Grammys judging SNZ's 'Perennial Favorites' by its cover
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From CNN Interactive Writer Jamie Allen
ATLANTA (CNN) -- It's a Grammys category in which the winners are announced before the television lights click on -- CD packaging.
The art, however, of creating a package design that will not only house a CD, but sell it to the eye of the beholder, cannot be underestimated. And it's an art that is getting more advanced every year.
"Companies are really paying more attention to how they are displaying their product," says Diane Theriot, the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences' Vice President of Awards. "When I look at a package I'm going, 'Wow, that's kinda cool.'"
Wednesday is the deadline for record companies to submit CD jacket designs for Grammy consideration. The final five nominees will be announced January 5.
One strong contender that has created a buzz in the industry, and at the same time reflects an impressive collaboration from several sources, is the Squirrel Nut Zippers "Perennial Favorites" multimedia package.
Finding a theme
While the updated adage, "You can't judge a CD by looking at its cover" might be true for some CDs, SNZ's cover hints at impressive design, and follows up with a creative theme that flows from the cover to the interactive portions of the CD.
The jacket was created by Chris Eselgroth, a graphic designer for Mammoth Records, and Lane Wurster, art director for the company. They both live in North Carolina near SNZ band members, and were able to bounce ideas off them.
The title and the theme of the package, in fact, were suggested by SNZ singer Katherine Whalen. "Perennial Favorites," while referring to the band's latest crop of songs, also hints at the other "perennial": On the cover, flowers sprout next to the band's name.
Inside, a lyric book is disguised as a sales booklet of flower seeds, and both the jacket and booklet come complete with old-fashioned sales prose: "A Product of Genuine Quality," for instance; or the description of the song "Trou Macacq": "Widely known as 'the monkey track.' Big Money Maker. Large handsome blossoms."
Wurster and Eselgroth say they researched old gardening almanacs to come up with the prose.
"We started talking that way because we were steeped in it," says Wurster.
'That rural feel'
The theme allows Wurster and Eselgroth to take the often mundane information associated with creating an album and deliver it in unique fashion.
Wurster and Eselgroth say their aim was to match the style of SNZ, a band whose music finds its roots in the early century sounds of calypso, jazz, swing, jive, and Dixieland.
"The way Chris and I thought of the Zippers all along was a southern speak-easy band, a back porch Dixieland kinda thing," says Wurster. "That rural feel, these catalogs fit into that idea."
"We wanted to give the feel of sort of a quality lasting product, something that will sit next to to the family bible," Eselgroth says.
Despite the old-fashioned feel of the latest SNZ product, the interactive portion of the CD is cutting-edge by industry standards.
The enhanced CD-ROM is the Sistine Chapel of Clay Walker, an Atlanta-based freelance multimedia designer who saw three years of work come to fruition with the release of "Perennial Favorites," and designer Jon Stemp. The interactive work on SNZ's previous release, "Hot,"was taken to the extreme in the current CD.
On top of the information alotted on "Hot" -- rare video clips of the band's performances, as well as lyrics, trivia and hidden links -- "Perennial Favorites" offers all new video clips for the latest batch of songs, video interviews, trivia and lyrics for each song, plus a book of over 300 pages of transcribed interviews with the band.
Fans can learn first-hand how Jimbo Mathus and Whalen started the SNZ sound simply by falling in love, or how drummer Chris Phillips disturbed the peace during the recording of the CD in tiny Pittsboro, North Carolina. For fans who want to learn more about SNZ, they won't find a better or more complete source.
"I'm thrilled with (the way it turned out)," says Walker. "I don't see how I could do better work. I got all the content in there that I wanted. I think it worked out real well. I think it's an extreme amount of information. I would challenge someone to put that much information in an enhanced CD."
'It came together really easily'
Walker's work caught the attention of Mammoth's Eselgroth and Wurster. Though they did not collaborate during the development of the CD package, the designs on the jacket and on the CD-ROM have the same early-century, art deco feel.
"I don't know if he can do something this good for any other band because he's such a fan and it shows," says Eselgroth. "We hope he gets a lot more work from this."
While there's no Grammy awarded for CD-ROM design because the medium is still developing, Walker believes it has enormous potential to promote a band. With SNZ, it helped bring the band to fans and spread the SNZ image of being a label-defying group.
"The Zippers seem to embody a lot of different notions of who they are," says Walker. "The CD-ROM captures that."
Meantime, Eselgroth and Wurster are hoping their designs catch the eye of the Recording Academy. It's their first entry into the Grammy nomination process.
"This is by far the strongest work (we've done). It came together really easily," says Eselgroth.
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