Scrolling through Instagram the other day, I came across a poster for a band I’d never heard of: L.A. Witch, a trio of glam goth ladies I instantly wanted to listen to based solely on the fluorescent, photo-montaged gig poster illuminating my feed. The print was designed by Andrew McGranahan, a San Diego-based designer, collage artist, and DJ who’s been working with the band for several years.
This specific design was promoting their recent show at Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, an old-timey honky-tonk located on a former Western film set near Joshua Tree that’s become a cult favorite among established bands and indie up-and-comers. Dripping with psychedelic imagery and cosmic desert “vibes,” the poster encapsulates this offbeat venue and, I would come to learn, the mystic ethos of L.A. Witch. As the band’s music has evolved, so have its posters and cover art, which raises the question: How do designers meaningfully engage with the music they’re creating visuals for?
“Bands usually have a pretty specific vision in mind,” says McGranahan when I pose the question to him. “For the most part, I end up adhering to that, but there are also plenty of situations where I’m given some leeway to let the music guide me.”
He gives a recent example of this: his album art for another L.A. band called Levitation Room. “They started out wanting a pretty traditional collage but I immediately wanted to go a bit more abstract after listening to the tracks.” McGranahan’s self-described brand of “Psychedelic DADA Bauhaus” is on full display on albums such as Levitation Room’s “Warmth of the Sun,” with album art that pairs rearranged body parts and abstract color blocking with some low-key ITC Souvenir to create a sense of mellow surrealism.
His work is akin to Victor Moscoso’s—if Moscoso designed in outer space.
As a staff designer for Desert Daze Music festival, McGranahan’s got the retro-futuristic aesthetic on lock. His work, which is often akin to Victor Moscoso’s—if Moscoso designed in outer space—helps to promote the myriad of trippy bands performing at Desert Daze or at related events leading up to the festival. “My style can vary widely from job to job, but there are a few artist books and designers who I regularly revisit for inspiration: Max Ernst’s Une Semaine de Bonte, the works of Josef Albers or Andrzej Klimowski,” he says. Those design history references are apparent in McGranahan’s posters, but with a certain occult, sci-fi twist.
The festival bills itself as an experience that is “epic yet intimate, esoteric yet accessible, catering to weirdos, but embracing to all, [and] facilitat[ing] the ever-expanding growth of the human spirit.” Yet McGranahan says Desert Daze is “by far the most structured and deadline-oriented project I’ve worked on, while also being the most intense and frantic at times.” Though his personal collage work is not music-related, he says the visual language and space-age/extraterrestrial themes he explores have helped to inform the work he does for Desert Daze and its production company Moon Block.
“I do feel like I’m a bit of an outsider to the design world.”
While Los Angeles is only a few hours north of his home in San Diego, McGranahan says the design scenes are worlds apart. Because the latter has a smaller pool of freelance designers, he’s become somewhat of the go-to guy for local and touring acts in need of any neo-psychedelic design work. “I do feel like I’m a bit of an outsider to the design world,” McGranahan says. Before working briefly at a design agency in La Jolla just north of San Diego, he started his career as a Production Artist for a local winery. During his free time, he began developing his personal collage work, both hand-cut and digital, while also designing posters for friends who were in bands.
This gave him ample room for experimentation, and through a combination of word of mouth and Instagram likes, McGranahan has gained an impressive list of music clients. “I’ve been very lucky with my clientele, especially since we moved to San Diego,” he says. “I still can’t quite believe that it happened, but I recently did a tour poster and some merch designs for Tenacious D.” The collaborative project involved taking original illustrations by Jack Black and collaging them into a few designs, as well as designing a few custom typographic elements. Other memorable clients include Charles Bradley, Peter Hook (of Joy Division & New Order), Iron Butterfly, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and Holy Wave.
McGranahan’s love of music and experience as a DJ gives him additional insight into the wants and needs of musicians looking to represent their sound visually. He also believes developing a trusted connection between the designer and band members is important to the design process.
“Sometimes a client will give me a few examples of my past work that they like and then just say something along the lines of ‘do whatever feels right, we trust you,’ but other times new designs emerge organically. Some of my best work has been for bands who I’ve become good friends with, like The Asteroid No. 4, The Cave Singers, Levitation Room, Frankie & The Witch Fingers, and the French ‘Ye-Ye Noir’ band Juniore. There’s a lot of variety in each job, but that kind of mutual trust and camaraderie is an essential part of every design.”