Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Interview: Jess Rotter Discusses Creating Album Art, New Book and More

Jess Rotter with her album cover
for 'Country Funk'
Artist Jess Rotter has always been into art. From her days growing up in Syosset, New York fascinated by album covers, she knew that creating artworks like that was what she wanted to do.

Defined by clean lines and bold, block color choices, Ms. Rotter’s drawings are distinct. Inspired by the top comic book artists and illustrators of the day, her work combines the cartoonish with the realistic. Whether she’s drawing a children’s book or a band T-shirt or album cover, her designs are straight-forward and easy to look at.

Flash forward to 2006, when Ms. Rotter created her T-shirt label, Rotter and Friends, launching her into the world of band T-shirts and album art. Since then her brand has picked up steam. She has worked on clothing projects with The Gap and Urban Outfitters, album covers and merch for Yusuf/Cat Stevens, Best Coast, ‘Country Funk,’ Angel Olsen, Grateful Dead, Fruit Bats and Kurt Vile, and various posters and projects for Third Man Records, Light In The Attic, MTV, Pitchfork, HBO, Heeb and Lenny.

In 2016, Ms. Rotter released her first book, ‘I’m Bored,’ through Hat & Beard Press. The book features the same clean lines and bold colors she’s known for while using her art to commenting on what it means to be bored in this current age of technology and instant gratification.

Vinyl Bay 777, Long Island’s top music outlet, sat down with Ms. Rotter to discuss her artistic background and influences, getting into album art, working with Yusuf/Cat Stevens, how music affects her art and her new book.

Vinyl Bay 777: How did you get into art?

Jess Rotter: I got into art at a pretty early age. I started when I was super young just to pass the time and play with my imagination. And then I always loved the way art was portrayed in vinyl covers. I really began to love the bridge between visual art and music. Andso I studied painting in college and just always kind of stuck with it.

VB: You said you studied painting, but most of your artwork looks like drawings. How did you get into drawings in particular?

JR: My painting always kind of looked like drawings. They were illustrative, like comic book, kind of,big paintings. When I graduated college, it was really hard to sort of get in the industry with a paintbrush. So I found drawing was a more down-to-earth way to get faster work. And I realized over the years that I really connected more to illustration than fine arts. I wanted people to wear my art on T-Shirts and record covers. I found more of a warm connection with drawing. And so, it felt more comfortable.

VB: The lines and colors in your work are very clean. How did you refine that style?

JR: I think I always did, kind offlat, bold colors. They were influenced by 70s comics and 70s album covers.

VB: Who are some of the artists that influenced you?

JR: I love Robert Crumb and I love Philip Guston, who’s a painter. He also did amazing political cartoons. And I love William Stout. Those were all, sort of, older influences. And in the 90s, I always loved Mike Mills’ graphic covers and now he’s gone on to film.

VB: You mentioned album art. How did you get involved in album art? You said it was always something you were interested in…

JR: Yeah, I was super interested in it and I started doing a lot of my own music shirts that paid homage to rare bands of the 60s and 70s and it sort of took off as this cult thing and musicians sort of really got into it and there was this big connection there. And then eventually garnering relationships, I moved on to album covers, which was really exciting. I work a lot with reissue label Light In The Attic Records and did a lot of stuff with them. Most recently this Cat Stevens project, Yusuf/Cat Stevens, which was kind of a dream.

                                              Yusuf/Cat Stevens Front Cover, Signed
Yusuf/Cat Stevens Back 

VB: How did you get involved in that one?

JR: I connected with them… They had seen my work on a few things and I did a shirt for an upcoming Hal Ashby documentary that’s coming out and Hal Ashby directed ‘Harold And Maude,’ which Yusuf did all the music for back in the day. So Yusuf had seen the shirt and we kind of connected and bonded after that.

VB: How has music affected your art?

JR: I think they go super hand in hand. I think I get my ideas from listening to music. Music brings out the imagination. I get very visual pictures, colors and ideas directly from it. I couldn’t live without it. It’s almost like what I do is secondary because of music. It’s been a very important dual.
VB: What albums were influential to you growing up?

JR: I would say ‘On the Beach’ from Neil Young, ‘The Wolf King of LA’ by John Phillips, ‘Heart Food’ by Judee Sill and… there’s a lot. Anything Beatles, of course, when I’m younger. Beatles were huge, all their solo albums, all the branches from the Beatles was a huge influence in the house growing up.

VB: What have you been listening to now?

JR: I am definitely still stuck in the past. I listen to a lot of reissues. This album by Joanna Brouk has been super influential. Coltrane. I’m really back into Cat Stevens’ catalog. Yeah, that’s what’s on the player.

VB: Last year you released your own book of art, ‘I’m Bored.’ What was that experience like, publishing your own book?

JR: It was awesome. That was all personal, so for me it was a nice way to share with people that I’m not just a music person. I’m influenced by it. I got to a point where I wanted to share what was going on in my heart personally and it was a long time coming. It was a really cool experience. It was fun to work on.

'I'm Bored' by Jess Rotter. Photo found on
VB: The book is titled ‘I’m Bored.’ Why write a book called ‘I’m Bored’?

JR: It’s got a sarcastic tone to it, I think. It’s a few things: It’s almost like I’m so overstimulated that I’m bored. And also boredom is actually a blessing these days because we’re so overstimulated. So, actually, being bored is… It’s more of a fight to be bored than ever because you have such access to not be bored. But being bored is where ideas can come and thought and reflection. We’re all kind of trying to not be bored. That’s where the title stemmed from.

VB: Do you have any particular works of yours that stick out to you?

JR: There are certain pages in ‘I’m Bored’ that mean a lot to me. Those particular pages sort of signify… And I have a place in my heart for this kid’s compilation I did with Light In The Attic, which was an introduction to vinyl for kids. That’s a project I’m really proud of that we did.

VB: How did you find Vinyl Bay 777?

JR: My mom, husband and I were in the diner and we saw a flyer. My husband and I live in LA and every time my husband and I come here we’re always looking for record shops, and we were like “Oh my god, there’s a record shop in Plainview!” So, we were a little stunned. Obviously, I grew up here, so I didn’t have many record stores around. So, we took the plunge and came here one evening and were blown away. It’s awesome!

‘I’m Bored’ can be purchased through the Hat & Beard Press website. To see more of Jess Rotter’s art, visit and keep a look out for her work at record shops (like Vinyl Bay 777), merch tables, and clothing stores and in the media.

Vinyl Bay 777 would like to thank Jess Rotter again for taking the time to speak with us.


Long Island’s top new shop for new and used vinyl, CDs, cassettes, DVDs and more, Vinyl Bay 777 has thousands of titles to choose from. Browse our selection in-store at our Plainview location during business hours, or shop online at any time to see all the new titles being added daily. 

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