August 1st, 2013
Figment player frizbee recently sent me a great post on FontMeme that provides info on the fonts used on a variety of rock and pop album covers. Simply click on the album cover and you’ll get a full explanation of the font used and the ability to download it for free! Pretty cool right? But it doesn’t end there, no siree! They also have fonts for everything from car logos to food and even movie posters. FontMeme is a great site if you’re looking to mimic the look and feel of your favorite band logo, etc., so stick it in your tool belt. Thanks frizbee!
July 23rd, 2013
When I think Guitar God, one of the first guitarists that leaps to mind is Jimmy Page. After all, this is the guy who as a top session guitarist in the 60′s played on hits as diverse as The Who’s first single “I Can’t Explain”, Tom Jones’ “It’s Not Unusual”, the garage-blues classic “Baby Please Don’t Go” by Them”, and even “Goldfinger” by Shirley Bassey. He followed that up by taking Eric Clapton’s place in The Yardbirds, playing alongside childhood friend Jeff Beck. And then there was Led Zeppelin, the band he formed, guided and helped turn into one of the biggest bands in the world. That’s quite a resume, but it doesn’t stop there as Page has gone on to record solo projects and soundtracks, form The Firm with Paul Rodgers, and collaborate with other musicians like David Coverdale and The Black Crowes. To say Page is a “Guitar God” is an understatement, not just because he’s such a great rock guitarist, but because as Brad Tolinski’s excellent book “Light & Shade: Conversations With Jimmy Page” (Crown Publishers, 2012) points out, Page was and is so much more.
In a series of interviews, Tolinksi, long time editor of Guitar World magazine, is able to illuminate Page’s incredible contributions to music by getting the notoriously private guitarist to talk with him about each phase of his career. While the majority of the book focuses on Page’s time at the helm of Led Zeppelin, it also sheds light on Page’s approach to music, his beliefs in Magick, and even the effect his early days in local bands and as a studio musician had on his later musical accomplishments.
The interplay between historical and personal not only make “Light & Shade” an interesting read, they also place Page’s accomplishments into context. For instance, I always knew that Page had formed Led Zeppelin, but I had no idea how involved he was in every aspect of the band’s development from their studio production to their musical direction, and even their look and stage presentation. The interviews in “Light & Shade” provide the detail to back this up, whether it’s how he spaced amps and mics to produce Zep’s signature sound, his insistence on producing and financing the band’s first album and tour before seeking a label or his ability from years of session work to play any number of musical styles, you can clearly see from his own words how influential Page was to every aspect of Led Zeppelin. But rather than depend entirely on Page to tell his own story, Tolinski also intersperses interviews with some of the musicians who have played with Page in various projects including Jeff Beck, Chris Dreja, John Paul Jones, Jack White and Paul Rodgers as well as interviews with Danny Goldberg, Zeppelin’s publicist and a longtime record industry insider, fashion designer John Varvatos, and even an even an analysis of Page’s astrology by noted stargazer Margaret Santangelo. These additional interviews provide even more detail and insight into Page’s influence on music, the record industry, fashion, and the occult.
“Light & Shade” is a book that really takes you inside its subject, and while at times it verges on hero worship, it’s hard to argue that Page is not deserving. What’s amazing to me is how little attention this great book has gotten. In fact, I might never have stumbled on to it if theHoseman hadn’t brought it to my attention on GoodReads. So thanks Hoseman, I owe you one, because “Light & Shade” is a fascinating look into the mind of one of the greatest rock musicians to ever live, and whether you agree with that declaration or not I highly recommend you read it.
July 15th, 2013
Figment is a social game. It requires you to build fan bases and then consistently release great albums to keep those fans. Most players tend to take a while to figure out what works and what doesn’t, but some seem to know just how to strike the right chord (pun intended) from minute one. Raybo definitely fits into the latter category of player. His bands are well developed, have strong visual identities, and are just out-there enough to be totally believable. So how does he do it? We asked him…
Figment News: Tell us a little about yourself.
Raybo: I’m a single (read: divorced) dude living in Phoenix, AZ; a move I made to be in closer proximity to my 10 year old daughter. I have a couple of different businesses that keep me busy right now, one of which is a digital production house that specializes in promotional videos for company websites.
FN: So you work in video production? How has working in a visual medium helped you to play Figment?
Raybo: It’s interesting because I find that FIGMENT allows me to be creatively focused in a more personal way. When I’m working on video projects for customers, while it entails me adding my own creative flare, it is essentially someone else’s baby. FIGMENT enables me create virtual landscapes that are completely mine. I just killed off a lead singer (Mowgli Marsh of FETALUS) of a band I really enjoyed creating, just because I liked the idea of it. This medium helps my other work because it reminds me that the only limitations that exist are the ones I put on myself.
FN: Is it true you worked on reality shows in the past?
Raybo: Yeah, I worked in reality television for over a decade. I went out to Los Angeles to work in motion pictures after college and discovered very quickly that working your way up the ladder in the film world is akin working your way up from hospital custodian to surgeon. It’s been done before, but it ain’t fucking easy. So, I essentially switched over to television for the dental plan, starting with The Rosie O’Donnell Show. From there, I bounced around several other Warner Bros. reality shows before pigeonholing myself in the cop show genre. You find out really quick that working in reality TV is on par with working in porn. They’re both impossible to get out of once you’re in, but porn gets more respect.
