Music | Human Touch: The Black Swans forge new bonds with unique record sleeves | Music | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Music | Human Touch: The Black Swans forge new bonds with unique record sleeves 

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If you order a vinyl edition of The Black Swans’ most recent album Change! you will also receive a copy—Xeroxed with love by frontman Jerry DeCicca—of a Columbus Dispatch article which provides some background on your new record’s unique album sleeve.

“I made 500 copies of that article,” DeCicca says via cell phone as he drives across the seemingly endless state of Texas en route to New Mexico to play a show. “The process of making those album covers is the most gratifying thing I’ve done with my music and I want to get the word out.”

As the Dispatch article explains, DeCicca invited a group of developmentally disabled adults to paint 500 original Change! sleeves.

“I bought a painting from this disabled woman named Debbie Porchetti which was on display at my friend’s coffee shop in Columbus, Ohio, and I considered asking her to do the art for our next album cover. When I approached the workshop where she was based to get 50 original sleeves for the vinyl release, they said ‘We can do 500!’ They were so enthusiastic.”

Art instructor Jackie Boyle, who assisted with the project, began by turning off the lights, playing Change!, and requesting that the students simply listen. During the painting sessions, she played the album and told the students to paint what the music made them feel.

Boyle showed her students various paintings from different periods in art history for inspiration. French Expressionists one day, Mark Rothko the next.

DeCicca dropped in on several of the painting sessions. “It was amazing. There was one guy who couldn’t use his hands, so he painted with his mouth. It took him three sessions to paint these very deliberate strokes.”

Overall, the painting sessions proceeded without a hitch. “There was this one woman who wasn’t into painting because every time she listened to the album, she would fall asleep,” DeCicca says with a slight laugh. “The music is pretty slow and quiet, so I don’t blame her.”

As with any other population of people, DeCicca says that he witnessed a wide spectrum of inclination and ability. “Some of the students thrived, and others—you could tell it wasn’t their absolute favorite thing. But, I think every single album cover is incredible. Each one has such individuality.”

The artists and their families attended a Change! vinyl release party at the same coffee shop where DeCicca originally discovered Porchetti’s painting.

“The best thing about the finished product is that the artwork is so uninhibited. It’s a lot less self conscious than anything I could ever produce.”

DeCicca is pleased with the album sleeves and feels that the artwork added a whole new dimension to Change! “It’s wonderful. There is such a human element to this whole project. I love it.”

The artists enjoyed the project as well. There are still daily requests to paint “more album covers for Jerry.”

In the wake of the 2007 La Societe Expeditionnaire release, Change! has received some enthusiastic reviews. Well, reviews with as much enthusiasm as one can muster for quiet, violin-accented, largely acoustic music.

Decca’s weathered voice (think Bob Dylan meets Leonard Cohen meets a vocalist steeped in the strange, desperate ethos of Columbus, Ohio) and raw songwriting—which is expertly punctuated by alternately soothing and searing violin—certainly isn’t for everyone.

The Black Swans are one of those bands whose emotionally uncensored music is a bit too heavy for some to handle. But, gradually, such bands tend to build a following of discerning devotees who appreciate the chance to listen to music that thrives underneath the skin, in the some of the least secure regions of the heart and soul.

DeCicca’s offbeat aesthetic and sense of humor has helped convert more than a few Black Swans fans. The band’s MySpace page features accounts of Bruce Springsteen and Led Zeppelin cover band concerts, and as well as an encounter with the real Barry Manilow.

“So, I’m learning how it’s done,” DeCicca wrote in a recent blog post. “Two distinct ways of entertaining ‘the public.’ I always thought The Black Swans sounded a bit like a Led Zeppelin 45 played at 33 [speed], so maybe it isn’t such a stretch there. As far as what I learned from Barry, I guess it wouldn’t kill me to smile on stage/ground once in a while.”

DeCicca confesses in the same blog entry that he used some of his Change! riches to buy a $20 fleece blanket with “Manilow” written on it. Not many frontmen of a Pitckfork-reviewed band have to courage to publicly admit owning a fleece Manilow blanket. Especially a fleece Manilow blanket purchased with funds from album which scored a well-deserved 7.9 on the stringent (some say elitist) 1-10 Pitchfork Scale.

“All of the human interaction involved with making the record sleeves for Change! was so much more gratifying than a positive online review,” DeCicca says. “I want to get my music out there, not necessarily sell it. And working on 500 record sleeves with a bunch of really talented disabled artists has helped me do that.”

THE BLACK SWANS @ Nobrow Coffee & Tea, 315 E. Broadway, Tuesday March 18, 7 p.m., 364-3448

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About The Author

Jenny Poplar

Jenny Poplar is both a dancer and a frequent City Weekly contributor.

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