Shortly after we got news that the upcoming Damien Jurado record featured one of Milwaukee’s beloved landmark domes at the Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory, we learned that the man behind that sleeve design – and dozens of others released by Secretly Canadian and its related labels Jagjaguwar and Dead Oceans – lives in Milwaukee.
Naturally, our curiosity was piqued and so we decided to meet this rock and roll designer – the man who made the sleeves for Bon Iver's "For Emma, Forever Ago" and Sharon Van Etten's "Tramp," among others – and to introduce him to you, too.
Milwaukee, meet Daniel Murphy.
OnMilwaukee.com: Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from?
Daniel Murphy: I'm originally from Indiana. I grew up in Zionsville, near Indianapolis, then moved to Bloomington for college in 1996. I studied journalism, and quickly learned that I did not want to be a journalist, but that I had an affinity for the production side of media – design, prepress, etc. I stayed in Bloomington, more or less, for the next 15 years.
OMC: How did you land your gigs doing sleeve designs for some of the most respected indies out there?
DM: I met the founders of Secretly Canadian while in college. They all attended Indiana University around the same time I did, and were just starting to release records in the mid-late '90s, based in Bloomington where we still maintain our home offices and warehouse space. They also booked a lot of shows around town and were instrumental in fostering a scene that was able to bring a lot of touring bands through southern Indiana.
After graduation, I took a few odd internships and jobs at newspapers, where I learned some rudimentary design and production skills. At the same time the Secretly Canadian partners were expanding into distribution and manufacturing, both to take advantage of economies of scale for themselves, and to help out other independent labels and musicians in need of access to those services. They hired me in 2002 to handle prepress and logistics for their manufacturing arm, Bellwether Mfg., which coordinates production and pressing for the in-house labels – Secretly Canadian and Jagjaguwar – the labels they distribute, and a variety of other media. During this time I also took any opportunity to pick up any design work I could find, and really just learned by doing.
By 2006, the in-house labels had grown significantly, and they were looking to create a third, which would become Dead Oceans. They asked me to be the full-time designer for the three labels. The business has grown tremendously since then, with offices in New York and London, but I'm still the sole staff designer and handle the bulk of the packaging design for the three labels, with 40 or so releases each year between them.
OMC: So you are on staff at the labels?
DM: I am; all three essentially share the same staff, with slight curatorial differences being the only practical division. Some bands just feel like a better fit for the style of one label or another, but ultimately it's all one team working on the records and getting them out into the world.
OMC: You recently moved to Milwaukee, right? Tell me a bit about why you came here.
DM: I'm an academic spouse, so since my wife finished her Ph.D. in 2011, I've worked from home and followed her where the job market has taken her. We spent two years in rural central Pennsylvania, and earlier this year she accepted a tenure-track position at Marquette teaching digital media. We moved here in July. It's ideal for us, since we're both Midwesterners and feel like this is where we belong.
OMC: Has Milwaukee been what you've expected it to be?
DM: Milwaukee is the biggest place I've ever lived. ... I had never visited before moving, so I wasn't really sure what to expect. It didn't take long for me to feel at home here and really fall in love with the city. It's still all fairly new to me, which is exciting, because I've come nowhere close to exhausting the places to go and things to do, and every person I've met recommends something that wasn't even on my radar. So far, no disappointments.
OMC: I see that Field Report, Juniper Tar and other local bands follow you on Twitter. Were you welcomed into the scene here pretty quickly?
DM: I did my best to bring myself up to speed with what's happening in music around here before we moved, and a lot of that involved reaching out and saying "hi" via social media to people who are doing great things here – there are a lot of those people, thankfully. Being in my mid 30s and no longer capable of going out every night, I probably haven't put myself out there as much as I should have, but I'll be here for the foreseeable future, which feels great. I'm hoping to find ways to contribute to all the amazing things going on.
OMC: Do I get some credit for not asking you about the Mets’ Daniel Murphy?
Absolutely! I've come to terms with the fact that my name doesn't do me any favors. I grew up in a town of 5,000 people, where there were three Daniel Murphys. In fact, I'm not even the only Daniel Murphy doing indie label album art design. We're everywhere.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.