While studying at CCAD, Michael Carney (CCAD 2004) designed the first three album covers for his brother Patrick’s band, the Black Keys. He admits designing the covers in addition to his schoolwork wasn’t always the easiest thing to do. “I had to do an extra semester because the semester when I should have graduated I failed a bunch of classes because I was working on a Black Keys record during finals.”
But it paid off. That album was Rubber Factory, which ended up having its songs featured in the major motion picture Black Snake Moan as well as a widely viewed American Express commercial. And now, seven years after taking that extra semester of classes, Carney has won the 2011 Grammy for Best Recording Package for his art direction on the Black Keys’ latest album, Brothers.
So how’s it feel? In a word…
Michael Carney (MC): Surreal. It is not something I would have ever expected to happen.
IMAGE: How did you find out about the nomination?
MC: I was at my apartment with my friend listening to records and hanging out when my brother called me losing his mind, telling me I got nominated and that the record also got nominated for Best Alternative and three other categories. I got about twenty phone calls in two minutes and then my friend and I went to a bar around the corner.
IMAGE: What’s it like working with your brother?
MC: It is really amazing. We have very similar aesthetics, and there is a huge amount of trust that makes working together really easy. I have two brothers, and we are all very supportive and proud of each others’ successes.
IMAGE: So, how’d you come up with the design?
MC: Making the packaging for Brothers was different from any project I had worked on before. They didn’t name the record until the 11th hour—I had actually started working on a different cover, which I scrapped when they told me the name of the record.
I decided that the cover needed to be text based, but I didn’t want it to just be a logo. The concept that we went with was something that I had talked to the band about a few times, but we were all basically scared to do it. Then one night I just mocked up a few options and played with layout and wording. I sent really rough mock-ups to the band and within like two minutes they both called and basically said, “I love this, but can we get away with it?”
It definitely took me out of my comfort zone because it was such a concept-driven cover and the layout was so simple. As far as my process for making the record, I didn’t just type out the layout and send it out. Doing the final cover actually took a lot longer than most people think because of the process I used to create each design element.
IMAGE: Was there ever that moment of “I’ve made it,” or is this that moment?
MC: I guess this is that moment. The last Black Keys album cover got voted worst album cover of the month in Vice magazine and that was pretty cool.
IMAGE: Finish the sentence. [Blank] always reminds me of CCAD.
MC: Coffee and cigarettes.
IMAGE: The best class at CCAD was…
MC: Motion Graphics.
IMAGE: If I could go back to college, I would…
MC: Get better grades.
IMAGE: I hope future CCAD students…
MC: Do it big. Work hard, and stay focused. Be passionate about your work, and stay open minded. Don’t let yourself get comfortable. Don’t sleep. Realize that every project and every person you work with is an opportunity to learn more and get better. I always try to remind myself that there are thousands of people out there that are more talented than me and that want my job.
IMAGE: What makes it all worth it?
MC: I get the occasional email from people saying how much they like my work. That is a really amazing feeling. At this point I have done about twenty-odd album packagings, and I still get a thrill when I get my copy of the finished product or when I see my work in a store.
Published in print twice a year, CCAD’s IMAGE magazine shares stories about our creative community, whether here in Columbus or around the world—what we’re doing, thinking, and planning next. The IMAGE blog brings those stories online for transmission at the click of a mouse.