As many of you know, just published is The Raging Storm - The Album Graphics of StormStudios, the latest, absorbing book from legendary graphic designer, Storm Thorgerson, and his team. Associated with Pink Floyd since 1968, Storm, along with his colleagues Hipgnosis and more
recently StormStudios, has provided most of the Floyd's album cover art along with other key imagery. Storm himself is a much respected personality within the world of Pink Floyd, his contribution a key part of their story.
The Raging Storm is a collection of many pieces that StormStudios have completed for various artists over the past four years - not just for bands such as Pink Floyd, but more recent artists too, all of whom have been inspired to use StormStudios thanks to their painstaking approach
to the work, creating often big and bold, unforgettable images, with a
sense of humour or a cryptic note infusing each image.
In late November 2011, we paid Storm a visit at his London studio for a chat about his career and work. Our extensive conversation found Storm in an expansive mood, talking in depth about the various bands he has worked with, techniques and considerations for his images (including the use of technology in album cover art), record companies and band management, and much more. Our fascinating discussion with Storm kicks off with him talking about the new book, before heading back through the years...
So, you've just published The Raging Storm. For those unfamiliar with it, what's the new book all about?
The new book is basically recent work, not previously published in book form. I think because we like books, we believe in books, that it's a very handy and possibly attractive (we like to think) way of archiving our material. It also means other people can see it a bit better, obviously we have our own personal archives in the form of computers, but it's not quite the same. This is a public sort of event, and we think we've done some nice work in the last three or four years, for the likes of Biffy Clyro, Muse, Steve Miller, Pink Floyd (oo, them as well!) Some others like Pendulum, and Shpongle - completely different; Disco Biscuits - completely different; classic rock from LA in the form of Rival Sons, etc., etc..
Putting it in a book allows me to get it printed nicely and also to write a few words of stuff. In order to do accompanying text, we need a book as well, and also this is not about music so it gives us a chance to concentrate on the visuals with no particular relevance other than occasional explanations or anecdotes or stories of how they were done, and how they relate to the record.
Is it something that you would seek to do, to listen to the music before committing any ideas...
Always. When we design, it's like a cardinal rule - a maxim - I'm not interested directly in sales so therefore the commerciality (or not) of an album cover has no relevance to me, obviously not that I get paid on that basis anyway, but it has no relevance to me in terms of design. So, all I'm trying to do, whether it be the Pink Floyd or Shpongle, is to represent the music visually, and that is because there may be a need to represent it visually, whether it's an album cover, a t-shirt, a poster, a billboard, an iTunes, a this, or a that... pictures and music go together quite well anyway so it's quite nice to do that. Very nice. I'm lucky, I have a good job - well I did have a good job until computers came along and made everything smaller so we don't like it being small, but we don't like CDs either particularly, but that wasn't the question you asked, was it really? I digress!
It's an interesting point though, because in a way, not only do I always design for the music or for something the band tell me, so Division Bell for instance for the Floyd was partially because David told me that the album was partly about communication, or the lack of it. So what I did was try and do a picture not about communication, but was communicating with you the viewer, so it was trying to be a dialogue. And it's based on an illusion. Do you see this, or do you see that? So I'm trying to engage the viewer. In this case, is it two faces or one, with a dialogue as it were through the sculptures. Personally I thought it was great. I think the band did too, because they just looked so good.
I think whatever it meant didn't matter in the end, because it looked fucking great, I thought!
Yes, the music is always number one. Unless of course, in the case of, say, Technical Ecstasy for Black Sabbath, going back in time, we wind the clock back... and back... and back... it was such a great title, that it gave rise to an image straight away. So, in some cases it could be the title, it's usually always the music, often the music plus something the band would have said to me, so obviously that was a reason to foster relations as best I could. So, I've actually been working with the Floyd, would you believe, for 40 years, man and boy...
Since Saucerful, yes, but it means the communication by and large, got better - not always of course!
But by and large it got better, whether it was them or Peter Gabriel, or 10cc, or Biffy Clyro recently, for example, or Steve Miller, for example, recently. They're hopefully long term relationships, because it means I get to know them better, and get to possibly represent them better visually, and visually is not their forte, any more than music is mine. You should hear me sing. Or rather you shouldn't. No seriously, you shouldn't!
