Saturday, June 20, 2009

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ZZ Top - Legs

Storm Thorgerson's album covers are works of art

Written By Tonya Turner

BRITISH album-cover artist Storm Thorgerson, 65, has a wicked sense of vision and humour to match.

Does Storm Thorgerson think of himself more as an artist, designer, sculptor or photographer?

"I think of myself as really sexy," he says, not missing a beat. "No, unfortunately not. I think of myself as a designer. We make sculptures, we do stunts, we use props, we use people, we use nature, we do land art, we do sets and really whatever takes our fancy in terms of trying to represent the music."

It takes a few minutes for the legendary designer and long-time Pink Floyd collaborator to make his way up the stairs to settle in for the phone interview.

Seven years ago he had a stroke, leaving the left side of his body immobilised. Although it hasn't stopped him from working - he gets around on a walking stick - it is the sole reason he won't be flying to Brisbane to see the installation of his second Australian exhibition, Taken by Storm.

It was two years ago that Kirsten Fitzpatrick, exhibitions manager at Artisan, got word of the first Australian display of Thorgerson's work at Global Gallery in Sydney.

"I'd always wanted to do a show on album art. Its history is similar to that of any other art or design practice in that it has been shaped by some visionary designers and artists," she says.

In 1938, Columbia Records hired Alex Steinweiss as its first art director. He is credited with inventing the concept of album covers and cover art, replacing the plain cardboard and leather covers used before.

Other notable artists include 1950s designer Reid Miles for jazz label Blue Note Records, Alton Kelley for his 1960s psychedelic covers and Peter Saville for work on covers for bands Joy Division and New Order.

Thorgerson's playful mischievousness has served him well. In 1968, as part of London design team Hipgnosis, he created his first album cover.

"It was for English blues artist Alexis Korner. We did a picture of him standing by a tree. It wasn't very good," he says.

Luckily his second attempt for Pink Floyd's A Saucerful of Secrets - widely considered his first cover - was a lot better.

"It was a collage of items from comics and literature and films ... like a box of chocolates, it was some of our favourite things," he says.

Although it doesn't appear in the exhibition, another 49 album covers spanning several decades are on display.

Born Storm Elvin Thorgerson, he attended Cambridge High School for Boys, along with Floyd members Syd Barrett and singer and bass player Roger Waters.

Led Zeppelin- Houses Of The Holy

In 1973, Hipgnosis designed one of rock's most iconic album covers - the refracting prism of Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon. Band member Richard Wright asked the studio to do something "more classy" than the previous album covers and, in a radical departure, it had no text on the front. Hipgnosis also designed three covers for Led Zeppelin (including Houses of the Holy), AC/DC (Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap), Black Sabbath (Technical Ecstasy) and many more.

Although Dark Side is certainly the most famous of Thorgerson's covers, it is by no means the most elaborate.

In 1987, after Hipgnosis broke up rock'n'roll style in 1983, Thorgerson formed his own collective, Storm Studios.

The same year he designed Pink Floyd's album cover for A Momentary Lapse of Reason. In an act fitting the title, it involved setting up 700 wrought iron beds on a beach, each one separately made with sheets, blankets and pillows. The "whole insane exercise" took six hours, using four tractors and flat-bed trailers and 30 helpers.

There are only three Pink Floyd albums Thorgerson wasn't behind - The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967), The Wall (1979) and The Final Cut (1983).

"I was temporarily fired. Roger was cross with me and my company over I can't remember what," he says.

Pink Floyd- Division Bell

For the band's final studio album, 1994's The Division Bell, he had metal and stone versions of the two now-famous monstrous heads built and photographed.

He went on to design American heavy metal band Anthrax's 1995 cover for Stomp 442 - a massive piece of scrap metal composed of car parts and shaped into a ball as big as a house. In 1999 he designed Canadian indie rock band Blinker the Star's cover for August Everywhere - a swan ice sculpture photographed in Death Valley, California. In 2000 he printed thousands of photos of an eye and had them individually pinned to dozens of trees in a forest for English alternative rock band Catherine Wheel's single, Gasoline. In 2003 he designed the cover for Japanese singer Yumi Matsutoya's single Setsugekka, a song about memories and forgotten love. For this, Thorgerson envisaged a girl sinking under the weight of her own memories, being dragged down through water by time. At first he thought the idea of clocks attached to the girl's limbs were a clumsy metaphor but he was happy with the end result.

Forgoing the trickery of Photoshop, he has created dozens of other covers for artists such as The Cranberries, Audioslave, The Mars Volta and Muse, and is now working on an album cover for Melbourne band goodbyemotel.

"It all comes from the music," Thorgerson says of his designs.

"If you have music which is hard rock, it's different from music which is lyrical. If you have music which is complex like the Floyd, or more simple, it'll change the imagery or design or feeling or ideas you wish to express on the cover. It all comes from the music, or if you like, the band's philosophy or approach."

But it's not always just about the music. "It's also something they might tell me privately. They might let slip a little foible or obsession or love or hate, or there may be a preoccupation with a lost girlfriend or trouble with the bank or parents or difficulties with the law, or politics, or philosophy or something that occupies the mind of the musician, which is not always apparent in the music but is a driving force. Often it's anger," he says.

"When we did the cover for Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here it was about people's commitment to each other," he says. The cover shows two people standing in the street, shaking hands.

"The band was in the process of beginning to go their separate ways, which they did seven years later," he says.

The digital music revolution poses a threat to album cover art but Thorgerson is philosophical.