FN: How real is reality TV?
Raybo: It’s a joke, it really is. There isn’t anything on reality that hasn’t been over-produced and manipulated in one way, shape or form. We would be in meetings with executives telling us they wanted A, B, and C to happen over the course of a season, before cameras had even started rolling. We would literally be forced to submit outlines for each episode, and if we didn’t deliver, there would be hell to pay. And it’s a small community. Everyone knows everyone else, and you move up the ranks by how good a team player you are, which is to say, how unscrupulous and manipulative you are. This is how most corporations work, but here it is even more so, because we are broadcasting lies to millions of people around the globe. Don’t even waste your time voting on any of these shows. The fix is most certainly in.
FN: If you could take one of your fake bands and create a TV show about them, which band would you choose?
Raybo: Oh, good question. I would love to delve into the world of Janie Dangerfield, surf punk goddess. That character intrigues me for a lot of reasons, the main one being the amount of trouble she would get into on a weekly basis. I would definitely tune in for that chick.
FN: How did you start playing Figment?
Raybo: A friend of mine was wearing a t-shirt with the FIGMENT logo on it and I asked him what it was. He told me about the site and I could not believe it. I’ve been coming up with fake bands, albums and song titles since middle school, so you can imagine my elation. And then when I saw the site, I was super stoked. It was a dream come true, for sure.
FN: What about the game appealed to you?
Raybo: Well, of course the album covers were a huge part of it. But having the opportunity to create whole worlds, that was huge. And then mixing it up with other Figgers, going on tour with their bands, that was priceless. The whole experience is just such a blessing for creatively minded music fans. It’s an amazing concept.
FN: King Fu and The Shank Punch Pow, Chad Phantom and The Nobody Panic, Hot Water Burn Baby, Hurricane Abel - you have a real knack for creating memorable band names. In fact, you won a Figgie for Best Band Name in 2012. How do you come up with them?
Raybo: As Jack Black once put it, “You can’t manufacture inspirado.” And I find this is exactly true. The more I try to come up with a new band name, the more it alludes me. The best band names hit me like a bolt of lightning when I least expect it, or I see something or hear something and go, shit, that would be a great band name. I can’t sit down and force a band name, it just doesn’t work like that for me. I might get part of a name through inspirado and then play with it a little until I find the right balance. But I try to let it happen organically, if that makes any sense.
FN: When you create a band what is your process like? Do you pick a genre and try to create a band that fits it or do you come up with a name first and then develop their genre, back story, etc to match it?
Raybo: The name always comes first. It’s funny because I write the same way sometimes. I’ll come up with a title for a short story and then build the story around that. There have been a few occasions where I think, I want an all-women rock band, or a punk outfit, but mostly I start with the name and go from there.
FN: You’ve had a nice run of #1 albums on the Figment Hot Albums Chart, what do you think the key is to creating a good album cover?
Raybo: It’s hard to say because I have been so blind-sided by album covers that I don’t think are my best work, reaching #1. And other covers, which I love and feel are more artistically challenging, not selling at all. I will admit that I’ve “dumbed down” my process on a few occasions because I knew what the paying public was already buying (on the site) and I wanted to prove a point, if only to myself. I know that I’m gonna take some shit for this, but FIGMENT is a great social experiment as well, and that kind of thing intrigues me, especially coming from the entertainment world. People fascinate the fuck out of me. Always.
FN: What tools do you use to create your covers?
Raybo: This is a sore spot for me, only because I am so tired of the medium I use to create covers (largely Picasa). I wanted to win that Adobe Suite so bad in this year’s cover contest, and I thought I had a pretty good shot at it too, but it was not to be, and that’s cool, everything happen for a reason. But I do get really bored with the method I am currently using and know how much more I could do if I had the tools. I am limited by my technology, in turn stifling the grand images in my head. But I’ll get there.
FN: How important is cover art to you when you are checking out a band? Fake or real?
Raybo: It used to be very important in real life, especially as a teenager perusing the record store. I am drawn to visual creativity, big time. But now, as we get further and further away from tangible albums, and videos play a larger role in the selling of musical wares, I am less swayed by the visual medium and more by the sonic landscapes that are emerging today.
I love graphic novels and old movie posters in the same way. In fact, I used to buy books solely on the cover art. I have a whole library of unread books, just because I liked the idea of the book, more than the book itself. Which is probably why FIGMENT is a perfect fit for me.
FN: Have you ever played in a real band?
Raybo: I sing and play keyboard/piano, and I’ve dabbled in music on a limited basis. I write stuff for myself all the time. When I lived in Australia, me and a few Scottish friends formed a little outfit and played a couple of parties. That was a ton of fun, but it never went any further than that. I think there’s a part of me that still believes I could be in a band, which is good because I can filter that mojo into my Figments. Delusions of grandeur, I suppose.
FN: What types of music do you listen to? Does that music ever inspire your Figments?
Raybo: I love all kinds of music but gravitate mostly towards classic rock and bands that best recreate that sound without forcing it. I love music that sounds raw and under-produced. But I love really love rock n’ roll.
