Behind the Cover: Jesse Jo Stark — DOOMED

Updated: Oct 18

Trailblazing talent meets revered artistry for one alluring work of boundless qualities.

Words by Luis (@heaviestofart):


“Follow your inner moonlight; don't hide the madness.”Allen Ginsberg


As a Founder of the revolutionary literary movement that was the post-war Beat Generation, Allen Ginsberg left behind a wealth of wisdom to spark introspective thought for decades to come. There's much to learn from his teachings and the above quote is but one of many driving messages that inspire self-expression in ways that has yielded personal satisfaction and artistic excellence. DOOMED, the debut endeavor by way of Jesse Jo Stark, is exactly as Ginsberg recommends: an act of madness.


Released on September 22nd, DOOMED came forth as commanding entry point into the discography of a bold Jesse Jo Stark, a diary detailing the trials and tribulations of a promise navigating her own path. The art of Greg Hildebrandt serves a preface to it all, illustrating a striking duality that coalesces with the album's lyricism seamlessly to become on seamless audiovisual. Efforts this cohesive are the result of likeminded interests committed to conveying their heart through the arts. Jesse Jo poured her heart out through intentional songcraft and reflective lyricism while Hildebrandt and longtime partner Jean Scrocco brought the ideas to life through careful interpretation and a respectful attention to detail, delivering what one could arguably consider to be one of this year's top cover illustrations.


We go Behind the Cover of DOOMED with Jesse Jo Stark, artist extraordinaire Greg Hildebrandt, and Spiderwebart Gallery Co-Owner and artist representative Jean Scrocco to learn of the genuine camaraderie that fueled the visual identity of DOOMED, exploring duality through the arts, and much more:

 

Jesse Jo, congratulations on a fantastic record and release show here in LA! Having seen your musicianship in the flesh, is it cathartic for you to go from being insular and reserved to developing a whole full length record that serves as a byproduct of your lived experiences?


Jesse Jo: It's been really fun seeing my art realized, hearing how it affects different people and what it means to them. I've been having these really beautiful moments where people I know or random people come up to me to tell me how they've made it their own. They've had their own story with it, which has been really cool to see. To answer your question, I don't know. In a way, it's like you make something for yourself but then the minute you put it out, it belongs to everybody else.

Photograph by Joshua Alvarez

That's a natural process for an album that serves as an act of reflection I'm sure, and it all starts with Greg Hildebrandt's art of course. What drew you to his work initially, and what were you looking for when you're approaching him for the project?


Jesse Jo: I wanted to create something that was further than just a photo. I feel like I have so many photos of myself and though the artwork represents me personally, it's me as this kind of other worldly figure, representing duality that we hold as humans, specifically the light and the dark, the heaven and hell. You can see me being pulled in different directions, which is something I really feel every day in my life and I think a lot of people do as well. It's really about knowing and being okay with the fact that we have more to offer than just one thing, and leaning into those fears or expectations or different selves that make us unique.


When I spoke with Greg, it quite organically unfolded. The conversation consisted of, "Would you like more lava? Would you like less lava? Would you like wings? Do you own a tail?" The texts I received from him and his wife were some of the greatest texts ever, mostly because they just really understood the world. When I told them the album title, 'DOOMED', I think they felt like it was refreshing for them. I don't know if they wanted to go into the project dead on, but when I explained myself as an artist and showed them things I've done before, they were really excited and it was an amazing collaboration to be a part of. They were very excited to get into this world with me and they really understood it.


That's a perfect segue into my following point, which is that album covers and music illustration is a bit unconventional for typical line of work, Greg. You get to interpret someone's lyrical and conceptual themes through your art. In doing so, is the process distinct to your other projects in any way?


Greg: Oh god, yes. It's more collaborative. If I'm doing something for Marvel Comics, I already know what the characters look like. They hire me to paint a cover and I paint it and do the layout. This was Jesse Jo's concept. She wanted to appear in two modes of good and evil. It then became very much involved with Jean, myself, and Jesse Jo, and having discussions about that. We got her to really articulate what she was seeing and that's how the whole thing emerged. It was a strong collaboration between all three of us.