So the band - I hope - are employing me not only because they think I might do it well, but also it saves them thinking about it because they wouldn't think about it that well anyway. So the reason why they don't play harpsichord on their record, or a trombone, they also don't do the visuals because they're probably not that good at it. And also it means it's less for them to have to think about.
I think the think with Hipgnosis, for example, especially with the Floyd, and 10cc, and Peter Gabriel, to name but a few, is that I think we took it quite seriously. It meant quite a lot to me, really. I don't think it matters much in the great scheme of things, next to tsunami's, etc., etc., obviously, asteroids, Eurozone crises, health, but being as I'm an album cover designer they mean an awful lot to me. So what I did was that I took them seriously. So I think the bands felt quite good about that, some serious attention being paid, as opposed to a record company's somewhat dilettante approach...
Having a publicity shot, and thinking "That'll do for the cover."
Yes, well record labels were notorious for thinking that.
Some of the new artists coming to see you now for work, are they inspired more by the classic body of work that you've got, or is it more the work you are doing for their peers?
Funny you should ask that. Honestly I don't know. I think, I presume people ring me up because basically I'm a commercial designer that has to work for a living. I've got a family to feed, blah blah blah that I need to work, apart from enjoying it, and apart from work begets work, etc., etc., it keeps me off the streets, all these reasons. But mostly I have to work, like most people have to work, in order to make ends meet, it just so happens my job is in design.
For instance, Muse came to me because they saw something on my website, but it wasn't a cover, it was a drawing. I think Disco Biscuits came for example, because they knew someone who knew me. I'm pretty sure Rival Sons came to me because they lurve Zeppelin.
So I think they come for all sorts of reasons. Because of my past, because of the work I've done, because of the work I do. Hopefully it's work orientated but you don't know, do you? You don't really know.
I think in the case of Biffy Clyro, a very good example in the sense of working for a newish band -
they're not quite so new any more, was that the first time around it was all "I wonder what this is going to be like?" And because - this was for an album called "Puzzle" - because we did something that was OK, I think they thought "that's OK, we'll do it again".
In a way I suppose it's because it's the devil you know rather than the devil you don't, and I'm sure the Floyd thought that. If you have someone that's going to be that close to your record, that might last as long as, or longer, even, than your record, then you want someone I guess you can trust.
In a sense, any of the questions you ask me about music, or musician's points of view, I can't really answer, in the same way I can answer my own.
I would imagine the musician's got to like it. This liking it, is terribly important, in fact, it's crucial because if the musician likes it, then presumably it becomes an extension, as it were, of his taste, and if it's an extension of his taste, it must be OK by him. Unless of course you are masochistic, and decide to have covers you don't like, which I guess is possible - perverse or not. Unlikely though I think!
I guess there's that sense of...most artists plan, or hope, for a long career, so there's that sense of structure to the artwork, or continuity, in the style it is done. With the same design team, would you agree you get a sort of sense of continuity?
I see what you're saying, but I don't know whether that's particularly true... What's been fun about working with the Floyd, is that the Floyd were prepared to accept differences. So, Ummagumma, which you could say is a band portrait, although not really, is about infinite regression, and is quite deceptive. It's completely different from Atom Heart Mother. I couldn't imagine things [being much different], although they've both got a bit of green in them but they're completely different. Atom Heart Mother is completely different from Dark Side Of The Moon.
One's a cow, extremely silly, and off the wall...
But a lovely picture!
It was great - I was really pleased with it! And it worked an absolute treat for what it was supposed to do, which was to be different. It was that. So different the record company almost died - the managing director had absolute apoplexy, he went all red in the face, and was reduced to swearing at me. I kept saying "You'd better ring the Floyd!" because he'd never have understood what on earth the cow was all about, but the cow was VERY much about Pink Floyd.
But this is completely different from Dark Side, which is, as Rick calls it - the late Rick (God speed) - a cool graphic, which in a sense is very different from The Wall, which is Gerald Scarfe, obviously, and is also very different from Wish You Were Here, which is much more pictorial.
So I think these things are very different, but maybe there's some similarity of approach, which probably escapes me.
I think continuity could only be sustained if it was good enough. I don't think anybody would employ me if they didn't like what I did, or thought I was going off the boil, or losing it. David once accused me of losing it, about four or five years ago. You were wrong, David!
So who are you particularly enjoying working with at the moment?
