Category Archives: Album Cover Artist Interviews

Interviews with album cover designers, illustrators and photographers

Interview With Designer James Faulkner – Public Image Ltd’s 9 Album Cover

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.

Interview with Taschen’s Julius Wiedemann about his newest book – Art Record Covers

Interview with Taschen’s Julius Wiedemann about his newest book –  Art Record Covers

By Mike Goldstein, AlbumCoverHallofFame.com

March 8, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last month, I reported on the latest effort by the prolific album cover art book editor and author Julius Wiedemann of the famed Taschen publishing house, who had recently announced the details of a new book just released in the U.K. (with buyers in the U.S. having to wait patiently until later in February to get theirs) titled Art Record Covers that, according to the press announcement, “showcases an alphabetized collection of artists’ record covers from the 1950s to today. Highlighting the relationship between image-making and music production, the anthology presents 500 covers and records by visual artists including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Ed Ruscha and many more.”

The new book was assembled by “contemporary art and visual culture historian, writer and artist” Francesco Spampinato who, in addition to be an art professor at the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design, has authored two other recent books on design, including 2015’s Can You Hear Me? Music Labels by Visual Artists, published in 2015 by Onomatopee (Eindhoven, NL).

While some of you may recall that I’ve been working on a book based on the interviews I’ve done over the years with many of the best-known album art creators (due out later this year, I’m hoping), I am the first to admit that, as I’m not a trained art historian, I have always lobbied for the inclusion of album cover art/artists in the bigger ongoing discussion about the relationship between music and the visual arts, so it is inspiring to read books written by educators that further that conversation. Based on what I’d read and seen on this new book, I knew that I’d need to work to get a more-detailed look at the book and its contents, and the always-interesting Mr. Wiedemann was kind enough to work with me on a special feature for the ACHOF that I’m presenting to you today.

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Interview with Isle of Man PO’s Paul Ford on The Islands and Bridges Stamp Set by Roger Dean

Interview with Paul Ford, Stamps & Coins Coordinator, Isle of Man Post Office (UK) about the Islands & Bridges stamp set by Roger Dean

 

Roger Dean Islands and Bridges

by Mike Goldstein, AlbumCoverHallofFame.com

This past August, I reported on an art show that was taking place on the Isle of Man built around the works of artist Roger Dean.  With a portfolio that includes not only album cover imagery but (both alone and working with his talented brother Martyn) stage designs, architecture, calendars and a wide variety of merchandise, Dean’s fantastic work continues to impress fans with its ability to transport you to places beyond the imagination. He has worked in many different media, creating designs and illustrations for commercial and fine art customers, including several  architectural designs he’s done of dream-like living spaces and furnishings.

In addition to this show – titled Islands & Bridges – that ran through mid-November at the Manx Museum – a National Heritage organization on the U.K.’s Isle of Man – Dean’s works served as the basis for a collection of postage stamps produced by the Isle’s Postal Service, an organization that has gained a world-wide following of collectors who have been impressed with their previous series of collectibles, including specially-commissioned stamps featuring quintessential U.K. and Isle of Man subjects such as the works of the Aardman animation studio (Morph, Wallace & Gromit and Shaun The Sheep), artist Matt Sewell’s illustrations of birds and, of course, the Isle of Man TT motorcycle races.

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Interview with Susan Archie, 2015 Grammy Award Winning Designer

Interview with Susan Archie, principal of World of anArchie, winner of the 2015 Grammy Award for “Best Boxed Or Special Limited Edition Package” for her work on The Rise & Fall Of Paramount Records, Volume One (1917-27), released by Third Man Records/Revenant Records.

