The guitarist elaborates on Sam Octigan's vibrant 'Ultraviolent' illustration.
There are times where LP illustrations serve as an extension of the music within and other times when the art exceeds that of the music. However, whether you've been collecting records for decades or have just begun your journey, one could say that there's nothing like falling in love with what lies beyond the sacred album cover, especially if explored unknowingly. For those who have held MISERY SIGNALS records throughout the years, you know the feeling, hence the rapidly selling pre-orders for the band's forthcoming Ultraviolet. Let us tell you that the feeling will remain the same.
Arriving on August 8th, Ultraviolet stands as the band's most mature and refined effort to date, bridging the aggression of hardcore with the melodic charm of post-metal in true clear cut fashion. From the opening assault of The Tempest to the fading chime of Some Dreams, Ultraviolet serves as the result of the camaraderie between the founding members of the group, all of which returned years after the band underwent multiple lineup changes. Not only is Ultraviolet musically sound, but visually as well with an alluring cover by Sam Octigan, who makes pristine use of purple and peach shades to present the more forgiving elements of the record. Octigan's brush strokes resemble that of an organic creative process, one that is apt to reflect the band's fan-driven existence throughout nearly two decades.
We talk to guitarist/vocalist Ryan Morgan about it all as Ultraviolet nears release:
Misery Signals is nearing the two decade mark since first forming, undergoing shifts in members and achievements in musical experimentation. Where are you now as a musician and as a person compared to when this all started in 2002?
Morgan: As a person, drastically different. The band started in the very beginning of my 20’s, so here I am a couple of decades later with a family and life in a different city.
Artistically, Misery Signals has some of the similar goals that it always had. With this record, I was still interested in a lot of the same things that I was interested in early on when we were writing the early material for the band. I’m coming at this from a more seasoned perspective in contrast to early in the band, where I would’ve been excited about almost anything. Now, it seems like in writing, I have a much smaller or focused window of things that get me stoked about what Misery Signals is doing. We’ve written a lot of songs and I’m not really interested in repeating the same songs that we’ve written if I’m not improving upon them or making them more interesting to me as a listener. There’s a balance to be had when you’ve been a band for a long time, delivering what people are expecting and wanting from the band, which is essentially what they’ve come to expect from you. Also, there’s a lot of records that we’ve made now, so I want to keep it exciting for myself and authentically make something that I’m interested in making.
Absolutely. It’s about evolving rather than phoning it in after so long.
Morgan: Totally. I don’t want to rest on our laurels and ride it out. I want to be excited about it.
‘Ultraviolet’ brings you all back for the first time in seven years, seven years of life experiences and all around global turmoil. Do you feel as though you have to make a statement with ‘Ultraviolet’, given the break?
Morgan: The pressure is definitely there externally. I don’t think I felt that for myself. Like I said, the only thing that I wanted to push myself to do was keep it interesting artistically as a person writing, growing, and evolving. I don’t know if it would be a different record if the world was in a different place or if our surroundings were different. It probably would be, but I don’t really notice the direct correlation. It’s probably happening on an unconscious level rather than a conscious one.
It somehow finds a way into the record.
Morgan: I agree. It’s hard to see that from being inside the writing process.
Definitely. In jumping into the art, Sam Octigan is a wondrous artist who’s illustrated for Year of the Knife, Stick To Your Guns, and more and now you’ve entrusted his talents for ‘Ultraviolet’. What drew you to working with him?
Morgan: He’s a really interesting dude and works in really interesting color palettes. It’s not a usual color scheme that you’d expect from a metal or hardcore record, which really aligns with what Misery Signals does. There’s a lot of melody and sweetness mixed into our flavor of music while still being kind of heavy and dark in certain aspects. That’s something that I noticed from Sam in a way. He’s using these pink and peach hues but still manages to make it intense, heavy, and beautiful. It’s such a great balance.
Stu (Ross), our other guitarist, pointed me to his work at first and I thought it was super interesting. We really like the idea of having something organic be the album cover, like an actual painting that exists in physical space. That’s what we wanted from the outset and that’s why we feel Sam was a really good fit.
It’s unique when bands seek out art that serves as a bit of a contrast from the music embodied within. The sharp, vivid colors on the cover bring people into the record expecting one thing and you get something completely different. It’s very fitting and it seems he took as much away from it as you did, stating that it’s one of his favorite pieces to date. How would you characterize the collaborative process between you and Sam?
Morgan: It was great and he was awesome. He’s in a hardcore band too, so it’s not like he’s coming from a totally different world. He’s familiar with what our music sounds like too, so he above anyone is aware of the juxtaposition that he’s making with what it sounds like and the mood that it sets. We sent him a bunch of information about what the songs were about, snippets of lyrics, the themes of the record and just let him run wild. From there, he sent us a sketch, which we gave him notes on. It was a really short process. He sent us one draft, we sent him one round of notes, and he came back with essentially the cover we have now.
It was really seamless and cool to work with him. I don’t know that he’s doing many album covers anymore. He’s mentioned that he’s moving away from that and doing more fine art shows, events at museums, and really just evolving as an artist. We’re fortunate that we’re kind of an established band that he was familiar with because he would’ve probably passed on us.