Biffy Clyro are great to work with. Very interesting music. Muse are fun to work with, although of course they're currently terribly indulgent but you can't really blame them for that, can you? But that one's a very up and down relationship, but the guys in the band are great.
Working with Steve Miller seeing as he's an old toadie like me, is a real delight - I've been a big fan for years. And I actually thought I'd never work with him. But due to a bizarre set of circumstances, and I mean bizarre, connections - not weird - but bizarre in timing. I ended up meeting him in a hotel room in New York, with his lovely wife, and I was with my lovely colleague Peter [Curzon], and we met him in New York, and got on well, and I've done four things for him which have been really satisfying.
I quite like working generally, and since I'm so keen on music generally - obviously there's bad music but mostly I think not. I often say that I think music is one of the good things in life, a bit like trees, which I suppose has no particular rationale.
Everybody likes some kind of music, music is a great salve, so I'm very happy to work in music.
Most of the musicians I meet are great. They're obviously willful, childish, narcissistic, egocentric, all the things you expect a musician to be. I remember describing Muse like that and them trying to say that "Yes, but they need to be, because they need to be able to get up on stage and strut their stuff in front of 20,000". Could you do that? I couldn't do that. So you make allowances for egomania if at the end of it you get some great music and a show.
Not that I forgive them exactly, but I think the egomania that's rampant is a small price to pay. But would you get up in front of 20,000 and strut your stuff? I'm sure I wouldn't!
So I'm always amazed that they can do it, and Muse for example, and Biffy, a very good example, they put on a very good show. They try hard. Steve Miller too. They take a lot of care. I was actually at a Steve Miller warm-up once, and he was doing vocal warm-ups. I was really impressed. He was checking him and the band were in tune, and they were doing these strange sounds - they were going "CHAA! CHAA!" - they were doing consonants, I think, and it was fascinating. Then they sang a capella, and I thought "Isn't this great? I'm sitting where probably no-one else sits listening to what I think is one of the best voices in rock and roll, singing a capella for god's sakes."
With probably the road crew busying themselves with the equipment...
Well, they've heard it all before. He was doing it with his musicians in the tour bus, and I actually felt... privileged.
How does a typical image come together, from beginning to end?
Very quickly, the process of making an image (I can obviously only talk about it from the perspective of our studio) is that working on the music, and the lyrics, and maybe things that the band have told us, we combine it all together to form a kind of brief. And from that brief we think about it, talk about it, go and have a beer, talk about it, go and have another beer, talk about it, usually procrastinate and prevaricate as long as possible until deadlines loom, and then put pen to paper.
I think there's a more complex question you are asking - where does inspiration come from? And apart from my trivial answer of Milton Keynes (no disrespect to Milton Keynes, of course!), I think it's very difficult. In a way I don't really know.
I suspect it comes from application, I think there's quite a lot of hard work involved, and it's very unromantic. On the other hand, I think you can be taken by spontaneity, and have visions or thoughts.
Sometimes it comes from wordplay; I think that's quite a useful source, because it kind of bypasses the more rational area [of your brain], so if you do wordplay, or Spoonerisms, or reversals/inverting stuff, instead of 'a foot in the door', you say 'a door in the foot' and then you have a completely different ballgame to play. Although on that particular occasion it was unsuccessful!
But then you've got things like the clogs [for 10CC] - "clever clogs", which I thought was lovely...
I agree. That was taken from a joke we made. Very silly but kind of fun. So I think if you can do a mixture of the right and the left brain whichever does the rational [thought], which is hard work and you just keep thinking about it, and sketching, and you occasionally let in the irrational part, so you have a mixture. I very much work with two other guys, as much to be contributors as sounding boards, as I am for them, so we would talk about it. Mostly because we have to pay the rent, of course, we have to think of something being as a blank piece of paper doesn't tend to go down too well with most clients!
The Beatles did it once with The White Album...
Yes, can't do it again! And anyway, that [sort of thing] doesn't interest me greatly. So in this mixture of bits and pieces, we develop ideas. I suppose you could say I tend to be idea driven, which is partly why we're doing this interview in my studio which is pretty dirty, and pretty disgusting in many ways, but I don't need a flashy studio because it all happens in my brain, so...
And in various locations as well.
Yes, locations is another big issue; I'll come to that in a minute!
