Even if you don’t know his name, you know his art.
Storm Thorgerson has produced some of the most instantly recognizable album covers in rock history: Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals, Division Bell; Led Zepplin’s Houses of the Holy; Audioslave’s self- titled; The Mars Volta’s Frances the Mute; Umphrey’s McGee’s Safety in Numbers; the list goes on and on. Of course, as you probably know, his portfolio also includes the album covers for The Cranberries’ post-crisis Bury the Hatchet, its 2001 follow-up Wake Up and Smell the Coffee, Beneath the Skin live DVD, and all related singles.
Storm is kicking off a series of exhibitions of his work around the world for Fall 2006 in Long Island, NY; Cleveland, OH; Birmingham, UK; Milan, Italy; San Francisco, CA; and Bath, UK in 2007. Click here for the full itinerary of Storm Thorgerson’s ongoing exhibit dates. You can find out more and browse a number of limited edition prints made specially for this tour at theTaken By Storm: The Art of Storm Thorgerson website.
Last week, Storm gave us a rare phone interview to talk about his work with The Cranberries. (We even managed to squeeze in some chatter about Noel Hogan’s current project Mono Band.) Here’s what Storm had to say in the exclusive Zombieguide interview…
ZG: How did you get involved in working with The Cranberries? How did they approach you?
Storm: Through a friend, a business friend, whom I didn’t know very well, but they did, called Jamie. He was working also for Ian Dury and the Blockheads, which is a band I work for, and I think he recommended me. Then I went to have an interview, a chat with Dolores and Noel in Olympic Studios, I think. We got along OK, and so we chatted again later, and then I started to do designs for Bury the Hatchet.
ZG: How did the design process go for Bury the Hatchet? How did you form the ideas that went with that album?
Storm: Now you’ve got me there. That’s a very good question. I’m trying to remember. I think it had something to do with Dolores’s checkered past. I think she told me some tales. She’s had quite a tough life, Dolores. She was telling me about an old boyfriend of hers who was inclined to be a little physical. So I think it was partly related to that. It was probably related to other things that they said, because the way that I work is to submit different possibilities, and so I probably suggested about eight things to them, of which the rough for Bury the Hatchet was one. It was kind of like about paranoia. I think in the way Dolores felt that she had been in her life — and to some extent, the other guys as well — some degrees of unhappiness and undue pressure for which it was now time to shake off, “bury the hatchet” literally. To shake off old grudges, old difficulties. I don’t know if you have this expression in America, “bury the hatchet,” but I presume you do.
ZG: Yeah, we know it.
Storm: Actually, the cover design is a two-piece. So it is a before and after picture. If you like, a diptych. It comes in two parts. We made the cover as also suggested by the band as a trompe l’oeil, a trick of the eye so actually the front sort of repeated on the back so you didn’t know which way around it was. So then you’ve got the two pictures that go together.
ZG: Right. And it has the spine…
Storm: That’s right, we did a fake spine. That was quite clever, don’t you think? But very annoying because you keep trying to open the CD the wrong way. I thought it was a great idea, but it wasn’t my idea. But it was a good one and it was good for me because it meant I could flip the designs, either front or back. In the actual booklet, there’s a picture of a guy being threatened by the all-seeing eye, and on the back when you turn it around, you see he’s turning around, telling the eye to go away.
That’s the kind of nub of it at the time. You know, all these things have other bits and pieces that connect to the making of a cover, which I probably can’t remember now. They kind of coalesce to form a background out of which I make designs and then show them back to the band as roughs and then they choose. So they must have thought this was appropriate somewhere or other. It’s not always clear to me why bands choose the things they do.
ZG: At what point do you actually get a copy of the album and get to listen to it all the way through?
Storm: Pretty early on. When it was in demo form, probably, or early mixes. Because the album cover needs to be done before the record is finished. It takes longer to print an album cover than it does to press a CD. So in eect, the album cover has to be ahead of the CD, the finished item.
ZG: One of the things that Dolores said in the interviews for Bury the Hatchet was that the band did their first three albums, and they all had a picture of the band on the cover…
Storm: The sofa! (laughs) That’s right, they probably fancied a change, I suppose!
ZG: Right, and one of the things that Dolores said about Bury the Hatchet was that she thought of the first three albums as a triad, and that she wanted to form a new era. One of the things I associate with that are your designs, and so I was wondering if that was a conscious thing?
Storm: It may have been a conscious decision of theirs. Obviously it wasn’t a conscious decision of mine. I’m only a gun for hire, aren’t I? I can be hired, commissioned as a freelance designer, and design as I think appropriate for whoever asks, by and large. So I don’t often know what their agenda is, but I agree with you, I think they decided that band photos and sofas was enough. Well, they weren’t going to get them from me, so I presume they must have realized.
ZG: Your work is very distinctive. It’s very easy to, say, look at a new album cover and say right away, “Oh yeah, that’s Storm Thorgerson.”
Storm: You think so?
ZG: Very much so. Every once in awhile you put out a new–
Storm: Are you sure?
