Laurence Stevens kindly agreed to an interview with me, I am sure you will find it a fascinating insight into the whole creative process behind Eurythmics image. And yes, even those be yourself tonight chickens get a mention! Enjoy
UE – so Laurence, how hectic have the last few weeks been for you completing the artwork for the whole ultimate and remasters campaign?
It has been incredibly hectic over the past two months completing everything for the new ‘ultimate collection’ album campaign. We’re producing all of the designs, graphics etc ….. For the world so it has been a very busy time in order to meet the release dates. With ref to the re-design of the previous 8 x album sleeve packages. Although that project was started on over a year ago now, the fact that SonyBMG decided to release everything at the same time meant that we had to complete everything in one go which made it all very hectic I must say…….
How did you first get involved with working with Dave and Annie?
I always wanted to design album sleeves. So after gaining my BA (Hons) graphic design degree I took my portfolio of work around every record company in London. I met Annie & Dave at RCA records in September 1982, showed them my work and they asked me to design the single sleeve for ‘love is a stranger’. I have worked with them on every album & single that they’ve released since then over the past 23 years ………
Is it unusual for a creative director like yourself to have such a long standing relationship with a client? If so, what makes the relationship you have with Eurythmics so different?
Yes it is very unusual for an art director/designer like myself to work for that length of time with one client or band. The only other designer that I can think of who has achieved the same is Peter Saville for his work with the band ‘new order’ – who I admire greatly I must say. I think that Dave, Annie and myself have managed to work together for all of this time because we trust each other completely and respect one another. In any working relationship you have to create a mutual understanding, and both Annie and Dave are really excellent in letting me do my job as their designer. They give me as much freedom as I want. Also we have become very good friends over the years, so really working on a new project with them is always very exciting and interesting creatively for me. I also love them both very much and love what they do as a band so it’s always great to team up with them and work together on a new release. I can’t believe that it’s been 23 years of working together, I feel that we’ve only just got going ………
Could you explain to us exactly what the role of creative director actually means.
My role as the ‘Eurythmics’ art director/designer [or for any of the other bands that I design album cd packaging for] is to create a visual image for the band’s album sleeve. This image/graphics will form the basis of the packaging for the new songs that the band are releasing. I need to create a visual style or brand for the artist that can be used to advertise their new album and will be seen around the world to promote the visual style and look of the band. These design ideas can come from the title of the album or from one of the songs from the new record. This work takes the form of commissioning the photographer and working with him on art directing the photo-shoot based on the visual ideas and ‘looks’ that I have discussed with the band. The whole creation of the sleeve design involves a number of people including myself and the photographer, there is the artist, stylist, hair and make-up team, props, set build, location scout, digital retoucher, photographer’s assistants etc ……..
Once the photo-shoot has finished. I then have to decide which images will be right for the album or single design. I do this by creating a series of mock-up design visuals to show the band and we then discuss the various design options, based on the band’s choices from the photo-shoot.
How does the process work with D&A, are you involved very early on in a single or album release, video shoot etc., or is do you get involved at a later stage.
It varies from album to album. Each project is different. Sometimes I will sit down with Annie and talk about the new look and feel for the album. Sometimes I will present ideas to them based on the album title. Sometimes we will see a photographer’s work and feel that it’s right for this album. I don’t always get a chance to listen to all of the songs because normally the album is still being recorded while I am working on the album sleeve design. For example, the new single sleeve for the song “I’ve got a life” was designed by me in London while Annie & Dave were in la recording the song and I worked with a photograph that they had already taken in la. Dave sent me the image and said that they wanted to use that for the single sleeve. I presented them with a series of designs while they were recording the track and they chose the design that they wanted to use from my visual ideas even before the song had been finished. In fact it was originally going to be called i’ve got a life [it’s the only thing that’s mine] and that’s what appeared on the first single sleeve designs that I presented to Annie & Dave!
With the work you have done on the Remasters series, you must have had chance to reflect on your own collection of work, as D&A have. What is your lasting impression of the work you have produced.