My favorite bands are Zeppelin, Johnny Cash, Roger Miller, Van Halen, The Guess Who, (old) Aerosmith, Blind Melon, Ben Harper, Beck, Guns n’ Roses, Edward Sharpe, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, The Cars, Chili Peppers, Gomez, Grateful Dead, Jane’s Addiction, Buddy Holly, Blitzen Trapper, Bob Marley, Pink Floyd, John Lennon, and last but certainly not least, Pearl Jam. I absolutely love Pearl Jam. Best. Band. Ever.
FN: What are some of the real and/or fake bands that you would say have influenced your fake bands?
Raybo: Take your pick.
FN: A lot of your band’s tag lines and songs are very tongue-in-cheek. Do you think humor plays a part in your band’s popularity?
Raybo: I would like to think that, but I really think it comes down to cover art. You could have the best humor and wit in your liner notes and song titles, but unless people like your cover, they ain’t buying shit. It’s kind of a metaphor that reaches far beyond cover art in our society. Sad but true, especially considering how much time is spent working on the interior of my albums, but them’s the breaks: if you don’t reel ‘em in with your cover, you probably ain’t reeling ‘em in.
FN: What is the band, album or song title that you’re the most proud of?
Raybo: Are you really asking me to name my favorite child? I’m kidding, but it does feel a bit like that. I like bits and pieces of so many projects, but if I was hard-pressed to name my fave albums, they would probably be:
My favorite band/artist is J.T. Florence of WUN. I love that guy.
FN: Speaking of “Moonblood Symposium” by Chad Phantom and The Nobody Panic, what the story behind that cover?
Raybo: Moonblood Symposium came about by way of a short story I was working on that pertains to a rogue Apache werewolf clan. I’ve been completely drawn towards indigenous cultures my whole life and in high school I was good friends with a Native Amercian girl named, Talihina. She was gorgeous, inside and out. But Tali had a rough ride, dealing with a sexually abusive & drunken birth father, and a manic/depressive step-father who committed suicide when we were 16. I saw them as shapeshifters, unsavory men who did unsavory things when the moon flew highest in the sky. I also smoked a lot of pot.
None-the-less, beautiful Tali stood above her clan, saved by her own brilliant heart. And it left a mark on me, as you can see.
I stumbled onto the cover photo at the exact time I was compiling CHAD PHANTOM AND THE NOBODY PANIC’s debut album. Perfect synchronicity. I just looked up on my laptop screen and there it was, the best image I could ever imagine to encapsulate the story of Talihina Moonblood and her brutal brethren of fanged fury. The whole story was in that artwork, as if it had been made for it.
And the fact that the gnarling wolves were captured inside the silhouette of the girl reminded me that she was one of those cursed creatures as well. She merely decided to make another kind of choice. She gave her life for the greater good. And that choice is what defines her as a dualistic character, which in turn, I feel, defines us all.
I separated it [the image], enlarged it, colored it, and tweaked the fuck out of it. The typography had to be petite because nothing could compete with the image, nor should it. And I can see in this cover that it could easily fit on the jacket of a book, which many of my covers do. FIGMENT lets me kill two birds with one stone, filling all creative voids I keep in my mind’s attic.
Which is fucking awesome.
FN: If you could make one of your fake bands real and then join the band, what band would it be and what instrument would you play in the band?
Raybo: Well, damn! I guess if anything ever happened to ol’ Remy Holt, lead singer of KING FU, I would jump in there in a second. That’s my kind of music. And, boy, do the groupies love those guys.
FN: If someone asked you why should I play Figment what would you tell them?
Raybo: I would tell them that this is an elite group of talented folks, but one that would welcome them with open arms. All they need to bring is an unlimited imagination and a deep love of music.
FIGMENT will take care of the rest.
July 3rd, 2013
Cover-sation is a new feature here on Figment News where we’ll post an album cover from Figment and ask you what you think of it. Good, bad, indifferent? What do you like about the cover’s design? What don’t you like? How might you have approached the same cover? In short, we’ll have a conversation about an album cover design…a Cover-sation if you will…
Fait Accompli released “Malevolence” in 2009, but it remains their best selling album to date. While the band has been on hiatus for some time, this album cover has stuck with me in the 4 years since its release. How about you? Tell us what you think.
June 26th, 2013
Hello Internet, you great yawning maw that consumes our every waking moment, what do you have for us this time?
Glam rocker or Drag Queen? Take the quiz!
Interesting article from David Lowery (Cracker, Camper Van Beethoven) on why online radio and music services like Pandora aren’t being fair in how they pay royalties to bands.
And while we’re on the subject of songs, I loved this post from The Onion’s AV Club on the Best Album-Opening One-Two Punches.
Okay, so this article is from January, but let’s face it the Indiepocalypse is here!
Have you ever wondered what country is the most metal? Well find out what country has the most metal bands per capita!
And once you get there make sure you know your metal, because metal fans write letters to the editor!
Love classic album covers? How about kittens? If you answered yes to both, this Pigeons and Planes post is catnip for you!
And if you loved that last one, how about the same thing done with athletes?
Arrested Development is back, and what better way to celebrate it’s return than with fake album covers!
And Cris Shapan created these hilarious album covers that never were, but should have been!
