Interview with James Faulkner – Public Image Ltd’s 9 album cover
Today’s Interview Topic – the making of the album cover artwork for Public Image Ltd’s 9, a 1989 release on the Virgin Records label
By Mike Goldstein, AlbumCoverHallofFame.com
When a team is assembled to create an album cover/package, a lot of talent can be brought to the table. In larger-scale endeavors – like the ones you’d often see for big-name acts, backed by significant budgets – a team might include an art director, a designer, a photographer and/or an illustrator (sometimes, both, particularly if there were logos and lettering to be done) and, as the folks tasked with these parts of a project would often find (and want to take advantage of), new techniques, materials and tools would be brought to bear. In the 80s and 90s, as computer-aided design was integrated into a products development and production, sometimes the tools that were “state of the art” at the time were found to be challenging to use, which would either slow down and frustrate some of the players or be seen as an opportunity to experiment and come up with something never before seen. Things like the budget, the production schedule and other distractions might force folks to knuckle down and get creative or, as might be the case in the production of the cover for PiL’s 1989 release simply titled 9 (which stood for the fact that it was the band’s ninth record), to frustrate the art director and leave him with less-than-fond memories of the process and, as a result, of the people who were there to apply their skills to the project via these new technologies.
Several years ago, as part of a Featured Artist Portfolio article I published built around some of the works in famed art director Mick Haggerty’s archives, Mick had included the cover in the mix as it was “my first image made on a computer.” Also according to Mr. Haggerty, that computer-based design tool “was a huge, noisy Swedish machine, I think, that came with a technician and an operator who was very hard to work with. Again, it took days to make an image now so simple for Photoshop..”, although he’d finally admit that, all these years later, “looking at it now, I really love the crudeness”…
One of the things that come as a result of having articles up on the web is that, at some points, people read them and, as has been the case here on the ACHOF site, several times I’ve been contacted by those who also took part in projects I’ve written about, with those people looking to tell, as Paul Harvey might say (young people – look it up), “the rest of the story.” Today’s interview is with a nice fellow by the name of James Faulkner, one of the designers working for Rod Dyer, Inc. – one of the most-sought-after record packaging designers to ever work in the music industry and the company that collaborated with Haggerty on the PiL project – and, as he tells it, the very same technician who operated that “Swedish machine” (in reality, a Dutch-built pre-press graphics machine called the Aesthedes) which was used, ultimately, to help build the image found on 9‘s cover. As you’ll see as you read today’s interview on the subject, each party remembers the details of what it took to create this memorable image a bit (or two) differently but, I think you’ll agree, whatever emotional capital was spent in order to produce the cover of this record turned out to be worth the investment.
Interview with the designer, James Faulkner (conducted via email April/May, 2017) –
Mike Goldstein, Curator, Album Cover Hall of Fame.com – James, thanks so much for corresponding with me and for letting me know the details, as you see them, about how this particular album cover image was made. If it’s OK with you, let’s get started with some background questions…So, can you tell me how it was that you were first introduced to your artistic cohorts on this project – (art director) Mick Haggerty and (photographer) Ross Halfin? Had you worked with them before?
James Faulkner, designer – I was employed by the Rod Dyer Group as a Designer-slash-Art Director and one of my responsibilities was that I ran and operated the Dutch pre-press graphics system we brought in house known as “The Aesthedes”. While I didn’t know Ross Halfin and didn’t work with him directly on this project, Mick Haggerty had been a former Art Diector at Dyer, and the PIL Disappointed LP was one of a few projects that I worked on with Mick. Mick, as you may or may not know, had been working independently for a number of years. The new PIL project was Mick’s and he asked Rod to work with him and take this project on. Since we had this wonderful creative machine to help generate a different approach in the design, we decided to use it rather than approach the work more traditionally.
Mike G – Were you familiar at all with the band its particular style of music? Was there a particular track – or something special about the music – from the song list included in the package that served as the inspiration for the package’s overall design?
James F – Yes, I was familiar with Public Image LTD. Mick had created the music video with the band for a track which was to be featured on the new record – “Disappointed” – and for that effort I supplied the background and motion elements from the album art package.
MG – If I recall correctly, that video had a lot going on in the background – nice work! Knowing what you do about the people involved and your overall knowledge of the music business, what was it that made PiL – and Mr. Lydon – and the Virgin label, with their particular approach to promoting/packaging music, different from other similar labels in their “category” at the time?
