Throwback: Polyvinyl CD Samplers

While fumbling around Spotify for some wakeup music this morning, I stumbled upon all three of the sampler covers I did for Polyvinyl Records. These were great little projects to work on with one of my favorite record labels. Here is how they happened.

In the 90's the Trocadero was the best venue in Philadelphia to see a rock show. At least it was my favorite. I saw my first concert there, Pearl Jam, for 12 bucks, plus scores of other bands from the era like Alice In Chains, L7, Smashing Pumpkins, Shudder To Think, Quicksand, Rage Against the Machine, on and on.

When I started making posters, the Troc was one of my main inspirations, and I managed to build a  great relationship with the show booker there. He helped me land great posters for bands like Stereolab, Low, Calexico, Built To Spill, and Sleater Kinney.

In 2006, a loose consortium of indie record labels hosted a conference at the Troc, and I got to make a duo of posters for the event (called Indies Only) that were handed out to attendees. Check em out.

Matt Lunsford, founder and co-owner of Polyvinyl Records, was one of the attendees, with a couple of his bands playing the bill. He dug the posters I'd made and dropped me a line (Tip: put your URL or a legible signature on your work!). Polyvinyl at the time was doing annual label samplers, and he happened to be looking for art at the exact time that he found my work.

Matt has good taste, not just in bands but also for design, and I'm not just tooting my own horn. Their releases always feature thoughtful, well executed design work, and the label's promo and design pieces have called on some great artists and designers (Jesse LeDoux, Andy Mueller, Chris Strong come to mind). So to be hired for these pieces was a delight.

The first sampler had not much art direction other than a call to make it interesting to look at. I mixed drawings and ink washes with some found textures and patterns, landing on this odd portrait. A bit of free writing yielded the title, which they let me keep on there as well. 2006 was Polyvinyl's 10th year as a label, and to mark the occasion they held an anniversary concert, which we converted the sampler artwork to use as the concert poster.


We kicked off 2007 with a tote bag design, featuring some fun ink-blot drawings. I preferred the full-drawing approach, but they wanted an all-over pattern on a black bag so zoomed and cropped.

We took a similar route for the 2007 sampler, but Matt ended up giving me a title to work with. Some melodramatic killed titles included Navigator and Daring Escapes.

Polyvinyl came knocking again in 2009, this time for a digital download sampler and insert that would be packed with other releases. I got to design a landing page for the download card, carrying the aesthetic all the way through the campaign.

Sampler Cover

Sampler Back

Digital Download Landing Page

These jobs were a pleasure to work on because I got to create my own imagery, put it into a design context, and see the whole thing through with a client who trusted my vision. It's been ten years since these projects, and it will be interesting to see where my creative path leads in the next decade!

Thanks for reading! - Kevin