Interview with Annie Stoll and Meghan Foley on the making of the Grammy-winning package for Weird Al Yankovic’s Squeeze Box box set
By Mike Goldstein, AlbumCoverHallofFame.com
Posted July 28, 2021
For the past several years, I’ve served on the judging panel for the revitalized Making Vinyl Awards competition and, as part of that effort, I’ve had the chance to review hundreds of different entries in the various categories up for MVA consideration – a truly eyeball-testing experience. While I must admit that, after a while, I found myself glossing over a number of the entries (corrected, luckily, by coming back to the viewings after much rest and a commitment to limiting each session to about an hour’s time), there were a number of entries – particularly, in the box set-related categories – that were so ingeniously done that I knew that they’d be hits with both the other judges and the buying public. Back in early 2019, one of those nominees was a package put together by Sony Music built around the 40+ year output of the seemingly never-aging musical satirist “Weird Al” Yankovic and called, quite appropriately due to the accordion-focused nature of many of Weird Al’s performances, Squeeze Box.
While the package did not take the prize at the Making Vinyl Awards show that year (winning an award instead in the “They Said It Couldn’t Be Done” category), it so impressed his fans that it sold out quickly and, as a consolation prize, received a nomination in advance of the 2019 Grammy Awards ceremonies in the “Best Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package” category and, soon after (on February 10th of that year), went on to win the award, bestowing great gobs of honor, pride and publicity on the talented team responsible for the package’s conception and production, with the team consisting of Mr. Yankovic, Art Director Meghan Foley and designer Annie Stoll.
Working with the PR team at Sony Music Entertainment, I managed to secure a “mini-interview” with Meghan and Annie in which I was able to get some additional details regarding how that award-winning project came to be and was prepared to share that with you when Life intervened (a death in the family) and I was forced to put this work on the back-burners. Then came COVID.
Luckily, Fate sometimes delivers a new opportunity to share work that hasn’t been published previously and, in this case, came in Spring of 2021 when I was interviewing Frank Harkins and Dave Bett at Sony Music Entertainment about their work on box sets (I’ll invite you to click on over to https://albumcoverhalloffame.wordpress.com/2021/07/23/an-achof-conversation-with-frank-harkins-and-dave-bett-from-sony-music-entertainment/ to read that as well). They’d mentioned several recent wins at the Grammy Awards for various members of the SME in-house art departments and one of them was the duo – Ms. Foley and Ms. Stoll – who’d won a couple of years back for the Weird Al Yankovic Squeeze Box package. I told Frank and Dave that I’d been able to correspond with Meghan and Annie and had crafted an interview article about that conversation and, as a reminder, was just about to send them a link to the article when a voice from above reminded me, “Mike, you idiot, you never did finish that article!” and so, ladies and gentlemen, two years after gathering the answers to my questions about that project, it is now with great pleasure that I present you this long-lost interview:
Interview with Annie Stoll and Meghan Foley of Sony Music Entertainment (done via email in March/April 2019 and presented here in an updated version edited for content) –
Mike Goldstein, AlbumCoverHallofFame.com – Congratulations again to you both on your Grammy win and for the great reviews you’ve gotten for the package you created. It’s really something special and something befitting a Weird Al career retrospective. So, can you tell me how it was that you were first introduced to your client and artistic cohort on this project? Had you worked with Weird Al and his team before?
Annie Stoll, Sony Music Entertainment – This was my first time working with Al and it was such an honor and exciting project! Meghan – who has been Al’s AD on several of his albums, is a design hero of mine and it’s been really rad to collaborate with her and the whole Legacy team.
Meghan Foley, Sony Music Entertainment – I was introduced to Weird Al and his longtime manager Jay Levy in 2010 through the folks at Sony Music, where I worked in the Creative Group. I was very lucky to be the art director on his albums Alpocalypse and Mandatory Fun prior to teaming up on the Squeezebox project. I am a proud fan and working with Al has truly been a dream and so much zany fun.
Mike G – So Annie, while Meghan had worked with Weird Al before, were you familiar at all with Mr. Yankovic’s efforts and his particular style of music?
Annie S – Yeah, I was totally familiar with Al! He rules!! I’m a fan from the generation of kids who first discovered him through the song “The Saga Begins” and my siblings and I famously annoyed my mom at lunch time singing that song!
MG – Was there a particular track – or something special about the music – from the song list of what was to be included in the package that served as the inspiration for the package’s overall design? I really want to know a) whether you got to listen to any or all of the music that was going to be in the box before starting on the design project and b) whether any of the music – or something about the artist’s persona – that influenced your approach to the design.
Meghan F – The idea of the box was to encompass Al’s entire AWESOME 40-year long career so, on top of our fandom, we and the team at Legacy did a really deep exploration into the history of the music and the band. Graphically the accordion itself led the design aesthetic, since it is such a pure representation of Weird Al’s unique style and his hallmark from the earliest days. We employed polka dots, pleats, chevrons and crinkle-cut graphics throughout the design to echo the physical shapes and musical heritage of Al and his accordion.
