Category Archives: Album Cover Artist Interviews

Interviews with album cover designers, illustrators and photographers

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 came as the result of a concept whose time had finally 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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Interview with Ian Cuttler – the making of The Legend – Johnny Cash album package

Interview with art director Ian Cuttler Sala, winner of the 2006 Grammy Award (48th Annual) for “Best Boxed or Special Limited-Edition Package” for his work on The Legend – Johnny Cash on Columbia Records/Legacy Recordings

Ian Cuttler, art director, Grammy, Grammy Award, Columbia Records, interview, Mike Goldstein, package

 

 

 

Edited from the original interview which was published in March, 2006 and reprinted to note the untimely passing of Mr. Cuttler Sala in February, 2014, killed in a car crash while in Los Angeles…

GRAMMY-winning packaging – how it all comes together.

You have to admit it – the nominees for the 48th Annual GRAMMY Awards in these categories represented artists – both musical and graphic – from a wide variety of genres and disciplines. From the covers for an Alabama gospel/folk project and two leading female indie songwriters, to the packaging of multi-CD retrospectives on Sir Ray, The Man in Black, and NY’s premium purveyors of punk, every package spoke volumes of what lay inside the shrink wrap.

Recent research has shown that nearly 20% of all music purchases are affected directly from the impression made by the packaging, so these graphic first impressions have become even more important to an industry dealing with music delivered in new ways (including sans package!).

Mexican-born artist Ian Cuttler Sala has been living in New York City for the past 9 years, where he has excelled in his career as Senior Art Director for Sony Music. He has successfully art directed and designed a wide variety of projects such as Louis Armstrong: The Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings (which was also nominated at the 43rd Annual GRAMMY Awards. Other projects in his rooster include CD packaging and campaigns for recording artists such as Beyonce, Destiny´s Child, Ricky Martin, Mariah Carey, Julio Iglesias, and Marc Anthony, among others. ¨This is just the beginning” Cuttler Sala claims. Even though he is well-established as an industry leader, his passion for the arts keep driving him to explore in related fields, such as photography, where his prowess is rapidly growing, creating quite a name for himself.

Interviewer Mike Goldstein of NY’s RockPoP Gallery asked this talented individual about his process, the artist and label rep he collaborated with to produce his winning work, and a little about what he thinks the future holds for them and the role of the art director in a rapidly-changing retail music environment. Here is an excerpt from that interview:

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Interview with David Turner – the making of the Lulu album cover

Interview with designer David Turner regarding his album cover work for Lulu, a 2011 release on the Warner Bros./Vertigo labels, based on a collaboration between musical artists Lou Reed and Metallica (and winner of a “Gold Award for CD/DVD Packaging” in the 2013 Graphis Annual).

Lulu, Metallica, Lou Reed, album cover, David Turner

by Mike Goldstein, AlbumCoverHallofFame.com

During a press interview about their collaboration on Lulu, Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich recalled the late Lou Reed’s challenge to the band, asking them “are you game for a little adventure – do you want to go on a ride with me?” They well-understood what working with Reed would entail, having performed together in 2009 at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s 25th Anniversary concert and being witnessing first-hand, in rehearsals, why he had a well-deserved reputation as a perfectionist (during which, via sheer force of will, they earned his respect and an invitation to work together again under the right set of circumstances).

Those circumstances arose a couple of years later when Reed asked the band to work with him to set music to lyrics he’d created based on German playright Frank Wedekind’s “Lulu” series of plays written at the turn of the 19th & 20th centuries (and later re-interpreted in the great silent film Pandora’s Box by GW Pabst). Wedekind, also well-known for his play Spring Awakening, created stories (quite scandalous at the time) in which the main character, Lulu, dances her way through German high society in tales involving sex, lies and murder in degrees never before depicted in the theater. The poems/lyrics that Reed created to retell these stories needed music with the weight and energy that a band like Metallica produced naturally so, again, Lou tasked the group to work with him in methods outside their normal “comfort zone” – in other words, impulsively, without the thought, analysis and studio precision that they were used to in a recording session.

Having successfully lived up to the challenge of creating new music with a man considered one of the ultimate music industry “outsiders” (perceiving themselves as always having been outside the musical mainstream as well), the band turned to designer David Turner of the international design firm Turner Duckworth, who had worked with them on the highly-lauded, Grammy Award-winning packaging for 2008’s Death Magnetic, to come up with designs for the record that would best-reflect the unique nature of the music inside. The resulting packages – including a limited-edition deluxe, 12″ square bound hard-cover version with an illustrated lyric book and a book of photos of the musicians shot in Sweden by 2013 ACHOF inductee Anton Corbijn – were honored with a “Gold Award for CD/DVD Packaging” in the 2013 Graphis Annual. I was eager to learn more about the process and inspiration behind these stunning products and, with the help of David Turner and his team, I’m happy to provide you, my readers, with the details …

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Interview with Nick Egan – the making of the album cover for Duck Rock

Interview with artist/designer for Nick Egan regarding his album cover work for Duck Rock, a 1983 release (on Island/Charisma Records) by recording artist Malcolm McLaren.