Seeing as you provided lyrics and concepts to Sam, did you feel the painting was a result of his interpretation of the material or do you feel it was particularly guided towards something you were looking for in specific?
Morgan: The only thing that was guided was the idea of a sundial. That wasn’t the main focus of the artwork, but it’s in the collage that he made. The rest was all his idea. He came up with the sort of statue head, the flowers, and the whole composition of it.
Interesting. The cover is beautifully hand painted and vivid, representative of the organic qualities of ‘Ultraviolet’ as evident in the ‘making of’ video he shared on Instagram. Visually, what were you looking for when approaching this aspect of the record?
Morgan: It felt like a true piece of art and not just something that a computer spitted out. It didn’t feel like any photoshop, rather the antithesis of that with actual brushstrokes and actual texture. It definitely does add an element to it where you get to see and feel the process. It was really cool that he was able to capture some of that. We shared that ‘making of’ video on our Instagram as well. I just love that aspect of it, that it’s an actual painting in physical space. For much of our recording, the music exists in computers and the virtual world, so it’s nice to have something tangible there.
I agree. Misery Signals is a band that has always appreciated the visual, DIY spirit. From Adam Rosenlund’s work on ‘Absent Light’ (2013) to the fading cityscape of ‘Controller’ (2008) by Sons of Nero, you’ve understood the significance of album covers. Is there an intended feeling you wish to portray with not just ‘Ultraviolet’, but the band’s album covers overall?
Morgan: Maybe I’m answering this wrong, but I do think there’s something refreshing when an album cover doesn’t feel like a piece of marketing. You can kind of tell what a band is going for and who they’re trying to appeal to with an album cover. If that’s immediately obvious to me, it’s kind of a turn off. We’ve always wanted to have something that makes you go ‘I wonder what that’s about.’
If you look at something like ‘Controller’, there’s some subtlety to it. It definitely has a mood, but you’re not entirely sure on what it is. It’s a little blurry and washed out, which sets you up to wonder about it. Regardless if you’re familiar with the band or not, if you’re going to see the artwork, I want them to have a reaction that is more about curiosity. I don’t like things that are too simple. I want audiences to be intrigued.
As you should. That’s the beauty of it all, it’s open to interpretation.
Morgan: Totally. That’s true of the music too. It could be written about one specific thing but it can totally land for another person’s own experiences. If something is a little disorienting, it could be a very powerful part of the delivery.
Sparking curiosity among your audiences is always a good thing. Do you recall a time when an album cover sparked your curiosity and made you pick up a record or even change the way you engaged with it?
Morgan: There’s a lot of great ones. Some stuff that stuck to me early on would be ‘The Downward Spiral’ (1994) by Nine Inch Nails. That artwork was so immersive. Just like we were talking about, you don’t really know what it’s trying to portray but there’s such a mood to it. I had a pretty expansive Digipak with a cardboard sleeve that slid out. I remember getting lost in that artwork for sure. I was already a fan of the band, but that album was just next level.
That’s a good one. I’ve always appreciated Trent’s ability to embody so much emotion through simplicity. Their album covers are far from elaborate and simplistic in nature.
Morgan: ‘The Fragile’ (1999) is one of those too. There’s those smeared colors on that double record. You open it all the way up and there are these orange flowers and this almost greyish blue background. There’s so much feeling with such little content.
You gotta love it. Your reign throughout the metalcore realm is purely fan driven, hence the anticipation for ‘Ultraviolet’. Does your excitement for this release match that of your debut with ‘Of Malice and the Magnum Heart’ (2004)?
Morgan: It definitely does. I’m super stoked. There’s an added layer now because there is outside expectation. I feel that we turned around those early records much more quickly. We were much more focused and less was going on in our lives. We were all living near each other and not having to go back home. We were knocking it out in huge chunks rather than tiny chunks. That said, the anticipation has kind of grown. I’ve been digesting it for a long time. We’ve been putting it together in these little moments where the band all comes together and then has to go back to separate cities. We’re all spread out, so that built some anticipation for me.
Our fans have graciously stuck with us and are still excited about the record rather than having just totally moved on. I’m totally aware that Misery Signals is like you say, a fan-driven band. We couldn’t do any of this without that level of reception that we’ve been blessed with.
Once shows become a thing again, how do you hope to translate the emotion, the power, and really these breakdowns into the fans at the live setting?
Morgan: That’s where the band exists, in the live setting. We focus a lot on the records but we’ve always been a band that thrives in the moment of performance. ‘Absent Light’ was written very little with everyone in the same room together and this one was written a lot more that way. There’s a different element of reaction. You get to do it a little bit more intuitively in a setting where you have other musicians riffing with you.
I’m super excited to play all these new songs because they were written like that. I know what they’re like in a room with my bandmates. We’re back to the guys that we started with and there’s a lot of chemistry there, so the live setting is going to be great. Not that ‘Absent Light’ songs don’t do well live, because they do, but they do take some adjustment. They require taking a recording and adjusting it to the live setting rather than taking something that was put together in a live setting to the live setting itself. I know where these new songs exist in that live setting and these are all great songs to hear in concert.
Let’s hope this COVID stuff wraps up sooner than later then so we can get you guys back on the road.
Morgan: Indeed man, indeed.
Ultraviolet is being self-released on August 8th and you can pre-order your copy HERE.