Revolver teamed with Of Mice & Men on an exclusive vinyl variant of their new album, Echo, which sold out immediately. Head over to the store now to see our full selection of extremely limited vinyl offerings.
For their seventh studio album, Echo, Of Mice & Men wanted their fans to hear their new music several songs at a time, so they decided to release it on three thematic EPs: Timeless (February 2021), Bloom (May 2021), and Ad Infinitum. The final EP drops December 3rd, the same day OM&M will issue all ten songs as the complete Echo record. Since the multitiered project addressed loss, grief and recovery, the SoCal metal outfit knew they needed to hire an artist that, in singer Aaron Pauley's words, "gets it." They found the right match of empathy and world-renowned skills in illustrator and artist Derek Hess, who created four different visually arresting works that used birds to express various emotional themes.
"When we first started talking about the project, I remember telling Derek that I love the way birds can represent transience, but they can also represent loss and loneliness," says Pauley. "Birds just have a lot of emotional quality to them, and the way Derek draws them is especially powerful."
Hess, who had been recovering from a recent breakup and wasn't working on anything at the time, was glad to get the gig. "I was between bad relationships and tend to get triggered creatively when I'm down," Hess says. "I was just floating around thinking, What am I going to draw? What am I going to do? And then this project came across my desk, which was great. I could relate to it and I found it therapeutic to do."
Hess has been exploring the intersection between art and music since he first started out as a visual artist. After attending various art schools, Hess worked in a club booking shows before he started working with bands. Since the Nineties, he has created concert posters and album art for a wide range of alternative and metal acts, including Pearl Jam, Sepultura, Rollins Band, Pantera, Converge, In Flames, Unearth and more.
A diehard fan of aggressive, emotionally impactful music, Hess was first exposed to Of Mice & Men by a friend, and he was immediately moved by the pain and tension in their songs. OM&M drummer Valentino Arteaga (aka Tino) suggested contacting Hess to create the thematic art project and Pauley immediately loved the idea.
"I was in high school and going to hardcore shows when Derek was doing posters in the early 2000s," he recalls. "I felt that the music and the art worked together really well. Derek has such an emotional quality to his work that's very three-dimensional. Nothing he creates just feels like an image. It feels like it's moving and that's something we really wanted for this project."
As Of Mice & Men finished tracking the songs for Echo, Pauley collaborated with Hess to incorporate lyrical elements in the four art pieces. During a recent Zoom call, Pauley and Hess discussed what motivated the illustrations and the songs, the importance of album art in music, processing pain through creativity, and the crippling impact of depression.
DEREK, YOU'RE A TRAINED ARTIST IN A NUMBER OF MEDIUMS. WHEN DID YOU FIRST GET TURNED ON TO ALBUM ART?
HESS When I was a little kid I was in a record store and I saw the [1978 live] AC/DC album If You Want Blood. The cover was a picture of Angus Young driving his SG guitar through his chest and his shirt was covered with blood. I thought, I don't know who the hell these guys are, but this is coming home with me! That started my interest in album art. It's an important way to reflect the music and sometimes album art sells the record even if you don't know who the artist is or what it sounds like. I could rattle off a whole bunch of bands that I bought records from without knowing anything about them until I got home and listened to them.
ALBUM ART USED TO BE DISPLAYED IN LARGE IMAGES ON LP COVERS AND THEN TO A LESSER EXTENT ON CASSETTE AND CD INSERTS. WHILE VINYL IS MORE POPULAR THAN IT HAS BEEN IN YEARS, MUSIC IS STILL PRIMARILY CONSUMED DIGITALLY AND ALBUM ART HAS BEEN REDUCED TO A THUMBNAIL IMAGE ON A PHONE SCREEN. DO YOU THINK PEOPLE CARE LESS ABOUT ALBUM ART THAN THEY USED TO?
HESS That's a tough question. I agree that album art has faded away to a certain degree because of the formats. But I'm still a huge fan of CDs because I want the liner notes and I want to read the lyrics and I think that's still important to people, especially if they really love the band.
