Tunde Olaniran, the multi-talented singer, songwriter, performer, dancer, designer, advocate, and more, has launched a “lyric portal” website for Transgressor with a creative collaboration with developer Melissa Hubert and artist Matthew Osmon. Olaniran explains, “I was looking for a fun way for people to access the lyrics to my album, and Melissa worked to create this platform, which also lets you examine the album artwork more closely if you never bought the physical album. It functions on any desktop/laptop and for mobile users it is lyrics app. I envision this streaming at a party on their laptop; the whole album will play in sequence, which is unique since there’s nowhere else except Spotify to directly stream the entire album. PLAYGROUND has an exclusive interview with his squad about the collaborative design processes and how they approached this project. Transgressor lyric portal is a totally new way to integrate and explore web design, art direction, and international collaborations.

What exactly is a lyric portal?

Melissa: The lyric portal is a way to digitally experience album art combined with mp3 music, like what people get from a CD booklet or LP sleeve. The idea is that it is a physical space to experience the lyrics of Tunde’s music, while listening to the songs within the browser.

What is Melissa’s background?

Tunde: I actually worked with Melissa and her partner Vincent on designing some of the visual assets for the ARTxDetroit staged reading of Octavia’s Brood last spring. I’d played a show with Vincent at a festival in Victoria, B.C. a few years back, and stayed in touch and been a fan of his music as well as visual art. They not only had such productive energy, they also really connected with the spirit of the work. Great, great people.

Melissa: I have a background in music and web development ; I began creating tumblr style personal collage spaces and fan sites on geocities in the early 2000’s as a kid, and eventually began freelancing design for artists and musicians while studying Jazz flute and performing music in Vancouver, BC, Canada. I wanted something more than doing “web design” for a clients and was tired of static sites. To keep motivated in self-teaching myself how to code to be able to push ideas further, there had to be something emotionally moving in the effort and dedication. The idea of combining music and web came in – taking the idea of a music video or physical album and making it interactive, in the browser. I attended an 8-week boot camp which helped speed up the learning process and helped me gain teamwork perspective in web development at a Vancouver startup. Since early 2015 I’ve been involved in the creation and development of r/n collective as way to break off from the idea that Vancouver creatives need some sort of outside source (blog, publication, label, etc) to validate their own practice. r/n is the response to this false notion; we hold the keys to our own future… as collective r/n has no limitation on medium, genre, or politics. r/n is right now.

How did you choose Matthew Osmon to do the artwork?

Tunde: I’ve known Matthew for a few years and he’d asked about collaborating on something the year before Transgressor was released. When I started thinking about what I wanted for the cover of the album, his name sprang back to mind, and I reached out with some initial thoughts. I’m so glad I did, he’s brilliant, patient, with wide influences. I think his background as a teacher, working with high school students, gives him the ability to work really well at helping people realize their vision and provide his own perspective, experience and guidance.

What is your background, Matthew?

I am a drawer and painter at heart. I studied Fine Art, Film, Theater Design including makeup and costumes in Detroit at CCS and Chicago at Columbia. In Chicago I was part of a sort of underground theatre group called Flush Puppy Productions. We did several shows and saw some success. In Flint I was part of Red Ink Studios when it started, I was the curator there and an artist as well. I am a high school art teacher at an alternative High School in Flint. I teach film, digital photography, fine art, graphic design and puppet making. I also teach at the Flint Institute of Arts. Currently I am working on the illustrations for the third volume of The Hero Field Guide book and am slowly working on a series of screen-prints for a show in September.

The main inspiration came from the lithograph that Tunde turned me on to. Our initial conversations were about Afro-futurism and a Salem witch trial lithograph and how to juxtapose the two. We wanted to create a world that felt somewhat outside the realm of reality but rooted in the concept of being on trial and in a courtroom of some type. Initially, he wanted me to create full scale life size drawings that we would use as cutouts and create an elaborate scene of these cutouts and then photograph the thing. That sounded like an insane amount of work, so we did an illustration instead. I would work for a week or so and then Tunde would come over in the snow and cold and we would move the pieces around a bit. At first it was sort of turning into a scene from X-Men or something. At one point there were these sci-fi zombies coming out of the floor. It was very much a collaboration and the finished piece really is a shared image. I wouldn’t have gone in this particular direction without his partnership. Im quite proud of our teamwork on this project. Some of my favorite parts are the robot stenographer and the hole in the floor with people breaking apart. I think the colors are working, and Tunde’s hair looks untamed.