I love architecture, so this Architizer post appealed to me.
And I absolutely loved this post on Music Machinery asking the question – Have Artist Names Been Getting Longer?
Speaking of band names, if you’re having trouble coming up with one you’ll want to use this great tool frizbee sent to me.
Larry sent me this Paste magazine article on the 30 Worst Album Covers of the 80′s and 90′s. Discuss.
Tastebuds.fm claims these are the Worst Album Covers of All Time!
And if terrible album covers are your thing you’ve got to join this Facebook Group.
I know a few of you thought the cover of David Bowie’s latest album was terrible, but it turns out David doesn’t even want his visage to appear on a new reissue of a Morrissey single. Someone’s getting shy in his old age.
Thanks to Deadspin for making Beyonce the focus of one of their recent Photoshop contests.
theHoseman recently sent me this fascinating City Page article on the legendary Minneapolis watering hole The CC Club. Definitely give it a read.
And lastly, for those seeking to use Photoshop to create their own vision of beauty, Dove got the last laugh with a Photoshop action that punked them. But in the end, their “Real Beauty Sketches” campaign while powerful also got punked, and punked, and punked.
June 14th, 2013
Figment is celebrating its 5th year in existence, and we’re happy to say that this year’s Album Cover Design Contest was a fitting way to celebrate it.
Not only did we have one of the most distinguished album cover designers in the world, Gary Burden, as our judge, but we also were able to give away an incredible prize, a 1-year subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud.
So thanks to Gary for being such an incredible judge and sharing his expertise with us, and thanks to Adobe for not only supplying such a fantastic prize, but also for being such a great partner over these past 5 years.
Speaking of the winner, let’s get to it, right? Gary has surveyed the 10 finalists and here is the winner and 2 runners up he picked from those 10.
Design by TMTYTF
Gary: This is my favorite of these ten covers because it is both an arresting image and it tells you what to expect music wise which is very important. The “punkness” of the lettering adds to that. I have always believed that if the cover art is eye grabbing in a sea of covers in a record store and causes the customer to pick it up and hold it in their hand you are half way to making the sale. Sounds crass perhaps but this is after all packaging for a product and it has a responsibility to help market the product/music. Music is in packages in stores because the artist and the company have decided to market their product/music. Though arguably album covers are art unto themselves, a package has to help sell the product contained within. Otherwise it should just be a piece of art on the wall not attached to an album of music and have no responsibility to sell anything except perhaps itself.
Design by humanblooper
Gary: I like this cover irrespective of what the musical content may be simply because it is the most beautiful and visually pleasing. I like the fade on the blue background and the consistency of the blue theme throughout. Also the type is well chosen and stays consistent with the rest of the art. It could be appropriate for many different kinds of music which is good and bad.
The Angel’s Sin
Design by algoreyou
Gary: I really like this cover even though it is not “my cup of tea” content wise just because it is very powerful, scary and has some mystery as to what the musical content might be. Or perhaps it’s obvious. For a while it was my first choice but in the end I preferred DAISY MAY because it was more relatable to me, personally.
So congratulations to TMTYTF! We’ll be in touch to get you set up with your free 1-year 2 GB subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud. We’ll also be sending you a Figment t-shirt and depositing 10,000 pieces of Lucre in your Figment account. As for humanblooper and algoreyou we’ll also be depositing 7,500 and 5,000 pieces of Lucre in your accounts respectively.
We’d like to thank Gary Burden again for taking the time to be our guest judge for this year’s Album Cover Design Contest. He’s a consummate professional and a real mensch! Please be sure to check out his work!
Lastly, thanks again to Adobe for being such a great partner year after year! You guys are the best… literally.
June 7th, 2013
Gary Burden is going to have his work cut out for him judging the finalists in this year’s Figment Album Cover Design Contest. We have a strong group of contenders, but only one designer out of the seven whose designs have made the final cut will be taking home a free 1-year subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud. So let the prognosticating begin, and check back next week to see who Gary picks as the winner and 2 runners up!
2013 FIGMENT ALBUM COVER DESIGN CONTEST FINALISTS:
Chad Phantom and the Nobody Panic
Design by Raybo
The Angel’s Sin
Design by algoreyou
Design by frizbee
King Fu and The Shank Punch Pow
Design by Raybo
Let’s Not and Say We Did
Design by poppinfresh
Design by humanblooper
Hot Water Burn Baby
Design by Raybo
Design by TMTYTF
Design by GingaNinja
Red Flames Rising
Design by TMTYTF
A special thanks to last year’s winner ChildofAlma for being part of the initial judging panel. Good luck to all of the finalists. Stay tuned for Gary’s picks!
May 22nd, 2013
Our 2013 Figment Album Cover Design Contest is in full swing with the deadline for entries looming on May 31st. The winner of the contest will receive a free 1-year subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud.
Creative Cloud brings together everything you need to create your greatest work. Membership gives you access to the very latest versions of all the Adobe professional creative desktop applications like Photoshop®, Illustrator®, and more — plus new features and upgrades as soon as they’re available. Cloud storage and file syncing capabilities allow you to reliably access your files wherever you are, even on your mobile device, and you can share concepts with fellow players, friends or clients more easily than ever.