Paramount, Third Man Records, Revenant Records, Susan Archie, Grammy Award, Box Set, Interview, Album Cover Hall of Fame, 2015, article, interview

 

 

 

 

 

Susan Archie, Dean Blackwood & Jack White, art directors

With a thorough understanding of digital technologies being such a key driver to success in today’s music business, music fans often forget that the earliest recorded music came about as the result of an application of a new technology – i.e., those introduced by the early French and American inventors of the phonograph and the gramophone. While we take for granted the various advances in recording technology that have taken place since the late-1800s, without the energies applied – and risks taken by – music industry pioneers, there would be no archives of the performances given by the musical acts that have gone on to influence modern music and music engineering.

Like many an American industrial enterprise, the early U.S. recording business was also an attractive one to those individuals and companies looking to entice the public to buy their products, with some companies (Edison and Victor, for example) impressing consumers with the quality (sound and manufacturing) of their hardware (AKA record playing devices) and software (recorded content, in its many forms – first cylinders, then 78RPM discs, etc.) and others looking to simply “spend-a-little, make a lot” as production of devices and content quickly scaled up as the century turned.

In that second camp were the owners of the Wisconsin Chair Company who, around the start of World War 1,  launched a brand called Paramount to manufacture phonographs and, to provide a broad range of recorded content to play on those phonographs, operated Paramount Records as a way to produce what would turn out to be hundreds of ground-breaking recordings “on the cheap”. By the time Paramount ceased operations in 1932, it had compiled recordings of an impressive of performers spanning early jazz, blues, gospel, the Vaudeville and operatic stages and other popular musical styles. Continue reading

Interview with Emilie Sandy – Deja Vu Album Artist Portrait Series

Today’s Interview Topic – the making of the photographs included in the series titled “Deja Vu”, featuring the portraits of many of the best-known photographers from the world of album cover imagery.

Chris Gabrin and Elvis Costello portraits

Chris Gabrin as Elvis Costello, by Emilie Sandy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whenever I view a photograph these days that was used on a well-known record cover – particularly, an album I remember buying from one of my favorite record shops (oh, so long ago), I tend to first recall my initial reaction to the image overall (i.e., what was it about the photo that pushed my “pause” button while sifting through the record bins) before moving on to the details found upon further exploration and assessment of the final shot used. I often wondered where the photos were taken, who the people were that you might find in the backgrounds and what sort of photo-trickery was used to create a number of the impossible scenes that were created for our enjoyment well before the availability of the photo-manipulation tools used most-frequently by photographers and art directors today. Getting these answers was one of the main reasons I began contacting the people responsible for a number of these images to ask for these details directly, resulting in the nearly 100 interviews I’ve done and shared with you over the past 7-8 years.

While I know that many of you have shared the same thoughts and fascinations about “the making of” many of your favorite covers, I have never before seen a case where someone who displayed the same interest in album cover-making as I have embarking on a project where, using her talents as a designer and photographer, she worked to “get inside” both the production processes and the minds of the people who’d taken many of her own favorite covers. Using her professional relationships with photographers including Anton Corbijn, Chris Gabrin, Gered Mankowitz, Terry O’Neill and others, U.K.-based photographer Emilie Sandy collaborated with these talented people several years back to have them re-create (to the best of their ability) and/or re-interpret some of their best-known album covers. The resulting series of images was called “Deja Vu” and, I think you’ll agree, they certainly work to shed a light on the subjects, their approaches towards making memorable album cover images and how they have ultimately influenced a young photographer’s career and her own approach to shooting photos that will endure. Continue reading

Interview with Juan Betancourt – Animated Album Covers


Tumblr, Betancourt, animated, animation, album covers

 

 

 

 

ACHOF’s Mike Goldstein interviews artist Juan Betancourt about his impressive collection of original album cover art animations

By Mike Goldstein, Curator/Editor, AlbumCoverHallofFame.com

All of us, from time to time, are inspired by great art and design. Whether it is while we’re attending an exhibition in a gallery or museum, visiting the home of a friend, strolling in a public garden or walking through a retail showroom, seeing something that stops us long enough to admire it is an event that occurs with striking regularity. Sometimes, we’ll see something that makes us think “I could do that” (either in a good way or in a “my kid could do that” way) and, if the response is strong enough, some of us will take photos, doodle in our sketchpads or enroll in a pottery class, hoping to use or enhance our existing skill sets in efforts to make great art ourselves.

