The Making of Backroad Carnival, Chapter 1: The Artwork

June 12, 2017

The next series of posts will dig into my new album, Backroad Carnival. I’m going to roll up my sleeves and get into the nitty gritty to a) explain how the musical ideas took shape, b) unpack some of the themes raised in the lyrics, c) recount some of the stories/anecdotes that spawned some of the tunes, d) describe the recording/technical process, and e) discuss the choice of artwork.

I’ll begin things with the artwork:

I first met photographer and graphic designer Philipp Schütz in Addis Ababa during a concert I did with my friend Kaëthe Hostetter. We performed during a fundraising event for Philipp’s photobook on the Simien Mountains and to draw awareness to the recently completed Limalimo Lodge, perched on the edge of the Simien escarpment. Impressed by Philipp’s amazing photography, he seemed like the perfect candidate to take pictures of me for my new album.
We settled on the old, defunct doors of the Wafa Theatre located at the Churchill roundabout on the southern edge of the Piazza neighborhood of Addis. You could walk right by and nearly miss them. But given the theatrical nature of the album, it was an obvious choice – rusted out doors, wooden “curtains”, a krar shooting off in one direction, people dancing on a bass clef in another, and at the center of it all the ancient sock and buskin masks, symbols of comedy and tragedy: .
Motivated as we were to get the “perfect” image, we did two very early morning photoshoots in order to avoid the crowds and too much attention to the weird ferenjis and their camera equipment. We paid off the guard of the theater (which is still in use, the main entrance is now on the side) to keep an eye on my car and to ward off a lot of the street kids who, while totally unthreatening, might have been a little too interested in the camera equipment!
Philipp took a lot of pictures, and in the end we opted for the above image. There were some other priceless images though, including this one of me with the street kids.

Unfortunately, Philipp had a hard drive failure and lost a bunch of other cool images before getting the chance to back it up. Perhaps we should count ourselves lucky that a good portion of the photos were salvaged, that no one stole anything off of us during the shoot, and most importantly that the authorities didn’t show up to give us a hard time (another benefit of waking up early).



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