AS – As far as listening to Al in relation to the work, I’m very “method” in the way I like to work. So I totally listened to Al’s full discography while working on the project. I think listening to the music that you are doing the art for is super important and really helps inform visual decisions that are meant to represent the music in a tangible form. This whole project was such a joy and a celebration of Al’s amazing & unique body of work.
MG – It sounds like you both were well-versed in all things “Weird Al”, which certainly helped add to your imaginative approach to this package. Based on the scope and the sheer opulence of what you two put together, this job looks like it would have required a larger-than-normal team of designers, illustrators, graphic artists, etc., so how did you choose the talent who would work with you on this effort? Can you help me better understand the “who did what” on the project?
AS – It was a very collaborative process lead by Meghan. At every step of the way we consulted with each other and with Al & the spectacular Legacy team. There were certainly parts where one of us was doing the direct work, such as Meg focusing on the accordion and me focusing on the book, but we would work together to bounce design ideas around and this kind of genuine collaboration was such a rare and joyful process. Al being super-involved with all the design, decisions and ideas was so key and made for a really fun end result.
MF – Design wise, I led the charge and brought Annie on board to lend her talents to this massive project. We were both very hands-on with the design, down to the tiniest details. There was amazing material at our disposal to draw from past albums, memorabilia, and the like. I tackled the accordion structure, key art elements and media components, while Annie and Al focused on the flow of the book, photo editing and collages. Making sure all the archival materials were on point and accurate to the time periods and albums was a huge part of this process. We worked with a stellar production team to bring the idea physically to life and had wonderful support from our own Sony Music Creative Group family throughout the process.
MG – Since this was such a huge project to manage, with so many people involved, can you tell me whether any special tools were used and incorporated into your work processes and how they helped you create the finished product?
MF – In our line we are typically working with ink on paper, board and that sort of physical material, so visualizing something super-dimensional and then creating it from metals, plastics, and all sorts of unusual elements was really interesting and fun.
AS – We used a lot of Photoshop, Indesign, and Illustrator along with some good old-fashioned sketching with pencil and paper.
MG – So, while parts of the process were done “old school”, the fact that the packaging was so 3-D seems to have pushed you a bit into thinking about things in a new way. Now, taking into account all of the project and production coordination as well as the production time needed to assemble the package, can you tell me how long this process took – from start to finished product?
AS – It was probably about two and a half years or so! It was a long process to be sure, but one that we are so proud of the results.
MF – Yes, it was around 2 ½ years all told!
MG – It takes a lot of dedication to stay fully-involved in a project for so long, so I applaud your tenacity! Although I’ve already asked you to describe some of the inspirations and how you collaborated on the project, do you recall just how involved Weird Al and “the people upstairs” in management were in the day-to-day development and review process of ultimately deciding what you should produce? Did they give you enough money and/or time to do what you wanted to do? Prior to the sell-out of product and the Grammy win, do you feel that everyone was happy with the results? If so, how did they express that to you?
MF – The entire team – including the artist – was certainly involved on a regular basis, and everyone rolled up their sleeves on this one to make sure things looked great and everything was on point. I think we all felt that we were creating something really special and did our best to ensure that the end product lived up to the potential of the concept. Al has the best fans, and so our ultimate goal was to make them happy, and they received the package with such joy that we knew we had done it.
AS – It always, comes back to Al and the fans… this is really for them and because those of us who worked on it are such big fans of Al, there was a lot of self-imposed pressure that we wanted this to be as cool as we possibly could make it. We wanted it to be something that reflects both how awesome Al is and also how easy It is for you to get into the music, whether you are showing his work for the first time to your friends or family or are super-hardcore and are going to find all the hidden 27’s in the book!
Editor’s Note – according to the Weird Al Wiki, the number 27 appears many times in songs, on videos and a variety of other related materials and events. Here’s a link to the page where many of these 27s are described – https://weirdal.fandom.com/wiki/27 . Based on these repeated uses – and while no one has provided a specific reason for this number’s use other than “it’s just a coincidence” – it seems as though he’s found another interesting way to intrigue and reward his dedicated fan base.
AS – Al wrote the both of us a personal thank you after the project was over and that was so kind– that was when I knew it was a true success, because he was genuinely happy and that meant the world to me.
MG – Without betraying confidences, I’d like to ask you if there is any other anecdotal info about this project you’d be willing to share…every project I’ve ever looked into seems to have something of an “a-ha moment” or an “OMG moment”, so anything you’d be willing to share would be quite a treat for me and my readers!
AS – I think my first of many OMG moments was when I first got to see all of the amazing stuff from Bermuda’s treasure trove of memorabilia! (Editor’s Note – John “Bermuda” Schwartz is Weird Al’s long-time drummer, having been involved in all aspects of Yankovic’s recording/video/concert efforts since the two met in the early 1980s) There were so many incredible moments and things I’m pretty sure I said OMG!!! out loud.
MF – When I thought to myself “OMG, WE ARE MAKING A FREAKING ACCORDION!?!?”
MG – Finally, on a more personal note – where do each of you think you’ll put your new Grammys on display?