ZG: One of the reasons I say that is that you have a lot of symbols that you use in your art and sometimes those repeat from piece to piece. I’ve noticed, for example, I have your book, Eye of the Storm, and I noticed you used the theme of the eye a lot [Bury the Hatchet cover, for example] and I was wondering if there’s a particular reason you like using that symbol.
Storm: I don’t think of myself as doing that, but it’s for other people to make that distinction, I suppose. I don’t think about it, really. I do design as I feel the music or the band to be, or the title, or the combination. I think that every designer, artist, [or] photographer has recurring threads, recurring obsessions that therefore by definition may recur. But it’s not purposeful or conscious. I think I notice things in my work that reoccur, and then I think maybe I don’t. I’m not sure whether I know. I don’t have any particular thing about eyes, more than I do anything about beds or water, all of which you might say feature in my work. But girls feature in my work as well. Mountains feature in my work. Sculptures. Animals, particularly animals. I do a lot more animals more than I do eyes.
ZG: You mention beds — there’s a bed on the other album cover that you did for The Cranberries, which is Wake Up and Smell the Coee. Do you remember the design process for that album?
Storm: They were telling me that they thought the album was a return to simpler, fresher styles. A bit like “wake up, wake up” — the title of the album. So I imagined granules of coee or the “atoms” of coee going up the stairs to the bedroom, waking you up. I like the smell of coee myself. So I imagined them bouncing or riding up the stairs to wake me in my bed in the morning. Coee granules are quite small so it doesn’t really interest me. I like big things. So they turn into cranberries, and then the cranberries turn into large gym balls. You know, the kind of balls you exercise on?
ZG: That’s what I thought they looked like, but I wasn’t sure.
Storm: Well, that’s what they are. They’re supposed to be cranberries, metaphorically. So the granules of coee, or the “atoms” of coee, or the “atoms” of cranberries, or the “cranberry atoms” are coming to wake you up with the music.
ZG: Now you did an interesting thing with that album, and that is that the band released four dierent covers in dierent regions of the world. Was that a result of alternate covers?
Storm: No, apparently the Japanese like to have a dierent cover, I didn’t know why.
ZG: Yeah, they like having bonus things…
Storm: Yeah, something like that. It’s all beyond me. Record company shenanigans, I don’t know what it all means. I just tend to supply what I’m asked to supply, as long as I’m told upfront. I can’t supply all sorts of versions if I don’t know what’s going on. I need to prepare for it.
We actually shot this picture on a grass landscape and a sandy beach. But the sandy beach is much more spectacular because the balls didn’t really bounce well on grass.
ZG: You’re doing several exhibitions around the world of all your art. Why did you choose this point in your career to do something like that?
Storm: Well, no, I started about five years ago. It started about five years ago — somebody asked me to do an exhibition in Japan, so I agreed. The thing that was dierent then was that it was a graphic exhibition. The ones I do now tend to be fine art exhibitions, print exhibitions. I think it’s just what designers do, really. Musicians play gigs. This is my version of a gig. This all happened by chance, because somebody asked me. The first two exhibitions I did were in Japan. They were great! I really enjoyed those. After I did two or three there, I thought, “Hmm, that was interesting. I’ll do some more.” So that’s what we’re doing.
ZG: I guess a favorite topic that people like to ask you about is Pink Floyd. Do you ever get tired of talking about Pink Floyd and say, “I have other art that I’d like to talk about”?
Storm: I thought you were ringing me up about The Cranberries!
ZG: I was, but…
Storm: I don’t get tired, no. I did some very nice pieces with the Floyd, I think.
ZG: I think so.
Storm: I’ve no time to talk to you about that now. That’ll have to be another interview… mostly because we’re trying to wrap up some work here and get out the door… It’s what we call clocking otime here. Let me ask you a question: What’s happening to The Cranberries? Are they not together?
ZG: That’s a good question. Dolores is putting out a solo album next year. Noel has already put out his own solo album last year under the name Mono Band.
Storm: “Mono Band”? What’s it like?
ZG: It’s interesting. For his first album, he actually got several dierent vocalists to do it. One in particular, a British guy by the name of Richard Walters. Anyway, I quite like it, no surprise. It hasn’t been released in CD format outside of Ireland yet. As for the band themselves, God only knows. They said they were going on temporary hiatus for awhile, but there’s really been no news on that front.
Storm: Maybe they’ve broken up then.
ZG: De facto, they are. It’s kind of sad. [Editor’s note: extreme understatement]
Storm: Sad, really.
ZG: Well, Dolores and Noel have both said that they want to reconvene at some point. They say they’re on amicable terms so I guess nothing’s ruled out for the future.
Storm: We’ll keep our fingers crossed. OK Alex, I’m going to adjourn for now.
ZG: OK, I know you’re very busy. Thank you very much, Storm.
Storm: I’m very tired too, I’m afraid. Take care of yourself.
Special thanks to Robin and Nina at Media Bitch (we love that name, BTW) for help in arranging our interview with Storm.