Imagine taking your Figment band to the next level? With Adobe Creative Cloud you can! Cloud-based services let you build and publish websites, mobile apps, iPad publications, and content for any medium or device. And with Behance® integration, you can publish your customized portfolio on your own URL and plug into the world’s largest creative community to get inspired, get feedback, and find new opportunities. With Creative Cloud, your entire creative world gets its own central dashboard to keep your ideas, files, fonts, settings, notifications, desktop applications, and team members in sync.
In short, this is an incredible prize, so don’t delay enter now!
May 15th, 2013
Figment is all about creating a musical idea or figment of a band. In many ways, it is creating your own homemade records, sans music of course. That’s why a new book “Enjoy The Experience: Homemade Records 1958 – 1992″ (Sinecure Books) recently caught my attention. ”Enjoy The Experience” is the largest collection of American private press vinyl records ever amassed and presented, with over 1,000 cover reproductions spanning a 34- year span. These covers are as unique as the artists that produced them, and while some are goofy, they are inspiring if only as expressions of the personal creativity that went into their recording.
The artists presented in “Enjoy The Experience” were all serious about their music, hoped to become stars, committed themselves to record, and opened themselves up to an industry that has little time for artists they don’t see as marketable.
So what is private press vinyl, and why publish a book about these virtually unknown footnotes in recording history? We talked with one of the book’s editor’s, Johan Kugelberg, to find out.
Figment News: “Enjoy the Experience” is the largest collection of the artwork from private press vinyl ever amassed. What is a private press vinyl record?
Johan Kugelberg: It is a record produced and paid for by the artist. Home-made in its execution and usually self-distributed, i/e sold locally as in at the venue where the artist is playing, the local church, the local bar & grill etc.
FN: What type of artists created these albums?
Johan: Any kind! Lounge singers, psychedelic rock bands, Christian youth ministries, country singers, etc. etc. and on and on. People who were not deemed to have what it takes for a mainstream record deal, but who felt the desire to express themselves on vinyl LP so strongly that they did it themselves.
FN: Was it an inexpensive and easy way to get your music out if you didn’t have a record contract?
Johan: It was difficult and rather expensive, and cumbersome, the absolute flipside to loading up your songs online. There were custom record companies that advertised in the back of magazines.
FN: I see Paul Major, the rare record dealer, contributed to your book. Are these records coveted by collectors because of their limited production or the unique artists that recorded them?
Johan: Paul was the first and the greatest to document this stuff: When I started receiving his catalogues in the mid-80s they brought about one of the greatest aesthetic AHA-experiences of my life. Paul acted as an educator and a catalyst, spreading his enthusiasm to the rest of us. I love these records cuz they are fantastic, constantly reminding me of everyday life creativity far from the cultural depletion of corporate mid-management.
FN: Album cover art is a big part of the book. Where the covers designed by the recording artists themselves or were they designed for the artists by the custom record pressing companies?
Johan: There’s all kinds of examples in the book: Sometimes it is the artist, sometimes the artist is using a generic design, sometimes the cover is designed by their nephew/niece/mom/girlfriend/boyfriend/buddy at work etc.
FN: Are there any covers in particular that stand out to you?
Johan: One of the points of the book is that as you look at more and more of these record covers you come to realize that what is at hand is a vernacular: A visual everyday narrative of the hopes, dreams and aspirations of what Paul Major calls ‘real people’.
FN: Were the artists that recorded these albums purely fringe artists or did some of them go on to bigger and better things?
Johan: Calling them fringe artists is missing the point: When you perform at the local bar & grill or local church you aren’t a fringe artist, you are an artist performing at the local bar & grill or church. The intro in the book discusses this.
FN: Is there a way to listen to any of the albums presented in the book?
Johan: Yep. The book comes with a bunch of downloads, there’s also a list of our favorite jams in the book where you can Google or YouTube and find the music, there’s also a double CD double LP anthology released by Sinecure Books and Now-Again Records.
FN: What do you hope people take away from “Enjoy the Experience”?
Johan: That core sense of happy humanity that the art of everyday life can distribute.
Find out more about “Enjoy The Experience”:
May 8th, 2013
I’ve long been a fan of Gary Burden’s work without even knowing it. I’d venture to guess most of us have been, with such iconic cover designs as Joni Mitchell’s “Blue”, The Eagles’ “Desperado”, The Doors’ “Morrison Hotel”, Jackson Browne’s self-titled debut, Neil Young’s “After The Gold Rush”, Crosby, Stills & Nash’s debut record, and more recently My Morning Jacket’s “Evil Urges” and “Circuital” album covers under his belt, just to name a few. He’s a collaborative artist who has worked closely with other artists like Henry Diltz as well as the musicians whose covers he’s designed. His collaborative spirit makes him the perfect judge for this year’s Figment Album Cover Design Contest, and we’re thrilled that he agreed to collaborate with us! We recently spoke to Gary about his experiences as an album cover designer, his process, and what it’s like to have created such iconic album covers.
Figment News: You began your design career as an architect. How did you make the transition to designing album covers?