So I think that in this odd mixture of procedures, maybe it's to do with confidence. Doing Ummagumma was a major turning point for me, because it worked. The second major turning point was for a band called Nice, which was an album called Elegy where I did a line of footballs in a desert which was completely preposterous if you think about it, and you should have seen Po's drawing of it - it was equally preposterous. But the musician liked it. He could see it.
The record company of course couldn't see it, but they trusted us, or they trusted him, or he told them what to do - god knows how it actually worked - so those two album covers in particular, Ummagumma was '69, and I think Elegy was '70, were both turning points for us, as they gave us some degree of confidence, and confidence is terribly important.
Other people aren't going to believe in your ideas if you don't. So I learnt that if I can think of a good idea, I can probably do it, and that the idea is probably there somewhere. I liken it I suppose, quite casually in a way to a fisherman. I'm pretty sure the idea will be there, I may not have found it today, or tomorrow, but I expect I probably will.
I guess that's sort of a confidence thing, and obviously a young designer wouldn't have that immediately, and I didn't either. When you do something that works, then you begin to think "Hmm, maybe I can do this?" And of course, being paranoid as we so often are in our early 20s, about everything from warfare, to jobs, to girls, or whatever, then your design creativity is in the same position. It doesn't really believe you can do it.
So, there's much to be said for doing it if you can, but that's not so easy. So I was lucky, in one respect - because I knew the Floyd. But that's only a small part really, because if I hadn't have done something that was moderately OK, I wouldn't have done the next one. There was no sentiment. If the Floyd hadn't have liked it, they would have fired me. As they did for The Wall, temporarily, although I was most upset obviously.
You touched on location for images, and that's one of the things my wife Linda noticed. She said: "Virtually every picture seems to have been taken outside, the skies are fantastic..."
Not strictly true, but I can see her point, yes!
Is there a significance to using nature...
Yes. I think so. I think it's to do with atmosphere, and this is probably to do with working with the Floyd initially, and then doing this job for The Nice, where the music felt very like an atmosphere of a largeness, a large atmosphere, a big space, and so, in a way to represent a big space, or to echo a big space I would take a picture of a big space. This had the added advantage of course of going on some very groovy posters!
I think it's also because, and I don't know particularly why it is, but I've always been keen on landscapes, but I don't know what the reason for that is particularly. I mean, Cambridge is near where I grew up, and there's The Fens, but I don't really ever remember being interested in The Fens. I was interested in girls, and sport, and especially sport with girls, of course!
But... I think that what I said first was probably true, about the atmosphere that a landscape can inculcate, or engage you in, and if you are shooting landscapes, you invariably want good light. Remember we're dealing with photography here, most of things I do are photographic, that's because I can't draw, of course. If you are doing photography, then light is rather central for what you are thinking.
So the reason for the blue skies is actually nothing to do with the blue skies, but to do with getting sunlight. I mean, Linda's right, there are a lot of landscapes, and a lot of outside shots, but that's also because it usually feels right.
It must make life harder for you to get that one moment, maybe, in say, a three-day shoot, of half-decent weather.
In England it's very difficult of course because it often rains, so we had to shoot Momentary Lapse twice, because the first time it rained and we couldn't see it, which I thought was a minor impediment to the whole idea. Although the manager was slight annoyed at the time: "So? You couldn't see it. So what? You didn't shoot it? Fucking crazy! We've got schedules!"
So it's extremely difficult at times - 'Beds' was a very good example of something that was extremely difficult.
A job I did for a band called Gentlemen Without Weapons, which was called 'Transmissions' which involved a line of telegraph poles over the countryside, that was unbelievably difficult, and that's because it had rained, not on the day we were shooting it, but the day before, so we couldn't bury the poles. I like the picture but it was really difficult.
Doing The Cranberries' Bury The Hatchet was alarming because, for some reason I had wanted red earth, and Australia was too far away, and Namibia was too dangerous, so I elected to go to Monument Valley which I knew, and was easy to get to.
But, as we came out of Flagstaff, which is one of the nearest towns, it was actually snowing, there were icicles on the trees, and I thought "this is a bit of a fuck - what am I possibly going to say to the band? Sorry, no picture..." and all that money spent taking the team to Monument Valley.
