Storm Thorgerson was the founding member of the British graphic art group Hipgnosis. They were responsible for some of the most iconic album covers of our time.
Roddy Bogawa is a film maker and a vinyl collector who made a documentary film about Storm’s iconic album covers and his life.
We sat down with Roddy to discuss his favorite albums designed by Storm and the story behind them.
Roddy Bogawa, 50, born in Los Angeles, lives in New York City.
What’s playing right now on your turntable?
Mantronix “Who is it?” Last night my six year old son asked for a “happy song” to dance to and I told him “Who is it?” used to be me and my roommate’s wake up song after our coffee and cigarettes (ahhh…when one smoked…). That led quickly to some J.J. Fad and ended with LL Cool J “Jack The Ripper.” We had an old school dance party last night.
What was your last purchase?
What or who sparked your love of music? Family? Friends?
Mom and Dad were the original MCs. Dad was heavy into Nat “King” Cole, Mom die hard Elvis. We had a big stereo, turntable console with flip/vent speakers on each end that I remember as the coolest thing in the living room. Mom also played piano in the house. They have to be credited also with getting me my first guitar and 35mm Canon still camera.
Led Zeppelin’s In Through the Out Door. A cover shot in a set constructed in 360 degrees. Six different versions of the cover representing the six character’s POVs. All packaged in a brown paper bag so you didn’t know which one you were getting. Graphics on the inner sleeve that when you wiped with water (like the lighter graphic swish that is on the front cover), turned to color. When I interviewed Robert Plant about this cover, he ended by saying, “All power to pomp!” which became the working title for the film for about a year.
We are here to show a very specific collection you have. A collection of records designed by Storm Thorgerson of Hipgnosis. Can you give me a short intro on who is he and what he does?
Storm was part of the British design group, Hipgnosis, along with Aubrey Powell and then later third member, Peter Christopherson (who’d go onto to start Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV, Coil, and direct music videos) who literally designed HUNDREDS of record covers. Hipgnosis in my mind spearheaded several things in vinyl record cover album design: not featuring the band on their covers (nearly 95% of the time) and really pushing the idea of album cover art to an entirely new level somewhere between commercial art and fine art. I’m sure the advertising world would love to unlock the secret to the iconic nature of the prism for Dark Side of the Moon – good record, yes, but…
Never Say Die by Black Sabbath. I was totally obsessed with this record cover when I was a teenager. The pilots look like two colorful bugs or some H.R. Giger-like creatures. It was only buying the record again a year ago that I noticed there are actually pencil drawings hidden in the sky – World War II pilots and a UFO. I told Storm I had never seen this before and he smiled. After 35 years I got it: ”Never Say Die”…Flight 19…the Bermuda Triangle…
Storm and Po were also known for “doing things for real,” that is, going to exotic locales and lugging along giant sculptures or props and doing their imagery on site rather than using archival images or “comping” them. This strategy always gave their covers a hyper-real quality and when albums were such an important object in music culture, the fact that someone could look at one of their designs over and over and see different things in them or that the viewer and listener would have work to make connections between the images and music would contribute quite a lot to the mythos and mystique of these bands. Storm continues these edicts with his new design company, StormStudios and not only continues working with many bands from thirty or forty years ago but an entire new generation of groups.
Voice for Capability Brown. During the making of the film, Chris Brokaw remarked, “You aren’t going to buy all of Storm’s designs are you?” to which I laughed. It did become apparent that I had to have the physical objects to see every detail of their design. Storm’s done a lot of great gatefold vinyl. This one has a strange quality that is enhanced by its hand-tinted color. On first glance, it looks like a landscape with train tracks running through it…
How did you get to know his work? Do you remember a specific album or event?
Probably it would have started with Pink Floyd…maybe Animals or Dark Side of the Moon. Back then records were not cheap and my friends and I would listen to them together and/or loan, trade them. Really this is one of the saddest things about how music culture has changed: emailing a link or MP3 file instead of sitting your friend down and playing them some music. Boooooring (sorry for the rant). I do have clear memories of seeing the credit Hipgnosis pop up on various records and sometimes it would be spelled differently – Hypnosis, Hipnosis – and my friends and I would wonder if this was deliberate or not. I don’t remember if there were many records with lists of production credits like those by Hipgnosis – it certainly felt like some secret team infiltrating our impressionable hormonal brains.