PAULEY I'm 33, and by the time any of my bands could have started releasing CDs, the stores that sold them started closing. But within the rock and metal communities, there's still such a huge demand for CDs and vinyl. I'm with Derek. I love having a visual companion to elaborate artistically or emotionally whatever journey the music is going to take me on. Maybe in terms of the artwork being the thing that ropes you in, that doesn't happen the way it used to. But I think artwork is more important now than ever because people have such short attention spans. If there isn't something visual to latch onto, people might not connect with an album. So I think the medium has changed but not the meaning.
THE EPS IN THE ECHO CYCLE FEATURE A RUNNING THEME THAT INCLUDES BIRDS. CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THEIR SIGNIFICANCE?
PAULEY Each EP is an image from a story, the Timeless EP is an image of two birds on a wire. I remember when we were first discussing birds, Derek sent over a photo of a paper sketch of two birds and it had a real effect on me. It's really inspiring when art creates that kind of spark and to me; the art looks the way the EP feels. The same thing with Bloom. One bird is on the wire and the other one is flying away. And that represents the loss of somebody.
DID YOU LOSE ANYONE DURING THE MAKING OF THESE SONGS?
PAULEY My fiancé's mom and our drummer's mom passed away during the making of the second EP. That's why the cover of Bloom shows the same bird that was sitting on a wire, but now it's in a dead tree and there's rain.
THE PERSONAL LOSSES YOU SUFFERED MUST HAVE BEEN DEVASTATING FOR YOU AND THE BAND.
PAULEY It was, and everyone deals with grief in their own way. Sometimes isolation can be a compounding factor of grief. The experience can be so unique to you that other people can't relate to it or understand it. But sometimes being aware that there are people that understand your grief can make it more bearable and lighten your load in a huge way. And that ties into the art of the third EP [Ad Infinitum] which is the same bird on a wire, but now there's a bunch of other birds and it's bridging that connection.
HESS I feel like the third one is more about healing, especially with the number of the birds that are basically aware of each other and looking at each other.
THE COVER IMAGE FOR ECHO DEPICTS A FACELESS PERSON TEARING HIS CHEST OPEN TO EXPOSE A BIRD IN PLACE OF HIS HEART.
PAULEY The image is the culmination of the other covers. It's the most literal allegory of what the bird represents.
HESS Aaron just told me he wanted a chest being pulled open, showing a bird with color coming out. That's a no-brainer for me. I can draw someone pulling a chest open all day long and I really enjoyed doing that piece. I blacked in the face because it made it look more like the person is looking down at this gaping hole in his chest. The way I understood what Aaron wanted was for the image to be the essence of the soul.
PAULEY Totally, and you nailed it so perfectly. It's the part of you that not only feels love and grief, but that feels the connection between the two.
DEREK, MUCH OF YOUR IMAGERY IS EMOTIONALLY CAPTIVATING AND DARK BUT IT'S NOT GROTESQUE. YOU DEPICT VIOLENCE WITHOUT USING GORE AND RENDER PSYCHIC AND PHYSICAL PAIN IN WAYS THAT AVOID MANY OF THE TROPES OF METAL ARTWORK.
HESS I feel like it's always better to imply something than to just give you the instant gratification of something such as a Cannibal Corpse cover. I mean, Cannibal Corpse covers are perfect for that band because everything they do is in your face. But instead of doing something just totally shocking, I like to do things that draw you in, make you think and hopefully provide some insight.
AARON, CLEARLY YOU HAVE AN APPRECIATION FOR ART. DO YOU DRAW, PAINT OR DABBLE IN THE MEDIUM IN OTHER WAYS?
PAULEY No, but I think both music and art both come from being human and exercising a very primitive need to create. In a modern, tech-driven society — where a lot of things are done for us with regards to our food, our water, our shelter and our security — there's not as much of an emphasis on art as there used to be. But I think it's super important.
THESE EPS AND THE ALBUM WERE CREATED DURING A VERY INTENSE PERIOD. EVERYONE WAS EITHER QUARANTINED AT HOME OR WEARING MASKS AND SOCIAL DISTANCING. IT WAS AN AGE OF FEAR AND DEATH. DID THAT HAVE A MAJOR IMPACT ON THE CREATIVE PROCESS FOR THE ALBUM AND ARTWORK?