"Business hasn't slowed down yet but it might any minute. If CDs aren't made any more we might be out of a job. It would be sad, because I think people like objects," he says.


Music News & Notes

Muse New LP Set For Sept Release

Alt.-rockers Muse have confirmed that their new album, "The Resistance," will be released on September 14th. The band is currently finishing the album, which has been self-produced in Italy and mixed by Mark ‘Spike’ Stent. The album hits the streets just in time for their UK tour, which is all sold out.

The Resistance is the trio’s fifth album, the follow-up to the successful "Black Holes And Revelations," released in ’06.


Manic Street Preachers News

Fans of Manic Street Preachers should expect a bit more ‘joy’ on the band’s next album, a happier, less intense affair than their last release, "Journal For Plague Lovers."

“I think we’re going to try and create an experience that brings a bit more joy,” according to Bang Media International of the band’s next album.

In the meantime Manic Street Preachers have released a new remix EP, featuring remixes of songs from Journal For Plague Lovers.


Go Buy A Hamburger

The Pretenders lost a date at Minneapolis' Minnesota Zoo after Chrissie Hynde wrote a letter to zoo officials telling them she was going to expose their practice of selling farm area animals to slaughter houses. She commented:

"How can a zoo invite children to touch and play with and express joy over animals for their uniqueness, only to turn around and sell those very animals to slaughter? A good rule of thumb would be 'If you wouldn't do it to a giant panda, then don't do it to a chicken'."

Chicken is good, especially BBQ'd.


Rumble Strips Tour

The Rumble Strips have announced plans for a full UK tour this autumn.

Performing ten dates across September and October, The Rumble Strips will follow the release of the band's forthcoming Mark Ronson produced album, 'Welcome To The Walk Alone', due out on July 13th.


Regina Spektor Release

Russian born New Yorker Regina Spektor's release "Far" (due June 22 from Warner Bros) has been tweaked by four super-producers whose alumni includes Dr Dre, REM, Paul McCartney and The Strokes.

She's honed in on the poppier sound of her breakthrough album Begin To Hope, but doesn't compromise the whispery, piano that's become her trademark. First single Laughing With is a stripped back ballad that delves into her religious ponderings, while Eet shows off her rockier, sassier side.


Dave Mason Honored

Dave Mason is set to receive the Outstanding Career Achievement Honor at the Hollywood Music in Media Awards on November 22.

In an exclusive press release, Executive Producer Brent Harvey stated:

"Dave Mason has a distinguished career in the Music Industry, one so diverse and meaningful to a generation of listeners; we are honored to recognize his accomplishments. Mason is worthy of this honor on many levels, including his philanthropic service over the years. We are delighted we have the opportunity to identify his career achievements, relevance and longevity in the music industry"


New Order, New Music

Former members of New Order are busy preparing to resurrect the group under the name of Bad Lieutenant. Founding member Peter Hook split up the group last year but bandmates Bernard Sumner, Stephen Morris and Phil Cunningham have joined with former Blur member Alex James for the recording of new material.

Sumner commented on the recordings, saying "I'm very proud of it, it's a very good album. It's pretty guitar-y too because we've got three guitarists in the band."


Flaming Lips Announce New EP, Bootleg for Ticket Buyers + New Tour Dates

The Flaming Lips have announced a new set of tour dates and a tour-only EP and "bootleg" for people who buy tickets through their web site.

Tickey buyers will get access to a three song digital EP with tracks from their upcoming double album Embryonic (due for release later this year) that include the songs "Convinced of The Hex," "The Impulse," and "Silver Trembling Hands."

They'll also get what the band is calling a "bootleg" recording of the show they were attending, but it's hard to call it a bootleg when it's authorized by the band. But it's a live recording of the show you went to nonetheless!

Ticket buyers will be issued a code that will enable them to receive a code that allows them to access to the download through


Modest Mouse Announce Tour

Modest Mouse have announced a set of late Summer shows that will see them travelling around Canada and the U.S. No opening act has been announced yet.

The tour will support the release of their upcoming EP "No One's First and You're Next," set for release later in the Summer.

They'll also be touring without Johnny Marr, presumably because he's busy being a new member of The Cribs and working on their new album (due out in September). There's no problem finding a stand-in when you're Modest Mouse though, and Jim Fairchild (Grandaddy) will retake his old slot with the band in the meantime.


Robin Trower News

Read through the coding of British guitarist Robin Trower's new live album "RT@RO-08" and you'll see it is, in fact, a document of his March 2008 concert at the Royal Oak Music Theatre.

"It was a place we enjoyed playing the last time we were there, so when the opportunity came to record (the live album), that was a factor," said Trower, 64, who came to prominence as the original guitarist for Procol Harum before going solo in 1973. "There were a lot of songs in the set that had never been recorded live, and it was our usually really good performance.

"RT@RO-08" isn't Trower's only release this year, however. He's also recorded a new studio album, "What Lies Beneath," that features 11 new songs, many co-written with bassist Livingston Brown, who also produced the album. Trower calls it "probably the most 'me' album I've ever made," tapping into an ethereal flavor the mixes with the blues and rock styles he's become known for.


George Harrison website adds new area in honor of 'Let It Roll'

The official George Harrison website has added a mini-site to promote the release of "Let It Roll: Songs by George Harrison."

The site includes a video of the TV commercial/EPK, computer wallpaper downloads based on the cover art, pictures of George Harrison taken from the album booklet, an E-Card and the press release announcing the album's release.

You can also listen to the album as well.

George Harrison


I love cover art, here are some great new covers: