Band on the Run: An Interview with José Cabaco
The music business has a history of coming up with inventive gimics to market and promote its artists. From the clever (think motor oil for Ministry) to the downright bizarre (Amy Winehouse portable toilets), labels have gone to great lengths to get their bands noticed. Yet the most tried-and-true way for a musician to get fans is to play for them, which is what Mitch Davis, aka Orba Squara, decided to do in advance of his sophomore release, The Trouble with Flying. Earlier this year, Davis—whose song “Perfect Timing” has been used ubiquitously in Apple iPhone ads—got on a bus with Random Collective—designer José Ricardo Cabral Cabaco and his merry collaborators—to visit 10 cities across the country in 10 days, while Cabaco and crew documented the trip. The resulting multimedia tour diary is featured on orbasquara.com, in the form of a 430-ft. lateral scroll that takes visitors on the road through lyrics, musings, photography, illustration and typography. Cabaco, who was born in Mozambique, educated in Portugal and is a former creative director for Wieden + Kennedy, describes the project.
Who are the members of Random Collective and where are you based?
Cabaco: Random Collective is a network of people, good friends, who love collaborating on interesting creative projects together. The size of the group will be determined by the nature and needs of a given project. It can be a group of 20 people or it may just take two.
For now, I'm the only constant involved with each project, but that will most likely change over time. Sometimes I'll be the creative director, other times I may be the art director, photographer, illustrator or nothing but the connector of people or companies.
I'm based out of Portland, Oregon; other friends are based around the world.
How did you get linked up with Mitch Davis and the Orba Squara web project?
Cabaco: I met Mitch when I lived in New York. One day we were talking about his next album and I immediately offered to help him—he was kind enough to say yes.
Have you ever done a web project like this before?
Cabaco: I've been working in the design and advertising business for the past 20 years, and have been fortunate to work in four different countries. During this time, I've met and worked with so many talented people with an endless variety of skills—musicians, designers, art directors, writers, digital artists, product, retail, fashion and web designers, programmers, architects, photographers, illustrators, planners, account execs, directors, producers, editors, make-up artists, set designers, model makers, etc. Most of them became friends; all of them ended up being the random collective of people working on a variety of projects with different needs. So in a way, yes, I've done this before, I just didn't refer to it as Random Collective until now.
The Orba Squara site launched in mid-June, but the album isn't out until October. Usually a band hits the road to support an album after it's released, not before. Whose idea was it to tour first and then make this visual document as a promotional tool?
Cabaco: Actually, it was the name of the album, The Trouble with Flying. When I asked Mitch what he meant by the title, he simply said, “When you get on a plane to go from A to Z, you miss all the other letters in between. That's the trouble with flying, missing out on people and places.”
The actual road trip was about capturing, writing, storyboarding, testing, selecting, archiving and essentially laying the foundation for the intense work that happened later. There are too many people to list who somehow, somewhere, touched the project—each person involved was a key player.
Could you explain some of the technology behind the site?
Cabaco: The website was built in Flash, and we've pushed Flash to the limit like I've rarely seen before. It was very challenging. The amount of information, photography, illustrations, animated GIFs was overwhelming. There were times we thought about leaving stuff out, but fortunately we were really bad at editing ourselves.
Did you configure it for different types of screens and mobile devices?
Cabaco: This website is a mammoth that doesn't fit the iPhone or any other cell phone. Unfortunately, you can only enjoy it properly on a computer.
Interestingly, the songs aren't featured in album sequence. How did you decide which song to place where?
Cabaco: Mitch wanted to do it this way, so the order of songs would be unveiled with the album release.
“There is nothing like the Grand Canyon to knock the cynicism right out of a man,” writes Mitch Davis.
You use a ton of different typefaces to convey Mitch's observations and lyrics throughout the piece. How did you select what to use where? And how much of the lettering was of your own creation (you contributed to the book Hand Job)?
Cabaco: The landscape around us was definitely a reason behind the type choices, and the emotions of the writing as well. All the hand-drawn type is of our own creation. Some type is of our own creation, but crafted on the computer; others we bought from various type companies.
How much of the scroll was created by hand and scanned and how much created on the computer?
Cabaco: The flow, pace and photo selection were all decided before starting the design process. The design was then influenced by those choices. The entire website was storyboarded first on an A1 drawing pad.
Each day influenced the look and feel of the next day as much as the landscape around us. All the hand-drawn type was done by us and was heavily influenced by what we were seeing everyday. Some roughs, sketches and notes for the illustrations were drafted during the trip and then drawn and detailed later.
What was your favorite city to document? It seemed like things really came to life once you hit Nashville…
Cabaco: Things came to life when we arrived in Nashville because it was our first day-long stop in a city. We had 10 days to cross the country through 15 states. Up until Nashville, we were doing short stops. Also, it was night when we pulled into Roanoke, which was already fast asleep.
Do you have any plans to create more from this material? A documentary short, perhaps, or even a printed book?
Cabaco: We'd love to find a publisher for a book about this project. We're looking for one now.
This project feels like a fusion between a travel journal and a coffee-table book on the web. There's so much more material we ended up not using. I took almost 30,000 photos during the trip, and we have lots more illustrations and hand-drawn type we ultimately had to leave out. Unfortunately, the budget didn't allow us to film the journey, which makes the web the ideal low-budget media to appropriately tell the story.
Are you at all concerned that web users won't have the attention span for a 430-ft. scroll?
Cabaco: We think the web brings a unique factor to the project. There's a lot of talk on the web these days about the importance of storytelling, with not too many stories being told. Now there's one more.
At the same time, due to the size and complexity of it, it takes a while to get all the way through the scroll. People aren't used to spending this much time on a website, but we've heard from a lot of people who decided to “stay on the bus” until the end, that they come out very inspired by a variety of things, which makes us happy.
What else are you and Random Collective working on? Will there be more work for Orba Squara? Or other projects in the pipeline?
Cabaco: We're still finishing and editing three music videos for Orba Squara. All of them are being created from photography, illustrations, type and some animations.
We're also working on the site launch of www.randomcollective.com. We're considering a few other projects tied to the music, fashion, illustration, photography, product design worlds, and we're collaborating on an extraordinary pro bono documentary project. We hope to unveil sometime in November. Unfortunately, I can't discuss in much detail now, but things will definitely make their way to the Random Collective website when it launches later in the year.
About the Author: <p>Sue Apfelbaum is a freelance writer and editor with a focus on design, art, music, film and culture. From 2006 to 2012 Sue was the editorial director for AIGA, publishing critical, inspirational and educational content about design on the AIGA website and developing programming for AIGA's webinars. Visit http://about.me/sueapfelbaum</p>