label makers ( exhibit a )

by Art Chantry (art@artchantry.com)

back in the late 80’s, i met a guy starting a new record label. his name was dave crider and his label was called “estrus”. (yeah, ESTRUS. look it up.) i’d been doing work for sub pop and a few other oddball labels (popllama, etiquette, jerden, lucky, chuckie boy, little one-off band releases) and really wanted to give a try at actually branding an entire record company. i’d had a big hand in establishing sub pop’s design style. but, the ‘image’ making decisions were firmly under the thumb of bruce pavitt and i ended up being just one of a ‘stable’ of designers and artists he had working on his sub pop releases. i’d get hired to do a couple of record covers, make my impact, then he would move on to the next name on his list. i think his idea was to mine the entire community for ideas and that meant i would never really be able to work on a long term design project establishing their image as an actual ART DIRECTOR. i’d always remain just one of their stable of artists. so, when dave crider walked in my door, it was like a dream coming true. it began what was to became the single best client relationship of my professional career.

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dave turned out to be a like-minded record geek and trash/pop culture fanatic just like me. in fact, he even originally studied to be an archaeologist, just like me, too. so, our thinking and our enthusiasms were almost identical. it was a great match up. over the next 15-20 years we both collaborated on a series of record covers, posters, promotional gimmicks and brand/identity/image ideas that were extremely influential and maybe even unmatched in underground rock subculture impact (even if i do say so myself). it was great stuff. it was the best work of my career. and dave is still one of my best friends.

that didn’t mean that estrus used me exclusively. he also incorporated many other artists and designers to do work for the label. oftentimes i would not even be involved at all in an individual project. sometimes, i’d work with an illustration or photograph or some typography or even some object supplied by the band or hired freelance by dave to incorporate into the overall ‘estrus’ look and design with. people like frank kozik, darren merinuk, charles peterson, ed fotheringham, rockin’ jelly bean, richard m. powers, peter bagge, and dozens of different photographers and illustrators were all dragged in and became significant parts of the work that was done for estrus.

the first time i ever saw chris “coop” cooper’s work was actually some old flyers he had done for punk concerts down in austin, texas. his early work was standard weird-o drawings on scrappy little flyers. they were interesting, but not memorable. he hooked up with gigposter godhead frank kozik and moved to san francisco. kozik suggested to dave crider that this guy ‘coop’ could do some cool stuff for estrus and dave tried him out. this little fake girlie calendar was the earliest effort i ever saw by coop that was done in his classic high style – part robert williams, part jaime hernandez, all vintage ‘men’s magazine/calendar style’. coop somehow contemporized the look into the perfect amalgam of hipster retro post-modernity. it was this ‘girlie’ look that really clinched his style and he became, almost overnight, the hottest rock illustrator/designer working on the west coast.

this ‘fake calendar’ postcard was part of a package of 45 rpm records released in a little boxed set by estrus that was called the ‘estrus gearbox’. it was a collection of hot rod, garage/trash rock (the signature style of the label back then) sporting cuts by something like ten bands. coop was even hired by dave to do the cover – a classic ‘monster driving a hot rod’, ala ed ‘big daddy’ roth. strangely, coop had never drawn anything quite like it before and dave had to do a little tutoring on the not-so-subtle nuances of the style with coop before he could draw the cover image. so, it was the very first drooling bug-eyed monster driving a flaming hot rod coop ever drew. but, after that, it became part of his hallmark style alongside his buxom nudies. a star was born.

estrus had already done a few compilation boxed sets like this before the ‘gearbox’. one was called the ‘estrus six-pack’ and sported a cover of a cheezy sixer of beer drawn by (i seem to remember) joe newton. inside the box was an estrus coaster, some stickers and other little promo items. later, estrus released the ‘pizza box’. it was a an actually pizza box with a set of 45’s stuffed inside with a napkin, some more stickers, a menu and a little packet of grated cheese to sprinkle on your records if you desired. the ‘gearbox’ came with the a key ring (with estrus fob), some stickers and this little calendar by coop. these compilations became an estrus tradition and new odd packages and promotional gizmos were continued throughout the label’s history.

coop’s gearbox cover was an instant hit and the little boxed set sold out almost immediately (never to be be re-issued, either. too much work. they were all hand assembled by estrus staff and friends.) before long, coop was drawing nifty covers for estrus bands like the mono men, the makers and others. he did a series of wonderful posters for estrus-related concert events, including a couple of classic images for the early memorial day weekend concert series held by estrus called “garageshock”. imagine a rock poster with frankenstein on it driving a flame-puking bucket T. the next year (naturally) sported an image of the bride of frankenstein driving a flaming roadster. both classics.

he and i worked together on a project for a band the mortals, their first LP release titled “ritual dimension in sound.” coop actually art directed the cover photo of gorgeous calendar girl model patterned on bettie page mated with the ‘martin denny’ cover girl. also included were the standard tiki (which are ALWAYS cool) and menacing ‘native’ (actually a friendly biker pal he dressed up) looming in the background. it was so good that, as the ‘designer’ on the project, all i had to do was slap some appropriate typography on the thing and it was ready to fly. this ‘coop’ guy was really good….

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