Duck Rock, album cover, Malcolm McLaren, Nick Egan

Duck Rock album cover

At the intersection of Pop Culture and societal norms, producers of music, art, fashion, etc. are often found working to rock established thought and force those willing to look “outside the box” to consider the alternatives being proposed. In the early-1970s, after attending a number of art schools and finding himself particularly intrigued by the UK’s Situationist movement and their approach to bringing about societal changes, clothing store owner Malcolm McLaren (along with Vivienne Westwood and a close set of talented friends) set out to illustrate – via their designs for fashion, journalism and the arts – what Britain’s youth (and those outside the Establishment) felt about every aspect of society and how it was being managed by those in power at the time. Taking some cues from similar movements in New York and then adding them to their uniquely European reality, they gave birth to a design and musical language that was quickly adopted by many young people in America and Western Europe (and, later, many other developed countries), much to the chagrin of their parents and those hoping to maintain the status quo.

After his successes in the London fashion scene with punk couture boutique SEX and in the music arena with the New York Dolls, The Sex Pistols and Bow Wow Wow, McLaren sought to drive home the importance of the many types of music available to the musically curious via his own recordings highlighting these multi-cultural sources. Borrowing musical stylings from many countries – Latin America, Africa, the Caribbean Islands and the burgeoning rap and hip-hop scene in the U.S. – McLaren released Duck Rock in 1983 to a U.K. audience eager to absorb whatever was new and on the edge. Three of the singles from the album (“Buffalo Gals” and “Double Dutch” in 1983; “World Famous” in 1984) became major chart hits in both the U.K. and the U.S., and the record’s album cover art, which built upon a strong punk aesthetic while integrating strong elements of graffiti art and illustration (along with a decorated boom box, an item used world-wide by young people looking to impress adults with the sheer volume of their music).

Rather than accept the approach to the project – both for the production of the record and its packaging – usually dictated by most record company/musical artist relationships, McLaren chose to assemble a creative/production team that would be on his wavelength and who’d understand the important links between the musical and graphic styles he wanted featured (Malcolm had once said that his introduction to hip-hop came after seeing Afrika Bambaataa walking down the streets of NYC in a Sex Pistols t-shirt!). He was the conductor – the musicians, producers, engineers and designers who signed on for the project were all performers under his direction. The resulting product would have a dramatic effect on all aspects of the music business and, to this day, many performers note the importance of this record in their approach to writing/recording/packaging their own offerings. To provide readers with an understanding of how this all came together, I interviewed the record’s art director – noted designer/director Nick Egan – to ask him about collaborating with McLaren on this influential work. As you can imagine, the project presented Egan with a long list of challenges and, in the end, a great deal of opportunity…

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Interview with Ben Kweller – the making of the album cover for Go Fly A Kite

Interview with Ben Kweller about the package he produced for his 2012 record release titled Go Fly A Kite

Go Fly A Kite, diorama, Ben Kweller

Go Fly A Kite – assembled diorama

While I’ve written before about the number of musicians who’ve shown great talent in all of the creative aspects of their professional lives, it seems that most of them sought out a formal education in the arts before setting out on their paths to musical stardom. You’ll recall examples such as Pink Floyd (Roger Waters, Nick Mason and Richard Wright all went to London’s Polytechnic College on Regent Street in London, while Syd Barrett studied at Camberwell), Talking Heads (David Byrne, Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz all attended the Rhode Island School of Design), Devo (Mark Mothersbaugh and Jerry Casale studied at Kent State) and The Clash (Joe Strummer, Paul Simonon and Mick Jones), along with Freddie Mercury, Eric Clapton, John Lennon, Ray Davies, Michael Stipe, Pete Townshend, Ron Wood and many others.

Nominated for both a 2012 Grammy Award in the “Best Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package” and a 2012 Independent Music Award (IMA) in the “Album Packaging” category, musician/songwriter Ben Kweller’s work on Go Fly A Kite – the debut CD/LP on his own The Noise Company label – is an impressive example of a multi-talented musical performer involving himself in every creative aspect of his products. What’s even more impressive is that Kweller is self-taught, having dropped out of high school at 15 to devote full time to his first band, Radish. By telling the “formal” music business to “go fly a kite – I’ve got the talent to make it on my own”, it is Ben’s commitment to all aspects of his craft – along with a long list of fans both in and outside of the music business – that has provided him with the ability to impress both fans and critics on his own terms with each successive outing. Drawing on inspirations from his love of comic book illustrations and taking advantage of a chance meeting with someone at his young son’s pre-school, the intricate and impressive packaging for his latest release had me wondering about how it all came to be, and faithful readers know what happens when I get to wondering…. 😉

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Interview with Maryanne Bilham – The Go-Go’s God Bless The Go-Go’s album cover

Interview with photographer Maryanne Bilham about her photograph for the cover of God Bless The Go-Go’s, by The Go-Go’s

photo, album cover, Maryanne Bilham

God Bless The Go-Go’s by Maryanne Bilham

To follow up my interview with photographer Robert Knight, I interviewed his wife, partner and fellow photographer Maryanne Bilham about the photo she took for the cover of the Go-Go’s 2001 release titled God Bless The Go-Go’s.

Of course, then, it would take a photographer with a strong sense of how modern women should be interpreted visually to create just the perfect set of images for the cover of the first new Go-Gos record in 17 years. They found that in Maryanne Bilham, who shares her recollections of the process of turning “good time girls” into Saints in today’s interview.

While the resulting image raised the hackles of the religious right, fans of the band thought it an applicable tribute – enjoy the read, now posted on the RockPaperPhoto.com site – http://www.rockpaperphoto.com/blog/photographer-maryanne-bilham-and-the-memorable-cover-art-for-“god-bless-the-go-go’s”-2001-release/