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John Frusciante - Shadows Collide With People (2004)

John Frusciante is an American guitarist, singer, composer, and producer, best known as the former guitarist of the rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers. His solo career includes elements from experimental rock, ambient music, new wave and electronica.

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Childhood friend and ex-partner of Frusciante, Toni Oswald, shared an intimate relationship with the Chili Pepper's guitarist. Oswald said of Frusciante that 'I think both me and John have a very heightened sense of the spirit world and it is something that we connected on from the get go without even saying much about it. It was just an understanding. I'm pretty sure most people thought we were a couple of kooks most of time, John in particular, but for us, these things were and are real. We had the feeling that this world is a very small part of consciousness and were okay riding the fringes of that. In fact we enjoyed riding that line. The thing that changed after meeting him, was that I could express all of those things without someone thinking I was totally bonkers. There was never any shame in expressing all parts of ourselves. We were celebrating freedom and creativity.' This mentality distilled in Oswald's words was a lifestyle that both Frusciante and her held close to and shared commonality in, it would also play a crucial role in his solo work. 

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This outlook is something which encompassed as much of Frusciante's life as it did his music. After a five-year period of addiction to heroin and cocaine Frusciante found calm in regular practice of vipassana and yoga, he discovered the effect that self-discipline has on the body. Frusciante doesn't view his time as an addict as a 'dark period' in his life. He considers it a period of rebirth, during which he found himself and cleared his mind. This period in time, while pain-inducing, was beneficial for self-reflection and growth. On the song 'Regret' Frusciante highlights this; while the chorus consists of the line 'I regret my passed' repeated again and again in an entrancing, hypnotic tone - the song is really speaking on how he regrets nothing at all as his 'mistakes' (whether it be drug addiction or not) have made him who he is. Being connected to the world outside this 'small part of consciousness' continues to play a significant factor in Frusciante's life today. 


Ideas surrounding this type of perspective and lifestyle are displayed in Frusciante's music and on his 4th solo album Shadows Collide With People. It's an introspective album of electric guitar and sparkly production infused with a subtle kind of psychedelia. Heaven, pain, death, time and belief are constant themes which shine throughout the album. Distorted electronic instrumentals make up the interludes on the album. Tracks such as "Failure33Object" or “-00Ghost27" feature this experimental production which can be said to be mimicking the sounds heard in psychedelic experiences. The start of the first track sounds like the beginning of a DMT (Dimethyltryptamine) trip, a chemical produced in the brain which can be induced through kundalini meditation. These types of experiences are associated with breakthrough moments of enlightenment / teaching / learning. When working on Chili Pepper's music Frusciante told his band members that he could hear 'ghosts' 'all over' their albums. On the vinyl release of Shadows Collide With People the words ‘There's riddles in the shadows’ are inscribed on side B. 

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Going down the tracklist, songs continue to share messages from a multitude of different themes, all seemingly learned through this practice of thinking from time experimenting with psychedelic drugs and meditation.


1. Carvel - 'When I try I force it out, never looking in only out' is the first line of the album. When you look inwards you will act through your spirit not based on any outward expectations. This is the most true and natural way to live. 'Heaven receives you and throws you back' - This line describes a quasi-religious experience, psychdelic trips have the potential to make one feel as though they have ascended to the level of Gods. Immediately after witnessing this experience one is forced to return to reality on earth, this feeling is intense and an uncomfortable change of scenery hence the description 'throws you back'. The chorus features the line 'Sending a dummy to my God' repeated four times - human consciousness is limited and ignorant compared to the infinite wisdom of Gods. The song ends with the concluding line 'all the good times are on their way', showcasing an enlightened and newly discovered positive outlook.

2. Omission - The second track off the record features the line 'Omit myself (take myself from your eyes)' repeated four times. The song is about learning how to let go in order to grow. 'Omit myself as a favour for God' - we have to let go in order for fate to take control, through this act we are helping God's mission for us to achieve the summum bonum (highest good / ultimate goal.) 'Suffer fate cause it’s the only lift you’ve got' - though this act is difficult, it's the only path to spiritual growth.

