The Extraordinaires

There are no two ways about it, Ribbons of War by Philadelphia's the Extraordinaires is the single most impressive-looking CD I have ever seen. Not to discount the music, a complete start-to-finish tale that owes as much influence to sea shanties as it does to similar sounding bands like the Decemberists, but the effort that clearly went into presenting this record is astounding. Packaged as a fully illustrated book (complete with book binding and library card) with hand-screened covers, it's pretty easy to understand how it took the band over eight months to assemble Ribbons of War. Singer/guitarist Jay Purdy talks about the labor of love that was making this record, and what it's like to be a rock band with a narrator.

The Extraordinares play Holocene Thurs Feb 2

The packaging on Ribbons of War is absolutely amazing. Are each of the covers individually painted?

The packaging has been such an undertaking. Originally the album was to be put out in paper covers, and with a lot less pages. Each cover is five colors and hand-screened. In addition we got to pick out hundreds of yards of different color fabric to have a variety of covers. All of the wood and fabric for the covers had to be cut to size by hand, so it took about eight months of prep work.

In the process of taking numerous months to hand-make such a visual record, was there ever a time you wanted to say, "screw this" and just make a regular CD in a jewel case?

When it came to Ribbons of War, and considering the scope of the overall narrative that we were aiming for, it just didn't make sense to do anything conventional or easy. I think one of the hardest parts of the process was having to wait eight months to actually see results.

Maybe it's the aspect of having an illustrated book along with songs, but there is a real children's book quality to the record.

The thing about fairy tales and children's folklore is that the stories themselves can be wildly imaginative and complex yet they present a moral or lesson, all the while still appealing to children, which is just brilliant. With Ribbons of War the artistic and musical direction we took definitely lends itself to the role of a children's book read/sing-along, and that was our original intention. Even if someone were to hate the music or the packaging, we would hope that, like most folklore, the story itself would take root in the listener and be passed on.

I know it sounds very un-rock 'n' roll, but don't you guys have a costumed narrator for your live shows?

Our live show is an attempt at a well-rounded multimedia experience; all five of us assume the roles of shipwrecked survivors of the terrible war that takes place in the story. We also project the illustrations from the book behind us for each song. We're trying to give the audience three ways to understand the story—through music, theater, and art. If one device fails to convey the message the other two will hopefully pick up the slack.