“Record covers are perhaps the timelines of our lives. They remind us of where we were, what we were doing, who we were with; they mark our student days, our holidays, our growing up, and our coming of age.”
- Richard Evans, The Art of the Album Cover
In this day and age of all things digital, it’s interesting to see how our relationship with the album cover has changed. One of my favorite things I used to do when I got new music was check out the art detail and read through all the liner notes. That was very much part of the whole experience. Admittedly, nowadays, I rarely take the time to appreciate it as much. Do you still?
Richard Evans is the creative visionary behind many classic album covers for such greats as The Who, Robert Plant, Van Morrison, and The Kinks. I’ve had the privilege of working with Richard on a few projects for The Who and I’ve learned first hand why many artists trust him with their visuals. He is a natural at adding that final flair to a band’s music. That, and he has a great sense of humor.
In his latest book, The Art of the Album Cover, Richard takes us on an intimate journey of the life of the album cover and narrates through several decades of its evolution. Aubrey Powell, his former boss at Hipgnosis, writes a beautiful foreward describing Richard’s talents -- from shoe designer, whose works worn by Elton John, George Harrison, and The Osmonds -- to album cover designer and ultimately becoming The Who’s Creative Director.
The book is beautifully written and the visuals inspire me to find ways to keep album art alive -- whether I pause more to appreciate it in its new digital form or in its vintage state as a vinyl collection or art to hang on my walls.
Richard shares his point of view with Rockerista on album design, fashion and style, and stories from his days as a shoe designer. I hope you enjoy spending this time with him as much as I did.
So, what are you currently working on?
Well, right now I'm designing a ten CD box set of Louis Armstrong which includes a 200-page fully illustrated book and comes in a crocodile-skin monogrammed suitcase. Lots of fun to do and great to go back to the earliest days of jazz.
Can you describe your creative process for album cover design? How do you approach it?
Each album cover project is quite unique. There's no real formula for designing a package other than familiarising yourself with the artist and their music and having a passion for what you do. I've always been very fortunate that in all the hundreds of album covers that I've designed, I've always liked the music. Some obviously more than others, of course. Step forward The Who.
I generally approach a project by having an initial meeting with the artiste, manager or record company people to ascertain any first thoughts or specific ideas or concepts that they may have. Quite often I am left to come up with ideas from a blank canvas, but again in the case of say, a particular concept album the artistes themselves might wish to be involved. For example, last year I worked with Robert Plant on his Band of Joy album and Robert came to me with a specific idea that he wanted me to realise and bring to life for him.
If I am given a blank canvas I generally find out if there is an album title already sorted out, and I often ask for a set of song lyrics as they can usually be a stepping off point for ideas. Sometimes I am sent work-in-progress tapes or discs although these days, due to internet piracy and so forth, that doesn't happen so much. These days I might be invited to listen to a play back either at the studios or at management offices. Very rarely am I present at the actual recording. This is because at the recording stage, the artistes are not usually thinking about cover designs so early on.
Reflecting back at your work as The Who’s Creative Director, which album or general artwork is your most favorite to this day?
Gosh, there is so much to think back on. All those greatest hits, those t-shirts, those tour programmes. Album covers? Hmm, well I'm fond of The Who Singles Box which I thoroughly enjoyed putting together. I'm also fond of Endless Wire. I was in the process of moving house at the time of Endless Wire and I created it on a laptop at my kitchen table! and I loved working with Peter Blake on Face Dances too, back in 1981. He'd been one of my heroes for a very long time so it was particularly nice to meet him, work with him, and become friends.
Before your work at Hipgnosis, you were a shoe designer -- can you describe some of the styles of shoes and boots you designed? What made you gravitate towards shoes?