Atom Heart Mother by Pink Floyd. People have talked about the cow’s expression like that of the Mona Lisa or Warholian pop but I really like the composition/colors and ass-in-the-face aspect of it. No name of the band, no title on the cover AND Pink Floyd’s first number one record. Supposedly EMI did a Sunset Blvd. billboard of this. Can you imagine?
You decided to make a movie about his visionary and sometimes revolutionary work. Tell me more about this.
I was in the process of developing a narrative film and was having dinner with a friend, Chris Brokaw (Codeine, Come) who had done the score for my previous film and he mentioned visiting his friend Dan Abbott at Storm Thorgerson’s studio. I jokingly asked if Storm was a Finnish black metal singer and he mentioned the record covers of Hipgnosis which of course I remembered. I was kind of gassed to know that he was still designing, for one thing, and then Chris told me how he had just shot an image where he and his assistants dug out a stairway several feet into the sand on the beach, built some doors around the entrance and photographed it. I, of course, asked the obvious, why? We talked about Storm’s ideas of what he called “the truth of the light” and I remembered the pig balloon of Animals and the outrageous gesture of actually floating a balloon over the Battersea Power station. Over the next week, I couldn’t get this image out of my head and I got a copy of Walk Away Rene, an out of print book on the work of Hipgnosis and while flipping through it literally could not believe just how many covers of records he had done that I had in my collection. I thought, “Who the hell is this guy who shaped so much of my teenage psyche?” and started thinking about trying to do a film on Storm. The other parallel idea always in the back of my mind was the disappearance of vinyl records into the digital ether and my specific relation to all this as a filmmaker who was still working in 16mm. Beyond the immediate attraction to the possibility of being able to tell the story of how some of the most iconic record covers in the history of music were made (Dark Side of the Moon for Pink Floyd, Houses of the Holy for Led Zeppelin, Peter Gabriel, etc.), I thought I must not be the only one that laments the loss of the vinyl format as an object and what it meant to one’s identity. Even though vinyl records were mass produced, I think there’s a real difference between mass production and the digital realm of endless reproducibility, manipulation and subsequent disposability of media that we now have very rapidly adopted. I never wanted the film to be nostalgic but I did want it to get at these issues through the story of Storm’s creativity and artistic vision.
And here’s the back side…Double hah!
There’s the Rub by Wishbone Ash. Proof that Hipgnosis and Co. weren’t sexist in their selection of crotch shots. I’m pointing at the spot on this good fellow’s pants where some of the color of the ball has “rubbed off”
In the process you got to meet quite a few of the artists he worked with. They were very keen to participate and praise him. Tell me a few anecdotes.
What’s interesting is that Storm lives up to his name and is not only a force of nature but someone who works harder at what he does than one can imagine. One thing Storm always says is that he is trying to “parallel” the music, not illustrate the lyrics or title and so he has to put a lot of thought and production into the execution of an image that is indeed a work of art on its own. All the musicians were incredibly generous and while they all “praised” him, they also talked about creative arguments which you can imagine occur when you have such a strong persona creating a visual for your music. The one thing that was always apparent was a deep sense of admiration and respect for Storm and my feeling is that admiration is not a quality that is very present in the music industry so this was kind of fascinating. You also have to note that the vinyl record was and is so important to musicians – either they established themselves with vinyl releases or as an upcoming band you aspire to be able to do vinyl releases as well as digital – and so thus the film also involved a very big part of their identity. I shot on 16mm film which was also an interesting facet of the interviews as they realized they couldn’t just babble endlessly. Before I rolled camera, I would talk with them about my ideas or whatever for a good half hour while setting up to build a comfortable rapport and then it’d be like “okay, we’ve got eleven minutes…or at most twenty-two,” one or two cans of 16mm film. Robert Plant said this great thing – ”I see Roddy…so you only want diamonds out of me.” On another level, musicians are so used to just talking about themselves all the time that to have them talk about someone else related to their work and career put a different spin on the dynamic.
Peter Gabriel Car. P.G.’s first solo album after leaving Genesis and a really simple beautiful design. Storm told me this was his car and they sprayed water with a hose and that was it…Except that when the photo was printed, Storm had an assistant scrape each and every highlight of the water droplets with an Exacto blade through the emulsion to the bare paper to give it another layer graphic quality.
The photos of the album go from the front of the car to the side and get closer and closer to P.G. until this last inner shot with the window down. His eyes aren’t manipulated with re-printing or compositing technique but rather mirrored contact lenses that he put in.