Anyway, we drove the two hours down to Monument Valley, and the snow went away and it was beautiful, absolutely gorgeous. We were shooting, photographing a naked white man with the eye of surveillance hovering above him, and who should suddenly appear around the corner, but a Navajo Indian in his truck, black hair down to his knees, with a face like a slab of granite, and he jumped out of his car, walked up behind me, and put his hand on my shoulder, and said "I confiscate all your gear". I thought, oh my gawd, what am I going to tell the band?!
Then he burst into laughter, and we exchanged email addresses! It was hilarious! But for that one second when he said: "You're on sacred ground - you have naked white man on Indian sacred ground?!" we were all very nervous!
It does make shooting quite difficult, but usually due to perseverance it works out in the end. And if you are patient, or get to know the weather, and the rest of it, obviously we research where we are going, and you plan accordingly.
You were saying about the huge eyeball, obviously you're well known for trying to create as much as possible "for real", rather than using all sorts of computer trickery which a lot of people would tend to these days.
You're talking about The Cranberries?
I'm talking about many different artists.
There's a big eye for PULSE, which is very computer generated, but that's on purpose, whereas the eye for The Cranberries was a sculpture, which we took with us, so when we do things...
Is there an element of computer retouching, or...?
We use a computer mostly for cleaning. In the old days, you'd do it with a brush and paint, and and bleach, so we would do the same things now but it's just easier. So we use the computer to clean up, so if there's muck on the film, or a small object in the picture we don't like we can take it out. We sometimes use it to composite (is the word), and that allows us to shoot a picture where all the elements are real, they may not be real at the same time, and that is because they're quite difficult to do, so you don't want to risk it all in one moment only. So, you can take bits, and make sure you have the right lighting, the right position, but in effect they're real, and in the old days you would have done collage, you'd have done it with a scalpel, and prints. There was also a system called dye transfer, with which we did Animals, for example, which is called stripping in. But all these things are nearly real, often at the same time but not always, but they're still real.
So, the only reason I do it...actually there's two reasons: one is that it looks better, and the other is so I can see it. When you're doing something like Division Bell which was just clean up, no compositing - it's real. It was just amazing to see in the flesh. A serious buzz.
Now since money isn't everything (who said that? They must be wrong!) standing in front of the
Division Bell statues was remarkable.
With the Cranberries' Smell The Coffee, this was an event, and that was so amazing we forgot to take a picture. It all happened, and it was "Shit, that was incredible! How's the picture?" And Rupert [Truman] said: "What picture?", as he'd been watching it as well. Luckily we could do it again and again, and so we did.
Sometimes the things we do, you could call them extalations, like the pig, is an extalation. The pig, for Animals, is a real thing. It's not an everyday thing, as the pilots who saw it in the airlanes to Heathrow would attest, it's real, but not real, somehow. So that's again an event: you stage an event. It's like a sculpture but it doesn't last very long. A lot of things we do we have to take down, like the pig, or the big ball of metal for Anthrax, or, in the case of Smell The Coffee we had to remove them from the beach for litter reasons.
It's a great pity sometimes, the heads for Division Bell I'd have loved to have left them in the field, but the farmer wasn't too happy about it. I'm not really complaining...
You can imagine there'd be a lot of people tramping back and forth to see them, and take pictures, so you can understand his position.
[Laughs] No I can understand that, and I agree. From our point of view, we do it for real because it looks better, and we do it for real so we can see it. Otherwise, we don't get the full buzz of it either. I mean, the added advantage of seeing it, means that if it's shite, I don't tell the band. I never tell bands if I screw up, because I don't see any point in ringing up and saying "I really fucked up here". I can't see the point. So I don't.
Does it frustrate you that the perception might be, particularly in the modern generation, thinking that of course, that's all been Photoshopped, none of that is actually real, when actually you've gone to a huge amount of effort to build something...
Or gone half-way across the world to do it... It doesn't, no. I don't think it stops them enjoying it, you see. I don't think this "real" thing matters that much to the enjoyment of the picture, or the design. I mean, it matters to us because we think it looks better, so if we're in the look business, which we are, we're not in the perfume/smell business, or the music/audio business, we're in the look business. If it's good to look at, or enjoyable, or you have fun looking at it... I mean, I don't have a moral view on it. If I thought it would look just as good in a computer, I'd do it in a computer, but it doesn't, so I don't! [laughs]
Have record company's budgets, and all that sort of thing, has that impacted your work? Do you look back to, say, the 70s, where budgets were a bit more: "That sounds great. Just do it..."