What are some of the most important themes within the artwork itself?

Tunde: I’d love to get Matthew’s response to this! For me, the themes were futurist perspectives on transgression and resistance to the state. Another theme was the interconnection between different people through access to shared energy. We see this lightning or energy in the work while some characters are drawing on it as a source of power, for others it’s an attack on their beings or something they can’t absorb.

Matthew: For me, it hits on the basic theme of false accusations and being on trial for whatever it is you didn’t do. Also- the idea of having great power and being surrounded by those that want to stifle that power and having allies that share that same power. The idea that this character is tapped into mysticism somehow and shares consciousness with ravens and cobras. Themes of other worlds and levels of consciousness hit chords on this piece. There is a sort of job theme in it as well, roles that fall into place to create this chaos. Each character represented has a job…the lawyers, the judge, the military or police; the prisoners with power, the witnesses, the allies and the robot stenographer- then playing on those roles visually. I love the future lawyer ties, myself.

Tunde, what was the process like for you?

I always bookmark images I come across online, and I brought him a lithograph of this painting as the composition inspiration. I’d been searching for depictions of the Salem witch trials and it’s compelling how so many of the same elements exist in terms of the composition and emotional tone. We had several conversations, trying to establish the setting as an intersection between sci-fi, fantasy, magical realism, and trying to make sure it didn’t veer too far either into either realm. Some of the inspiration, like this image, had been haunting me for over a year. An anonymous white man standing over Australian aboriginals in chains. I couldn’t find the story behind the image, but I would just stare at this and meditate on what it meant that this happened in humanity’s history. I asked Matthew to put him in the scene, he’s there if you look closely. When it came to creating my pose in the artwork, this image was what Matthew and I used for reference. We were trying to find a balance between innate power and illustrating possession by a larger external force. Matthew began drawing and placing figures, and I would meet with him to make changes and suggest placements in the image. Here’s an early draft of the album artwork. There were also about 6 or so different attempts to create the album cover, keeping in mind the vinyl and CD versions.

How did the three of you approach working on this project together?

Tunde: The artwork came before the lyric portal, and it wasn’t until I’d worked with Melissa on the earlier project for Octavia’s Brood, that I saw what a brilliant designer she was. I usually mentally bookmark skill-sets I notice in other people and sometimes will hit them up months or years later when the opportunity is right. When I was thinking about a simple, but more immersive way to enjoy the lyrics, I thought of her immediately.

Melissa:  There was a lot of freedom going into this project as to what we could do visually to accompany the lyrics. After seeing the files for the Matthew’s artwork, it was obvious that featuring the album art as the main design element was the truest way to visually represent the album. There are so many important messages happening in the image and the music, I wanted to combine them to be consumed and enjoyed at the same time by the viewer. After exploring a few options for direction, we came in to the mutual love of being able to go deeper into the artwork and really get in and explore the details.

How long did the process take to complete?

Tunde: The songs took about a year. I started working on tracks like KYBM before my EP, Yung Archetype, was even finished. I think Matthew and I started working on the concepts as early as November 2014, finalized the art and turned it in for vinyl pressing in early March of 2015. Total about 4-5 months- all said and done.

Matthew: It took two Stephen King audio books and lots of music.

Melissa: Each feature of the site had it’s own set of challenges to overcome. Some more forgiving than others – I’d say many hours and about 25 cups of coffee.

What is your favorite track on the album?

Tunde: Right now, “Transgressor” is my favorite track, and also is the one I send Matthew while he worked on the art so I feel like it captures the spirit of the entire LP.

Matthew: I think Namesake is still my #1. That song was the summer anthem of 2015 for me and it should have been for the entire universe in my opinion, it still sparks me like it’s new every time.  Now that I’ve marinated in it for a while I think Transgressor, Run To The Gun and Paladin top out my favorites. The album is the entity though, it is hard to separate the tracks.

Melissa: “Transgressor” gets stuck in my head all the time which is cool, because it’s also kind of like a mantra. I love “Namesake” too – it’s gets me hyped up!


Buy the album, Transgressor on bandcamp and searchable on iTunes, Apple Music, Google Play, Tidal, Spotify, Amazon, and record stores across the country.