Making the film was a pretty surreal experience and I’ve half seriously said that while the film took three years of production, it was in pre-production for twenty-five. There are way too many stories to relate but here’s a good one. I had been trying to get an interview with David Gilmour from Pink Floyd for several months and while Storm and David grew up together in Cambridge and they have remained friends for nearly forty years, Storm would always hesitate to talk with him about the film – even to the point that one time I was in London in a taxi with him WITH a camera and he was talking on the phone to him and still didn’t mention I was there! But finally David agreed and at that moment, I said to Storm, “Okay, now I’ve got to interview Robert Plant.” Storm hemmed and hawed but I told him that I was booking a ticket. I took a walk and ended up in Norman’s Sound and Vision, a record store near St. Mark’s Place (Norman actually ended up letting me shoot there, sadly the store is now gone) and thought I should pick up the Robert Plant / Alison Krauss CD to give it a listen. I kid you not, but the exact moment that I touched the CD, the store worker started blasting The Song Remains the Same over the store sound system. I was creeped out by that enough to even tell the woman and she kind of laughed. Then as I was heading out the door, my phone rang and it was Storm and the first thing he said was “Robert’s in.” Over the three years of production, there were many instances like this that made me think that Storm’s cosmos is pretty wild. He believes in numerology but not UFO’s and basically gave me free reign based on his “vibe.” I kind of let you, Eilon, have free reign with me for the photos here based on our vibe so it continues…
This album has been one of the earliest works. While the sleeve cover is eye catching and intriguing, as most of his future work, the inner sleeve is pretty dull and ‘normal’.
This cover design for Quatermass, an early prog-rock band, definitely references science fiction – some nod to their name – but also demonstrates many of the graphic and optical techniques Storm and Po used throughout their careers. Pre-photoshop, the prehistoric birds are printed at various sizes and then stripped into the mirrored image of the futuristic buildings (maybe the same that will show up in Yes’ Going For the One from Century City in Los Angeles) and then re-photographed to combine the surfaces and then most likely a bit of photo re-touching after the fact to clean up edges, etc. This type of thinking would lead to all kinds of physical interventions on their images – printing through various cheesecloth, airbrushing atop photo surfaces, bleaching, baking (yes they even put pictures in ovens), tearing, etc. proving that any technique was up for grabs to get at the idea. By the way, the interior design is NOT from Quatermass but from Argent’s Ring of Hands. Storm and Po didn’t take these band shots and my guess would be that they couldn’t be bothered. At the time, they were cranking out so many covers that probably they gave into the band’s wishes to have pictures of them inside. Many times, Storm told me that they would take pictures of musicians because they would say, “Hang on, you’re doing our cover and you’re not going to photograph us?” and shove them into their filing cabinet or sometimes even pretend to take pictures with no film in the camera. When they did take pictures of musicians, they were actually very good at it and a year or so ago I convinced Storm and Po to reconsider these shots and we’ve done a book together only of portraits – it’s going to be the anti-Hipgnosis book.
Keep Yer ‘And On It by String Driven Thing. Only Storm and Co. could make squeezing some toothpaste in extreme close up so prurient. Has the “look” of commercial photography save for the naughty undertones that would never make it past the company censors.
What’s your personal favorite cover?
That’s an almost impossible question to answer but I do like this little known cover, August Everywhere for a band called Blinker the Star that has an ice swan sculpture sitting and glistening in the hot sun of Death Valley. There’s something about that image that encapsulates a real poetic beauty for me. There’s a real emotional pull. Wish You Were Here for Pink Floyd with the burning businessman was a good one. Spent a lot of time staring and projecting into that. But…there’s too many. Wake Up and Smell the Coffee for the Cranberries, Chrome for Catherine Wheel, Atom Heart Mother for Pink Floyd, Go 2 for XTC, Never Say Die for Black Sabbath…
Go 2 by XTC. This is certainly one I love – just text explaining the function of the album cover a la Joseph Kosuth word piece (“This is a Chair”). Storm said that it was originally designed for Pink Floyd who rejected it along with 10cc, Yes, and loads of other bands and when XTC heard that, they exclaimed, “Even better! We’ll have it”.
The back cover explains that it’s function is to give information about the making of the record, etc. and the text is broken up and must be matched with one side of the inner sleeve. A choice line from the back – “Lastly we would like to make it clear that this is a product of Geffen Records, partly because they wanted us to and partly because it is a legal necessity”.
Storm is still active these days. Has he given up to technology? Is he using Photoshop these days?
