Studio Visit: Jacob Escobedo

The Adult Swim designer on creating album art for Broken Bells, The Shins and more

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The helmet-clad, naked woman gracing the covers of Broken Bells‘ new album and previously released single are a reflection of the vibrant psychedelic visions of Atlanta-based artist Jacob Escobedo. Released today, the highly anticipated album, After the Disco, showcases the collaborative sounds of Brian Burton—better known as Danger Mouse—and The Shins frontman James Mercer. After creating the artwork for the duo’s eponymous 2010 album and several years of working on projects with both musicians independently, Escobedo found himself in the enviable position of sitting in the room while Burton and Mercer laid down some of the tracks for …Disco, and even found one of his personal paintings featured at the beginning of the video for “Holding On For Life.”


But album art is just one of the mediums Escobedo spends his days conceiving. He also creates imagery for a multitude of projects, including science fiction-themed illustrations for the pages of The New Yorker. As the VP and Head of Design at Cartoon Network and Adult Swim‘s Creative Group, he’s been responsible for often outlandish and experimental marketing experiences—including an obstacle course of slides, swings and trampolines which brought the show Adventure Time to real life. During Comic-Con, he transformed San Diego’s The New Children’s Museum into an interactive experience, which allowed visitors to step inside Regular Show. Recently Escobedo also completed work on a Broken Bells jukebox to coincide with the launch of After the Disco.

With album art for Vampire Weekend, The Shins and Danger Mouse projects, Escobedo’s passion for music is exhibited in the visions he creates. His animal drawings reflect an interest in the natural world, while the colorful mind-bending images expose his love for science fiction. Escobedo shares with Cool Hunting some insights into his process, a peek into his studio and thoughts on working with Broken Bells.


How did your relationship with Broken Bells come about?

It’s a long, long history. I met Danger Mouse—I guess we can call him Brian Burton—I met Brian in about 2004 right after he did The Grey Album. Everybody at Adult Swim was really obsessed with The Grey Album because Brian had done it illegally and released it online. It was just this fascinating thing, combining these two really amazing albums making something even better out of it. We had been playing it at the office quite a bit. We were throwing our first Upfront party that year and were trying to figure out who we were going to hire to DJ the event. We called up Brian to come play the event and at the time he was teaming up with MF DOOM to do a concept album called DANGERDOOM. All of the songs were loosely inspired by Adult Swim shows. It was a perfect match. I met him that night at the first Upfront party and he seemed like a really nice guy. We talked a little bit and decided to do his album cover for DANGERDOOM. That’s where we started working together. After that, he has been coming back to me over the years for his different projects. We have worked on at least five albums together. When Broken Bells happened, he reached out to me for their first album.

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What is your process for developing the imagery for an album? Where do you start? How many incarnations do you go through?

Every album is a different animal. With Broken Bells, James and Brian are very opinionated—as far as visuals go—which is always great. With After the Disco, I was in LA and was able to go over to Brian’s house and listen to the album as they were recording it. It was even before they had recorded the lyrics. So imagine, Brian is on one side of the couch messing with the beats and the tone and James is on the other side of the couch kind of harmonizing with his own voice. It was a very surreal scenario for me, but it was awesome. They sat down with me and started talking about visuals at that point. We were looking at an Egon Schiele book. So we were rifling through these books and he does amazing drawings of female nudes. That kind of just kicked everything off. I went back and on the plane I was drawing sketches of this woman who was lost in space. It’s this nude woman lying on a cliff with a helmet on. Soon after that James sent me an old science fiction book cover. It kind of took off from there.


How much does the overall impression of the album or specific track influence the art?

With all albums I have to sit down and take them in as a whole. With different projects like the last Shins album, the song “Port of Morrow” stuck out to me. It is a dark haunting song about mortality, so I ended up going down that path with that cover. With this one specifically, there are a lot of love songs and longing. The first track is about a woman who is longing for a relationship.

What is your favorite Broken Bells song?

It’s “Meyrin Fields.” It’s this spacey kind of large sounding song. There is looming darkness about it that I really like. The lyric in it that they sing over and over—“It’s coming / Wait for it”—it sounds like something ominous is coming. That one really sticks out to me.


Considering all of the work you do creating visuals for bands, how do you feel that process influences your work at Adult Swim and Creative Group? Do you feel there is a crossover or that it has changed your other work?

Definitely. When I am working on all of these projects, it is all one thing to me. Whether I am creating a DVD cover for Adventure Time, or conceptualizing strange rooms for the Adult Swim Fun House, or painting a psychedelic background for an album, it’s all coming from the same space in my head. It all shares the same sensibilities.

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Do you see a lot of live concerts? Are there dream musicians or bands you’d like to work with?

Oh yeah, I really like new New Wave. I have been listening a lot to Black Marble and John Maus. For some reason those two artists are very visual in my head. I would love to make something with them. I do see music, I go out and see bands play. I guess I am getting old. I have four kids now. I am not seeing as much as I used to, but I do like to see shows.

Do your kids like to go to shows with you?

Yes, in fact I took my 12-year-old daughter to her first show. It was The Shins on their last tour, Port of Morrow. It was a pretty cool experience because while we were standing in line, the T-shirts I had drawn were there and I bought one for her. Then I got to take her backstage and meet the band. She was really stoked about it.

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What sparks your ideas? What feeds you creatively?

I am really drawn to natural things. I’ve got a lot of natural things that I collect. I am really interested in science, space and formations of coral and rocks. Natural things inform some of the stuff that I am doing. I love going to thrift stores and finding objects and old things. My house is full of books. I collect a lot of science fiction books for their covers. I am interested in different types of artists. One of my favorite artists, both my wife and I share this, is Neo Rauch. He’s this painter that does these very surreal landscapes that are incredible.


What other projects are you working on now?

For Adult Swim we are working on this really cool planetarium that’s going to be traveling. It’s this geodesic dome that we are going to be projecting content on. The shape of the dome is going to be Meatwad from Aqua Teen Hunger Force. We are also finishing up the Adult Swim Fun House, which is a ridiculous choose your own adventure castle. It’s sort of this maze of rooms. You interact with different characters from the shows. You choose the different doors that you go through. There are three exists—one of which is a karaoke cage that you get locked up and have to perform in front of a live audience. One is a giant inflatable slide. One is a birth canal that you’re birthed out into a live audience between two giant inflatable legs onto a hospital bed. This magical bizarre thing is going to be touring soon. I also just finished up designing a jukebox for the Broken Bells new album. I think they are premiering it at the party where the album drops. That’s been pretty cool.


After the Disco by Broken Bells is available today, 4 January 2014, on iTunes as well as Amazon.

Album art images courtesy of Jacob Escobedo, studio images courtesy of Brian Smith