The budgets were definitely better in the 70s because records were in their full majesty, vinyl was going strong, this is before CDs. Obviously in the 70's, when vinyl was bigger - considerably bigger - in a sense it would be viewable, so they might expect to pay more. But budget restrictions don't really have much of an effect on me, in a way, so if a band ask me to work for them, and ask me about the money I tend to avoid it, because in many ways it has nothing to do with what I think about.
So if you take Floyd for example, 'Beds' was horribly expensive. In fact, don't ask me how much it was, because I won't tell you! But in contrast, the cow was incredibly cheap. The cow didn't charge!
But the beds, of which there were about five or six hundred, were quite expensive to hire, the lorries which were articulated which were used to take them to the location in Devon were quite expensive, it was quite expensive to do it twice, and the thirty people that puts the beds from the lorries onto the beach charged quite a lot too.
None of which I blame them for. It was just horribly expensive. But is one better than the other? I ask myself that. It's quite a good thing to ask Floyd fans if they thought this part matters to them.
I think it matters that you did it for real, irrespective of the cost.
I think they trust that if it's for real, we're not trying to fake them. I once gave a talk in Japan, and the Japanese are quite well behaved in their lecture format, and tend to nod, or shake their heads, in agreement. I first talked about Wish You Were Here. So I asked them if they thought the man on fire was real. So they said, "Yes". I said, "You think that what I do is burn people for art?!" And they went "No, no, no!". I replied "So you think it's faked?" They said "Yes." "So you think I try and cheat my audience, or the Floyd's audience, by doing something that is faked?" So they said "No, no, no!" so they got very confused! [laughs] It was a real hoot.
Likewise in Japan, a similar story was for Led Zeppelin's Presence, one of my favourite pieces, I have to say, mostly as I was so surprised that they ever took it. I mean, it's kind of like a piece of kitsch, but not. Anyway, the black object as it became to be know, was painted on the side of a hollow pillar, in black, so if you tapped it, you'd get a response. Underneath it, I cut a hole, the same shape, in the hollow pillar, it was also black because there was no light in the pillar.
I was doing this Q&A in Japan, in a different city this time, and my interpreter said there's a man here who's been a fan of Zeppelin for twenty-five years, and is desperate for you to talk about Presence, so I did.
So I told him all about Presence, and about what the object meant, and that it was in every walk of life, and I tapped the black thingie, and he nodded his head, and then I put my hand through the hole, and he fell over. It was extraordinary! He was so shocked. And he wouldn't let me put his hand through the hole. He would not let me. His friends were laughing all over the place, and they kept saying to him "Put your hand through the hole". But he would not. Because it was twenty five years of an illusion that he'd just realised was a trick on him too. Because you see it is not an object, it has no moulding, it has no shadow, it's just a funny shaped hole.
So Zeppelin don't have to be there, any more than the hole is. Which is why Zeppelin called it Presence, because they don't have to be there. Robert Plant says that Presence was "one of the best bits of synchronicity between sound and picture." I didn't know he thought that.
Listen, I don't even know if the Floyd like Dark Side. Do they like it, do you think? [laughs] Now there's a contentious question!
I'm sure they probably do...
Have they told you? They've not told me.
No, but then I've not asked them...
Me neither. I only presume so, because I got employed again. But that's a whole other ballgame...
Our thanks to Storm for our fascinating afternoon together. Images within this article are © Storm Thorgerson/StormStudios.
ORDERING DETAILS AND EXCLUSIVE DISCOUNT
As Storm and co are in effect self-publishing the book, The Raging Storm is available to purchase from theragingstorm.firebrandstore.com. There, you can find the limited edition hardback, along with a very limited deluxe edition that comes with a special print and is signed by Storm.
As a Brain Damage visitor though, we've arranged a very special, exclusive discount. You can get £5 off the hardback edition (therefore each book costs £30 plus p&p instead of the recommended price of £35 plus p&p). To do this, you need to enter the special promo code of STORM DAMAGE in the voucher area at the bottom of the checkout process. Please note the code is case sensitive, so enter it in CAPITALS. The discount should then be applied, and you'll see that your basket total has reduced.