Gary Burden: I met Cass Elliot of The Mamas & The Papas, and she had just bought a home in Laurel Canyon. She asked me to design and remodel it for her. We liked each other immediately and became good friends. Once she saw and understood my visual orientation she suggested I make the album cover for The Mamas and The Papas. She said; “So what if you’ve never done it before, just do it.” Good advice and the rest, as they say, is history.
FN: What skills did you learn from the discipline of architecture that you could apply to album cover design?
Gary: In architecture I learned about creating three dimensional spaces that originated with two dimensional drawings (Plans): Three dimensional spaces I could walk around in, fully formed inside my head long before they existed in physical reality. I applied that knowledge to creating worlds within a two dimensional space inside a 12 inch square and making it live.
FN: Your work is quite synonymous with the 1960 and 1970 Southern California music scene. What was that musical community like and how did it influence your work?
Gary: Yeah! How cool is that? It was a simple case of being in the right place at the right time. I got there because of my love of music and in that moment I discovered a world I had only dreamed of. At that time I was wearing three piece suits and bow ties surrounded by very orderly uptight conservative people. Suddenly my hard edged black and white world bloomed and was filled with a profusion of color and LOVE. Also important to me, for the first time I could imbibe openly in smoke-filled rooms with my friends what I had hidden and done in secret. Smile.
FN: You began designing covers for artists like The Mamas and the Papas, Joni Mitchell and Steppenwolf among others. What was it like working for such successful acts so early in your career?
Gary: It was also early in their careers and the beginning of what became the world of rock and roll as a whole. I didn’t weigh these artist’s celebrity or what exactly that meant. I didn’t think that much about stardom. To me they were my friends who were doing wonderful things and making unbelievably great music and they invited me to come along and be a part of that with them. My contribution was making real and tangible, visually, ideas expressed in their music.
FN: How do you typically work with a client? Is there a basic process you use to determine what they want or do they entrust you to come up with the design?
Gary: It is always a collaboration. I listen to them, I listen to the music and that generally informs me what it wants to look like and say, visually. As I often say; I have never made MY album cover. I lend my expertise to a project in service to the artists and the music. It’s always about the music.
FN: What design tools do you use to create your album cover artwork?
Gary: I draw continuously. Every day I sketch and am able to look at things on paper in my sketch books before deciding on a solution. That is how I figure things out and try different possible solutions. Coming from the pre-computer/digital era and never having been interested in graphic arts when practicing architectural design I learned by doing. When I started I had to figure things out on my own. I had good taste but I didn’t know “the rules”. The beauty of that was that I didn’t know what one should never do so nothing was out of the question in solving a design problem. I challenged printers to try things they were never asked to do in more conventional work. I often pissed them off by pushing them into areas where they were uncomfortable but invariably in the end they were happy for the experience and we all learned new things, together. Now-a-days I can try every possibility on the computer before committing to the one best solution. My wife, Jenice Heo, who I work with now is not only a fine art painter but she is a whiz on the computer. I, on the other hand, am pretty much an analog person. Back in the day there were several days lag time between each step of creating a piece of art and involved other people to make prints, retouch etc. and I waited for each step to unfold before I could make my final decisions and come up with the best solution to any design problem. In many ways it was cooler then because it was very hands on work.
FN: How much interaction do you have with the musicians you work with on an album cover design?
Gary: A lot. As I said, I haven’t ever made my own album cover. I make their album covers, so I like them to participate every step of the way to the solution. I want them to love and embrace what is on their album cover. That artwork is speaking for them to the audience often before they hear a note of the music. Jackson Browne said the album cover is like an American Indian’s war shield with his personal art on it that came to him in a vision. A power object.
FN: You also collaborated for many years with photographer Henry Diltz, and continue to collaborate with other artists, like Matthew Hollings, to bring your cover designs to life. What do you look for in a collaborator, and what is the process of finding the right collaborator like?
Gary: I have a very clear vision that I have already figured out every way from Sunday before a photo shoot is set up. Unlike most projects where a photographer is a big part of providing props, locations and wardrobe for the shoot I have always done all of that myself. Certainly things happen once the camera is involved but for the most part the final result is much like what was in my head and in my sketch book long before the photo shoot. The main reason I worked with Henry and to some extent other photographers to take the actual photograph is because I was intimidated by the camera itself. I didn’t trust myself to take the pictures because what if I had the wrong exposure or forgot to put film in the camera or whatever and spent the entire day on location with no results to show for it! Nightmare! It has been the source of some frustration to me because I had to rely on a third party to capture what I was after. I did set up the location, subject etc and composed the image in the camera before handing it over to the photographer to push the button but it wasn’t like actually seeing the moment myself through the lens and firing the shot at just the moment when it felt perfect.
My friend Conor Oberst insisted that I take the pictures myself when we made a cover together in Mexico. I rented a camera and headed off to be a photographer with great reservations and a real fear of failure. The good news for me was that cameras nowadays are for the most part automatic and nearly fool proof. That photo shoot was so successful that I immediately went out and bought the same exact camera equipment I had rented. More and more I like taking the pictures myself. It gives me that last bit of control to get exactly what was in my head onto film. I love the photos I took of Jerry Lee Lewis where it was all me. BTW I am a committed fan of film not digital images. I believe there is something missing in a digital image that always lives on the film run through a camera. It’s like my love of music recorded analog and released on vinyl as opposed to digital music. Something is lost in the compression typical of digital music. That something which is the intangible “feel” and emotion of music. Neil Young says, and I believe as well; “Vinyl records sound too good to download.”
