busy work.


A hand-colored cuppa joe 7" sleeve

A hand-colored cuppa joe 7" sleeve

When we budgeted the cuppa joe 7″, we asked the band to make a choice: either colored vinyl with a black-and-white sleeve, or black vinyl with a color sleeve.  We were making an initial pressing of just 500 copies, which gave us a tiny bit of extra cash to splurge on packaging.  However, we could only splurge on the color of the vinyl or the color of the packaging – not both.


The band had a pretty smart idea: we would press the record on cherry-red vinyl, and print a black-and-white sleeve.  Then, the band would hand-color each of the sleeves in crayon.  They’d do each one differently, so that each record was one-of-a-kind.

I had the idea of hand-numbering the first 500 from 1 to 500, which would add even more uniqueness to each record.

7″s were, at the time, a really cool slice of indie culture.  Bands spent an unbelievable amount of energy coming up with creative packaging ideas – sometimes the sleeves were elaborately-printed (fold-out posters, special gatefolds, heavy recycled cardboard, even handmade packaging were common), and many bands inserted more than just the record into the sleeves – it wasn’t uncommon to see handmade comic books, zines, catalogs, elaborate lyric sheets, or pictures stuffed inside a 7″ sleeve.  The whole package was usually encased in a PVC baggie that measured just over 7 inches square.

We used a pressing plant in Nashville called United Record Pressing.  Everybody used them, actually, they were easy to deal with and reasonably inexpensive.  They mastered pretty flat, meaning the 7″s they sent you would sound reasonably close to the DAT you sent them (something that always caused panic was the prospect of sending off a crisp, clear DAT and getting back a muddy or tinny record), and provided a test-pressing of every 7″ before running the lot.  The cuppa joe 7″ was going to be our first experience actually pressing a record ourselves (for “Suck My Heart,” we simply sold off or sent out the remaining inventory Melting Hopefuls had pressed themselves).  Although we had been solicited by a number of different pressing plants, United seemed to be the one that most labels used, and I figured the majority of the indie community couldn’t be wrong.

For the printing of the 7″ sleeves, I cannot remember who we used.  It was a simple, black-and-white print job of cuppa joe drummer steve’s art; he was (and still is) an excellent illustrator who had designed most of cuppa joe’s visual identity over the years.  

What I do remember was that when we received the films from steve, we were surprised to learn that the title of the record was not botany, as we had been told.  It was busy work.  When I called doug and asked him about it, he was pretty nonchalant.  I don’t even recall what his reason was for changing the title.

I do, however, recall that I was pretty pissed about it.  I had vowed not to get involved with doing things like coming up with titles or interfering with artwork; anything creative would always be left up to the bands.  However, I had spent money running ads that mentioned the upcoming cuppa joe 7″ botany, so when I received artwork for a record called busy work, I was upset about the hundred or so dollars I had spent promoting a nonexistent title.

The artwork, however, was very nice, and done in such a way that I could tell it was going to look really cool when it was colored.

The sleeves and records (which came in their own plain, white sleeves) were inserted into a resin baggie that I purchased from a company called Bags Unlimited.  Bags Unlimited made archival plastic storage bags for comic collectors and such, but also made bags that were the perfect size for 7″ records.

We had listened to the DAT master at Ray’s house and made sure that everything sounded right, and then we shipped it off to United with a check.  I was longing for the day that a pressing plant would give us credit rather than make us pay up front; I loved the idea of actually selling some records before we had to pay our vendors.  Unfortunately, this being our first 7″, we were a long way off from receiving credit terms with United.

“Do you think cuppa joe would let me interview them?” Rich asked one night.  He was still working on content for the debut issue of Indier Than Thou!, and had asked a lot of his friends to write articles for him.

“I don’t see why not,” I said.  “Do me a favor and ask them some questions where they have to comment about their label.”  I was getting to the point where I was looking for a little publicity for Dromedary.  

It was a Saturday evening, I believe, when doug, steve, and rick drove up to our Lodi apartment from Trenton.  Sandy had gone out to the store and bought a few boxes of Crayola crayons and colored pencils, I stopped at Bottle King for some McSorley’s, and we ordered a few pies from Lodi Pizza.  Then, we spread out on the floor – the band members would color a 7″ sleeve, then I would put the newly-colored sleeve in a pile and hand them to Sandy, who would stamp a number on it.

It took a long, long time.  Our initial plan was to color a thousand (we had a thousand printed), but number only the first 500 so that there was something special about that first pressing.  We realized within an hour or two that if the three guys in the band were the only people coloring, it was going to take a month to get them all done.  So Rich, Sandy and I all laid down on the living room floor and began coloring, racing through the printed sleeves.  I reminded myself of how we were assembling Elizabeth CDs and I swore I’d never do anything like that again.  At least coloring was fun.

While we colored, Rich conducted his interview.  It was a good discussion, with conversation jumping from cool clubs to play in Trenton to the Tir Na Nog (an Irish bar in Trenton where cuppa joe often played), interesting authors to other bands that cuppa joe liked.  

They also told a funny story about their fist gig with rick.  rick was filling in on bass for bob while he was in the Police Academy.  rick was also just a high school student; 16 or 17 years old.  When cuppa joe played their first gig, the club owner would not let rick into the bar.  The band tried to explain that he was the bass player, but the club would have nothing of it.  At risk of having blow off the entire gig, the band looked for any possible idea they could think of that would enable rick to play.

Eventually, they set up in such a way that they ran a cord from rick’s bass amp out the front door of the club. rick stood outside the front door, bass strapped around his neck, listening to cuppa joe play inside the club.  He played the band’s entire set from outside the front of the bar.  People walking into the bar would see the cord running from the bass amp out the front door and just wonder: what the hell is that?!

Eventually, we finished coloring and numbering, and had a nice-sized pile of about a thousand printed sleeves.  They all looked sharp, and they all looked unique, so that anybody who bought a busy work (e.p.) 7″ was going to get something pretty special.  I know that the band took some creative liberties with their coloring, writing little notes inside some, or signing their names to others.  I liked the idea of giving each record an individual touch like that. 

The band departed and Sandy and I slumped into our chairs, exhausted from entertaining and working.

~ by Al on February 17, 2009.

4 Responses to “busy work.”

  1. […] the first step in the future of our label.  For the busy work e.p., we had the band at our house, hand-coloring sleeves, eating pizza and being interviewed for the debut of Indier Than Thou!.  For the first round of […]

  2. The one thing you left out was the pizza drippings – I distinctly remember we got a few pieces of saucy cheese inside the sleeves, and just decided to leave them there, as another added bonus to the consumers.

  3. Oh, and Botany was my suggestion for the name, just based on the artwork. I got Doug to agree to it at City Gardens one night (he had some beers) but I think it was too on the nose for him, and he came up with Busy Work, which he liked better – doesn’t really fit with the illustration, though.

    • It may not have fit with the artwork, but it sure as hell fit with the assembly of it, wouldn’t you say?

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