When artist Gary Baseman was asked to collaborate on the album cover art for the band Nightmare and the Cat, he did more than art direct the band’s photo shoot, captured within his interactive museum exhibition “The Door is Always Open” at the Skirball Cultural Center. In fact, since Baseman met the band in 2010, they have been part of each other’s work in a multitude of ways. Baseman has shared his world of magical characters (often cats) with the band for much more than cover art. On several occasions Baseman has also performed live on stage with the band, known for their raucous, theatrical and soulful songs.
Now with the album launch on 22 July 2014, Baseman has helped the band create both the cover art—showing brothers Django and Sam Stewart posing with one of Baseman’s iconic sheet-clad ghosts in “The Door Is Always Open” bedroom—as well as drawn an original image for each of the 11 tracks. The final song, “Breaking Down the Walls,” echoes the name of one of Baseman’s shows, “Walking through Walls,” illustrating how the band and the artist often explore common themes in their work. Baseman’s imagery permeates all aspects of the visual storytelling of the band. At each show, Spike Phillips’ drum set prominently sports their very own Nightmare black cat and hand-painted details by Baseman.
They played me one song and pow!—I began drawing.
Cool Hunting spoke with Baseman, who was in Taiwan celebrating the installation of “The Door Is Always Open” at MOCA Taipei. He remembers being at a party in 2010 and dancing with band member Claire Acey, while he was dressed in a costume of his ChouChou character. “When Sam and Django decided to form a band and had only a handful of songs, we met, and it was love at first sight,” said Baseman. “They played me one song and pow!—I began drawing. I still have the videotape of that event.” Baseman reveals that an initial attraction was the band’s name, “Then I loved Sam and Django’s poetic lyrics, and their unique sound. We just have special chemistry. I admire their drive and playfulness. They are family to me.”
Baseman created unique drawings for every track found on the new album and each will be used in many other ways during the course of the album’s promotional tour. “Nothing makes me happier, hanging with the band, as they play,” shares Baseman. “They transport me into my dream reality.”
In “Alvarado” angels and little monsters surround LA’s city hall building. For “Be Your Own God” Baseman shows a gathering of his own Secret Society spirit figures including a one-eyed Veritas. Some drawings offer more literal interpretations like a dark bird for “Blackbird Smile” and little creature smashing a wall surrounded by skulls and topped with a dunce capped character for “Breaking Down the Wall.” A cute girl with snake filled hair and scorpion body traps a skeleton in her claws for “Desert Heir.” Baseman fills the images with symbols and metaphors that reveal the many ways the songs affected him emotionally.
I love to listen to the music live, paint spontaneously with the band as if I was an instrument on stage, and let an audience witness a new work of art.
When discussing the connection between the world of visual art and music, Baseman cites inspiration from Warhol’s relationship with the Velvet Underground. “I always joking that I want to be the first rockstar who doesn’t sing or play an instrument, but not in a dishonest way, like Milli Vanilli. My instrument is the brushes,” explains Baseman. “And I love to listen to the music live, paint spontaneously with the band as if I was an instrument on stage, and let an audience witness a new work of art.”
The album cover shoot, helmed by Sterling Taylor, connected many layers of the Baseman and Nightmare and the Cat collaborations. “The album is called Simple. There’s also a track called ‘Simple,’ which is all about family dynamics [and] exposes a lot of personal aspects,” shares Django Stewart. “Gary’s retrospective in LA happened to be a huge replica of his childhood home with his art displayed in it. It seemed like it was kismet. Both our works were completed around the same time and had similar themes.”
For a band to experience such dedication by a visual artist is rare. “He has always believed in us and really been there for us,” says Django. “He says, ‘Be fearless, you guys are amazing.’ It really makes us go for it!”
Simple by Nightmare and the Cat will be released on 22 July 2014.
Gary Baseman’s show “The Door is Always Open” is currently on view at MOCA Taipei through 24 August.
Art images courtesy of Gary Baseman, photography courtesy of Sterling Taylor