Red Hook, New York (a neighbourhood in northwest Brooklyn) band, Off Road Minivan couldn’t be more excited than they are right now, for yesterday marked the official release date of their debut album, Swan Dive, via Tooth & Nail Records. The album loosely tells stories of various people with whom they grew up, celebrating the memories, both good and bad, that were felt, but not necessarily discussed. Perhaps the record’s greatest strength is its ability to harness sentimentality in both words and tones that appreciate and exemplify the genre of emo.
Only a close-knit group of friends could create such a record, with the friendships between the members of Off Road Minivan extending back well over a decade. The group officially got its start in 2018 and released their debut EP, Spiral Gaze, that same year. The members’ passion for 1990s alternative rock is what drives them forward, all in the pursuit of celebrating not only the music of their youth but also their lives lived together.
Among the talented musicians that comprise Off Road Minivan is Fit For a King bassist Ryan “Tuck” O’Leary with whom we spoke for our latest edition of UnCovered. Read on as O’Leary discusses the Swan Dive album artwork, working with tattoo artist Gene Coffey, and what the entire creative process consisted of.
What was the inspiration for the album’s cover artwork?
Ryan O’Leary: “We had decided on the title Swan Dive after throwing around a few names. We knew we wanted something simple and I’ve been a huge fan of Gene for some time. I hit him up and showed him my terrible doodle.”
The album cover is crazy-cool. Tell us about the artist and how you found him?
“Gene Coffey is a tattoo artist out of Queens, New York. He specializes in watercolour tattoo and it blows my mind. I’ve wanted a tattoo by him for some time now and luckily it will be this artwork. I found Gene on Instagram one day. I wasn’t necessarily searching but once you see his work you’ll understand why I’m a fan.”
Please elaborate on the medium(s) used when creating the art. We’d love to know how the artwork was created.
“Gene said ‘it was watercolor, ink, pencil, digital and there’s probably coffee stains somewhere in there.”
What were the partnership’s dynamics like? For example, was a specific look given, or did the artist have full free range?
“I gave Gene a doodle on a post-it note. It was very simple and just said do your thing. He came back with four different sketch ideas. We chose two and he made the final versions. There are a few images I’ve shared to help you understand. It’s amazing seeing what he is capable of. I feel incredibly lucky.”
Would you consider the artist an additional band member, or someone contracted for just this piece?
“Just someone we contracted to do the piece. I think every album has a different feeling you want to portray through image. There is a flow to this record that needed the watercolor style of Gene Coffey.”
Did Gene hear the album beforehand? Or, what kind of input did you give him?
“Yes, I sent it to Gene to see if he would be interested in working with us. I wasn’t sure if he would even want to participate but he quickly understood what we were going for. It was the easiest creative process for me ever. Hardly any critiques, just bravo and thanks.”
Have you ever purchased an album solely because of its album artwork? If yes, did the music live up to the artwork?
“Absolutely. When I was younger I would go to FYE and purchase albums just based off of genre and art. I recall one doing going to the mall and buying A Static Lullaby, and …And Don’t Forget To Breathe for that exact reason. The record was pretty solid.”
With the increasing popularity of digital music, most fans view artwork as just pixels on a screen. Why did you feel the artwork was important?
“Thankfully vinyl sales are up and I think we design a record on that medium. Currently, we’re not printing vinyl but I want the cover to feel like a classic record. I want it to feel timeless. That means a lot of different things to different people but when I look at my favourite records, I want this album to be able to sit among them comfortably.”
When people look at the album cover artwork, what do you want them to see/think?
“I just want them to see a simple beauty. It’s not overthought or meant for any specific person. Right now many people may feel they are in a ‘Swan Dive.’ At the time this album was written and named the world wasn’t in such a spiral but it seems all the more fitting now. I’d like them to see the artwork and think it’s beautiful. Hopefully, that will open them up to trying our music.”
Have any favourite music-related visual artists?
“I can’t say I do. I’m a little stuck inside my own box a bit.”
What are your thoughts and/or the pros and cons of digital art versus non-digital?
“I think it depends on what you’re looking for. I’m glad Gene sticks to more contemporary mediums when first creating the art. It’s fitting for something like vinyl. Digital is very handy and can enhance a lot of beautiful things. For me, I enjoy something I can touch. Our EP cover was a diorama my partner made for us. Cardboard box, Styrofoam, fake grass like you would in grade school. I’ll keep it for the rest of my life.”
What do you think are some of the cover artworks that have translated best/worst onto t-shirts and other merch?
“Well, one that comes to mind that I personally love is Pianos Become The Teeth’s Keep You. I think it looks fantastic on merch. It’s hard to think of who I would want to properly call out for having a terrible cover (laughs). I will say this, in my metal project the record cover merch doesn’t sell. The fans just don’t like it. I think for this style it’s important to have a cover that can carry the merch or ‘brand.’ With that Green Day American Idiot sucks. It looks terrible. It’s like Alkaline Trio’s ugly distant cousin.”
Do you prefer having the most creative control when you get a project, or do you prefer when the band gives you a lot of input?
“It depends. Sometimes I feel very passionate about a song, merch item, artwork, whatever and I’m terrible to deal with. Generally, I would say we’re pretty democratic. When it came to the album we were 100 percent democratic. When it came to the merchandise that was primarily our drummer Evan Garcia Renart and myself. He’s very handsome and fashionable so I just kind of go with what he says.”
Was the album art influenced by any of the themes explored on the band’s album?
“The album title was pulled from the song ‘Swan Dive.’ It is a song dedicated to a man I grew up with. While making this record he took his own life and I wrote this song about him. He wasn’t my best friend or anything but a really amazing guy. He just kind of got the shit end of the stick with luck and people. The dude loved heavy rock like Dio and Sabbath. I wanted him to have his own badass song. He deserved the happiness he wanted. I feel for his parents very much. Overall a very loving and kind group of people.”
How do you think the album art will affect the listener’s perception of your album?
“I think it may help them to like it more (laughs). I hope it brings in some people who wouldn’t listen otherwise. They probably think we’re a country band with a name like Off Road Minivan.”
Is the art for this album related to any of your previous album cover artwork?
“No, it isn’t. My lovely fiancée and our guitarist Melvin Brinson made the artwork for our EP. That is our only other release.”
When it came time to come up with artwork, did you give the artwork guidance or was this just a natural brainstorm?
“I knew roughly what I wanted, I just needed Gene’s style. The artwork and my original doodle are actually pretty similar. He is just very talented and I can’t draw at all.”
What’s your favourite thing about this album cover?
“I’ll be proud of it forever. It was an easy decision and process. I can’t wait to hold it in person. Making records is the greatest feeling for me. It’s all I ever wanted growing up and that’s a feeling I’ve experienced with these men since we were young.”
Did Gene work on any art for the album besides the cover?
“No, he didn’t but hopefully in the future when we print vinyl.”
Do you have a favourite album cover of all time?
“I do. Some covers just speak to you and stick with you. I think everyone has that one favourite album where everything is just right.”