David Correll, the Man Behind Vinyl Institution ‘Sacred Bones’

When it comes to album and package design, there’s few who do it better than David Correll. 

Sacred Bones Records has become a vinyl institution over the last 10 years, and David’s the man responsible for the look and feel of everything that they produce. We caught up with New Yorker David Correll to talk design, music, and his ever-burning love for vinyl.

Let’s start off with name, occupation and where you’re answering these questions. 

David Correll, art director, and from my apartment in beautiful Brooklyn, NY.

Can you remember the first album that caught your eye?

Oh man… probably Invisible Touch by Genesis. The hand, the circular pattern—what a classic. I still love that cover (and the record). When I was a kid, one of my favourite things in the world was to go through the sale flyers in the Sunday paper, just to see the albums they were advertising. Genesis, Iron Maiden, Tom Petty, Boston; I ate that shit up.

What was your first job?

I had a newspaper route when I was around 12 years old. I delivered newspapers by bicycle every morning, and once a month, went door-to-door collecting the subscription fees.

Can you remember the first item you designed?

When I was in elementary school we had an Apple IIc. I would do a half-assed book report on a book I had barely read, but would spend a bunch of time designing the cover page, thinking that would help me get a better grade. Does that count? If you mean my first paid work, it would be the identity and packaging for a line of soaps, creams, and body oils.

When did you know that design/art direction was the path you were on?

I initially went to college as an English major, but spent most of my time with a friend obsessing over the packing work that Peter Saville did for Joy Division and New Order (fun fact: my first tattoo was the barcode from the back of the Closer CD). I dropped out after a year to take some time off and regroup. In that time, I was at a bookstore and saw a copy of Eye Magazine—the fantastic British design magazine. The cover of the issue was the image from the cover of New Order’s album Republic. At the time, I had no idea what the magazine was about, but figured it contained something about either New Order or Peter Saville, so I picked it up. I obsessed over that issue. That issue also has a great piece on Cyan, the Berlin-based design firm. That magazine, combined with my love of Saville, led to me deciding to go back to school to study design.

What is your take on the increased interest in vinyl again, or do you think it never really disappeared?

Among my circle of friends, it never disappeared, but it’s definitely back as far as broader culture goes. I think it’s largely a reaction to the shift to digital. For me personally, when I buy an album digitally I don’t feel like I actually own it, because there’s no object. I think people like to have a physical object. Vinyl is also a different listening experience; the listener is physically more involved because you have to stand up every twenty minutes to flip the record, carefully setting the needle down. So it’s a more physical, visceral experience. It’s a much more conscious, deliberate act than just pressing a button.

Do you prefer working with digital or analog?

Analog for sure. It’s so much nicer to have a finished product in your hand at the end. Plus, when you’re working with printed material you can do fun things like gloss varnishes, metallic inks or foil stamps. I’d much rather design an actual, physical booklet, than an iTunes booklet. It’s just no fun to finish a project and say, “But look, I made this great .jpg,” you know?

How did the job at Sacred Bones come about?

Caleb and I have been friends for a long time. He initially approached me when he was thinking about starting what became Sacred Bones, asking if I wanted to be his partner; we had this conversation while driving back to Brooklyn after attending the Touch & Go Records 25th anniversary festival in Chicago. Because of my circumstances at the time, I wasn’t able to commit to a partnership, but I told him that I wanted to be involved. So, I became the label’s designer.

‘The Template’—I’ve read in a few interviews that the template is of great discussion, what was your original idea and concept behind it?

Caleb and I are both fans of record labels that have a recognisable aesthetic: Factory, 4AD, Blue Note, etc. So we wanted Sacred Bones to have a ‘look’. The first one we did was Blank Dogs, then I refined the typography, and we’ve been using it ever since. Regarding the specific inspiration… well, I’ll just say this: I used to work for a creative director who would always say, “You’re only as good as the obscurity of your sources.”

Do you think the template’s still working and has a place within the label?

Yeah, for the most part. It has certainly made the label recognisable. Having said that, we had to create a second template that we use for bands’ third (sometimes second) album with us, because the more established acts wanted more, say, in the design. Sometimes bands really have fun with it. Institute has a new record coming out on June 2nd using the second template, but in his artwork he kind of did a deconstruction of the first template, and I love it. I love working with him—he’s a self-proclaimed typography nut, and has a fantastic aesthetic.

How much input do bands have with each design?

A lot. For their first two LPs, they have to use “the template” but provide their own imagery. The second template was created to give more versatility to the more established acts. Some bands are really involved in the process, others are fairly hands-off.

Does Caleb pretty much give you free reign on the creative side of things within the label?

Yeah, it’s great working with him. He has a fantastic eye for design, trust me, and lets me do my thing. That’s hard to find in a client.

What music are you listening to in the studio lately?

At the moment, I’m pretty obsessed with the new albums from Mark Lanegan, The Afghan Whigs, and Slowdive. And I can’t get enough of the latest Uniform record. At the Sacred Bones office, we listen to a lot of Thin Lizzy. But every single time I’m in the office, I hear something that I’ve never heard before. It’s awesome.

Outside of music where do you draw inspiration?

I love architecture, and definitely find inspiration there. An architect friend and I daydream about doing a trip that’s an architectural tour of former Eastern Bloc countries. It started because I want to see Buzludzha, this abandoned communist building/monument in Bulgaria. It’s incredible. There’s so much amazing architecture in that part of the world.

Do you have a favourite design from Sacred Bones you’ve done?

Probably Eraserhead. I love that project so much. It was such an honour to be able to do that.

What other contemporary design in music do you like?

I like the work that Rob Sheridan does for NIN and HTDA. He’s incredibly talented, and also a great guy. I like that he’s involved with the whole spectrum of the Trent visual presence, from album packaging, to photography, to lighting and production design for the tours. I love the stuff done by Raster-Noton. They’ve had a wholly unique and consistent aesthetic for close to 20 years. And Mark Farrow continues to do amazing work, of course. I also love the concert lighting design done by Sarah Landau. She’s doing incredible things. Both Rob and Sarah have collaborated with Moment Factory for tour lighting, and they’re the best in the business.

What’s next for David Correll and Sacred Bones?

Well, we’re celebrating our 10th anniversary this year, so we have a bunch of really cool stuff in the works for that. And after that… hopefully another 10 years of putting out great records! Who knows, maybe Sarah Landau wants to take me on as an intern. (Are you reading this, Sarah? I’m dead serious).

What’s on after these questions are answered?

“Haute Pression,” by Besombes – Rizet. Released in 1975, but new to me—I mean, this is literally the first time I’ve heard it, and it’s absolutely blowing my mind at the moment. Phenomenal tripped-out space-rock.

Get more from our issue 55, buy it here.

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