JF – For a record that was released in 1989, the music seems fairly timeless, unlike the majority of music from the 80’s. As for myself, I don’t think I actually heard the music until after the completion of the cover, although I do remember seeing lots of images from a photo shoot with the band. As Mick had said in his original description, our goal was to keep it kind of raw and loose. Of course, with John Lydon as a co-designer and the knowledge of how territorial some artists can be, his whole persona added to the feeling that we should be pushing the limits of the design here.
MG – The job looks like it would have required a team of designers, illustrators, graphic artists, photographers, 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?
JF – Mick Haggerty was the Art Director on this project and I was the Designer, so I did the pre-production work and generated designs and alternate options for Mick to review.
MG – Got it. So, as you previously mentioned, you brought a special tool to the table – The Aesthedes computer-aided design/graphics system, a large-scale system that had been released commercially only a few years earlier. Can you give me an idea of how this tool was used and incorporated into your work processes and how it helped you create the finished product?
JF – The Aesthedes was a computer graphics or computer-aided design system designed and developed in the 1970s and 1980s by Claessens Product Consultants – now Cartils – in Hilversum, in the Netherlands. The computer was operational in 1982 and was launched commercially in 1985 from Aesthedes offices in Hilversum, London, Cologne and Los Angeles. It was equipped with ten microprocessors and had three 20” full color high-resolution screens and three small data display screens. It was unique at the time for being able to manipulate B splines – a type of curve – in real time and to produce camera-ready, ultra-high resolution finished artwork for use in offset printing or other printing processes. The final art was then generated at the Dyer Group.
MG – James, that raises some questions that I’d like your take on. My intro to this interview involves a brief discussion about how new technologies were incorporated into the day-to-day work efforts of design teams and, as I experienced personally in the 80s and 90s, sometimes those tools were latched on to as a way to extend and enhance people’s creativity and sometimes they were thought of as a waste of time and resources.
With this being said, can you please add some details regarding what the Aesthedes was brought in to do in this project, what the expectations were for it, how its use was presented – particularly, to Mr. Haggerty – as a newer/better way to do something, and what about the system’s use, such as the amount of time it took to prep or do the work, it’s cost, etc., would have frustrated some or all of the people working on the project? As I’m trying to bridge two stories – yours & Mick’s – any detail you could provide would be very helpful as I hope to – at some point – get his take on those same questions.
JF – Please remember that the “design team” essentially consisted of Mick, the Art Director and myself in the roles of studio designer and operator of the Aesthedes. With the use of the Aesthedes in the studio, it enabled us to explore different layering techniques. With the photos of Johnny Lydon that Mick supplied, this system, along with the use of a Versatech printer for immediate output and comps, could create a variety of different comps in a short amount of time. This is all pre-Mac, remember. I was able to supply the printing company with camera-ready color separations of the final album cover art directly from the Versatech printer.
As far as cost, I cannot give you much info on in department. The Aesthedes at that time was a $500,000 system and I’m not sure what sort of deal Rod Dyer had set up with Mick or the record company. As far as the frustrations that Mick talked about in his interview with you, I’m still very confused where that’s coming from. I never got that vibe or had any feedback regarding this…it may have been Mick’s own expectations with regards to the process. I had an extremely good relationship with Rod Dyer and he would have conveyed any problems to me. I’d really like to know what Mick is referring to …though it’s a long time ago now!
MG – So, taking into account all of the project coordination, can you tell me how long this process took – from start to finished product?
JF – I have to be honest with about this – it was so long ago! Perhaps Rod or Mick can remember…As I personally often worked on multiple projects within the studio…it could have been weeks! Sorry, but I just don’t recall!
MG – That’s fine – I’m just happy to be able to glean what I can from you now! Here’s a slightly-different take…do you recall just how involved the artist/artist management/the record label was in the process of deciding what you should produce, and did they provide you with any direction? Did they give you enough money and/or time to do what you wanted to do? Were they happy with the results? How did they express that to you?
JF – Unlike the Bootsy Collin’s album cover project that I also did with Mick, on this project, since I was employed by Rod at the time, I never personally had any contact with the artist. Mick, of course, was in contact throughout. From what I gathered at the time, they were excited and loved what we were designing…it was a new technology that, at that time, had never been seen prior to this use.
MG – Before we change gears a bit, 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!
JF – Sometimes, it seems that some of the best art is really created by accident. There was a lot of experimentation going on here. You never really know what to expect, though, of course, there is the basic idea and look that is sought after. With that being said, I think there were quite few of those moments on this job.