Sketch by Greg Hildebrandt

Jean: She had an idea in the beginning, but wasn't very clear. That's usually what happens. People come, they call me and talk to me about their ideas, and then I talk to Greg and discuss things back and forth. Sometimes he does a rough sketch, sometimes he doesn't. In this case, Jesse Jo knew she wanted to be both evil and good, which was great. She knew she wanted wings. After that, we had to ask ourselves, "What is evil?" We went through imaginations with snakes, a devil's tail, and so on. We convinced her that was probably not a great way to go.


Greg: She was showing us art that she had singled out that were more or less horror, comic type covers from what I believe was the 30s, 40s, and 50s, like Tales from the Crypt kind of lettering. While I hadn't even heard any music, Jean and I got a lot out of listening to Jesse Jo talk and seeing the kind of person that she was. The covers that were presented were too horror oriented for where she's at now, so we felt it wasn't going to work.


Jean: We convinced her that this needed to have more of a renaissance type feel, a more elegant. She liked the idea. Like Greg said, we hadn't heard the music, so it all came from her expressing herself to us. She was a good sport. Greg did a lot of sketches and then she had to get a photographer.

Sketch by Greg Hildebrandt

Greg: I'll talk more to that. So, I did tons of sketches not even going for her likeness or anything, just to get the setup. I had to get the composition with the pose and shadow for the figures. I needed to know what the lighting was like and I wanted to see her in the foreground. The so called evil mode was darker and the angel brighter, but I didn't want to get the angel glowing, you know. I knew I was going for a sort of halo effect. Jean suggested to add the lava to get the red light from the bottom. We then presented that to Jesse Jo and there was a whole discussion about that.


She then got a photographer, I sent my sketches to her, and she gave it to the photographer. I had a discussion with the photographer over the phone about how I wanted the lights placed, what kind of lighting should be soft, diffused, or have stronger backlight. That worked out extremely well and that was really the first time that I've ever worked with an integrated distance like that.



Jean: I've been representing Greg's art for 42 years and one of the things I always tell people is that he's known internationally for his use of light and color. One of the things that I always say to customers is, "Greg is going to try and find the soul." I don't care if he's painting a classic, $2 million dollar car, he's going to find the soul in the car because the art has to speak to the person who's going to own it. You could tell that with Jessie.


We've had other bands ask Greg to do covers and I have turned them down for various reasons. Sometimes, it's just that he's not going to make a connection with the customer or what's being portrayed by the music. Once he makes that connection with a person, then you can find the soul. Jesse Jo is a very interesting young woman, she really is. I enjoy her thoroughly as a person, as a friend, as a customer now, and she's very passionate about what she feels. That's very important for me because at this point, Greg is 83. He doesn't need to paint anymore. When he says yes, it's got to be something he wants to do.


Greg: The whole collaborative thing is something that I'm very much used to and have done my whole life. It's an enjoyable process for me, people just throwing ideas around and slowly building from it. It becomes a very pragmatic thing for me in terms of how the painting is lit, what color I'm going to use, how strong the colors should be, etc. It's all that kind of technical stuff that conveys how I'm feeling what she's feeling, which is the prime objective. She should be happy, not me.


Agreed, and the strength of the partnership between you three is evident.


Jean: One of the things that I guess is a little different with us, and I do this with all the different artists I represent now, is that the client always talks to me. Very rarely do they talk to the artist because my goal has always been for 43 years to have the artist spend most of their time doing what they do, which is art. I need to convey to them what the client needs.


I'm hoping that she and her manager or whoever does marketing creates posters out of it. We created the artwork so that it could be a 24" x 36" poster. I'm assuming she'll put it on T-shirts. I hope so because I want one.


From having this discussion with you today, it's neat to see how well orchestrated this entire process is. As far as the T-shirt, we'll get the message across! Jesse Jo, you exist in that same way, in a boundless form of creative development that of course pulls from your Chrome Hearts background and your own musical pedigree. Do you feel as though you thrive on the lack of structure? By that I mean a methodical kind of process where you pretty much do as you please and let the creativity kind of flow from you.


Jesse Jo: You know, I think it's very difficult. I think it makes things harder, but I'm always learning in life. I do feel proud of myself as time goes on, especially as people come up to me. Today on a shoot, someone came up to me and presented a logo they came up with. They said they were a fan of my work and have seen everything I've done and created a logo for me, which is quite spot on for everything that I've done in my past. It was a layering of who I am.

Photograph by Joshua Alvarez

The hard work definitely feels beneficial right now. It's not that I get off on it, it's really who I am as an artist. I want to do things that feel true to me and I don't know any other way, but at times, it can be very difficult. This is just the way I've done it.