Here in “AlbumCoverLand”, great talent has produced many, many examples of images that have ingrained themselves in our minds and memories, helping us recall both the music we most appreciate and, quite often, the circumstances we found ourselves in when we first heard it. Fans of this art have honored these images (and the designers and bands that produced it) by purchasing posters, t-shirts, fine art prints, bumper stickers and other such merchandise for their own collections, while smaller numbers have memorialized the designs by re-creating them on their basement/bedroom walls and tattooing them on to their limbs. Musical acts have borrowed memorable album images and modified them for use on their own records, with the resulting “homages” or “parodies” in many cases as memorable as the originals (think Zappa’s “Were Only In It For The Money” cover, a parody of “Sgt. Pepper’s” by The Beatles).

From time to time, album cover visuals have inspired other artists to re-imagine the main image in full motion, whether in brief animations or in longer-format movies. Back in 2006, there was a popular web video that a team of talented animators at a company called Ugly Pictures created titled “Album Cover Wars” which pitted many famous record covers against each other in a rather bloody battle, with Billy Joel (on the cover of 52nd Street) firing a machine-gun at Rick James (on the cover of Street Songs), with Eminem finally shooting James in the head, spilling blood on Joe Jackson’s Look Sharp shoes (and that’s just the beginning). More recently, several individuals have worked to bring a number of our favorite covers to life either as “animated .gifs” or more fully-fleshed-out video creations. In early October, I located one animator – Juan Betancourt – who has received a lot of attention lately for his Tumblr site featuring an ever-growing collection of classic and up-to-the-minute animated covers and asked him to give us a look behind the scenes into his efforts to add new abstractions to already-familiar cover images…

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Interview with Glen Wexler – Heaven and Earth Dig album cover

Today’s Interview Topic – the making of the album cover artwork for Heaven & Earth’s Dig, a 2013 release on Quarto Valley Records.

Glen Wexler, photographer, album cover, Heaven and Earth, Dig, interview, ACHOF, Mike Goldstein, article, photograph, album art, record sleeve, Boston, Led Zeppelin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve always been fascinated by the work of art historians and scientists who’ve developed and deployed technologies that have allowed them to look beneath the surface of centuries-old paintings to find either earlier versions of those same works or, in the case of 2007 investigation of a Renaissance portrait of a young woman that, after digitally peeling back the layers of oil paints, a work that turned out to be an undiscovered (and incredibly-valuable) masterpiece by Leonardo daVinci (watch this episode of Nova on PBS for the complete story – http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/tech/mystery-masterpiece.html). The results of efforts taken by forensic scientists have produced results that, in some cases, have flown in the face of the assumptions and determinations made by art experts (as exemplified by the aforementioned daVinci and a similar episode featuring a work supposedly by Jackson Pollock), while in others, we’ve been able to gain a better understanding of the processes followed by great artists as they experimented with ideas prior to the execution of a masterwork.

As it’s my goal as a journalist (and fan of album cover art) to present you with stories about “the making of” popular album cover images via the interviews I do with the creative talent behind them, I always try and get a better understanding of just how a great image came to life. In many cases, it’s certain that most good album cover artists are constantly building upon what they’ve learned via the execution of previous cover art commissions. In today’s example – the cover for Heaven & Earth’s Dig, done by designer/photographer Glen Wexler – it seems clear that the work he produced for his client comes as the result of a concept whose time had come, simply being the perfect time for the application of ideas he’d developed over several years and preceding projects.

Being as it is that the band’s music is, in itself, a more up-to-date iteration of classic “arena rock” from a long-ago era (rebuilt using vintage instrumental layers and modern production techniques), I think that you’ll find Glen’s approach to the creation of this album package – the cover, along with the stylish imagery featured on the LP sleeve, booklet, etc. – has followed that of the time-honored traditions used by past masters, with the results just as impressive. In today’s interview, we hear about this project’s details from “the master” himself, as well as his take on how/whether today’s album cover art is done in such a way as it will stand “the test of time”….