PAULEY It definitely had an impact on me, but it didn't necessarily compound my depression. If anything, it was an opportunity to try to find silver linings in bad situations. It was clear we couldn't express ourselves by playing shows. So we realized very early on: Okay, we can sit here and wait and wait for things to be different or we can get together over Zoom as much as we can and work on the new material. The way we worked wasn't hugely different than what we always do, but I think everybody was keenly aware of the fact that if we wanted to stay productive and keep from going crazy we had to work this way. The biggest challenge was working on Zoom because sometimes you suddenly get disconnected, and we had to figure out how to get the audio to work. It was a great tool, but sometimes it was frustrating to struggle with the technological side of it.
DEREK, DO YOU PLAY MUSIC?
HESS No, I can't hold a note and I can't play anything so I always thought, What can I bring to the table for a genre that I am very passionate about? And I realized I can bring my art to the table and that would be my contribution to the music I love.
DEREK, YOU'VE SPOKEN IN THE PAST ABOUT HAVING SUBSTANCE ABUSE PROBLEMS AND BEING BIPOLAR. NOW, YOU'RE CLEAN AND SOBER. DID MUSIC AND ART HELP YOU COPE WITH MENTAL ILLNESS?
HESS Yes, I believe so and I can feel the emotions of what I'm creating, especially if I'm really in a hole. I definitely find it therapeutic to create when I'm down.
PAULEY I feel like a lot of people, myself included, suffer from a major depressive disorder. I would much rather not be down. But when I'm down, I feel this very primal need in my soul to create something to better convey how I'm feeling. A lot of times just talking about it doesn't do the job. And that's why it's literally a huge honor to work with Derek — not just to be part of Derek's legacy, which is incredible — but because Derek gets it, It's so important to be able to reach out and connect with somebody on that level.
WE'RE LIVING IN MEDICATION NATION, WHICH INSPIRES DIFFERENT REACTIONS IN PEOPLE. HAVE YOU FOUND MEDICATION HELPFUL?
HESS Definitely. I've seen a lot of doctors and I've been on a lot of meds. I'm on a cocktail right now that really works for me. There are no side effects, and it helps keep me level. So, yeah, I'm all about the meds. I know other people that obviously aren't med-oriented and that's fine. Whatever works.
WHAT WORKS FOR YOU?
HESS I got antidepressants and then I also have bipolar meds. I'm on Latuda, and Seroquel right now and they're working really great. But they're not a cure by any means. Depression and bipolar — it's a chronic condition. I'm going to have it all my life.
PAULEY I think that everybody that's feeling depressed or mentally unbalanced should consult medical professionals about it and discuss whatever's going to be the best and most effective treatment. I spoke with my doctor and I use cannabis to mitigate severe depression symptoms. But when I start to feel really depressed, I'll throw myself into work until I feel better.
YOU HAVE BOTH IMPLIED THAT YOUR ART IS THERAPEUTIC. WHERE WOULD YOU BE WITHOUT ART AND MUSIC?
PAULEY I find it really difficult to answer that kind of question. What would you do without art? It's kind of like asking, "What would you do without English?" Music for me is very much a language and it's a way of emotionally expressing things that I can't necessarily convey through words.
HESS If I didn't have art I'd probably be working at Amazon driving the truck around or stocking the warehouse. But I'm with Aaron. It's hard to imagine. Art has been a part of my life since day one. It's hard for me to think of life without art.
A LOT OF PEOPLE THAT LOVE HEAVY MUSIC AND INTENSE ART ARE ALSO DEALING WITH SOME HEAVY PERSONAL ISSUES, INCLUDING DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY. WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO YOUR FANS WHO ARE STRUGGLING WITH SIMILAR ISSUES?
PAULEY If you're in crisis, don't feel shame about being in such a vulnerable place. It's hard to talk about it, but it's so much better to just tell people than to keep it to yourself. We have such a culture of not wanting to lighten our load for whatever reason. I would just try and encourage people that if you're in crisis, reach out to a crisis hotline. Reach out to somebody or to medical professionals or to anybody. I think the biggest thing that stops a lot of people from reaching out is just feeling shame.
HESS I agree. I think the stigma needs to be removed from mental health. A lot of people just don't understand how it works. You can't say to someone who's suffering from depression, "Aw, cheer up buddy. It's okay. You can get over this." That just isn't how it works. And people need to know there's no shame in reaching out for professional help.