3. Regret - As previously mentioned while this song is a moment of crisis, only containing the lines 'I regret my past' and 'stay alone.' Frusciante doesn't actually follow these words. He has been quoted stating that it's 'stupid to judge yourself as your going by it', 'there's no point in it, it's already happened. The best thing to do is to live in the moment and think about the next step.' 

4. Ricky - 'And if it's real it's not all, It’s not all there is, there's a lot in what appears not to be there at all' - allusion to spirit / immaterial reality

5. Second Walk -  'Died so many times and then reappeared, All death looks like to me is a word that causes fear' - here Frusciante reflects on themes of afterlife, emphasising how death is beautiful and not something to be feared. 'I'm taking my place in a world with different space, no time at all to accept how you move' - During psychedelic experiences it can feel as though you are transcending traditional concepts of reality, traveling in a place where geography, space and time are foreign ideas which don’t apply to you.

6. Every Person - Here Frusciante wrestles with ideas of spirituality, love and identity. He describes his love for a partner that's so potent he feels as though she makes up part of his own identity - 'You take me by the hand, a hand's all I feel right now. It's all I am, It's all that I am. You think that I'm a man, I beg to differ. For I am her as much as I'm me'. We all live through each other in an abstract sense, there is an underlying interconnectivity of spirits. While we are all individuals and self-dependent people, there is an intangible inter-dependence found within one another. This theme is also highlighted later in the song when Frusciante sings 'You know this moment in time is all my life, Every day is each day that's past, Every person alive is everyone who's died,' again showing how everyone is connected through a collective consciousness.

11. Song to Sing When I'm Lonely - 'Holding on to facts that will never be proven' - paradoxical - exploring metaphysical spaces can be scary and uncomfortable as one’s ego must be broken down - these are the ‘facts’ that will never be proven - holding onto external, material things to make up your identity threatens your spirit.

12. Time Goes Back - 'I'm flown through a mirror, almost disappearing, I glow faintly. You know this is nobody's life' - Physical bodies that we see in the mirror are shells for spirits/shadows which make our soul/life - perspective shifts when seeing your own reflection with this new perspective. Our identity is brought into question - what makes us who we are? Our material self that we can see with ease in the mirror, or the spirit that lives inside?

13. In Relief - 'To seem you're in me and over me. Relief in all things. And all things shoot to me. And all things shoot to you. Wherever you are' - Frusciante alludes to something transcendental and timeless. He may be speaking about God and how God is connected to everything that exists. God may be you and you may be part of God’s existence.

14. Water - 'Every time I fake it Devils crawl through me. I’m ashamed when I ignore the voices that agree. Get us all together. All work for the same thing. It’s only a lie to recall believing your body' - value placed in the metaphysical, the voices inside our head know best, forced actions are met with devils. We should let our soul take charge of our actions not information based in the material world.

15. Of Before - 'You're a ghost in life. Pushed right out and kept inside of a bodiless weight' - explaining view of reality, we are bodiless ghosts at our core. 'When you close your eyes at night, someone clears a path for you to ride' - we are most at one with celestial presences when asleep and furthest away from material reality.

17. Chances - 'In the multidimensional scheme you'll know what I mean. This is the time to die (This is the time)' - here ego-death is being described (a phenomenon found often in psychedelic experiences)

19. The Slaughter - 'I'll know her face a mile away. She’ll take me straight through that gate. Living there in a flower. You wouldn't have made it without her' - allusions to divine feminine energy as a guiding force in the universe, a zenith of beauty.


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Frusciante has built a following through his inspiring attitude and unique perspective towards life. On the universes' relationship with creativity he states that ‘the force of creativity and nature is not working against you, it’s right there for you at anytime. You just have to be ready to be alright with it, whatever it is, because it’s just the universe expressing itself. Nothing’s expected of you, you just have to be there for it.’  On negative forces and self-discipline he's said that 'the world is divided into allies and enemies, and a lot of the time your worst enemy is your ego.' These kinds of outlooks on life are shown in Shadows through his positive and often transcendental lyrics. For my project I try to best display this by presenting some of Frusciante's related lyrics on the cover.

The original artwork for Shadows features bold, red, hand-painted letters which cover the entirety of the space available in the foreground. In the background lies a view of a mountain range with a warm brown filter. There is use of negative space to make for a more aesthetically pleasing image as the top of the mountain range is visible and the sky above is plain and simplistic. This makes for a good contrast in complexity in the background. 