Fairly recently, Rupert Truman, who does the photography in StormStudios bought a digital back for his Hasselblad camera and only a year or so ago, bought a digital SLR. Storm does use Photoshop, mostly for re-touching and some bits of “comping” now though the rule is still to shoot all the bits and pieces onsite, “for real”, so it still means travelling to specific locations (they did a recent Biffy Clyro LP in Iceland) and using various prop houses or fabricators to make things for them. Technology makes certain processes easier for sure but Storm still proclaims that the computer on his desk is nowhere near as creative or fast as the computer in his head.
Edgar Broughton Band / In Side Out. This LP is die cut like a “Chinese wallet,” that is that the three bands of paper allow it to open in either direction revealing four different images This is the “normal” fold out.
…with the band posing “inside” the city scape. Notice the panels.
If you reverse the fold of the record, it creates this pattern of the wall and the band magically on the inside of the cover is now “outside” in a country landscape. I would claim this is the ONLY record cover I know of with this design element.
What’s the plan for the movie?
Almost as disturbing as the meltdown of the music industry is the banality of the film distribution world now. When the film premiered at South By Southwest, Storm, Rupert, and I were there along with the editor of the film, Karen Skloss, who lives in Austin and besides four screenings of the film, we did a lecture at the Blanton Museum where I showed outtakes from the film and Storm did a performance (everyone in the audience held cut out stars in front of their eyes and were photographed by Rupert), a book signing and presentation at Domy Books, interviews at the rock radio station, an after screening party at the Spiderhouse where we had some of Storm’s images up in the windows and both Karen’s band, Black Forest Fire, played along with …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead and at which my wife sold five dollar raffle tickets and Storm gave away a silk screen print between the bands. Absolutely mad!!! If I hook up with a film distributor, this would be what I’d want to do, otherwise, I’ll end up doing it myself. I didn’t want to do a DIY type thing but I also don’t want to give the film to a company that’s going to sit on it for their library or just put it on Itunes. There’s about a week’s worth of outtakes so there’s a lot of possibilities.
In Deep by Argent. I like this cover a lot…the band taking a plunge together. Storm told an amazing story how one of the band members was too embarrassed to let anyone know he didn’t know how to swim and had to be pulled from the pool gasping and sputtering water.
Robert Fisher was the in house designer at Geffen Records and did some great covers including Nevermind and also Odelay for Beck. I read an interview that he was obsessed with Hipgnosis when he was young, even building the object from Led Zeppelin’s Presence in an art class. When I read that, I couldn’t help but put two and two together…
Mentor. Was there a particular person who inspired you to collect records, a role model in the art of record collecting?
I must say that perhaps if there was anyone who got me into collecting, it was the record store employees that I knew back in the day – the Rhino Records staff (even the original owners who used to be in the store), kids who worked at Vinyl Fetish on Melrose, and all the other shops I’d frequent with my friends. Record stores were great to hang out in, listen to new releases, talk about music you didn’t know about but “might probably like.” I don’t know how many records I bought back then just on store recommendations that turned out to be amazing. If I thought hard about it, I’d have to say it was intertwined with the whole punk scene at a particular moment – you were the same age as the bands you were seeing, the record shop workers were the same age as you, etc. and there was a real excitement about finding “new stuff.” The Other Music shop staff are like that still, real music heads who genuinely believe in the project. I was really at one point obsessed with getting all the different imports, 7-inch singles, different covers, etc., that would get released, some with hidden tracks or bonus 45s. To learn about this stuff, you needed someone that really was in the know.
Going For the One / Yes. I never was a fan of Yes but I liked this cover for the photo montage and line drawn graphics overlay and it seemed to resonate with the earlier design for Quatermass so I got it on eBay. When it showed up, I couldn’t believe it. Triple gatefold! I can only remember maybe two other albums that were triple gatefolds – we’re talking 36” x 12” baby…
What do you want to happen to your collection when you check out?
My son, Kaleo, has already claimed my records.
Who would you like to see profiled next on Dust & Grooves?
Rodney Bigenheimer. I used to stay up to listen to his shows on KROQ in Los Angeles. I remember the show when he called Sid Vicious up on the phone and when he played Van Halen demos or the first single from X. Must have amazing vinyl collection…
Roddy will be talking about his movie and play some of his favorite records at the Dust & Grooves Culture Club event “For the Love of Vinyl” @ Noise Pop Festival, San Francisco. Saturday March 2nd. 3 PM
Learn about the movie “Taken by Storm” here: www.takenbystormfilm.info