Steve and I are extremely fond of 19th-century imagery, and we have a collection of early natural history and literary engravings and lithographs in our home in Austin. After deciding that our recent CD would be titled A Handful of Locusts, referencing a line from our song “Grasshoppers,” we worked with graphic designer Jamie Panzer to develop the concept for the cover design.
The song “Grasshoppers” tells the tale of an eccentric, religiously obsessed man who talks to Jesus through his car antenna and believes that God wants him to eat only locusts and Campbell’s soup. We recorded the track live in the studio, with the legendary Jad Fair (best known for his role as co-founder of the band Half Japanese) providing guest vocals that “quake with the ultimate rumination of wrack and ruin” (Doug Freeman, Austin Chronicle).
We ultimately decided to build the design around a copper plate engraving from a book by the English botanist and zoologist, George Shaw (1751-1813), published in 1805, which we purchased from a dealer in New Zealand.
Jamie then went to work, creating a design incorporating the iconic image. The image was reversed, enabling it to wrap around the cover and be viewed in full when the cover is opened. For the inside cover, Jamie’s individual portraits of the band were presented in Victorian-era mourning jewelry settings and a typical Union case, continuing the 19th-century aesthetic.
The locust engraving itself is a product of the burgeoning interest in scientific exploration during the 19th century. Western adventurer-scientists were traveling the globe to explore new regions, seek real and imagined treasures, and discover and classify mammals, reptiles, insects, plants, fungi, sea life, and minerals. They returned from their expeditions to find attentive audiences fascinated by lectures about their adventures and discoveries, and wealthy patrons eager to purchase exotic specimens for their collections. Lavishly illustrated studies published as books and portfolios found their places in private libraries. Our locust came from one of these works.
In addition to the literal reference to the song, we were also drawn to the biblical, apocalyptic associations of the locust with plagues and ruination—a thread that runs throughout the album. The disc itself features an image of a swarm of locusts as a visual conclusion to the cover’s ominous warning. Naturally, we were pleased when a British reviewer praised it as “some of the best cover art we’ve seen this year.”