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When putting together my cover for Shadows I tried experimenting with different colours and designs. I made sure to create images that would suit the music's flow; something free, intuitive and satisfyingly simplistic. For this reason I had the font be almost innocent, as if a child could have written it. This also creates a juxtaposition between the style and the content of the words. The words are thought provoking and introspective and nothing to be expected from a young child. I also tried incorporating images associated with the perspective Frusicante shares about the world, something that would involve being connected to one's spirit. Such images include the enlightened 'third eye' which I give a subtle nod to on the cover. I also experimented trying to create patterns which mimic those said to be experienced on a psychedelic trip. These are shown in my sketchbook which I would scan and manipulate in photoshop.

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When creating my cover I would draw in my sketchbook rough ideas of images or words I would potentially want to use. I would then scan these pages (left) and crop them out of each page (above). After this I would continue to edit and finalise the layer before adding to the cover. Around this text box are some of the ideas that didn't make the final outcome.

Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell founded the album cover design company Hipgnosis in 1967. The pair started designing record sleeves while they were still film students at the Royal College of Art. Both had been to school with members of Pink Floyd, and their first commission was to create artwork for the group’s second LP. For Storm’s Dark Side of the Moon cover, he was inspired by a physics textbook illustration of light shining through a glass paperweight and creating a rainbow. Storm said ‘the triangle is a sign for ambition, and that tied in with some lyrics Roger was writing and this in itself tied in with pyramids which are really good symbols for a sort of madness and greed.’ This idea of having simplistic symbols to represent complex ideas definitely crossed into my own work when compiling the symbols I created for the Shadows cover. Pink Floyd’s album also had no mention or photo of the band on the cover which was unusual at the time. This championed the minimalistic side of the project. I drew inspiration from this idea for my own project as Frusciante’s album is similarly minimalistic and direct with his lyrics and melodies.

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Here I tried experimenting with different pictures of the sky I took, all whilst incorporating my 'aztec eye' sketches.

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When putting together my Shadows cover it was important that I incorporated natural imagery. This was because such imagery is closely attached to the mind state Frusciante was in while making the album, a perspective which roots are found in meditation and use of psychedelics. With these two practices, states of mind are found which are said to be vulnerable to the beauty found in nature. People have described the sensation of 'becoming one' with themselves and their surroundings, their surroundings being the natural world. I explored my local park to gather the photos used - I chose photos of leaves, bark and branches which displayed the best visual value which I could find. When collaging the images together I incorporated digital techniques which contrasted the natural imagery, this also gave a nod to the electronic production on the album. Another point of inspiration drawn from Dark Side of the Moon is in that when it was decided to create the artwork void of the band's identity, the record label (EMI Harvest) protested that this would damage sales and as a compromise Hipgnosis added a sticker featuring the album title and band name. This strategy must have worked commercially for the album as it spent 14 years in the billboard top 200, a feat that no other album has ever come close to. For my cover I too decided to add a subtle sticker to give the album identity. When creating this accessory I chose to use purple to balance out the orange, yellow and greens that make the cover itself.

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This album cover would likely be seen in a re-released version of Shadows Collide With People. Perhaps as part of an anniversary addition or simply in celebration of the record's messages. This version would not be sold as an exclusive release but in mass as it would be an attempt for the album to break out of it's cult status and into mass public consumption. Positive ideas, lifestyles and messages found with the help of illegal substances is uncommon in the mainstream and a taboo in most societies. With the re-packaged version of this album, such values can be shared to a wider audience who would benefit from Frusciante's words. 

Project Evaluation

For this project I presented a substantial amount of research; I looked into the artist's life, the background behind the lyrics, why Frusciante decided to write what he wrote about etc. I dissected lyrics from a selection of tracks from the album attempting to grasp the reader and really push the message of the album. I also gave mention to how colour theory effected my approaches and presented how I drew inspiration from Storm Thorgerson and his creative choices. Though I did show good annotation within the project I failed to experiment with more mediums outside my comfort zone, this was mainly due to time. Overall, I enjoyed this project as I explored ideas which I find interesting while also developing my graphic design skills.

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