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Interview with Kosh – Linda Ronstadt’s Lush Life album cover

Interview with Kosh about the making of the album cover art and packaging for Linda Ronstadt’s Lush Life, a 1984 release on Asylum Records

Kosh, John Kosh, designer, art director, Linda Ronstadt, album cover, record cover, record sleeve, package, sleeve, Lush Life, Grammy, Grammy Award, award winner

 

 

 

 

by Mike Goldstein, Curator, AlbumCoverHallofFame.com 

You may recall my recent interview with David Larkham about his long-standing creative collaboration with Elton John and the many album cover projects they worked on together. What I neglected to mention was that there were a number of such partnerships that produced many of our favorite images for record packages (and merchandise, stage sets, music videos, etc.) over the years. Other examples include historic couplings such as Pink Floyd and Hipgnosis, Anton Corbijn and U2, George DuBose and The Ramones, Peter Travers and The Moody Blues, Roger Dean and YES, Cal Schenkel and Frank Zappa, James Marsh and Talk Talk and many others. These examples help illustrate the importance of the establishment of a “shared vision” between a musical act and the person/people entrusted to build a visual identity for that act and, once that synergy has been established, how it can grow into an integral part of how that act is seen – and appreciated – by its fans.

One sterling example of such a relationship is that between recent Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Linda Ronstadt and the Grammy-winning designer/art director known as “Kosh”. Since the young designer met the singer in the mid-1970s (after her success with her Grammy-winning country-rock masterpiece, 1974’s Heart Like A Wheel, with design by Rod Dyer and photo by her friend Eve Babitz), the two talented artists have joined forces to release two dozen (!!) great albums, with Kosh and his team winning three Grammy Awards for “Best Recording Package” for their work over the years. The third Grammy was awarded in 1985 for Kosh’s cover designs for Lush Life, the second of three albums of big band jazz-era pop standards, with arrangements – and musical bed – provided by bandleader Nelson Riddle.

Released in November, 1984. the immensely popular record quickly became a platinum-seller, with Linda earning a Grammy Award nomination (in 1986) for “Best Pop Vocal Performance – Female” for her rendition of the title song, Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” (while she didn’t win for this particular song, Linda did go on to win 11 Grammys during her illustrious career). The first record in the trilogy of recordings dedicated to “the great American songbook” – 1983’s What’s New – established the now-popular practice of rock singers adding their own unique stylings to the classic tunes of a bygone era, with its commercial and critical success proving the viability of such projects to other artists and record labels going forward.  The Lush Life record project would again be honored by the Recording Academy when Nelson Riddle, who died in late 1985, was posthumously awarded a 1985 Grammy Award for “Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying A Vocal” at the 28th Annual Grammy Award ceremony in early 1986 for the title track, “Lush Life”.

With Ms. Ronstadt’s induction into this year’s class of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame fresh in our memories, I contacted the still quite-busy Mr. Kosh in his studios in the Los Angeles area to ask him to give us his take on the making of the package for Lush Life, along with his feelings about his team, his creative partnership with Ms. Ronstadt and the general state of music packaging and graphics these days.  I think that – quite understandably – this relationship thrived on a mutual sense of admiration of the talents each party brought to the table, as you’ll see evidenced in the following transcript…

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Interview with David Larkham – Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album cover

Interview with David Larkham – The making of the album cover artwork for Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

David Larkham, Elton John, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, album cover, album cover art, record sleeve, Ian Beck, interview, Mike Goldstein, Album Cover Hall of Fame

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Mike Goldstein, curator, AlbumCoverHallofFame.com

April 18, 2014

Like great music, great art always stands the test of time.

Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road came as the result of several short-but-very-productive song-writing/recording efforts by Elton, Bernie Taupin, his bandmates and his producer and, although the record received rather lukewarm reviews from some critics at the time, it went on to be Elton’s best-selling studio recording, from which emerged his much-beloved show opening sequence (“Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding”), three huge hit singles (“Bennie & The Jets”, “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting” and the title cut) and a song (“Candle In The Wind”) – originally written in honor of Marilyn Monroe and re-written in 1997 as a tribute to the passing of Princess Diana – that then became the second best-selling single of all time. His seventh studio record, it was undeniably the record that launched Mr. John into the Pop music stratosphere.  So much for the critics and their ability to appreciate a work’s overall importance in both the portfolio of an influential artist and the ongoing development of the Pop music genre.

No such difficulty exists when considering the enduring impact of David Larkham‘s designs for Elton John throughout the years. The original package for this double album – and its 3-panel design – was also, in itself, quite unique and memorable. With that much album real estate to fill, it was an extraordinary feat accomplished by the album cover team who delivered six panels of impressive design, illustration, photography and typography, featuring individual illustrations for each song included on the record as well as the lyrics which, at least for me, made the listening experience all the more enjoyable (and dependent on having the album cover close at hand).

David Larkham, Elton John, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, album cover, album cover art, record sleeve, Ian Beck, interview, Mike Goldstein, Album Cover Hall of Fame

 

 

 

 

 

Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road 40th Anniversary Set

Late 2013 marked the 40th anniversary of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road‘s release and, in March, 2014, an imposing 40th anniversary “super deluxe re-release” package was produced containing five discs (two of which were of a particularly well-performed 1973 concert played in London’s Hammersmith Odeon and another containing covers of GYBR songs by a number of current musical faves) and a DVD of a documentary titled Elton John and Bernie Taupin Say Goodbye to Norma Jean and Other Things. The set also included a 100-page illustrated hardback book of rare photos, memorabilia and articles containing interviews with Elton John and Bernie Taupin. I caught up with Mr. Larkham in late February of this year and have worked with him since to bring ACHOF fans an updated, behind-the-scenes look at how this remarkable album package was conceived and assembled by a team of highly-talented artists, working with a client who was about to become the biggest pop star in the world….

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Interview with Shauna & Sarah Dodds on their Grammy-winning album cover for Reckless Kelly

Interview with Shauna and Sarah Dodds, Backstage Design, winners of 2013 Grammy Award for “Best Recording Package” for their work on Reckless Kelly’s Long Night Moon

By Mike Goldstein, Curator, AlbumCoverHallofFame.com
March 21, 2014

Dodds, Backstage, Design, Studio, Grammy, Reckless Kelly, Shauna, Sarah, Long Night Moon, album cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While most of the press coverage of the annual Grammy Awards show is focused on the nominees and winners in the dozen or so “major” categories, there’s a lot of talent on display in some of the lesser-promoted award categories that, given some additional attention by the show’s producers, press and music/art fans that might not be aware of them, would serve both to excite those exposed to their works and serve to show just how imaginative, innovative and influential producers of music packaging and imagery remain today.

And while there are those that insist that, due to the swing from retail to digital distribution of music and music products, album cover packaging and album art in general is less important today than other forms of marketing and promotion, I’d like to point to this year’s winning design for “Best Recording Package” – awarded to Shauna and Sarah Dodds of Austin, TX’s Backstage Design – as a great example of just how shallow this train of thought seems to be. In today’s extremely noisy music marketing arena, it takes a well-honed sense of what it takes to rise above the din and deliver a package to an act’s fans – both existing and new – that engages them and gives them a sense of intimacy with the act, it’s music and the people behind “the brand”. I think that, when you take into account the depth and diversity of what the winning design team created for their clients, you’ll agree that they delivered a package that perfectly illustrates what can – and must – be done to keep the art of music packaging relevant and exciting for artists and fans alike.

In the following interview, Shauna and Sarah give us an intimate look into their creative process, the challenging design and production briefs for the project and an unimaginable display of knowledge of lunar maps – enjoy!

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