Q – I’m fascinated by the selection of artwork for your albums. Kudos for the sleeves of the folksinger cds. Love the hues. Tell us about Love Story and the 1984-1989 compilation and others.
I think the U.S. cover of Love Story, with the vacated vacation home with broken glass, is better and more intriguing when paired with the record’s themes. What made you choose the cover? Why was it only for one country?
Also, did you have a part in the selection of empty pool picture for 1984-1989? Was the original picture doctored up a bit to enhance how the sky blends into the pool in an very impressionistic way?
A – Where to start?
Album sleeves are part of the album, the same attention to detail that goes into making the music as good as one can should also be applied to the artwork. I’ve always believed this. One has to be involved. The only time I let go of the reins was when Neil and Peter Anderson became quite close and I trusted both of them to have ideas I’d like – that was the Easy Pieces sleeve and it works well for a record which doesn’t really know what it wants to be. I think Neil would agree.
Before I go any further I should point out that Neil is an art school graduate and I know almost nothing of the visual arts. I enjoy much, but I am in no way a scholar. My interaction with the medium, through my album sleeves can be seen as similar to my guitar playing – I know only what I’ve needed to learn to get what I want (as James Brown might have put it). My whole career has been a learning experience.
On Rattlesnakes and 1984-1989 we decided we wanted photographic images, we trusted our designers – John at da gama, and Anthony and Stephanie at Michael Nash, to find a range of suitable photos. I recently came across the photocopies MN gave me to narrow down the choices. They did a great job. I’m certain that I had no idea who Richard Misrach was before seeing the image, but upon seeing it I was certain that the swimming pool was perfect. We even toyed with calling that record 8 1/2.
Mainstream was a turning point – we were working with the photographer Alistair Thain, Michael Nash’s suggestion, and things were going well. We wanted all four remaining members of the band on the front cover. Our desire to have this overwhelmed our aesthetics, we refused to acknowledge that none of the photos worked, as album sleeves (I still have the one we almost used – floating heads – it is awful), and we felt that we were muscled into accepting the eventual concept – me on the front – which was much stronger, and really, a much better sleeve.
There was a nice couple of years to digest this lesson before the next sleeve – my first solo album. Making this sleeve was such fun and I’m sure today’s technologies would make it too easy, and maybe less fun. But these were the days when Fax machines were the state of the art…
I had decided I wanted a white sleeve. I’ve always loved the White Album design, and it’s influence can be seen here and on the Negatives. The photo session was planned to be primarily white on white and I had wanted gold as the only colour. MN persuaded me that silver worked better. Initial sketches looked too pristine, even with my handwritten titles (sent by fax from NY to London) and it was not until Stephanie came up with the scrawled ‘X’ that we really had a sleeve.
Don’t Get Weird On Me, Babe was all Michael Nash with some input, I think, from Alan Parks, my manger’s assistant at the time. Alan is now a design guru, overseeing many projects for Warner Bros including The Streets and Joy Division box sets. They all thought that my album sounded very LA (I think it sounds NYC on one side and LA on the other), and frankly the Lloyd in NYC thing had been done to death the previous two years so it was a decent plan. Also from stark B/W to full colour was smart. We stayed in the Chateau Marmont and that’s where the pool shots are from, the back sleeve is a shopping mall in the valley, the front, I’m afraid I cannot recall the location for. I’ve never really liked the typeface used but from a practical point of view a shadow is needed for white text to work on colour photo. This sleeve seems to be many folk’s favourite, including Hosuk, who designed everything Ive done since the Negatives.
It never occurred to us when we were making Bad Vibes that it would be such a flop and I guess that it’s ironic that, not only is it my only (excluding compilations) gatefold sleeve, but it was also to be my last ALBUM sleeve. Love Story was CD and MC only. Bad Vibes mark the height of and also the end of my yuppie bourgeios lifestyle. I was into photography. I collected Leica cameras (not that many, but more than I needed, and all had to be sold shortly thereafter). I loved and still love Irving Penn’s corner portraits
and decided I wanted to do something which took this idea but reversed the vibe, I wanted to look confident in the corner, not intimidated. Unfortunately I just look like I’m in bad mood, which ultimately undermined the whole album concept – the title was intended to be tongue in cheek… One positive from those sessions with David Sims is that we shot so much, we had more good stuff than we needed. One such shot is now the cover of the Cleaning out the ashtrays box.
I cannot recall who came up with the John Divola Zuma beach photos but it may have been me, maybe MN. Anyhow this sleeve I was very hands on with and if the lyrics are hard to read it is my fault. We were designing for the 12″ album format and then we found out that we weren’t printing albums. I was pretty devastated. Below is the about 3/4 of what my original lyric sheet was going to be (I can’t scan 12 by 12) – it would have been one side of the inside sleeve. Given that digital was taking over so much of music production, this was an attempt to make something as organic feeling as possible. Like the album. I wanted it to look like it came from a Victorian printing press. What I did was – print out every lyric in normal poem style, then I photocopied them, then photocopied the photocopy repeatedly until the result looked like it couldn’t possibly have originated from a computer, then I cut them up and created the lyric sheet – the idea being that only one song could be focused on at a time, and the whole thing was a piece of language art.
Mercury refused to use the John Divola sleeve and we did a photosession in the Chelsea Hotel with Norman Watson, Micheal Nash supervising. I actually prefer the UK sleeve these days, even if at the time it was done against my will. To quote my favourite songwriter “I rarely ever look this good, or bad, depending on your politics” I think I look at peace, which is rare, for me, and it fits the record better. Rykodisc disagreed and insisted on the Divola sleeve, hence the Atlantic divide.
After this sleeve I was all of a sudden without the bottomless budgets we’d been working on with Micheal Nash. New strategies and new methodologiess emerged. That’s another story and I’ll get to it in the next day or so.