FN: Speaking of Neil Young, you’ve had a working relationship with Neil for over 40 years. How did that relationship begin and how have you maintained it for so long?
Gary: I first met Neil at Cass’s house when he had his 1948 Buick hearse parked in her driveway and I was just getting started in my new life as an art director. Long before that I used to go and see Buffalo Springfield at the Whiskey when they were the house band. We hit it off immediately but it was several years before he asked me to make a cover for him. That was “AFTER THE GOLD RUSH” and it was a great fulfilling experience. I learned a great deal about the meaning of collaboration from working with him and that has never changed in the forty five plus years we have been working together. He is a great artist, a complete artist on every level. I’d say he is one of the few real geniuses I have ever known. He also lives in the same places out in the ethers that I do and we have deep cosmic fun together. He is a very hilarious person along with being a deadly serious artist who will never let any obstacle stand in the way of him realizing his vision. He’s my friend. I bought my first home from him when he sold me his Topanga house (For exactly what he had paid for it!), he was our best man when my wife Jenice and I got married in our back yard in Malibu to the tunes of “SUCH A WOMAN”. I love him dearly and I am a better artist and person for knowing him.
FN: Collaborating can be tricky business over many years, but it seems to have only solidified your friendship. Do you and Neil ever clash over ideas? And how do you deal with it when it happens?
Gary: I wouldn’t say “clash” because as I have said I don’t make MY album cover I am there to help him make HIS album cover. Holding on to “my” idea would be a dead end street and fortunately I continuously learn from him. Some times I don’t immediately “get” what he is after but together we sort it out and we have great respect and patience with each other. In the end we continue to blow each others minds which is a great basis for collaboration and friendship.
FN: Do you collaborate with Neil and other musician’s in-person or do you use the internet to send ideas back and forth?
Gary: There is nothing like sitting in a smoke-filled room together and looking one another in the eye.
FN: So you and Neil are eye-to-eye in a smoke filled room, can you take us through the process you two go through to create an album cover? “Psychedelic Pill” for example?
Gary: The “Smoke Filled Room” was a metaphor. To explain in words the step-by-step process is difficult, but I’ll take a stab. It happens over a period of time and many telephone exchanges, and drawing from me, and mock-ups from Jenice. It starts with Neil having a vision that he shares with me. That inspires lots of ideas that I work on in drawings, lots of drawings which I edit and hone to a fine point. Then Jenice and I work together on the computer shaping it further. Then turn that back into hand made artifacts that we share with Neil. It’s like sculpture wherein you have a block of stone which you carve into and remove everything that isn’t part of the solution. Each and every cover we make is different but our process is basically the same.
In the case of “Psychedelic Pill”, Neil wanted it to be a pill. We took that as our basic mandate. First step was to find illustrators who could render a super realistic pill. We went to medical illustrators and finally found a team who could do what was needed. While the pill itself was being rendered we decided that we would put the pill in space, so we found beautiful deep space images and laid that out, then because of the nature of the package itself, three disc package, we chose different angles of the pill for each panel, and decided the order in which you would see the pill coming towards you. It took many passes but finally we had a pill that was everything we wanted so we put it where we wanted it in the background and made a mock-up which we shared with Neil. In the meantime, I found this amazing type font created in the ninth century on some religious tracts. I modified that while Jenice built the words letter by letter, then I hand colored each letter one by one, and Jenice assembled the art and that was sent to Neil for his approval. We had found the type of paper we wanted to use and finalized the package itself, then worked with our printer to prepare all of the pieces. Then we spent many days on press getting everything just right; the color of the pill, the background colors, and the colorful type. Just like that, there was a finished cover that started with Neil saying he was seeing a pill, a psychedelic pill. We insisted that we not go back to the psychedelia of days gone by but psychedelic for the Twenty-First Century. Lots of words, do you get the picture?
FN: I do. Incredible. You won a Grammy for your work with Neil on his 2009 box set “Archives Vol. 1”. How did it feel to be recognized for your work together?
Gary: I had been nominated I believe three times before winning the Grammy. How perfect it was to win with my wife and Neil. All three of us. It was very sweet and it was Neil’s first ever Grammy win! That is mind blowing. I had lost out enough times to have taken refuge in thinking that because I was not a part of the Grammy “clique” I would never win one and Neil had become known as a “Grammy grouch” because he had never won either and he was vocal about his disdain for the Grammys. That night, after the win, we both became big supporters of the Grammy award. Neil won a Grammy the next year for his music.
Gary: I cherish being an old dog continuously looking for new tricks to do. This younger, next generation, of singer/songwriters is coming from exactly the same place as the first generation of artists I worked with and it is like deja vu all over again. I continue to learn from my new brothers like Conor Oberst and Jim James and am honored that they chose me and that we share a lot of good times together professionally and personally. I am blessed on so many levels that I wouldn’t know where to begin giving thanks specifically. Suffice it to say “Thanks” for all of the gifts I have been given in my life and for the friends and collaboraters who have given me this good life and so much love.
