REVEALED: Illustrator Jeff Dekal Details Origins Of ¡MAYDAY!’s ‘Thrift Store Halos’ Cover Art [Interview]
After breaking records on Tech N9ne’s Hostile Takeover 2012 Tour and releasing the critically -acclaimed Take Me To Your Leader, ¡MAYDAY! struck back late this summer with their Thrift Store Halos EP.
The EP gave listeners a more chilled-out vibe than ¡MAYDAY!’s full-length debut and much like everything ¡MAYDAY! delivers, it’s visual art set it apart from previous Strange Music releases.
We spoke with the former graffiti artist to get some insight into his work with ¡MAYDAY!, but it was a revelation about the original intent for the Thrift Store Halos cover that took us by surprise.
Check out what the talented Jeff Dekal had to say and dig into another aspect of ¡MAYDAY!’s Thrift Store Halos EP!
Tell me about your background as an artist.
I’ve been drawing since I was really young. It’s my earliest memory, as far as a hobby or anything like that. I would draw the characters out of my video game manuals, I did that for a while. Then when I got to high school, I started doing graffiti and that really got me going. That’s where Dekal comes from, it’s my graffiti name.
Then I slowed down on graffiti a bit because I went to college and that’s where I took a lot of Art History classes. Just seeing the classical figures – it just inspired me man. That’s probably the most inspired I’ve ever been, just from those figures. I kind of put the graffiti down and started drawing figures. So many people still knew me as Dekal though, so I just combined it with my first name. After graduating, I’ve just been doing illustration ever since.
What kind of medium are you working with? Do you still work on graffiti?
The only time I do graffiti is if I’m with my buddies. I don’t do it much anymore. The interest is still there, but I have such an intense interest in illustration.
That takes up most of my time. I started painting in school with traditional oil paints, but I do all of my illustrations now digitally. They didn’t teach me that in school, I basically learned on my own. It’s painting with a stylus, it’s like an electronic pen. I don’t use an iPad, I have a Wacom tablet. I draw on the tablet and what I draw comes up on the monitor. I love the medium, it’s pretty much 100% how I do all my color finished illustrations. That’s how I do everything for ¡MAYDAY!
That sounds like it could be difficult.
It’s really not. It sounds like that because it’s not directly drawing on the canvas – there’s a slight disconnect to what you’re doing and what’s coming up, but it’s just like anything where if you do it enough, it becomes second nature. I don’t even think about it anymore.
You’ve been working with ¡MAYDAY! for some time now, how did you guys first link up?
Ah, I’ve known about Wrekonize since like ’01, when he was just battling back in the day. We’d be at hip hop jams together, he’d be battling and I’d be doing graffiti outside. We didn’t meet until 2006, I want to say. That was about a year or two before he got into ¡MAYDAY! I still hadn’t met Bernz or Plex yet.
One night I was at a jam,painting live, that ¡MAYDAY! was playing at. I was outside painting live, Bernz came outside, out of breath with the end of a joint in his hand and that was the first time I met him. Shortly after that, I got a call from their manager to do their album. Then I met all of them.
You did the artwork for their Stuck On An Island album. That’s a really unique one and a favorite of mine. What was the concept behind that?
It’s based on how their sound is really futuristic and I think the metaphor Bernz gave me was that their music is an island. They’re stuck on this island with their music because it’s not like anything else out there.
They wanted me to mix up that metaphor, that’s why they all look futuristic. It’s all sunny and they’re on this island. If you look at the wraparound, you can see smoke like they crashed down and they kind of walk on to the island. That was pretty much the concept.
What’s it like creating so much art for them? Is it difficult capturing them in that form?
It’s not that difficult because they all have their unique look. I met up with them and took reference shots for the painting. I just play up their individualities.
Like Gio on Stuck On An Island, I gave him a Steampunk look because his mustache reminded me of that. With Bernz and his beard, I gave him those lines in the beard. I just played up the features that already exist. I wanted this kind of stacked look with figures, where one is really close to you and it goes back to the others.
Thrift Store Halos is the latest piece you did for them, how did this one come to be?
This was actually supposed to be Take Me To Your Leader. Bernz came to me with some really low-res images of a few guys walking where all you could see was black silhouettes. I’m a detail freak though, so I couldn’t just do silhouettes. I wanted them to be decked out in this post-apocalyptic make-shift wardrobe. I wanted wires to incorporate music and LT has the drumsticks.
There’s actually a lot more to it. Off to the side – it’s a panoramic image, there’s ruins of a city and a Miami exit sign tipped over and broken. They couldn’t use all of that for the album, so they cropped it and adapted it for Thrift Store Halos. They had a graphic artist put in the halos and I’m glad they used it.
Oh, wow. I had no idea.
Yeah, that was originally supposed to be for Take Me To Your Leader.
I’ve always wanted to ask, what’s with the sunglasses? Who gets the dopest ones in your paintings?
They wear them (laughs). I don’t think about it too much, but obviously on Stuck On An Island Bernz had to have the really detailed ones because he’s up in the front. I remember LT, I wanted to attach ear covers or headphones to his because he’s a drummer. Plex, I remember I gave him like tweeter speakers in the glasses because he’s a producer. Wrekonize, I gave him like space cadet glasses. I kind of just feed off what’s already there.
What kind of impact do you feel like your kind of work has made on the hip hop industry?
I hope positive. I know there’s a lot of variables with covers. A lot of times it’s a budget. Obviously what I do, the budget is going to be a little bit higher than just sticking a photo on there. I make these from scratch. A lot of times I get inquiries on covers and I never hear back from them because the budget is not there, but it’s no ones fault. I always tell people who aren’t famous or don’t have a large following yet, that if you just put a picture of yourself on there that it’s not something that’s going to stand out to people and grab their attention.
I’m just speaking on experience. I know people give me CDs at events and if I’ve never heard of you and the cover isn’t that great, I don’t care. They say don’t judge a book by its cover, but the cover is going to get the person to look at the book. It’s really important. I hope that what I’m doing is helping people out, to get that recognition.
What are some illustrated covers that have stuck out to you over the years? Do you have a favorite?
I know there’s a lot that I’m not thinking of, but the first that popped into my head is the Rza as Bobby Digital where it’s like a futuristic Blaxploitation album cover. I remember that was so fresh. Something a little more recent with Wu-Tang again, it was an album with Method Man, Raekwon, and Ghostface.
Yeah, that was it. They did three covers. One was Rae, one Ghost, and one Method Man. That was really fresh, that was real dope comic book kind of shit. I thought it was great that they did three covers, from a marketing standpoint and an artistic standpoint.
Do you have some upcoming work that our fans should know about? I think I read that you did something for Marvel, is that right?
Yeah, I just did man. It’s crazy, it’s a dream come true. I’ve done three so far and the first one comes out in November. The following ones will come out on a monthly basis after that. I met this editor at a convention, they liked my stuff and asked me to do a cover.
-Journey Into Mystery cover art by Jeff Dekal
See more of Jeff Dekal’s work by visiting his website: JeffDekal.com and be sure to follow him on Twitter – @JDekal
CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE THRIFT STORE HALOS!
What do you think about Dekal’s work?
Would you like to see his art on another Strange Music release?