It seems like there’s an anniversary nearly every other day for this album or that album, and of course we’re no strangers to it (*ahem* 'Burn My Eyes' 25th Anniversary Tour) but we wanted to mix it up with another unique “anniversary” of our own, the anniversary of our #1 streamed song of all-time on Spotify. That song is, "Is There Anybody Out There?” and it turns 3 years old today.
This “non album” song has taken on a life of its own in both the digital land of streaming, as well as becoming a bombastic live track performed across the globe. But it still comes back to the unknown reasons, the intangible reasons, that this one song continues to out-perform and out-stream (by nearly double) what every other ‘Top Song’ in Machine Head's 9 album catalog streams, and has, completely unchallenged, since its release three years ago.
ITABOT itself went through a mind-boggling amount of arrangement and musical/lyrical changes, and the single artwork proved to be just as challenging.
Check out the evolution of the single artwork below along with the inspirations that led to what would be no less than 25 different versions and revisions before the band members would settle on a cover.
THE MAKING OF AN ALBUM COVER
Written during the Fall and Winter of 2015, “Is There Anybody Out There?” was originally a war cry to the disenfranchised. In a vulnerable state during the time of its creation, its lyrics were those of someone in the throes of isolation and anxiety. The hopeless and the helpless, these were the songs original benefactors. While unfortunate actions later forced some lyrical revising, it’s meaning remains. So with a song the band already knew was going to cause some kind of impact, they felt the artwork should be able to stand side by side with the song.
In April 2016 long-time art collaborator Strephon Taylor, alongside "Bloodstone & Diamonds" artist Marcelo Vasco began bouncing around the first cover ideas. As such, the ideas were inspired by early 80's punk rock records by confrontational bands such as Crass, Discharge, and Poison Idea, with the scratchy, punk-styled Locust-era logo.
Trying another direction, it was decided that maybe the cover could be a bit subtler about it, and go back to the style of 'The Blackening' artwork, but it felt quite dated and very out of place. Lastly, it didn’t match the vibe of the song.
The choice was made to “De-Punk” it if you will and move away from the Locust-era logo, and use the "Blackening-era" logo.
The early ideas were then sent to Marcelo, who came back with his own version.
The band liked the new direction and quickly revised it to focus on aspects that they felt the song was about, including themes of freedom and alienation.
A complete phasing out of the ill-placed money aspect was soon brought to the forefront, along with the idea of a man standing at the edge, arms out-stretched.
Realizing that this was a digital-only release where the artwork would be very small, the idea came to simplify the art and make it highly visual for an iPhone sized screen.
Drummer Dave McClain brought the idea of making the artwork more like a face, via the iconic photo of the statue of liberty protest.
Still following the Crass, Discharge-style theme, the next 3 designs incorporated the flag element. The last image of 4 square images, would open an entire new line of thinking.
Inspired by the 4 image cover idea above, the thought became to incorporate an Andy Warhol-esque "Pop Art" dynamic to the cover inspired by some of the timeless images he created. Below were the rough inspirations.
The band then asked Marcelo to switch gears and create a punk rock / Pop Art version of the 4 images that were more "symbolic" in nature, as opposed to the overtly political tones of the previous efforts.
A Pop Art version was created.
This lone image below grabbed all, and the decision was made to forego the Pop Art direction and expand the eye / flag concept.
A new clean / photography look was decided on, with various reflections in the eye for inspiration.
The first version of the new direction was tinted with a sepia/brown effect, which was quickly dismissed as too similar to the Bloodstone colorway.
A blue/grey tint was presented to the band along with the rebel flag incorporated over the eye, but was dismissed as too overtly political and took away from the (mostly non-political nature of the lyrics).
A classic American Flag was added back in, and it was agreed that this version was best, but was still missing something...
The Machine Head diamond was ghosted into the American Flag and would become the final version that lived on.
It’s strange to think of all this design and re-designing for a song that was never really intended to be seen outside of a phone screen. For reasons unknown it’s become much more than that. It’s been embraced, and re-embraced for the last three years, straight.
We thank you, the Head Cases, for this.
WATCH THE MAKING OF ITABOT (PART 1)
WATCH THE MAKING OF ITABOT (PART 2)