Michael Cusack is a Melbourne based freelance designer, specialising in print design. You’ve probably seen his work around town on gig posters, album artwork and t-shirts among other things as he has freelanced for countless bands, venues, club nights, touring companies, labels, djs and others that come under the music industry banner.
He is the in-house designer at the Ding Ding Lounge and filled the same role at The Esplanade Hotel between 2008-2012. He maintains a number of catalogue and publication jobs to boot.
Michael spoke to Speaker TV about what informs his work, the life of a freelance designer as well as talking us through some of his favourite music, art and design, both personally and by others.
What are some of the most important and influential factors or experiences that have informed your work and how so?
The influential factors are 90% the client and what their vision is. A lot of my work is for musicians, so i’m mostly translating their sounds into a visual medium. Art for art.
The history of art/design for that certain style of music plays a lot into it too, the pioneers of a lot of genres also determined how that genre would be represented visually down the line, with subsequent artists flying a flag to fans with their art in a similar vein.
As for influential experiences, there’s too many to list… life as some idiot who didn’t want a ‘real’ job has thrown its fare share of curves.
How is the current environment in Melbourne and Australia for freelance artists/designers such as yourself and how does it compare to other scenes you may know of?
It’s a tricky time for designers, kids seem to be getting a hold of their cracked copy of Photoshop earlier and earlier, resulting in a huge amount of people who want to make rad looking shit for a living. Hell I was guilty of that… still am. Throw in your basics of supply and demand, and it gets very difficult to make a living from design work that doesn’t involve the corporate arena.
You could fairly easily compare it to the Australian music scene, it’s hugely over saturated with artists/bands for such a low population, so it’s very difficult to get anywhere with it in terms of a career. But in the end, maybe that doesn’t matter for a lot of people?
As a musician and music enthusiast yourself, what has drawn you to doing a lot of design work in this field and how much do the worlds of art and music overlap and influence you?
I think what drew me to designing for music (on top of being a 19 year old and thinking it’s heaps cool) is the potential for variety.
Designing for Ska has almost nothing in common with designing for Techno. But I did posters for both genres this week as well as a soul poster, a country rock album cover and an experimental/indie EP cover. That covers hand drawn illustration, geometric vector work, custom type, photography and painting. Some people become absolute masters at a particular medium or style, like vector-god Ken Taylor, but I have a short attention span and like to try different things.
In terms of overlap of music vs art, does my own tinkering with music influence how I approach my design work? Possibly, I haven’t really thought about it before, but I think knowing something from the inside is always a plus. It’s kind of like method acting I guess?
Your top five records you love with equally excellent art?
Kuedo – Severant (2011), art by Anna Higgie – beautifully represents the music’s blending of understated beauty through melody juxtaposed with jarring beat.
The Mint Chicks – Crazy? Yes/ Dumb? No (2009), art by Ruban Nielson – spazzy art for a spazzy band, perfectly encapsulates their spirit.
Tycho – Dive (2011), art by Tycho (Scott Hansen) – this guy is a genius with colour, all his art for his music is beautiful.
Rustie – Glass Swords (2011), art by Jonathan Zawada – Zawada just has a way of making complex stuff look so damn simple, much like Rustie.
Pretty Lights – Glowing in the Darkest Night (2010), art by Dan McPharlin – I’m just a massive sci-fi fan, the art kicks me right in the geek gland.
You’ve done work for big names and small names, but what would you list as some of the most exciting opportunites you’ve had in your work?
Over the summer of 2013/14 I worked for Soundwave Touring, helping to look after design and advertising for the Vans Warped Tour, Soundwave, Harvest (before it was canned) and a little bit of Big Day Out. It may not go down on record as the most successful year for the festivals but I was still stoked to be a part of it.
I remember having a bit of a freak-out when I was the in-house designer at The Espy in St Kilda back in 2009 and I had to do a Public Enemy poster. I had certainly never done anything for an act that big previously. That was a good day. Even better was when the booker told me Chuck D asked for a print of the poster be sent to his house in the US.
What are your favourite pieces of artwork ever?
It changes weekly…I’ve had a big soft spot for Jeff Soto’s paintings for a very long time though.
Your favourite pieces of music related artwork/design ever
Jeez… it’d have to be a tie between:
Cream – Disraeli Gears
Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon
Queen – A Night at the Opera
Nirvana – In Utero
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories… I better stop, I could keep going for a long time.
What are the favourite pieces of music related design you have produced and why?
Both the On Sierra EP covers I was really happy with. The guys are close friends and gave me complete freedom, it was challenging and I pushed myself to do something fresh both times.
A couple of the t-shirt designs I did for Melbourne grindcore band The Mung came up pretty good too I think, I’m not naturally an amazing illustrator so I had to develop some discipline and foresight to get them up to scratch.
Other stuff I’m fond of includes the Sunday Soiree logo/poster, Cherriep logo, ‘Area 7’ Cherry Bar poster, The Demon Parade ‘Kaleidoscopic Summer Vacation’ tour poster, Nick Hoppner poster… I’ve done thousands of posters, it’s hard to remember them all!
What are the favourite pieces of music related artwork/design produced by local and/or independent Australian artists/designers and why?
Volume2a’s work for Damn Terran’s album/single etc. Simple, elegant solutions, consistent but different.
Ross Paxman’s work for ‘Spare Groove’, I dig his clean, colourful style.
Pat Fox’s Transit poster, perfectly executed illustration, colour and composition, a fresh take on art for that style of punk.
Gemma O’Brien’s logo for Angus & Julia Stone… honestly that’s just an excuse to include Gemma, she is an incredible type designer and illustrator, all her work is perfection – I am really keen to get to one of her lettering workshops.
We Buy Your Kids work for Paul Dempsey’s solo record/tour back in 2009 always stuck in my head, great surreal compositions combined with organic textures made for a stunning collection of work.