When renowned artist Lasse Hoile was asked to create the sleeve artwork for Blueneck’s fifth album King Nine, he brought in fiancee Cassandra to act has his assistant. What followed was an unexpectedly challenging trip through America’s deep south – and a series of images that couldn’t have been made without the emotional investment.
Cassandra tells Prog: “When Lasse explained what Blueneck’s Duncan Attwood was thinking for visuals, I already knew the right places. I’d just got back from visiting the deep south; I’d seen exactly what they were wanting. Lasse asked for a few sample shots and I sent him pictures of my dog prancing among vacant buildings, rotting barns and dust devils. Lasse said it was perfect.
“Duncan had made reference to HBO’s True Detective series. I shared Lasse’s enthusiasm for the show, so we knew we had inspiration – but we wanted to make sure that the visuals not only connected to the music, but they supported each other equally. One couldn’t be without the other.”
The first leg of the trip was incredibly long and exhausting. Two major highways run north-south in Illinois, both of which are very very long, and the land is very flat. Three hours south of Chicago, though, there’s an old house alone in a corn field made of deep blood-red brick. We drove up to get a closer shot, when we realised several people had come out of the house – one of whom looked like he was holding a rifle. I began to panic and tried to turn around, but Lasse just pointed his camera and began taking pictures. Locals later told us the property had been recently acquired, and the folks there weren’t friendly.
In Arkansas we began exploring the surrounding towns, just driving around listening to our iPods since the only thing they seemed to play on the radio was modern country, classic country, and country-country.
Between Shreveport, Louisiana and Texarkana, Arkansas
It was just after noon one day when we decided to go to Louisiana. I drove on the highway, following signs, and when we began to see oil pumps I took an exit and drove on the back roads. We just kept driving; and if we saw something, I pulled over.
Sometimes we had to double-back. That’s when I began to notice the people out on their porches. I hadn’t noticed them before because they had been sitting so still. It was hard to see anything past the shock of rotting timbers piled beside their doors, knots of metal that must have been cars at some point, and tattered clothes on drying on the line.
Out on the town in Arkansas
We kept the evenings open for working on images, but we did manage to get out on the town a few times, including visiting a local outdoor auction house. I spotted a rack of small bull horns I wanted to buy for the grill of my car to blend in – but Lasse wouldn’t let me. I did manage to score a few other souvenirs though, and Lasse bought himself a baseball cap with “USA Est. 1776” on it, which he wore everywhere to blend in.
Oil City, Louisiana
We stumbled into a town called Oil City, I believe, that had so many oil pumps in one place it was amazing. We drove around town several times just to look at them all. Then we noticed a dozen or so folks had come out to watch us with eerie stares. We were in a small European car with rally stripes, so I
guess we did stick out a bit amongst the “freedom trucks,” as Lasse called them. We didn’t stop to take pictures – they didn’t exactly have the friendliest of faces.
One night, nearing the end of our adventure, we were reviewing material and Lasse began to play snippets of the album. I realised we were no longer trying to create artwork – we were living in what seemed like a movie and the album was the soundtrack.
Sombre tones of being shut inside where it was cool; stifling heat outside, clawing to get at us even at night. Long chords exaggerating the length of how far we were from civilisation as we knew it. The looming background of evil humidity that threatened our cameras constantly and choked us when we breathed. It was a bit too much, even depressing at times, to be where we were – and a bit too “real” as well.
The place we stayed at had a huge wrap-around porch that deeply darkened the entire inside. What was worse, it was out in the middle of the woods. We had no cell reception, not even to make an emergency call. To venture out from home base like that into towns that were decayed and abandoned took more of an emotional toll on us than we bargained for.
So we went from trying to create art to documenting what we saw and what we experienced first-hand.
The body of work that resulted fused itself with the music on its own before we realised it. I know we couldn’t re-create the connection in any other way than we did. Blueneck have made an incredible album. The images presented themselves. When they were finally joined together, it seemed King Nine was born.