The cover of The Orwells’ “Terrible Human Beings.” Photo by Kelly Puleio.

Creating The Album Cover For The Orwells’ “Terrible Human Beings”

Featuring a rock band, a creative team, and a lot of pizza & beer at Chicago ad agency O’Keefe Reinhard & Paul

by Katie Ingegneri, Social Content Editor


Have you ever wondered how your favorite album covers were made? Well, I’m here to tell you a story — albeit an unconventional one — of how the cover for The Orwells’ new album “Terrible Human Beings” came to be. This story takes place in Chicago, mostly at advertising agency O’Keefe Reinhard & Paul.

To quickly introduce myself, the storyteller, I’m OKRP’s Social Content Editor Katie Ingegneri, a writer and editor who ended up working at this agency after I wrote a big article about The Orwells and did an interview with lead singer Mario Cuomo in early 2015 for my Chicago music and culture publication Houseshow Magazine. OKRP’s CEO and co-founder Tom O’Keefe is the father of The Orwells’ guitarist Matt O’Keefe.

As a fan and friend in the music scene, I spent 2015 going to The Orwells’ hometown shows here in Chicago, watching them play their great new songs, listening to demos with them and anxiously awaiting a new album. By 2016, The Orwells had finally finished recording their songs in studio, and Tom told the OKRP creative team that we would be working on developing the new album cover, plus the title and related packaging and photos.

Since I’m not a designer, my role on this team (which was comprised of just about every full-time designer we have on staff) was more as resident fan-expert and ideator. I mostly marveled at how being a crazy rock n roll music fan, which I have been my entire life, and mostly about bands that no longer existed, had somehow become working with one of my favorite current bands on their new album cover! What a world.

The Album Cover: What Would Become “Terrible Human Beings”

The Orwells came into OKRP a handful of times over the course of summer 2016 as we listened to some of their new songs and discussed their artistic vision for the album, which they saw as a progression of their sound and a thematic step beyond the concerns of underage suburban partying and horror movies that had informed their first two albums (although continuing with those themes to an extent). “Mutilated pop songs” is how they described their new tracks. The creative team was very happy to be provided with pizza, beer and whiskey (if you know us, that’s our signature drink) for these usually after-work meetings with the band.

The young rock stars at the agency

The new album, which was nameless until the final stages of the cover development project, brought in a variety of concepts, from classic campy horror to haunted Americana and urban decay. We developed various mood boards of imagery based on the initial round of ideas we discussed, from the industry classic “sex, drugs and rock n roll” to “uncomfortable,” a board that featured shiver-inducing images of eyeballs and split fingernails.

Some of the design mood boards exploring different conceptual avenues

We also came up with extensive word lists based on the song lyrics and related themes, informing the searches the designers did for mood board imagery and how we would organize the concepts.

A snapshot of the extensive word list we developed to inform the designers’ image searches

We showed the band our boards and continued narrowing down ideas based on what was working for them and their conception of how these images reflected and resonated with the themes of their songs. They had made some executive decisions already in regards to knowing they would not personally appear on the album cover.

Over the course of this development, The Orwells began gravitating towards certain styles and images from the mood boards, which turned into our design team collecting photographers who had worked within the realms of the style The Orwells wanted to capture for the cover. They wanted a look that was somewhat dark and bizarre without being over the top. The winner was Kelly Puleio, a versatile San Francisco-based photographer who had taken compelling photos of people in old motel rooms — just what The Orwells were looking for.

Some of Kelly Puleio’s work that helped The Orwells decide she was the one for them

It was decided she would build a set to evoke some photos she had already done and would modify to fit The Orwells’ artistic vision, which would include small objects to reference the songs on the album, like a Massachusetts license plate in homage to the Pixies and album track “Black Francis,” plus a small train, a pill bottle, cash, a condom and more.

The set that Kelly built in San Francisco to shoot the cover photo

Kelly got a range of interesting shots within the context of the set for the band to choose from. Ultimately, they chose the somewhat androgynous image of the woman sitting at the desk with her back to the camera with tousled hair.

Photos by Kelly Puleio

After the image was chosen, the OKRP designers played around with different photos for inserts and the back cover before finally sending it all into production.

The final packaging board for “Terrible Human Beings” at the OKRP office

It was only during our final meetings that The Orwells told us they would be going with “Terrible Human Beings” as their album title. It was something we had attempted to assist them with as we developed the imagery and word lists, but we knew at the end of the day picking a title was even more of an intimate artistic endeavor than creating a cover. We think it ended up fitting well with the cover direction.

The final packaged product of “Terrible Human Beings”

After all this, to be honest, I still don’t know how most album covers are made. It was really interesting to approach this project as we would approach an advertising campaign for a client in some respects — but when the client is a rock n roll band, the routes of exploration can be far more vast…But, as anyone who deals with artists knows, these routes are also very, very specific.

I know most bands, especially young bands, are not afforded the unique opportunity to work with a professional creative team as they develop the vision for their albums. But The Orwells had that opportunity and I am very proud of how we were able to help them bring their vision to life. As the singles were released I noticed people commenting on how much they liked the imagery, so hopefully it will resonate with a large audience as the world finally gets to experience “Terrible Human Beings.”


Find “Terrible Human Beings” on iTunes and in your local record store, and get tickets to their tour at TheOrwells.com!