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The Grammy Awards draw big audiences each year when they’re aired on television. The show features many of music’s biggest names, as it will on Sunday, Feb. 5.
But the vast number of Grammy nominees are much less well known. And the things for which some of them are nominated don’t even involve making music, per se.
Along with studio work like engineering and producing, artists are recognized for things like writing liner notes, or, in the case of 1997 Cedar Crest High School graduate Will Stichter, for album packaging.
Stichter is nominated as art director for Best Recording Packaging for “Divers,” the album he and longtime friend Matt Stone (a Mount Gretna native and 1996 Cedar Crest graduate) released last year as their ambient/experimental band Soporus.
The album was nominated by Stephen Roessner, the drummer for Stichter and Stone’s former band, Saxon Shore; he also mastered the “Divers” album.
Roessner teaches recording at the University of Rochester and is a voting member of the Recording Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Grammy parent organization. He won a Grammy himself in 2010 for engineering a classical recording.
“Over the summer, he filled out the paperwork and had me send records to the Recording Academy,” Stichter said in a phone interview from Virginia, where he was attending some shows by a friend’s band, Bosque Brown
He explained what happened next.
“I think it was announced over some kind of live stream, and Steve was watching it while he was at work,” he said. “When he saw that it happened, he first texted Matt and I, very excitedly and I called him right back.”
“I was working on sign painting on my studio garage wall and I was standing on the sidewalk, totally shocked. It was great to immediately celebrate with those guys – I called my wife, celebrated with her,” he added.
The nomination is especially sweet since the music beneath the packaging is his own.
“I think of the nomination as tightly tied to our band in a way that I don’t know I would feel if I were hired to produce it for another band,” he said. “So I think it is probably extra meaningful.
“Doing the design and the specialty printing for the last couple of Soporus albums has become almost inseparable from making the music; it’s become part of how I participate in the band. I’ve taken the lead on the visual aspects from the beginning, but on the last two albums, I focused on incorporating printing processes I can do myself that would be cost-prohibitive to hire someone else to do,” he added.
The nominated packaging
The packaging includes a letterpress-printed outer sleeve that slides to reveal the artwork and printed type.
Letterpress printing is “the process of printing from an inked raised surface, especially when the paper is impressed directly upon the surface.” Stichter learned the technique from friends at the University of Pennsylvania.
“It’s an old-fashioned way to mass produce any kind of printed matter,” he said.
He printed the sleeve on a 1937 Vandercook printing press, which he purchased from one of the friends who taught him the technique.
“I’ve done a lot of projects over the years with a letterpress insert or a wrap around the outside of a record,” he said. “I had been experimenting with gluing together letterpress packaging that was still very simple, embracing the limitations of the process that I had access to.”
His goal with “Divers” was making “a package that you can interact with when you’re listening to the instrumental music.”
“I have good memories of growing up poring over the lyrics and the inserts in a package,” he said. “It being interactive in some way adds to that intrigue – it’s a way you can kind of play with the packaging.”
The album’s photos, which Stichter took on a trip to New Zealand with his wife Lauren, reflect a common Soporus theme: “nuclear power and nuclear energy – specifically, nuclear accidents,” Stichter said.
“(And the album title) ‘Divers’ is a reference to the workers at Chernobyl that went into the flooded containment room to turn off the pumps,” he said.
With the profusion of digital and streaming music delivery, album packaging seems like a dying art form at first glance. On the other hand, though, vinyl albums have been enjoying a resurgence in popularity. Stichter is a firm believer in making the listening experience as full as possible.
“For those of us that experienced physical album art, it feels like there’s often something missing to the experience,” he said. “I want to add to the experience – rather than take away from the experience – of listening to music.”
A Lebanon transplant
Stichter was born in northern Indiana and moved to Lebanon in 1990 after his father was promoted to general manager of the Supreme Corp. facility in Jonestown.
“I had a really good experience at Cedar Crest in middle school and high school,” he said. “I was involved in sports quite a bit; I took independent study in art. I developed a lot of great friendships.
He and Stone have played in bands ever since they met, including the now-defunct “loud” instrumental rock band Saxon Shore. As that band, they released several albums and toured the U.S., Japan, Taiwan, and Europe between 2003 and 2010.
Soporus, which they started in 2004 “as a way to play smaller and more quiet shows,” has released six albums and EPs. Stichter plays bass; Stone, guitar.
He describes it as “more experimental as far as song structure.”
“We do a lot with repetition and looping,” he said. “One of the things we like about quieter instrumental music is tapping into feelings and expressing feelings that are hard to put into words.”
After Cedar Crest, Stichter went on to attend Drexel University in Philadelphia, where he earned a B.A. in architecture in 2003. He’s lived in Philadelphia ever since; he married Lauren in 2006 (she is the head of the Art Education department at Moore College of Art and Design) and they have a 12-year-old daughter Shirley.
He worked at various architecture firms during and after college, but finally left full-time work in 2005 to focus on music. Ever since, though, he’s still continued to work on projects in architecture, construction, graphic design, printing, and audio/visual live events.
“I feel like architecture school has the potential to equip somebody to feel like they can know about a lot of different things,” he said. “I like the problem-solving aspects of architecture, and that also carries into the way that I approach graphic design and printmaking.”
He also still likes “the artistic aspect” of architecture.
“Thinking about how a built environment affects a person,” he said. “I remain very interested in the experience a person has in a space, kind of in the same way I’m thinking about the experience a person has when they’re listening to and handling a vinyl record.
“I often work on friends’ houses and home renovations – I want to make their space where they live better for them, I want it to function better, I want it to perform better.”
Stichter, his wife, and Stone, and other friends, will be attending Tuesday’s ceremonies in Los Angeles.
“Some friends are also going along to hang out for a few days in L.A. with us,” he said. “We’re going to play a show that weekend as well.”
Post-Grammy, Stichter has plenty of work lined up.
“I have several cassette tape design projects for friends,” he said. “Matt and I contributed a remix for a single (for) Bosque Brown.
“And then I have a kitchen renovation at a friend’s house coming up. And Matt and I are planning to work more on writing music as well as trying to play more shows,” he added.
For more information on Soporus, visit www.soporus.com or soporus.bandcamp.com.
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