by Johnny Papan
VANCOUVER – Neck of the Woods are a progressive death metal quintet from Vancouver, British Columbia. For the last five years they have been destructing stages of all grandeur, spreading their macabre-meets-machine gun sound throughout the lower mainland, performing alongside notable artists including Converge, Every Time I Die, the Devin Townsend Project, the Faceless, Misery Signals and many more. In September 2017, Neck of the Woods released their sophomore record, The Passenger, an album with a deep-rooted emotional connection.
“Lyrically I tend to speak of personal struggles and development,” explains lead vocalist Jeff Radomsky. “In The Passenger, the bulk of the lyrics are directed towards extending support to my sister who suffers from brain cancer. A good chunk of the lyrics were written in the waiting room during her craniotomy.”
Neck of the Woods are an extremely heavy band who were stricken under the weight of an even heavier reality. Though the soundscape of the group is inflamed with aggression, Radomsky clarifies that together the group reached deep within their darkness to find a shining light for his sister, Sarah.
“All the songs that draw attention to her torturous battle with this disease are uplifting, positive statements of support, a reminder that she can beat it. The other guys in the band all harbour personal relationships with her as well; she’s come on tours with us, she illustrates a bunch of our merch, often works our merch booth at shows and has bent over backwards to help us. The Passenger was for her.”
Though it’s inevitable that any band would be more than ecstatic to reveal their latest work into the world, especially one so vulnerable in expression, Radomsky admits there’s a whole other side to this story involving lies, deceit and deception. The band has held this tale in secrecy until now.
Christopher McKenney is a surrealist photographer from Pennsylvania, one of his images recently graced the cover of the upcoming album In Becoming A Ghost by tech-death band the Faceless.
“I found McKenney through Instagram years ago,” Radomsky explains. “I had been a big fan of his work for quite some time. I purchased a few framed prints of his photography for my apartment over the years and interacted with him via instagram prior to purchasing the photo for our record cover.”
The photo in question was one of McKenney’s pieces entitled “Them.” This was the initial shot meant to cover The Passenger.
“The dark subject matter paired with an unsettling surreal aspect grabbed my attention immediately. I’m a big fan of surrealist art, be it photography, illustration or painting. If it’s weird and dark I’m usually into it.”
The vocalist continues, “When I first laid eyes on the piece I was struck like a deer in the headlights. It spoke to me. I could hear the subject of the photo crying out like a banshee in the night, I could feel its pain and knew it was level to mine. I felt it encompassed the themes of the lyrical content, sound and overall feeling of the record so well that we had to use it.”
In preparation of the record’s release, the band contacted McKenney and eventually purchased the rights to use his image as their album-cover for $400 USD. Things seemed to be going smoothly for the band. That is until they caught wind of an Australian shoegaze band called Vagrond, who used the exact same image as the cover for their 2014 album Regret.
“I stumbled upon an article about Chris’ photography,” explains the lead vocalist and instrumentalist for Vagrond, who performs under the name Atheos.
“I hadn’t previously seen his work, but as soon as I saw the photo in question I felt it was a perfect image to represent our album. I sent an email to Chris asking if he sold his images for album cover use and if that particular image was available. He told me that the image had not previously been used and was available to purchase. We bought the image and he said it was ours exclusively. The album was released digitally in December 2014 and physically, on CD and vinyl, in mid-2015.”
When Neck of the Woods and Vagrond discovered their shared artwork, the Vancouver-band’s picture-perfect album promotion was distraught. Neck of the Woods brought the artwork-epidemic to the photographer’s attention. McKenney allegedly stated that Vagrond had used the photo without his permission and he knew nothing about this.
Atheos says otherwise.
“Jeff from Neck of the Woods and myself shared our e-mails showing that we both had bought exclusive rights to the image and it was therefore Chris’ mistake that the image had been sold twice.”
When Radomsky confronted McKenney after exchanging e-mails and receipts with Atheos, both bands would soon lose all contact with the photographer.
“Because I used Neck of the Woods as an outlet to deal with my sister’s condition, McKenney’s actions struck me like a knife in the chest,” Radomsky reveals. “I had a strong connection with the piece we had bought from him. When he took our money and ran I felt like he took more than mere dollars, I felt he robbed me of a piece of my outlet.”
With only a few days to remedy the situation, Radomsky partnered with Kevin Moore of Soft Surrogate Design to reimagine The Passenger‘s cover image. After reviewing hundreds of photos, illustrations and paintings from artists around the world, they decided they would have to create something original. They took to the woods with borrowed camera gear, limited supplies and a few friends. Chasing the setting sun, the pair managed to get the shot they wanted with only minutes to spare. Overnight, Moore reworked an entire new layout for the record, produced all new marketing graphics, and created an animated video for the next single. The record, with its new cover, was released a few weeks later.
“Ultimately we’re much, much happier with our cover. It’s a more accurate portrayal of the record in every respect, right down to the little details. I feel the whole experience sprouted a few grey hairs on my head but it taught me a lesson I needed to learn; it’s always worth trying to do it yourself. Restrictions breed creativity.”
Christopher McKenney was contacted via email and did not respond.
Neck of the Woods plays the Astoria on April 6 (Vancouver).Neck of the Woods, The Passenger, vagrond, Vancouver