“There’s a connection emotionally between art and music, and just because music moves into a new medium doesn’t mean that connection won’t always be there.”

Neal Ashby & Matthew Curry: Visual Versions

For more than two years, Washington, D.C., graphic designer Neal Ashby kept a revolver on his desk for creative inspiration. But in this case, happiness wasn’t a warm gun. This “Revolver” was the classic 1966 Beatles LP.

Ashby was creatively drawn to the black-and-white “Revolver” album cover, particularly to its organic hand-drawn line art and psychedelic-era collages of faces and found objects. Ultimately, its elements helped influence Ashby’s CD package design for Thievery Corporation’s latest album, “Versions,” which has earned Ashby and illustrator Matthew Curry a 2007 Grammy-nomination for Best Recording Package.


A Visual Remix

Since 1998, Ashby has designed CD graphics for Thievery Corporation, a down-tempo electronica duo whose signature sound is the world music they weave throughout their sophisticated remixes. In 2006, band members Eric Hilton and Rob Garza approached Ashby to design the packaging for their upcoming album, to be called “Versions.” Hilton told Asbhy that the new album would offer Thievery’s remixed interpretations of music by 18 artists past and present, including Herb Alpert, Sarah McLachlan, Anoushka Shankar, The Doors, Astrud Gilberto, and Fear of Pop.

“In Jamaica, the term ‘versions’ refers to when someone takes another person’s song and spins it in their own way, does their own thing with it,” explains Ashby. “People will say, ‘It’s my version,’ and that’s where the title came from. Essentially, Thievery Corporation had taken these songs apart and reassembled them like pieces of a collage.”

A Kindred Artistic Spirit Across the Potomac

To bring his concept to life, Ashby wanted to collaborate with an illustrator who truly understood the style he hoped to achieve. He had seen the work of artist Matthew Curry and was impressed by his body of work. Coincidentally, Curry lived close by, in Virginia — and he happened to be a fan of Thievery Corporation’s music and to know of Ashby’s earlier work for the band, including his first Grammy-nominated packaging design in 2006 for Thievery Corporation’s “The Cosmic Game.”

Curry enthusiastically agreed to team up with Ashby on the “Versions” project, their working relationship eerily mirroring how Hilton and Garza worked together to create their remixes. “It was really cool — we didn’t have any conflicts,” says Curry. “We were both really excited about the direction everything was going. We both loved the ‘Revolver’ album and so in a way it was kind of like the packaging is our remix album of Klaus Voormann’s great album cover. It reflected what was going on with Thievery and what they were doing.”

Ashby and Curry settled on a theme of metamorphosis, depicting a caterpillar evolving into a human female nymph. The theme was carried out on the CD cover as well as in a 32-page booklet inside. Optional merchandise for sale includes a 24-inch by 36-inch poster and a choice of three skateboard decks.