Undercover: Small Black

Josh Hayden Kolenik on the cover of Limits of Desire

Jun 21, 2013 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


Undercover is our new recurring series where we talk to bands about the genesis of one of their album covers. Here we talk to Small Black's Josh Hayden Kolenik about the cover of Limits of Desire.

It's a striking and uncomfortable photo: a nude man and woman embrace on a ladder, set up by the side of a swamp. Below them lurks an alligator, seemingly lying in wait. Created by Scarlett Hooft Graafland, the image graces the cover of Small Black's second album, Limits of Desire (out now via Jagjaguwar). We spoke to Small Black frontman Josh Hayden Kolenik about his motivations behind using the image. 

Laura Studarus (Under the Radar): How did you decide to use this image?

Josh Hayden Kolenik: The photographer Scarlett Hooft Graafland, I got turned on to her work from this German art blog that I like to check. I reached out to her because we all love that image and all thought it was beautiful. It sums up a lot of things we were talking about with this record. I just reached out to her via her gallery in Amsterdam. She really liked the band and let us use the image for the album.

I would also say that it was something that locked the title in. We had a couple of working titles, and when I saw the image it was like, "That's it! That fits with this title." We had that image for a really long time. Since last June. We had the image when the record was 50 percent done. I think considering it was part of the finishing process and something that we thought about; it was a big part of the album concept in the end.

It combines everything that I'm scared of: public nudity, heights, and animals with sharp teeth.

[Laughs] Yeah. That's her on the ladder up there as well. So it's a self-portrait. She's putting herself in that situation. She travels all over the world. She was just in Madagascar. She did some shooting in Bolivia. She's done a lot of stuff in Iceland. She does these colored igloo photos that are amazing.

 Are you attracted to audacity in art? I imagine her getting that image had to take some courage.

 She's always putting herself in some crazy situation. I admire that, because you're trying to find something that's beyond herself and create something that no one has ever seen before. The pursuit of that is similar to what you're trying to do in a song. I admire the boldness for sure. We thought it was bold from the get-go. We were dead set on getting it as the cover.

Were there any other images in the running?

There was one other bid from an artist named Anthony McCall, which I love. He's a British guy. He does these really intense light sculptures that are three-dimensional. We're thinking about reaching out to him. But this was the first person we reached out to.

Was there any concern that the image could be labeled NSFW? Or that people might not get the intent behind it?

It's OK. You have to do what you like. You can't consider people too much. Otherwise you're going to make some middle of the road crap. I didn't think about it at all. It's easy to make a safe gesture. We wanted to make something that was a little more interesting.

It's funny how this image seems like it could be meant for shock value. But to hear the way that you describe it, it really does tie into the overall theme of the album.

Yeah, it's major part. If you see the rest of her work, it's very clear that shock value is not what she's going for. Her work is very subtle and beautiful. This is just an image that she felt really strongly about. I don't want to put words in her mouth. I don't know the intent of the photo and I don't really want to know. It's just a situation that she felt like she had to put on film. That it had to exist in her work.

(www.small-black.com)

(www.scarletthooftgraafland.nl)



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