When a new album hits stores and a musician begins the publicity cycle, there is so much focus on the finished product that few are privy to all the previous preparation behind the scenes. From the album cover to the promotional photos, every image must represent the artist and set the stage for the performances to come. In the case of Scranton singer/songwriter Mike Mizwinski’s latest record, “Parking Meters,” that process had to be fast and straightforward, as photographer and designer Keith Perks of 1120 Studios was hired just as production was wrapping up and the due date was drawing near.
Thankfully, the title made it easy to decide what he would be shooting for the cover.
“We bounced a couple ideas off of each other for that, but for me, when it came down to it, I wanted to keep it simple. I’m not a fan of CD covers with photos of bands or singers on the front. Give it a few years and it can look dated. Look at Garth Brooks‘ CDs. His new one is already embarrassing, and it just came out. It’s about the music. I feel a designer or photographer will help sell it and provide a better representation of the music more than seeing the singer’s face,” Perks explained.
“The packaging was really a no-brainer, but Keith took my idea and my vision and really put his own spin on it, and it came out absolutely fantastic. I couldn’t have asked for a better album cover, and I definitely didn’t want to be on it,” Mizwinski, who goes by MiZ, added.
Perks had already envisioned what he was looking for when it came time for the promo shoot, so they met on a chilly November day in downtown Scranton and got the job done as quickly as possible.
“I don’t like to shoot bands in locations that are easily recognizable. I try to avoid that when possible. The alley location was shitted up nicely. I wanted something more worn and weathered for that,” Perks noted.
“The set with the old wooden doors was behind Embassy [Vinyl] on Adams [Avenue]. The set with the parking meters was on Adams as well. We walked up a bit to make use of the older model meters. I don’t like the look of the new credit card accepting versions. I like old school; something that takes nickels should be on the cover. The brick wall photos were in the area of Marquis [Art & Frame]. We spent about two hours, I think. It was damn cold that day, so I think we both hustled a bit more than typical.”
“The funny part is the alleyway where most of the photos were taken was the back of an apartment that I actually looked at to live in at one point, but my cousin Kate, who was my roommate at the time, didn’t like that creepy alley that we would have to walk down to do our laundry, especially at night,” Mizwinski noted.
“No offense to anyone, though – the apartment was quite nice.”
The editing process had to be swift as well, but that suited Perks just fine.
“I go through photos I shoot pretty quick sometimes. I chose what to work on by what immediately jumps out at me. Sometimes I will look at them again later on, but I pretty much go with my gut and what grabs my attention in that moment as I’m clicking through and writing down file numbers. I sometimes do a second scan of photos after I edit them a bit and ditch some. Then I send them off to the client for whatever promotion they need to use them for,” Perks described.
“Every single thing that Keith sent me I ended up using in some shape or form, so I couldn’t have been happier with all his designs and his picks with photos. And I really like the places that he chose to shoot at!” Mizwinski enthused.
Recorded earlier that same month at JL Studios in Olyphant by Joe Loftus and Jay Preston, “Parking Meters” is the Pittston native’s third album of original Americana music. A CD release show was snowed out, so Mizwinski rescheduled it for this Saturday, Jan. 10 at the River Street Jazz Cafe in Plains. It will also serve as a going away party, as he is moving to New Jersey in February, just outside of New York City.
“The album is called ‘Parking Meters’ because it’s a lyric to one of the songs, and most of the music is about travel. I like the old school term that Keith talked about earlier. I wanted the record to look as old as possible and possibly release it on vinyl eventually,” he said.
Perks was familiar with MiZ’s deeply personal songwriting, but he didn’t have the benefit of hearing the modern folk record before their photo shoot. Instead, he would rely on his own artistic instinct, which seemed to work out for the best.
“I typically like to have the music to listen to as I design to get a feel for everything. This was a first for me, being hired without hearing anything. I photographed and created based on what I knew of Mike and from what he told me about the new songs. I hoped everything would jive, and I really hope his fans dig what we created.”
by Rich Howells
Rich is an award-winning journalist, longtime blogger, photographer, and podcast host. He is the founder and editor of NEPA Scene.