Corey Sweeter has seen his favorite band, the Foo Fighters, perform in concert seven times. He is seeing them again tonight, although this time feels different, because Xcel Energy Center asked him to design a poster for the show.
Sweeter is a freelance graphic artist from the Twin Cities, who has designed for a variety of media including t-shirts, posters, buttons, and pins. He has designed concert posters before, but says that his method of landing this particular gig was unique.
In January, the Foo Fighters announced that they were playing at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center. When Sweeter saw the announcement, he immediately hopped on Twitter to reach out to the band.
“I tweeted at the band and let them know that I’ve been a fan for over 20 years and have seen them 7 times over the last 18 years in the Twin Cities, and asked if they were looking for a local artist to create the poster for the show,” he said. “I just happened to tag the Xcel Energy Center in it as well, just to reference where the show was at. I really was hoping that maybe if they were looking for an artist that they would reach out to me to do that.”
Foo Fighters never responded to Sweeter’s tweet, but a few hours after it was posted, representatives at the Xcel Energy Center reached out to Sweeter to ask him to design a poster on their behalf. Sweeter explained that the type of poster they asked him to design is different from the one that the band will commission for each show.
“From time to time, the Xcel Energy Center will hire a local artist to create a poster, not for sale to fans at the merch booth or anything like that the night of the show, but just a poster exclusively for the band,” said Sweeter. “Then they’ll gift the band that poster as a thank-you for having the show at that particular venue, and I suppose as a reminder of, ‘Please come back here in the future.’ They just happened to decide that this particular show was worthy of a poster, or that they wanted to do a poster. I knew a few other local artists who had done that for them a lot in the past, so I was familiar with the process. So when they reached out to me I was like, ‘Of course, yeah, I would love to do that.'”
“It was a unique situation. Getting to do a poster just based on a tweet — that’s not a way to really get a lot of business, but in this case it really worked out,” he said.
Sweeter immediately knew the design that he wanted to use for the poster. He explained that he had been wanting to create an illustration of a vintage arcade game for some time, and the Foo Fighters poster created the perfect opportunity to bring the idea to life.
“I keep a sketchbook of ideas. Occasionally an idea will just pop up and I’ll write some notes about it and maybe make a little sketch of it,” said Sweeter. “I turned to that sketchbook, and the first thing I saw was that idea to do an arcade-style cabinet, and I thought that it really fit well with the band.”
The Foo Fighters’ name comes from a term that aircraft pilots used for UFOs during WWII. When pilots reported unidentified crafts that they believed to be UFOs, they labeled them “foo fighters.” Sweeter’s arcade-inspired design references this history with flying saucers adorning the exterior of a space shooter game.
In addition to referencing the band’s name, Sweeter’s design also draws upon his childhood memories of playing video games in a friend’s wood-paneled basement or a mom-and-pop pizza joint.
“I figured with the timeless, classic rock and roll feel of the band, and knowing that Dave [Grohl] and most of the people in the band are just a few years older than me, so of that same era, growing up in the early ’80s, playing video games and arcade games, that they might appreciate something that channels that feeling,” said Sweeter.
To channel this ’80s nostalgia, Sweeter rummaged through his parents’ basement for postcards, travel stickers, and old toys— anything that could conjure the aesthetic of the era. These artifacts inspired the details of Sweeter’s design, from the color scheme to the stickers that he drew on the outside of the game’s cabinet. He also decided to pay homage to Xcel, who landed him the job, by drawing sparks flying out of the game’s electrical plug that represent the energy company.
For Sweeter, the Foo Fighters’ timeline is inseparable from his own personal history. The first Foo Fighters album came out around the time that Sweeter was graduating college. Shortly after, he and his wife started dating, and the two became adamant Foo Fighters fans, listening to their music and attending their concerts together. Sweeter’s first child was born just four days after a Foo Figthers concert that he and his wife attended.
“Over time they’ve become my favorite band,” said Sweeter. “They’ve soundtracked my life.”
Although he was ecstatic to design a poster for the band, Sweeter also felt the pressure of creating something that his favorite band would see. “There was this huge weight that was on my shoulders, that I was trying not to think about,” he said. “This band means so much not just to me, but to my family and my wife, we love them so much.”
Sweeter explained that today, concert posters are “less and less about promoting the show.” In the age of the internet, concert posters function more as pieces of art or merchandise rather than promotion for a show.
“They become more of a collector’s piece and an artistic representation of the music and of the show, and have less and less to do with being plastered up some place to advertise the show,” he said. “Given the cost of having an artist create the poster and the time that goes in to it, and just the cost of screen-printing a poster, which is how these posters are created, it’s just not feasible I think, to advertise like they have in the past. It really is its own work of art, and I think an accessible work of art for people.”
Many of us of connect the pivotal moments of our life with the music that soundtracked them. We connect deeply with the music that we love and gain a sense of personal identity from it. However, for most fans, this relationship is one-sided. We absorb our favorite artists’ music, without ever having the chance to create something for them in exchange.
“It didn’t really set in until it was finally finished and screen-printed,” said Sweeter. “It was very palpable then, when I got to hold the poster in my hands for the first time; it really hit me that they are going to see this, and this is hopefully something that they’ll enjoy.”
Foo Fighters play Xcel Energy Center October 18, 2018 with Gang of Youths opening. This show is sold out.
Colleen Cowie runs the blog Pass The Mic.