Never underestimate the power of a small sketch.
That’s how The Senators, a Phoenix band with a folksy Americana sound, made the connection with Gabriel and Isaac Fortoul. The Fortoul Brothers did the album art for the band’s EP Promised Land, inspired by the creatives’ shared love for the desert’s mysterious minimalism.
Frontman Jesse Teer recalls being intrigued a while back by a 4-by-6-inch sketch his wife brought home from work one day. She’d just interviewed the Fortoul Brothers for a local public radio show, where Isaac drew the sketch that would eventually lead to their collaboration with the band.
He’d also seen their murals going up around downtown Phoenix, and was particularly drawn to one at Central Avenue and Roosevelt Street. It’s the simple image of Isaac’s daughter riding a horse, her long hair flowing in the breeze.
When the band started thinking about album art for Promised Land, Teer reached out to the Fortoul Brothers. “Their art spoke to what we were doing with the album,” Teer says. “It’s minimalist, but there’s a lot of emotion there.”
For the album, the Fortoul Brothers drew a simple pen and ink drawing. “We’ve been doing more ink drawings on paper, using India ink and calligraphy brushes,” Gabriel says. “It’s a little bit looser style, but it still has the linework, composition, and negative space.”
It’s a far cry from the work they’re doing around Phoenix nowadays – which includes designing art for the light rail, the airport, and a city water plant. But Teer loves it, in part because it mirrors the authenticity and accessibility they strive for as a band.
“With just a few colors, they can really tell a story,” Teer says.
Gabriel Fortoul credits that small drawing with planting a creative seed but also praises Teer’s role in making a personal connection. “He sent an email and we were extremely busy at the time,” Gabriel says. “But Jesse was persistent, so we met at our studio and talked about a possible collaboration.”
Turns out, the Fortoul Brothers had fielded a few other requests for album art. But they felt a real connection to The Senators’ sound. And they knew Teer's brother had been part of the band, which signaled a shared focus on family.
“We went through their music catalog and it really spoke to us,” Gabriel says. The Fortoul Brothers ended up sharing a series of small drawings inspired by water, one of the central features in their larger body of work.
“We used organic shapes, almost like sounds,” Gabriel says of their album art for The Senators. “We wanted to convey movement and the frequencies that affect water."
Despite the desert connection, The Senators recorded Promised Land in the Catskill Mountains in New York, near the site where the famed Woodstock music festival happened 50 years before. “It feels like there are a lot of ghosts in that place,” Teer says.
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Turns out, the location inspired a fresh approach. “We wanted to do something stripped-back to make our music more barren like the desert,” Teer says. “We’re still trying to figure out how the Catskills influenced our sound.”
Soon, they’ll perform a stripped-down set at The Newton, where they’ll also be sharing stories of the band’s musical journey. Several local poets will be doing readings, as well.
Most eyes will be on The Senators. But odds are, someone in the room will be doing a simple sketch, as another story waits to be born.
The Senators are scheduled to perform Saturday, August 17, at The Newton. Tickets are $12 (plus fees) and can be purchased via Changing Hands Bookstore.