FN: One last question about collaboration. When you worked on The Eagles debut record did you really take the band out in the desert, have them all take peyote, and then shoot the back cover shot around a fire as Glenn Frey asserts in the recent “History Of The Eagles” documentary?
Gary: Yes! I hasten to add; no one was hog tied and force fed anything. It is my belief that if you are in the desert you should be in the desert. It was a mutual agreement and what came of that commitment has certainly served the band well. No?
FN: With music moving to the digital medium, do you think there is still a place for album cover art?
Gary: OMG YES! I meet many young people who didn’t have the good fortune to grow up in the era when I started and haven’t always known album cover art but invariably they are drawn to the artwork that can come with music and they tell me they feel that they missed out on something important. I agree that they did and work hard to make sure they get an opportunity to experience visuals with their music. We actually still make vinyl packages for the artists we work with. Proof that something is missing that people still want to have a piece of is that vinyl is the only segment of the music business that is growing. People who had great cover art miss the “feeling” generated by listening to music on vinyl, pops and hisses and all. They miss holding the album cover in your hands while listening to the music and they seek that out whenever they can. Today we do little tiny images for digital releases. I’ve gone from creating in three dimensions making physical structures that you could walk around in and live in to a twelve inch two dimensional square to a five inch two dimensional square to itsy bitsy digital images. Has something been lost in all of those transitions? I think yes!
FN: What role do the record companies play in your work?
Gary: Not much. I must say that I have always had the good fortune to work with artists who were the masters of their own fate and where the companies played a very limited role. So on that level not much has changed for me. I believe that this period of time today where record labels are fast fading from view has opened many very rich opportunities for individuals and artists wherein they can have a bigger role in shaping their own destiny.
FN: But going back to The Eagles, is it true that you designed The Eagles self titled album cover to fold out to a poster, but David Geffen thought it cost too much so he had it glued together?
Gary: Yes! Glued it shut so the inside spread was upside down when you opened the cover. We shot both the front and back covers and used the images for all of the advertising and marketing.
FN: In addition to designing album covers you’ve also worked in a number of other visual mediums, including creating stage designs for a number of bands, directing music videos, producing and appearing in a documentary “Under The Covers” on your album cover art, and conceptualizing and co-producing the 13-hour Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary Show that aired on HBO and ABC-TV. Has working in these other visual mediums helped or influenced at all your work on album covers?
Gary: I have always believed that an artist can shape any medium they choose to work in and I love having the opportunity to expand my horizons and to tell stories in lots of different ways and mediums. I am a visualist and a story teller. I take pride in the fact that even though they are increasingly smaller two dimensional canvases I can tell a story with what I create. I also love having the opportunity to work larger and include extended time and dimension to my work. Over the years I have longed for the opportunity to make movies and to that end along the way I have acquired various literary properties to base motion pictures on. Finally, that is beginning to pay off and this year I will have two feature films in production; one is Edward Abbey’s THE MONKEY WRENCH GANG (1975) which I have had under option since early 1989. That film will be directed by the team of Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (Catfish and Paranormal Activity 3 & 4) which is a story about the environment we all live in that needs to be told. The world needs to know this story which will play a huge role in saving what is left of the environment. It will be a very wonderful movie that will both inform and entertain. The second film is a novel I have loved for more than sixty years and always wanted to bring to the screen; Lynd Ward’s GODS’ MAN (1929) which is a “novel without words” telling a very large and important story in 150 wood cuts. No words. It is a story based on the tale of Faust and what it means to sell yourself to the devil for material gain and power. Like Robert Johnson with his guitar at the crossroads. It puts a face on and shows the cost of greed. Eventually you must give the Devil his due.
FN: Who are some of the album cover designers whose work you admire?
Gary: There are many, so lest I forget to include anyone who’s work I admire and learn from continuously suffice it to say “Many”.
FN: You’ve created some iconic album covers over the years. What do you think makes an album cover iconic? What do you look for in an album cover design?
Gary: Telling the truth visually and good luck helps in cover art having a sustained life. I am attracted to art that challenges and informs at the same time. Timing plays a role as well because if you are in tune with the moment your visuals will resonate forever. BTW my personal favorite of all the covers I have made is Neil’s “ON THE BEACH.”
FN: What advice would you give to someone interested in designing album covers and other artwork for bands?
Gary: Follow your heart, surrender to the music, embrace collaboration and bring everything you have and can find to the table. Tell the truth and have a good time. Having a good time in doing the work even when the task at hand is deadly serious is evident in what one produces. I believe the audience perceives that and appreciates it.
FN: Is their a band, current or past, that you always wanted to work with but never got the chance?
Gary: The Beatles certainly, though I did have the good fortune to work with Paul and Linda McCartney on a book I art directed for them. In all of the years I have been making art for music I have always operated on the belief that doing good work will lead to other opportunities to do more good work. I never promoted myself or had a representative out there selling me to the world at large so I reckon there are plenty of opportunities left unclaimed by me and there are plenty of artists I would love to collaborate with before I hit the dead end on this road of life. To that end I have recently hired a representative and I am going to be seeking out those artists whose music touches me to offer my services. I believe it ain’t over until it’s over so I am forging ahead and thinking of myself as an old dog continuously in search of new tricks to do. Stay tuned.
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