John Dyer Baizley of Baroness on five life-changing album covers

“I could go on all day about Pink Floyd record covers,” says Baroness frontman/guitarist John Dyer Baizley. “I could go on all day about Neurosis record covers or Converge—Jacob Bannon is another great album cover artist.”
He really could. But we’re mean and we need five to compile an easily digestible list of cover art, all of which are of life-changing importance for Baizley. His artwork has graced albums by the likes of Kylesa, Skeletonwitch, Torche and Pig Destroyer, and now—fittingly seeing as he readily cites Pushead (Brian Schroeder) as an influence—Metallica t-shirts, too. Here is his list:

“I am not sure that I have a Top Five per se, but there are definitely records which from the visual aesthetic standpoint that have had a huge impact on my career, both in music and in art. Y’know, I’d have to say the first, the earliest memory I have of quote-unquote losing myself in an album cover was when I was very young. Just like everyone else in the original Baroness lineup, I grew up in a very small town in the country where there were no record stores dedicated to our tastes as young teenagers in search of heavy music. Naturally, we gravitated towards our parents’ record collections, and a friend of mine’s father had a huge record collection. I remember very vividly the first time I saw the first Black Sabbath record. That bizarre tinted vision of the girl in the woods had a profound effect on me because I didn’t understand it. It wasn’t like a tongue-in-cheek joke in the way that I was used to seeing record covers at the time. Y’know, it wasn’t Aerosmith Pump or something like that, where there’s two vehicles in the throes of passion. There was something very unobvious about it, and something that in my 11-year-old hands had some kind of mystique, some untenable qualities to it which mirrored themselves in the music. That was really my first entrance to the world of album art, and there lesson there being: The more obvious you are, the less engaging the record becomes on repeated listens—or repeated viewings. As I grew older my interests grew further and further into underground music and punk and hardcore.”

“The second hammer to the face moment for me was when I got the Black Flag My War album. Again, taken out of context, [the cover] almost doesn’t have anything to do with the record, but when paired with the music on the disc it seems to enrich the music, or seems to give the music a little bit more, a little bit of a broader life. I always loved the gut impact of the Black Flag covers, and of Raymond’s [Pettibon] art, which never encroached upon being obvious or literal. I find this is something that pops up again and again in my own work, which is hinting at the music, or responding to the music, rather than literally narrating something. That is definitely a favorite of mine.”

One of my favorite all-time covers by one of my least favorite bands is Yes Relayer, which is in so many ways better than the album itself. I am a self-professed huge Roger Dean fan. I think that he is a total maverick when it comes to marrying the visual with the sonic in a convincing, enriching and interesting way that never deletes from the music—it’s only an additive quality. So, Yes, the Relayer cover . . . I almost wish the music wasn’t there because it’s so good, and it maybe that’s the exception to the rule.

“Further and further down the wormhole I went, the more underground music that I became enamoured with and entrenched in. As a teenager, I was a fan of Metallica and I loved the Pushead stuff, but as I delved deeper into the world of mail order and the DIY punk underground, I found out that Pushead was much more than The Guy That Did Metallica T-Shirts. So there is no conversation about album art that I could have that didn’t include Pushead. Quite easily, my favorite work that he has done is any of the stuff that he has done for the Savannah, Georgia, band Damad; the seven-inch that he did for them, and especially the full-length Burning Cold . . . Just fantastic, fantastic art, that totally reached me as the angst-y, angry teenager that I was. It was something that reflected some of the ugliness and some of the beauty of the record itself, but furthermore from an artist and a draftsman’s perspective it is a beautiful cover. I often find myself emulating something of that style, and that sort of goes without saying but here I am saying it. Right, that’s four records . . . Just to round it off and pull myself out of the underground a little bit . . . ”

“One of my favorite records of all time, one of my favorite record covers of all time. It’s a totally crazy album cover and a totally crazy record. The two work hand in hand in such a unique and special way. I think it is another one of those pinnacle records for me. The record itself had a certain time and place and quality in my life; it taught me, it definitely moulded me into the music that I am, and gave me an outlook on music that I wouldn’t have as deeply as I do now without it. And furthermore the album cover, which I don’t know if you’ll remember it but it’s the one with the Spanish royalty painting but all the heads of the royals are cats. It is, as an image, very striking, very non-literal. I’m not sure how the two relate other than the fact that I sense that they do, and I think sometimes that is good enough.

“The point of playing this music, the point of making this artwork is to create some sort of challenge, or offer some sort of alternative or opinion. Or, just to get a little weird. And that’ll break people from the norm and the norm, of course, being this over-compressed tripe that we call pop music. Whether that battle is purely against pop or somehow finding a new line within it that is interesting and engaging, or whether its apolitical, political, religious, semi-spiritual, just plain fun or weird for the sake of weird, it doesn’t matter as long as you’ve got an individual voice both on paper and on record. I think it’s important that we all continue to do what we do. Even though our canvas has somehow worked its way from 12-inches by 12-inches down to 100 pixels by 100 pixels I still believe in the LP format as a presentation of artwork.”

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