Graphic designer Chris Bilheimer has an impressive track record. In addition to working as REM’s full-time artistic director, he created the cover art for Neutral Milk Hotel’s indie classic, In The Aeroplane Over the Sea. He’s also designed every Green Day album cover since 1997’s Nimrod. This year, he produced the grungy neon artwork for the punk rockers’ latest trilogy, ¡Uno! ¡Dos! and ¡Tré!. From his new home in the music-obsessed Austin, Texas, Bilheimer talked about the inspiration for the aesthetic, and revealed the lo-fi, yet surprisingly contemporary process involved in its creation.
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As told by: Chris Bilheimer
When I originally went out to Oakland to meet with [Green Day] in April or May, they had just played a surprise show in Austin, Texas and were recording demos of some of their songs here in town. By the time they went into the studio, they already had over thirtysomething songs written. They were really focused and really had it together. When I went in the first day, Billie Joe [Armstrong, the lead singer] had taken pictures of everyone with his iPhone, had drawn big X’s over their eyes, and had pinned them up on the wall. I ended up really liking that idea. That was our starting off point, these graffiti’d pictures that he had done.
After listening to the music, I felt like it was a return to their shorter, poppier, three-chord punk rock songs. They also had a side project called the Foxboro Hottubs, which is very much a throwback to ‘60s garage bands — [¡Uno!] had a little bit of that feel, and we discussed it being more of a fun party album, as opposed to the more heavy, thematic, personal, and political albums that the last two albums [American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown] were. We really wanted to go with something a lot more fun and easy. Somehow, and I don’t know how we got there, we started off with ‘60s garage, and it slowly turned more into ‘80s skateboard graphics. So those were the two inspirations for the visual look.
In keeping with the quick and dirty style of the record — as opposed to it being a big, orchestrated rock opera — we didn’t go with a big photo shoot for the covers. Everyone shot their own photos with their iPhones. All three of those photos were taken by Billie Joe, Mike [Dirnt], and Tré [Cool]. They took them themselves and texted me their photos. It just kept with the spirit of the record. It was very DIY, lo-fi, and fun.