MG – Quite true. Whenever something new is being applied to whatever you’re working on, the results can be quite surprising, either in a good or bad way! Now, on to some of the more philosophical questions on some topics I’d like to get your opinion on…I once read an article that talked about how Modernism, Pop/Conceptual Art and other forms of contemporary art and graphics have all had an effect on the field of music industry-related visual production and with imagery that “swiftly and suggestively evoke aural encounters”. Do you think that this image did that for fans of the band and the prospective buyers of this record?
JF – Most certainly…just think about when you were out shopping for records as teenager and being drawn specifically to an album by its cover. As you well know, that can quite often be deceiving! Personally, I must admit that some of my favorite covers were on albums that I did not completely love every track found on the LP! I’m not sure where this stands today as the creation of graphics has changed so much. There was a time when you had to know how to draw, design and have an understanding of color and composition…Its seems that with the creation of the Mac and access to the web, your design word is your oyster and anything can be altered, ripped, reworked what have you!
MG – As a follow-up on the same quote, I’d like to ask whether you think that there are also examples of where album covers have, inversely, informed one or more of the various genres of modern art in some notable ways…I’m thinking Peter Blake’s work, or Jamie Reid’s, as examples. As a music fan and record art collector, I’ve always felt that the visual aspects of the rock music business, including the stage props, lighting, video, and the graphics developed to promote and sell music – at least, the most-iconic examples, such as Jamie Reid’s imagery for the Sex Pistols, Gerald Scarfe and Storm Thorgerson’s imagery for Pink Floyd, Mouse and Kelley’s imagery for the Grateful Dead – in many ways had a noticeable effect on Pop culture. What’s your take on this?
JF – Album covers were an integral part of growing up…well, at least for those of us who are Baby Boomers! I think about all the wonderful creativity that went into albums such as Jethro Tull’s Stand Up LP – circa 1969 – with its die-cut standup band members who were revealed when you opened the cover, or the Rolling Stones’ Their Satanic Majesties Request with its lenticular 3D cover. Though there is possibly some resurgence in the popularity and sales of the LP, digital music and downloads have somewhat destroyed the album cover. Even moving from LP design to CD design was a somewhat daunting transition for me.
MG – Yes, it must have been traumatic going from a 144 square-inch canvas to a 25 square-inch one…So, tell me, more generally, does album cover imagery help us document modern human history and, in particular, Pop Culture? In the most-impactful examples, does it provide any direction, or is it merely reflecting the culture, or ??
JF – It is a sign of times, ever-changing and in transition. I think there are timeless works of art here. For instance, the Blue Note label, which has been in existence since 1939, their covers have a particular look, with aspects of the De Stijl movement and Dutch design taking place there (Editor’s note – also known as “neoplasticism”, this form of geometric and primary-colored art and architecture originated in Holland in 1917 with the works of practitioners including Theo van Doesburg, Piet Mondrian and Gerrit Ritveld). You can still find records by contemporary jazz artists who still want to play off this style.
MG – Taking into account what you learned while putting this project together 30 years ago, can you tell me what your feelings are about album artwork-related design and photography these days? Are there any musical acts, labels, art directors, etc. that you think are keeping the field alive or important? Do you think album art matters anymore?
JF – Well it’s so much easier to create a cover now than it was 30 years ago. The tools we have today are ten times more powerful, although that’s not necessarily saying that the art is any better. I mean everyone calls themselves a photographer today, right, what with those amazing 30+ odd mega-pixel camera phones. It seems to me to now be less of a process and more an instant creation. There are, to my own horror, companies today that’ll do everything for a price…just choose your look from their cookie-cutter catalogue, which seems very sad. It seems that we have lost the beauty of the process, just because you can get things done in a wink of the eye!
MG – With the electronic delivery of music products and the resurgence of the popularity and sales of vinyl records and box sets – both of which are growing at a fast pace – do you think that there is any more or less enthusiasm within the music industry to invest time and money in promo images and packaging designs that appeals to their fans and extends their branding? I think that today’s music business also seems to require musical acts to consider creating special, limited-edition products -posters and prints, books, vinyl, merch, etc. – in order to maximize their investments in the visuals that are created to market their music. Do you see more works like these coming from artists that work in several areas, such as graphic design, music, video, etc., or is this, in your opinion, just another – or perhaps, better – way for artists to sell something different and collectible?
