But Cory counters with another perspective almost immediately.
“The sirens lure seamen to shore to capture them, but we did the opposite with this. Anderson lured the sirens with his music.”
As with a lot of collaborative art projects the finished product isn’t anything like what you imagined when you started. The original representation for this maestro of California’s “Surf-R-n-B” was almost more literal.
“The original image was Anderson carrying a girl out of the water,” Cory reveals. “So on the soundstage we wet him down and wet her down. He’s carrying this girl and we send [the image] to Anderson. He’s in Canada on a bus and he’s like ‘Oh my God, fam, I can’t take any more L’s. They’re gonna laugh at me carrying this girl.’ And we were like ‘Yeah dude, you kind of look like Brian McKnight.’ And he was like ‘I look like a 30-year-old R&B artist.’ And we were like ‘You ARE a 30-year-old R&B artist.’”
With their main idea vetoed the team had to find an alternative.
“The one shot that made the cover, that’s a test shot. It was shot on a white backdrop knowing we were going to add things. That wasn’t even THE shot. After I got the download of all the photos that day we only had one picture. I go ‘Eric, where is the rest of it?’ He said that’s the test shot, we don’t have nothing else.”
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But it was enough to carry through their vision of Wolfgang Amadeus meets Prince Namor, with a whole host of cultural signifiers plucked from shore and tossed in like a salad at Chop’t. What should be a West Coast sunset is actually a New Jersey sunrise from a postcard. The sun wasn’t even in the original version, but was added to create a fire and ice contrast between the sky and water. A black surfer from the Venice album cover is ported over for seeming continuity, but some other images are just beautifully random.
“There is stuff we hide in the artwork. The classic car comes from him having a lyric about a visionary Chevy,” says Cory who pieced together the title font himself and painted it in seafoam green. “Everything has meaning and purpose — him being under water is relevant to the song “The Waters” — but there is also some weird shit we throw in there like the orca [killer whale]. I’m not gonna bullshit you, we just thought that would look cool.”
Yet, make no mistake that Anderson .Paak and his layered and complex style is still present in even the seemingly chaotic outcome.
“We wanted it to be retro and have this classic 1970s rock record feel,” says Dewey. The London art firm Hypgnosis, who designed artwork for 191 album covers including Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon were a big inspiration. “We wanted this to be a coveted item for collectors to be able to look at for a long period of time and rediscover elements in it over time. In my Photoshop [project] there’s 200 layers of different waves. It almost looks like a photograph, but it’s such a carefully constructed collage. And it’s so tight because Cory had me go back into it so many times. You can really pick it apart for a long time. Just like the music is very deep, the artwork is just as deep and there’s just as much effort and work that goes into it. It’s also open to interpretation like any other great work of art.”
“There’s a big cruise ship and then this guy is in a rowboat trying to get to the cruise ship. That was what was going on with Anderson,” Cory adds. “He’s not out here floating, but trying to get to something on his own, to the cruise ship, in a much better place. There’s definitely a struggle to Anderson’s career to get to where he got. His work and the layers he has helped inspire us to create all of these elements.”
Two years later the cover art for Malibu has garnered nearly as much attention as the music, and that was the point. A quick perusal of album covers by Migos (Culture) and Gucci Mane (Everybody Lookin’) and you can see some influence there. Which begs the question, is cover art for albums finally being given the attention it deserves again?
“I think there is a resurgence in the interest in cover art and people are really attracted to good artwork,” says Dewey. “All of Kendrick’s [artwork] is really thought out. I’m friends with a lot of album cover designers and the importance is increasing with every release. When Future drops something with an album cover that is stock photography, it’s going to get criticized.”
“Historically album covers were designed to be the eye catcher,” says Cory. “That’s what got people to buy the record in the store. Now it works in the opposite way. If they’re already into somebody, they want to explore them further. People wanna know why was that [in there]. It also helps lay the playing field for merchandise. All of our visuals we do, that’s all of his stage visuals too. Everything that is projected behind him on stage is the album art, single art. It gets many uses and it’s really important today. It’s a complimentary element to the music.”
Check out some of the B-sides and rare edits from Anderson .Paak’s Malibu from Dewey Saunders and Cory Gomberg in the slideshow below:
Jerry Barrow is the founder of NODFACTOR and a veteran journalist with stints at The Source, Scratch Magazine and The Urban Daily. Follow his work (and ours!) on Twitter @JLBarrow.
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