Country music album covers rarely veer from standard artist photos. While some skew artsy — most recently, the contemplative black-and-white Luke Bryan on Kill the Lights; a gauzy Carrie Underwood on Storyteller — the bulk are staid, even boring affairs, photos of bands in fields or leaning against split-rail fences. Which is what makes the bright, colorful and entirely irreverent cover to Old Dominion’s debut album Meat and Candy so damn refreshing.
Set for release on November 6th, Meat and Candy and its cover announces the Nashville band as one that is far from overly serious. For starters, the five members of Old Dominion are nowhere to be found — you have to flip through the CD booklet to see any picture of singer-guitarist Matthew Ramsey, guitarist Brad Tursi, multi-instrumentalist Trevor Rosen, bassist Geoff Sprung and drummer Whit Sellers. Instead, the album art goes for broke: featuring a woman in a Fifties soda-jerk outfit surrounded by a table of, yep, meat products and candy. It’s equal parts T&A and gross-out humor — like a country take on Blink 182’s Enema of the State.
“We grew up in the era of cool album covers,” says Ramsey during a full-band sit-down with Rolling Stone Country. “Why have a lame cover when you can have a badass album cover?”
“The world does not need another band photo,” adds Tursi.
“Certainly not of us,” finishes Rosen, eliciting laughter around the table.
So the band and their RCA Nashville label, who the group says has been entirely supportive of such left-of-center ideas (like their Back to the Future homage video for “Break Up With Him”), proceeded with their unconventional vision, seeking out Michael Elins, the photographer who helped Katy Perry create her own unique wonderland.
“We got lucky that [Elins] was interested,” says Ramsey. “He said, ‘You’re a country band, why do you want to do this?’ But there’s a lot of places, with social media, where people can find out what you look like. You don’t really have to be on the cover.”
With Elins onboard, the band flew to Los Angeles for the shoot.
“Watching them build that table of candy and meat. . . some of it was real,” says Sprung, pointing out a milkshake full of ground beef wrapped in bacon.
But one stick of meat stuck out too prominently in an early incarnation of the cover. “There was a big salami,” says Rosen, laughing, “and we were like, ‘Oh, we better take that out.'”
As they say in Spinal Tap, it’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.
“We wanted that cartoony, dreamland fake look to it,” Rosen says. “That’s the only way you can do a meat and candy combination, is to make it really bright and colorful.”
The album title isn’t a lark either — or just an excuse to pose a sexy woman around a buffet of pork and beef. It was actually suggested by Meat and Candy‘s producer, hit songwriter Shane McAnally, who overhead the members talking about balancing heftier songs (“the meat”) with lighter fare (“the candy”). Like their album cover, Old Dominion’s recording jargon busts that favorite of country-artist clichés: describing radio-ready songs as just being “fun.”
“It shows our personality without showing us, and it definitely shows that we’re trying to do something different,” says Ramsey. “The way the album sounds is exactly what that image puts forth. There is a lot of candy in there, but some songs have hooks and a deeper lyric to them.”
Like the amped-up love song “Snapback,” which opens the album.
“That’s a song that has the meat and the candy to it. I feel like we can point our finger at the tracklist and I’d be happy with any one of them being a single. They have a through-line, but they’re all different,” says Sprung. “The thing with songwriting is you’re always trying to say the same thing but in a new way.”
Or in the case of Meat and Candy‘s cover, show something in a new way. Which other young artists seem to be taking to heart as well. Old Dominion’s labelmate Cam revealed her new album’s cover this week, and while it does feature the yellow-obsessed singer, it isn’t a by-the-numbers photo. Likewise the retro shot of old TVs and radios that adorns Brothers Osborne’s upcoming Pawn Shop album.
Summing up Meat and Candy, Old Dominion’s Ramsey voices an outlook that is probably shared by his peers.
“We don’t want to be the standard thing,” he says. “We’re more interested in having people hate us than glaze over us. We’d rather have a reaction than be in the middle.”