JF – It seems to me that there will always be the merchandise, because fans really love souvenirs. I’m not sure how well these other products do – I mean, the limited edition materials which are usually expensive to produce – unless you’re talking about things from a major-selling artist. Some people, though, continue to make huge profits from selling old rock n’ roll memorabilia. Back in the day, with Bill Graham and the old Fillmore and Winterland Ballroom shows, tons of materials were generated.
I think that, generally speaking, fans love t-shirts from the shows they have attended, and limited edition vinyl seems to be making a resurgence. I was doing a small radio show here in LA some years ago and, as a result, I befriended quite a few musicians. At one point, Mario Lalli from Fatso Jetson shared some very cool one-off vinyl products with me, which made me notice that all you need is a musician who is also a painter pr graphic artist and that seems to add to the quality and quantity of swag items available!
MG – What are your views regarding the future of graphic/visual design in the music industry as it moves on to the many new distribution platforms and ways to own/rent music products? Do you wonder whether there are any lesser-known artists creating album cover images now that will be memorable as fine artists 20 years from now? In other words, will the work of album cover artists ever gain the respect of the fine art community, along and the support of well-heeled collectors?
JF – We all know that there has been a resurgence of vinyl over last number of years which has been great for fans of album cover art. The digital world has sort of struck a blow, on the visual end, to this kind of work. Understandably, we still have music videos to make, so we still get some creative freedom there. Technology obviously dominates a great portion of where the visual end is going, so it’s nice to see younger, newer artists embrace the different record formats and the creation of album cover art for their projects.
I do believe that there is some crossover with the creative work of album art and the fine art world! Generally, I think we as creatives will have many ways to express ourselves and, therefore, need to be versatile and not pin-holed into one form of work or another. Naturally, survival for us may depend on prostituting our talents to survive. Personally, I have been using my talents to create graphics for television projects for the last 25 years.
About the designer, James Faulkner –
James Faulkner on CAD system at Rod Dyer, Inc., circa 1989
Although his first attempts as a kid at learning how to play various instruments did not continue, according to James, music has always been a big part of his life (in fact, he recently decided to learn how to play guitar, and he’s slowly-but-surely making progress). Growing up in England in the 60’s, his father was an prolific artist and inspired creativity in his kids by taping all of the then-current pop music from a children’s music program on the radio that featured everything from The Beatles, Gerry and The Pacemakers, Gene Pitney, Cilla Black, The Searchers, Hank Marvin and so on, with James and his brothers then performing them with plastic Beatle guitars, mimicking their heroes. He went to local village schools in the west country in Cornwall, England before migrating with his family to the U.S. in 1967 via the final transatlantic journey of the Queen Mary ocean liner. The family eventually settled in Santa Cruz, California, where his father taught art. He took his first trip back to England in ’73, where he got to experience London in its fashion heyday of 70’s – Carnaby St., Kings Rd, etc. He couldn’t help but notice that what was happening in London was quite different from California, music wise.
According to his site bio, throughout his career, James has maintained a passion to explore and learn, with his education including intense periods of study while attending institutions including the West Sussex College of Design in Sussex, England; the San Francisco Academy of Art College, San Francisco, California (where he earned his BA degree in Graphic Design in 1981); the Art & Film Institute, Los Angeles, California; California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, California and finally the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California.
James spent his early years as a puppeteer, sign painter and silk-screener. He has been involved with computer related design for nearly thirty years and was one of the first artists to work with emerging computer technologies in graphic design. He spent a year in the late 1980s working as a benchmark designer for the Dutch Company, Aesthedes, during its CAD product introductions and was instrumental in the company’s positioning as a leader in this new field in graphics.
Faulkner then moved on in 1988 to a job creating graphics for print and package design while on staff at the Rod Dyer Group/Rod Dyer, Inc. in Los Angeles. For the next three years, he worked with designers across the globe as he educated them on computer-generated graphics. As part of his responsibilities, he participated in numerous trade shows and conferences, where he served as a demo artist.
In 1991, James embarked on what would be an extensive and impressive career as a staff and/or freelance designer and art director for media companies including Capital Cities/ABC, Fox, Warner Brothers and Telepictures Productions while launching his own shingle – Faulkner Design – in 2006, adding work for companies including CBS, Castlerock Entertainment, ZigZag Productions, A&E and Fox Kids/Family. During that time, James was honored with two Emmy Awards (1992 and 1994) for his work in graphic design for ABC’s “Countdown to the American Music Awards” telecasts. In addition, he was awarded the Silver Award from the Broadcast Designers Association and is a long-standing member of the Art Director’s Guild.
