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Grand Designs: Dave House

Rachel Kellehar
Rachel Kellehar 4 May 2007 at 22.44

Singer / songwriter, punk rocker, artist and designer... ROCK SOUND meets Dave House to discuss music, art, and the role of the DIY ethos in the world of design…

ACTS WORKED FOR: Dartz!, The Steal, Satori, Hundred Reasons, Cadillac Blindside, Capdown, Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly, himself, and many more...

Dave House is an artist in every sense of the word. Firmly grounded in his DIY punk rock roots, he treats his art as he does his music, both as a solo artist, a member of critically-acclaimed positive hardcore quartet The Steal, and as the in-house designer for indie label Gravity DIP. Initially making artwork out of necessity for his own music promotion, his aptitude for innovative design soon led to increasing demand for his work as an artist, culminating in the current series of album and single sleeves for Dartz! With his new solo album now hitting the shelves and a wide range of design-based projects constantly on the go for a number of artists, 07 looks like it will be another big year for Dave in more ways than one...

Have you studied design or are you self-taught?
I studied art at Camberwell where I stayed for a couple of years but chose not to graduate because of musical projects I had going on. I learnt a lot about the technical aspects of design in my own time, purely through being in a band. We needed a website, so I learnt how to make one; we needed a CD cover, so I made one. The most important thing I learnt from art college was nothing to do with any layout or computer skills, it was about how to play off concepts and visual language against each other.

What elements do you believe are necessary for a striking design?
I'll be bold and start off by saying that most artists are self-obsessed wankers! I don't care how good someone is at illustration, printing or photography, the main goal as a designer in terms of music-based print is to make a visual representation of the artist or album in question, and to make it recognisable to the consumer in the style which suits it best.

What triggers you creatively?
I speak to the bands directly and get a feel for what they want. If there is one person who writes the lyrics or has a stronger emotional connection to the music, I try and concentrate on what they say more as it gives a deeper understanding of what the record is about. Coming up with the idea is the hardest part of the process. Putting something together after you have had the idea is nothing more than simple skill, or having an eye for composition.

Tell us about one of your favourite pieces you've done?
It's for the album 'This Is My Ship' by Dartz!, plus all of their singles artwork. This was one of the first projects I've done where I had the flexibility to basically do what I wanted over an entire campaign. It was evident that a lot of the songs at heart were about travel, globally and mentally, and this suggested the idea of various forms of travel within the artwork. The first single 'St Petersburg' is visually the most obscure. Rather than a plane, car or train, the object is a worn-down rope bridge representing the journey in the lyrics. All the covers contain a dotted line reflecting the direction of movement itself. These very small and often ignored elements are what I feel give depth to good design. It's not always about being bold and blatant; having multiple subtle elements can be just as powerful.

What's the money like working within the arts / music industry?
The money situation fluctuates massively. In terms of design, the small labels can in no way afford what you would charge a major for the same amount of work. If you're talking non-music-related design, fuck yeah you can charge the earth, but it goes two ways. Either you work for a progressive and exciting design agency with a team of amazing individuals all bouncing off each other, or the work is often so uninspiring with no room for creativity that it feels like you are nothing more than a well-paid – visual – data-entry clerk.

Do you think that being part of the DIY underground scene has had an effect on the way that you work as a designer?
It has made me learn to work very fast, unselfishly and cost-efficiently. Everyone is running a super-tight ship. This pretty much means that most design ideas you have cannot be realised to their full potential. However, sometimes designing within a client's financial means is a fun part of the process, even if you had much grander ideas for the project yourself.

What are you working on at present design-wise?
I always have a constant stream of little jobs coming my way, however recently I've just been finishing the final single from the Dartz! set and my split single with Jenny Owen Youngs.

The album 'See That No One Else Escapes' is out on April 16 and the split 10-inch single with Jenny Owen Youngs is out now, both on Gravity DIP.

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