Living

‘Sleeveface’ offers a new way for music lovers to chime in

THE CONCEIT IS AS simple as it is brilliant: Hold up an album cover to your face and use your body or surroundings to expand on the image. Then take a picture.

With the right camera angle, Springsteen fanatics can stand in for the Boss' backside on the cover of "Born in the U.S.A." Sprawl out on the floor with legs extended, and suddenly '80s heartthrob Scott Baio is more than just a pretty face on his one and only album. It's not exactly a novel idea, but two British music lovers have turned it into an unlikely phenomenon they call "Sleeveface."

In April of last year Carl Morris, 27, was DJing at a club when, out of the blue, he put the cover of Paul McCartney's "McCartney II," featuring a close-up of the former Beatle, to his face. He got instant laughs from his buddies, and with cell phone cameras hoisted, they took turns posing with different album covers, each time obscuring their faces to emulate their idols.

The idea quickly caught on with their friends and families. Within a month Morris and John Rostron, cofounders of the Welsh record label My Kung Fu, turned "Sleeveface" into a big hit on Facebook and an eponymous Web site.

Morris and Rostron have now parlayed their online sensation into a hugely entertaining new photo book, "Sleeveface," a compilation of more than a year's worth of fans' photo submissions from around the world. We caught up with Rostron, 36, recently to see how a fun parlor game has taken on a new life in print. Have you gotten a sense of how this has caught on outside the UK? It's pretty much caught on everywhere.

There's pockets of places that are really concentrated. The west of America was really popular early on: San Francisco and whole loads of submissions that came in from there. Recently we've had loads coming in from Korea, so something must have happened over there. There was a big interest from Germany for a while.

Interesting also are places that we've noticed we haven't had very many (submissions), like Japan. Were there photos that were a little too risque for the book? Did people surprise you with their selections? There are occasionally some that are a little bit risque; there's a bit of nakedness. But even with the nakedness, they'll kind of cover themselves.

It'll be saucy, kind of cheeky. There's one of a Ronald Mc-Donald record and somebody's holding a bag of KFC. The variety of artists is pretty astonishing. You've got everyone from Liberace to Patti Smith to Jay-Z.

Were there any genres that weren't represented? Interestingly, hip-hop was kind of slow to arrive, and yet actually hip-hop is quite a Sleevefaceable genre because hip-hop is very much about people expressing themselves, bling and personalities and such.

Classic rock and metal is a really big thing. (We've had) folk music, easy listening, classical, some jazz, Christian music. It's great that you have a blurb from David Bowie on the cover calling the book "just the best sight gag in ages." How did that come about?

When we started, we just noticed there were a lot of David Bowie covers. I think we all own quite a few David Bowie records, but also he's on the cover of a lot of his records. He seemed to be the most Sleevefaceable artist that we had. And we were sitting there one day thinking, "I wonder if he'd mind, you know? I hope we don't get in trouble."

And then one day we got an e-mail from his Web site, and when we read it, we were thinking, "uh-oh." The Web site people came to us and said, "Hey, we've seen what you're doing with David Bowie's sleeves, and we love it, and we put it up on our Web site."

Who else did you hear from? (Sex Pistols manager and music impresario) Malcolm McLaren sent us a really funny, long analysis and his thoughts on the music industry as a whole. Some from New Order. We heard from McCartney's people and the Strokes' people.

So what are the great contemporary album covers that you think are going to show up in the 2010 print edition of "Sleeveface"? I do sort of find myself now when I read record reviews in magazines taking a lot more note of the covers than I used to.

I kind of look and think, "That's Sleevefaceable, and that could be Sleevefaceable." Like when Adele's album came out at the start of the year and it's just a big picture of her face, and I think that will make a great Sleeveface. I wrote to the label asking if they were going to put out a vinyl edition.

Especially in this digital age, why do we still feel connected to vinyl? A. I don't know. It might be (because) it's something that's dying out. For someone like me, I work in music, so it's a very different relationship.

I've been told that as a matter of fact records sound better than anything, than any other form of music, and that's how I take my music in. I think records are a declining market, but they're still hugely abundant.

  Comments