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.

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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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