As a fine artist, Faulkner’s work has been seen in a number of exhibitions on the West Coast, including shows at the Eloise Pickard Smith Gallery at the University of California as well as the Pope Gallery (both in Santa Cruz, California); Sierra Madre City Hall and Belles Nest in Sierra Madre, CA; the Altadena Public Library, Altadena, CA; The Sun Gallery, Hayward CA.; the gallery at the Balconi Coffee Company, Los Angeles, CA as well as Gallery 800 in North Hollywood, CA. In addition, James Faulkner’s work is included in numerous private collections throughout the United States and Europe.
When not busy with his commercial work, James also volunteers his time as Art Director for the Mount Wilson Trail Race and as a DJ for a Sierra Madre-based online radio station.
More about this artist can be found on his web site at http://jamesafaulkner.wixsite.com/faulknerdesign
About the record and others mentioned in this interview –
After a foiled plot by Virgin Records head Richard Branson to have former Sex Pistols lead singer John Lydon (AKA “Johnny Rotten”) join the lineup of label-mates DEVO in 1978, Lydon went on to form his own group – Public Image Ltd. – later that year, with their first record – First Issue – sporting an album cover designed by Dennis Morris, who’d go on to design the band’s well-known PiL logo and then, teaming with the design team at Rod Dyer Inc., producing the now-iconic record in a film can package known as Metal Box in 1979.
For the next 10 years, the band continued to tour and release several more records, culminating in the release of their ninth studio album in May, 1989 that was simply titled 9. The record featured the hit singles “Disappointed”, “Don’t Ask Me” and “Warrior”, with the band at that point consisting of Mr. Lydon on vocals, John McGeoch on guitars, Allan Dias on the bass and Bruce Smith on the drums. The band supported the record’s sales via their 80+ appearances in the multi-band travelling extravaganza called “The Monsters of Alternative Rock” that performed all over the world in the Summer of 1989.
Rod Dyer, Inc. – the design group is credited for some of the most-creative packaging from the heyday of LP cover design, including Catch A Fire for Bob Marley & The Wailers (a huge, hinged Zippo lighter where the album was removed from the top, past the wick and striker) and PiL’s earlier (1979) Metal Box, which was a narrow metal film can, embossed with the Dennis Morris-designed band logo and containing three 12-inch singles and a scrap of paper with the track list printed on it.
Grammy Award-winning Art Director Mick Haggerty‘s 2014 “Featured Artist Portfolio” here on the ACHOF site (link – https://albumcoverhalloffame.wordpress.com/2014/03/24/achof-featured-artist-portfolio-grammy-winner-mick-haggerty/) contained this quote on this record cover – “This was my first image made on a computer. It was a huge noisy Swedish machine I think, that came with a technician and an operator, who was very hard to work with. Again it took days to make an image now so simple for Photoshop. Looking at it now I really love the crudeness. I also loved working with Mr. Lydon. I shot three music videos for him and he was a real inspiration.” Haggerty’s worked on scores of well-known cover projects during his career, with notable album cover credits including – David Bowie – Let’s Dance, Never Let Me Down and Tonight; The Police – Ghost In The Machine; OMD – The Pacific Age; Supertramp – Breakfast In America; ELO – Face the Music; The Goo Goo Dolls – Gutterflower; The Smithereens – 11 and Stevie Winwood – Roll With It and many others.
About this AlbumCoverHallofFame.com interview –
Our ongoing series of interviews will give you, the music and art fan, a look at “the making of” the illustrations, photographs and designs of many of the most-recognized and influential images that have served to package and promote your all-time-favorite recordings.
In each interview feature, we’ll meet the artists, designers and photographers who produced these works of art and learn what motivated them, what processes they used, how they collaborated (or fought) with the musical acts, their management, their labels, etc. – all of the things that influenced the final product you saw then and still see today.
We hope that you enjoy these looks behind the scenes of the music-related art business and that you’ll share your stories with us and fellow fans about what role these works of art – and the music they covered – played in your lives.
Unless otherwise noted, all images featured in this story are Copyright 1979 – 2017 James Faulkner – All rights reserved – and are used by the artist’s permission. Except as noted, all other text Copyright 2017 – Mike Goldstein, AlbumCoverHallofFame.com (www.albumcoverhalloffame.com) & RockPoP Productions – All rights reserved.