AS – When you win a Grammy, all the ones they hand you and that you see in photos are props! I never thought about that!! And then people have started to ask me ‘Where you gonna put your Grammy” and It still hadn’t sunk in yet that “OMG, we got one!” I have no idea what I’m going to do when it arrives! It still kind of feels like a dream – it’s so surreal. I hear they show up like 2 months later and my info on this is based solely on Al’s hilarious “Grammy unboxing” video!! When we were backstage after we won, I asked Al if he was going to toss his in the garbage with the rest of his Grammys from the video and he laughed!!
Put it on the mantle, or just throw it on the pile.
MF – I’m still in disbelief! If it turns out that we weren’t dreaming, I’ll have to build a backlit polka dot-covered rotating display case that plays polka medley’s 24-7.
MG – Congratulations once again to you both and thanks for working with me on this article.
About our two interviewees, Meghan Foley and Annie Stoll –
Meghan Foley – notable album cover credits include – Weird Al Yankovic – Squeeze Box and Mandatory Fun; Michael Jackson – Scream; Ray Lamontagne – Part of the Light; Kelly Clarkson – Piece by Piece; Walk The Moon – Walk The Moon; Cyndi Lauper – Bring Ya To The Brink; Motion City Soundtrack – My Dinosaur Life; Gossip – Music For Men; Elle King – Shake The Spirit; Ozzy Osbourne – See You On The Other Side; Alicia Keys – Here
(b. 1978, Bronx, NY) After graduating from the School of Visual Arts in New York City (Class of 2000) with a BFA in Graphic Design, Meghan began her design career as a Senior Graphic Designer with Cezanne Studio, a boutique media design studio in New York where she handled print/web design projects for clients including Avon, Harper Collins, S.L. Kaye Candy, Scholastic Press and author Maurice Sendak. However, according to Meghan, “making album artwork was always my dream job” and so, in 2003, she joined Sony Music as a Graphic Designer, where she worked her way up thru the ranks, first as an Art Director in 2006, then Senior Art Director in 2009 and finally, in 2014, she was promoted to Associate Design Director.
As if one job wasn’t enough, in 2007 Meghan was asked by the folks at Sony to also apply her broad skill set to projects for another studio inside the company – called the Arcade Creative Group – that was put together to be able to provide ad agency services to outside clients, including American Express, Coca-Cola, International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF), Jockey and NJOY (among others). As the Associate Creative Director of this music and culture-based creative group, during her 10-year stint Meghan worked on the development and execution of print, digital and TV campaigns – even a “multi-sensory experience, uniting visual artists, musicians and master perfumers in an unprecedented group art installation” for IFF called “The Chemistry of Sensuality”.
Continuing on to pursue her passion for the arts, music entertainment and design, in 2019 she launched her own design studio – Meghan Foley/Studio – where she remains busy with clients on a wide range of projects.
Meghan’s work has been featured in numerous industry publications, artwork compilations and photography gallery shows. In addition to her Grammy Award for the Squeeze Box set covered in our interview, Meghan’s team also won an award in the “They Said It Couldn’t Be Done” category at the 2018 Making Vinyl Packaging Awards confab, another top industry honor.
More information on this artist is available on her web site at http://www.meghanfoley.com/
Annie Stoll – notable album cover credits include – Ani DiFranco – ¿Which Side Are You On?; Pentatonix – PTX, PTX Vol. 3, Pentatonix, Christmas Is Here! and PTX Presents Top Pop Vol. 1; Cheap Trick – Out to Get You and Are You Ready? Live 12/31/79; New Kids on the Block – Hangin’ Tough; Mariah Carey – All I Want for Christmas is You; Superfruit – Future Friends; Geneseo – Automatic Music Can Be Fun and various Film/TV soundtrack recordings including those for Annie, Bessie, Ghostbusters and Stranger Things.
Originally from Buffalo, NY and now located in New York City, Annie is a Grammy-winning art director and award-winning designer and illustrator currently working as an art director at Sony Music Entertainment, where her recent clients have included Columbia, Legacy and RCA-label artists such as Pentatonix, Cheap Trick and Weird Al Yankovic. In addition to the Squeeze Box win, Annie was also nominated for a production Grammy in 2013 for Geneseo’s Automatic Music Can Be Fun album.
A lifelong Star Wars fan, Annie worked with Lucasfilm on a number of projects, most notably on illustration for Sabine: My Rebel Sketchbook with author Dan Wallace and Women of the Galaxy by Amy Ratcliffe. When not doodling or dreaming about a galaxy far far away, Annie loves to create zines inspired by her West-Coast travels. She is the co-curator of the people-positive anthology 1001 Knights.
More information on this artist is available on her web site at http://anniestoll.com/about/
Special thanks to Gabby Gibb of Legacy Recording’s Media Relations group for facilitating this interview.
This article is Copyrighted 2019-2021 by Mike Goldstein/AlbumCoverHallofFame.com – All rights reserved. All other images used to illustrate this article are owned by Sony Music Entertainment and are used with their permission.