I studied fashion design at art school and when I left I was a fashion illustrator for a short while until I realised I wouldn't get rich doing that! I then began designing and making leather and snakeskin belts and clothes, including a floor-length python skin coat for Marianne Faithfull in around 1972. Hmm, I wonder if she's still got it? I then progressed into designing stack-heeled boots in crazy colours and leathers with appliqué and ridiculously high platforms. I sold several pairs of my shoes and boots to Roxy Music, Elton John, and George Harrison – and guitarist Rory Gallagher, who would run into my place saying "I'm going out on tour tomorrow, I need boots in size 7" and he always wore green boots because he was Irish and he swore they brought him luck. One day in 1972 Polydor Records phoned up and said 'we're sending The Osmonds round to see you' and a big limo pulled up outside with security guys and escorted 15-year-old Donny, his brother Wayne and their father in to my showroom. Nice people, they bought loads of shoes and boots. Oh, and Redbone came to see me. Remember them? 'The Witch Queen of New Orleans.' One of the very few native American bands.
After a couple of years of designing footwear and having fun my backer pulled out because I wasn't making him any money and my friend Aubrey 'Po' Powell stepped in and said 'well, come and work with us at Hipgnosis' – so that's how I got out of shoes and into jackets, so to speak.
Which decade do you think was the best for music and fashion?
It's probably the decade you come of age in. For me that was the 60s and 70s. The first time I saw the Who was when I booked them for an art school dance. I think we got them for about £400 or less. And I remember Pete being very stylish and clothes conscious. Ten years later when I was working with them, I think the first thing that Pete ever said to me was "So where did you get those shoes from then?" or something similar. He'd been eyeing me and my footwear up in the recording studio canteen.
When buying a new album - one of my favorite things I used to do was to read the liner notes. In your book, you describe the new digital album covers as “the grandchildren of the LP cover." Do you think this generation of digital covers lessens the experience for the music fan?
It probably does. As I said in my book, and as my friend Po said in his introduction, in the days of vinyl buying the latest album was a very important part of your week. On Saturday you went to the record shop and bought your 'sounds'. You carried them down the street under your arm. You were proud of them, and proud of the cover. You got home and pored over the liner notes, checking who the producer was, who designed the cover and so on. The funny thing is, I still do that to this day, checking this and that, seeing who did what, etc.
When I'm designing a cover I sometimes think of that guy in, say, Boise, Idaho for example studying the record or CD cover and noticing some little graphic or doodad that I've put in to the design and saying to himself "Hey, that's cool." That's why I sometimes hide secret messages in the package too. Such an old hippy that I am!
“The golden age of the album cover may well be long gone, and perhaps the record sleeve is deservedly putting its feet up somewhere, but great art for music packaging will continue to be created by designers today and far into the future, whatever shape or format the delivery of music may take.” - RE
For more on Richard and his wonderful works of art, take a visit to his website, rdevans.com. You can also purchase his book at Amazon.
Now...if I can only find a way to get those funky boots back on the market!
All photos courtesy of Richard Evans
May 18, 2011
Tags: ★ Back to home
A pair of blue suede shoes. And beautiful silk handkerchiefs that my wife paints and I wear in the top pockets of my jackets.
Well, I'm constantly listening to blues music, both old and new stuff. This week, for example, I'm listening to Blind Willie McTell from the 1930s, and I'm listening to Pinetop Perkins, who recently passed away. I play blues harp and apparently I'm pretty good at it, so I'm told. I also listen to a lot of classical music such as Vaughan Williams and E J Moeran, lots of English composers. New bands? I've been playing a bit of Beady Eye – although Liam does seem to be rewriting the John Lennon songbook ;-) I've latched on to the Carolina Chocolate Drops too, and Laura Marling, folky stuff,oh, and this morning I have been listening to the title track from the new Fleet Foxes album. My taste in music is right across the board. I care little whether it's old or new stuff. I'm listening to Satchmo too whilst I design his box set. He was such an old rascal, you know. Smoked dope from when he was a young kid until the day he died.
Gadget: A Swiss army knife. You know, a friend of mine once designed a French army knife – all the tools were cork screws!
Web Sites: Here are three: