In my time with Moshville Times, I have taken it upon myself to ask questions to those responsible in different areas of music to get their take on the music business. Be it record companies, producers, PR or promoters, all have given me an insight to music that appreciates each and everyone’s role and to show that its not a simple case of a band recording an album or a band playing a gig in a particular city near you. There are countless things that have to happen and be put in place before each of these things can happen.
This time, I took it upon myself to contact someone that has been a personal favourite of mine when it comes to the final product and how it looks when you have your favourite band’s albums in your hands. I am of course talking about the cover art and there are not a lot of artists more renowned in metal than Dan Seagrave. With someone with the stature of Dan Seagrave, I was astonished that he agreed to do this interview and I found him to be the most appreciative of persons and I could have spoken to him all day. Residing in Canada for the moment, this is a huge honour and a personal highlight of my time here with Moshville Times. Make yourself a cup of tea as this is a long one (even in two parts).
Well in the old days before the internet, minimal information was usually all you got because sometimes you wouldn’t be communicating with the band direct. Sometimes you would have a phone conversation mostly it was for example, with Roadrunner, it would be relayed through Monte Connor, he would sometimes bring in the band on a double line or conference but not normally. I would generally be left with scant information. With Nuclear Blast, I don’t think I spoke to any of the bands from Nuclear Blast, so with that it was pretty much the album title that you were working off. For example, Dismember Like An Everflowing Stream, then it is up to me to imagine something from nothing which is what I kind of do anyway. It’s not really a problem. It only becomes a problem when the band doesn’t like it which does not happen generally. These days I get more information, sometimes people will say here is the title and just come up with something or I will have an idea that pre-empts their ideas and if they like that, we can roll with that.
Do you get a chance to listen to the album before creating the cover art? Do you create your art in correlation to the album as a whole or a particular track like the title track?
Sometimes, but usually not, but sometimes for example a band from Germany called The Vision Bleak sent me the track before any vocals were put on there where their vocalist has a very operatic voice. Just listening to the music helps but music isn’t words necessarily, it’s more of a feeling. You can then feel so much and then paint that into a picture. I would say it’s not the defining factor but certainly part of it and what you really need beyond that is lyrics or title put it into context. Even without that, I always ask for the theme because the title can always be ambiguous and not necessarily the lyrics where the band tells me the theme that tells me a lot about the kind of setting of what they want this thing to be. My paintings are usually more like set pieces like a building an environment. So listening definitely helps in building this environment.
As you were getting renowned in the early 90s for the death metal scene, were you ever approached by the more mainstream bands for your art?
Not back in the day but these days I have been approached by a few more mainstream acts. The most I would say like a pop act as an example is a guy called Post Malone who is an American in his early 20’s who is friends with Justin Bieber. Post Malone had his debut album out last year and their art director contacted me as Post Malone had grown up listening to heavy metal and death metal and was aware of my work and was interested in getting a quote. Post Malone is now a major act since that album but I don’t quote normally on an act like that and with the turnover being two weeks, I needed some advice on quoting from my lawyers very quickly on things like merchandising where you don’t want to get screwed over. After the advice, I quoted on it because I thought it would be interesting to do. I have no problem with the idea from subverting whatever I am known for. Also, I recently worked with the band Dresden Dolls who are definitely not metal and maybe a more gothic or pop band who have a big following and again a different genre of music and designed for them.
Was your ambition always to be an artist or did you dabble in other careers? Did you get the full support of your parents when it came to art in your younger years?
I wouldn’t say it was an ambition…I would say it was something that I was absolutely doing at the age of 5, 6 or 7 and drawing a lot and imagining world environments. I was always doing it when I was 7 and to me, I don’t think it of a career but something I instinctively do. It was never like a choice. I think the only choice you have is later on in life which is what happens with a lot of people and should I stop doing it and have a more regular job.
I watched a film that you made called Shadowline and I must admit, I thought I would only watch it for a minute and think nothing of it. Having watched it from beginning to end, I was glued to the screen. Without spoiling it, I was moved at the end and was feeling sorry for both actors. Was writing and directing a short film equally as difficult as creating a piece of art or did you enjoy the experience more?
Yeah I really enjoyed the experience. It was one of the most interesting things that I have done. It had a budget of £10000 which came from the UK Film Council and was handled by the two producers of the film. Every year the UK Film Council which sadly doesn’t exist any more, gave out these budgets to people in certain regions to make a film. In order to do that you had to propose your synopsis or your full script which I submitted and I got shortlisted. There’s not a lot of talk, not a lot of dialogue with it being more of a visual film.
With that it was six years until your next film The Projection in 2013. Does that mean that we are going to get a new film from Dan Seagrave in 2019?
I have actually a whole bunch of film ideas that I haven’t fully flushed out. I am someone that gets all the synopsis down and starts thinking about another idea. I have got all these synopsis’s but there is one that I really want to do but it will take months and months to do as it will require a lot of artificial background and set pieces that are complicated to make and will take a lot of artwork to make the short film. I just haven’t had the opportunity or the year off in order to do it as it will take a year. For filming it will probably take a week but everything else will take up that time. So I thought because it is such an ordeal, maybe I should make another short film that doesn’t rely on all the digital background and set pieces. The last film I made The Projection had terrible sound which ruined the film experience but visually it was fine. The paintings in that film like changing signs and doors and tiny little things that you wouldn’t know about are just so time consuming.
Is being cast in your own film something that you would think about since you accidentally cast yourself in The Projection?
I wasn’t supposed to be in that film but somebody backed out on the day. I am not an actor, actually in doing that I realised how difficult being an actor can be. My cousin was an actor for ten years and my friend who is in the film is a professional actor and been in a lot of films and filming over a period of four days made me realise how difficult it is to do anything as I don’t have a good acting voice and I can’t deliver a line very well and had to chop my lines down to the bare minimum. Then it’s things like how do you look on camera where I just looked wrong. Just little things like that I realise how difficult it is. I dunno…I would maybe like to be in a film again, maybe just as someone in the background.
Obviously you are more renowned in the extreme metal circuit for your cover art but you have never depicted blood and gore that are splattered all over death metal lyrics like Vincent Locke with Cannibal Corpse. Has this form of art never interested you and has this resulted in you turning down some work in the past or bands not wanting to work with you?
I don’t know about bands about not working with me for that reason. I have definitely been asked to do something that was gory like somebody torn apart and to me that is fine if you want that but I don’t see myself painting that kind of gory painting. There is an element of gore in my paintings or they look rather uncomfortable like my work Bodywork, people have said it’s like rotting corpses but that is exactly what they are not. But I can see why people can see that but that is not what I am representing with those paintings. It’s more like a state of mind like an internal decay rather than an external vision of gruesome or bloody. I am not really interested in gore for gore’s sake.
With the commission you charge bands for your cover art, how does it work in terms of bands selling merchandise with your cover art on it? Do you get royalty payments?
Yeah what happens is I quote for a cover and I retain copyright of that. Obviously these days I have my contract written out if any band wants to make merchandise like shirts or a flag, then it is under their own copyright license. Depending on a scale of who the band are, independent, self-produced or on a bigger label, there is a different price scale. It’s either a flat fee for one year term or if of a percentage fee or per sale per item fee, so it’s not necessarily the one thing. In the past I have submitted a sales statement but bands just don’t do that and in the past you have to chase the band for payment. Mostly I now do a flat for one year terms so it keeps the price down for the band.
I know that you have toyed with the idea of having a book with samples of your art. Would this book be in the shape of an autobiography and including your art or would this be more of a book about the art itself? How far in the creation of the book are you?
I am not in the process of making a book per se other than about 200 music related paintings and tonnes of sketches and designs, so the book in essence is there and I have done all the hard work. I have been approached in the last five years or so by a lot of independent publishers and sometimes they are doing a crowdfund thing in order to make the book and that doesn’t interest me for a number of reasons. First of all, using a crowdfund thing in order to make my book that they are going to profit from isn’t something I would want to do. To me I am not going to hand over my life’s work where I can crowdfund myself and do it myself. There are problems self-releasing a book but it is possible but then I am not really a publisher, so I would not know the image qualities and the consistencies throughout the book which a real professional would take care of and somebody who is used to publishing art. Even if you get a great product at the end of the day, what’s the distribution of the book? Nuclear Blast Records said that they would buy a stock but I have heard from another guy that self-released a book, the costs involved in shipping the books to Europe wouldn’t make it worthwhile. Therefore it would take me probably another year for this to materialise and I want an art book publisher that knows what they are doing and has distribution then yes I am up for it.