The process being so organic is really what makes it true. Jumping back a little bit into kind of the cover illustration, we touched briefly on its duality. Where do you feel that the cover and your lyricism intersect as one comprehensive experience?


Jesse Jo: I embodied this character on the cover. That is very much me, but there's a theme throughout the album where I find that there's so much there. There's a cohesive theme throughout that I didn't really realize until the end. I didn't look at the project and say, "I'm going to be this thing and all these songs have to symbolize that."

Sketch by Greg Hildebrandt

I think it has to do so much with the collaborators and us being quite grounded throughout the entire process, just trying all these different things and really looking at what I really respond to, what my mission is really like. I wanted to incorporate everything I love like vampires, horror, love, death, but both the positive and negative side of those things. The minute we said 'DOOMED' in the studio, it became a realized project.


Lyrically, I feel like I kind of hit the nail on the head with the artwork. They kind of unfolded at the same time even though it wasn't really my intent for it to be cohesive. It just funny when you don't try to do particular things and just move organically by listening to your gut and your projects become stronger because of that.


I'd argue that it is just a byproduct of your wealth of influence, which inevitably makes its way into the formula and unfolds as you put pen to paper. Nothing is forced, it just happens.


Jesse Jo: Yeah, I think that's staying true to yourself over time. You have to really fight for yourself and make sure that you don't lose that in search of trying to be or look like something.


Wise words. Greg, aside from of course conveying Jesse Jo's thoughts through your eyes, what were you looking to achieve with the cover illustration? There are a variety of details to pick apart. Was the goal here to create something that was ever evolving?


Greg: It was meant for people to interpret their own take on the image. I've done paintings where the message is exactly as you see it, like Captain America bashing Hitler, which is quite obvious. With the kind of subjects we utilized for Jesse Jo's cover, it becomes much more esoteric, more interpretable. I really like for people to come in and become a part of it. They're actually completing the painting in a way, in their own minds.

Greg Hildebrandt Painting 'DOOMED'

Jean: One of the things that I thought was so interesting was when Jesse Jo first started talking to me about what she thought she wanted as an image, she gave me the album title, 'DOOMED'. I've been doing this for 42 years now and I'm like, " You want angels with that album title?" I had to ask, "What is she trying to say here?" Then, she started with the two sides of her.


At one point, she didn't want to see her face on the character in the foreground. She wasn't sure if that should look like her to ensure that it was a piece of reflection. I think she was working through her own feelings about herself and her music as she was working with us on this.


Greg: Yeah, and so I kept drawing poses and attitude. I generally work that way, just doing sketches over and over and over. It's fun is to play with it and see where it'll take you. After showing her the sketches, she took this particular attitude that we see on the cover. I then work with the photographer to try and get him to get that same disposition, feeling, and, and light.


Jean: It was nice because he did a good job. He was fantastic. A lot of times, it's difficult having to work in this way when you're across the coast. People do come here. For example, Duff McKagan (Guns N' Roses) and Susan came here to pose for Greg for a painting that Greg was doing of Susan for Duff. It's great when that happens. We set up the lights, Greg gets the lighting exactly as he wants, and just does his thing. He knows what he wants, but if somebody's 3000 miles away from you, you're likely not getting on a plane for him just to discuss lighting arrows on a picture. For this project, everything worked out great.


We had a young lady pose in these two positions so that Greg could do a more refined sketch that wasn't representative of Jesse Jo's body but someone else's body. We wanted the photographer to see that sketch and build from it so that he could see where he really wanted his light. Where was it coming from? Was it high, straight down? Was it coming from the right, from the left, or low light? All of these things matter. Greg doesn't copy these photos.

Greg Hildebrandt Painting 'DOOMED'

Greg: Like Jean says, I don't copy the photograph. I don't trace it or anything like that because you end up more stilted I think. The photographer shot subtle variations of the foreground pose and a dozen slight variations of attitude, which I combined the best of in the sketch. In a way, I'm like Dr. Frankenstein where I'm taking body parts and assembling them to make sure that it all works and looks right. She looks like her, but it isn't.


That's a great way of putting it, Mr. Frankenstein. Jesse Jo, the intentionality of the artwork extends to the live performance as well, which we were glad to have shot. It is Jesse Jo Stark in her most raw form. In going from the studio to actually seeing the songs unfold in their own way via the live performance, how has that experience been like for you, especially with this record being so personal?


