do with it, though I wasn’t really thinking in those terms. For years I’ve been really inspired by the work of an old friend from art school, Nick Drnaso, whose graphic novel and comics work is really compelling and kind of devastating in its frankness and clarity. I wanted the single art to have an effect like that. I don’t think I really came close… but maybe it’s having some other kind of effect.”
Curious, I’d asked Clarke if any other artists have been an influence, as its something that I’ve explored with designers in regard to what drives their impulses over the course of a portfolio of albums. Max singles out Dutch cartoonist and designer Joost Swarte. “I really like all the illustrators that come out of the Ligne Claire style pioneered by Belgian artist Hergé who’s famous for doing Tin Tin. There’s something really satisfying about the line quality to me.” Like the collectible works of Hergé, there’s something tangible about the new album, something that touches on Clarke’s vision of dispensing with the perceived disposable nature of modern music. As part and parcel of Nobody Lives Here Anymore the illustrations expand on the narrative.. The songs examine the lines in the face of the listener with a flip of a few of these drawings, maybe they outline a bit of the fate that dug ‘em in the first place.
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