Jesse Jo: It's like dating. I just played my first two shows for 'DOOMED' and I'm fighting with the songs because they're not going to sound exactly how they are. I really do want them to represent the recordings on the live show, but there's a realness that I can't deny on stage. I'm battling with it right now where I might not sound perfect. That emotion might come through and I might be a bit pitchy. There's just that feeling you get when you play live where I would I always want it feel organic and real onstage.

Photograph by Joshua Alvarez

I'm really just getting know the songs right now and it's interesting because some of them come out pretty much like the recording and some of them change.


They'll continue to change as you play them and begin to develop different interpretations of them. The same goes for the artwork.


Jesse Jo: Totally. You get more comfortable with them, you know? The artwork itself is so interesting because we have billboards up around LA, not many, and the city fought with one of them. We got some complaints from the city because they thought it was too risky and we had to take one down. That's so iconic because I think art has to raise those conversations and it pisses people off, not everybody agrees. It's kind of been funny seeing how not only I react to my songs but how the world reacts to my art. It's pretty flattering that anyone even honestly takes the time to fucking care, whether it's negative or positive. It's pretty funny.


There's no such thing as bad press! Greg and Jean, what do you make of this entire billboard removal ordeal?


Greg: Have they ever been to the Sistine Chapel? My intention was not to convey anything lascivious at all.


Jean: The character in the foreground here was meant to show the pain and the passion, the time that she's hurting. The background character is reaching out trying to protect with a motherly instinct or angel answer, whatever you want to call it. What is the deal with LA?!


I ask myself that same question sometimes.

Greg Hildebrandt Painting 'DOOMED'

Greg: One of my favorite buttons says "Fear No Art". People overreact to things all the time, and they'll land on the artist for being someone who leads people astray, like rock n' roll as a genre back in the day.


Jean: This piece of art is beautiful. It's great, just a beautiful, warm, tender piece of art. That's what it is. There's nothing nasty going on here at all.


Agreed, but hey, what can you do but keep painting? Do you feel as though these restrictions limit artistic expression in ways that kind of shift the conversation away from topics that are that should be discussed?


Greg: Absolutely. I'm so opposed to these practices, which date back to the Spanish Inquisition! That said, I don't believe in censorship at all.


Jean: What was that Mae West saying? It is better to be looked over than overlooked. That's what I'll say about that.


Beautifully put. Now that the record is out and you've had the chance of seeing it circulate across the world, where do you look at this painting in retrospect? Has your intention or perspective on it changed at all?


Jean: I spent more time with Jesse Jo than Greg did and I would have to say that she's a joy. She's a joy as a person and she's lovely. When you are working with someone like that, you really want to give it your 2,000%. I still love this painting as much today as the day they finished it. I hope she feels the same way I do.

Artwork by Greg Hildebrandt

Greg: I still get a thrill from seeing it in print.I've been at this since 1958 and this feeling never goes away. That kick, the thrill of actually seeing the thing complete and successful in print on billboards. It's a big thing for me. It's real.


It's great to hear of your excitement, Greg and Jean. Thank you both. Jesse Jo, Greg's cover really only gives you a piece of the puzzle, encouraging you to complete the experience through your own unique lens. In closing, how significant do you value the visual persona that you've been able to create, the visual persona being Greg's artwork, lyricism, concert outfits, and the imagery you portray?


Jesse Jo: I think I'm still finding it within this release, like with my outfit on stage. With the word 'DOOMED', I never really thought of a specific art project or how I wanted it to be presented on stage, but then it's like all of a sudden, I'm now slowly dipping into the idea that I actually want it to be darker and utilize more black. I didn't go into this thinking about what I was going to wear, how I was going to be, or that the art is going to piss people off because of the religious nods to it. I just make shit I like and I've always been like that. I don't know if that's selfish or not.

Photograph by Joshua Alvarez

It's very important for me to present myself in the way I want, but it's never forced. Like I said, I just make shit that I like. I don't know how to say that in some beautiful way.


There's no better way to say it. It's accessible for those who want it, and for those who don't, well then maybe it's not for them.


Jesse Jo: Yeah, and I love that. I think that's what sparks conversation. It's cool to disagree sometimes, so long as we can disagree in peace.

 

DOOMED is available now (Order).

Cover Artwork by Greg Hildebrandt