It has been strange and exciting, re-designing album sleeves that I originally designed some 20 odd years ago for the band. Especially as some of those album sleeves weren’t designed using a mac computer, but were designed on the dining-room table in my father’s house …. Before computers were available to designers. The album cover for ‘sweet dreams [are made of this] will always be an important sleeve for me because it was my first ever album sleeve to design and it spawned Eurythmics’ biggest and most well-known hit song. Both ‘we too are one’ and ‘peace’ are favourite covers for me as I loved working with both Jean Baptiste-Mondino and Richard Avedon who took the album sleeve images. The photographs were fantastic to work with as a designer. And also for ‘peace’ album to not have a picture of Annie on the front cover was creatively very interesting to work on for me. Of course I also like the album cover for ‘touch’ as it’s so well known as an album sleeve. And for the fact that all of the type and lettering for that sleeve was designed by hand, and still looks good today. Also with the re-issue project, it allowed me to go into the vast Eurythmics archive that I have put together over the past 20 years, and pull -out unseen images to include in the new cd booklets for the old albums. I have so much material we could have made each album sleeve booklet at least 40 pages …….
What is your favourite project \ least favourite project you have worked on for D&A
Please see my answer above. I don’t have a least favourite ‘Eurythmics’ project, they’ve all been incredible to work on. Both Dave and Annie make each project that we work on together very interesting and exciting. And also it’s a lot of fun working with them.
Do you look back critically at work you have completed and think I wish i’d done that differently etc.
No I can’t say that I do. You do what you can at the time, with the budget that you have, and the deadlines that you have to work towards. As a designer a lot of what you do is ‘problem solving’. You have to take on board all of the elements as they are presented to you and put them together – on time, within budget, correctly and with the approval of the artist. So there is a lot more involved with putting a sleeve together that just coming up with an idea for the front cover! I take great care in every aspect of the artworks that I produce, even down to the size of the catalogue number on the sleeve and to the exact positioning of the barcode on the package. So i’m very critical of my own work at the time, but not after the event.
We know that there has been withdrawn artwork for Be Yourself Tonight and the King and Queen of America, are there any other gems hidden away in the LSD studio archives?
As I said earlier, i’ve kept absolutely everything that I have ever produced for Dave and Annie in the way of designs, logos, photographs, mock-ups, visual designs etc ……. Over the past 23 years. Including all of the design & artworks that I have carried out and produced for their solo projects as well, including the work that I created for both of Annie’s hit solo albums ‘diva’ and ‘medusa’. So yes there are some incredible ‘gems’ as you say. But I wouldn’t call it ‘withdrawn’ artwork. Dave and Annie have never compromised on their visual style and hopefully I haven’t either on the designs that I’ve created for them. One example of this is the sleeve for ‘be yourself tonight’ that you refer to. We did do a photo-shoot for the original album cover of ‘Be Yourself Tonight’ which showed Annie & Dave wearing ‘bird masks’, it looked great but was too controversial at the time. We ended up shooting the sleeve in LA for 5 weeks. None of those images worked out. And Dave ended up taking the picture of Annie that appears on the front of the ‘BYT’ album sleeve off of a monitor screen in the chairman’s office at rca in London! So it wasn’t as though the original idea was rejected, it just changes over the period of the album project. And also like a lot of creative people, both Dave & Annie change their minds during a project because they are always looking to get the best image and style for that particular album.
Some fans have commented that the artwork and design for the ultimate collection and i¹ve got a life is too simplistic and designwise, it is not as strong as other projects, can you comment on how you arrived at the designs that have been ultimately approved, and what your design brief was?
I don’t know about ‘simplistic’, but it’s a huge comment for me to say that my design work is ‘minimalistic’ …….
I’d love to use a lot more white space on some of the cd packages that i’ve designed. I’m always trying to be pure with the design elements that I have to work with, photograph, title and artist name – that’s it.
“I’ve got a Eurythmics life” speaks for itself. As a designer i’m always striving for the notion that ‘less is more’. For example a ‘red star’ on a white b/ground says Eurythmics to a lot of people and fans, that minimal approach takes 20 years to achieve for any band. The simplicity of design makes it honest and pure. Now that could be a safety pin in a picture of the queen, or an image of ‘lips & tongue’ as used by the stones, or a swastika as used by ………….. Never underestimate the power of a strong institutional image. Trying to make it simple is the hardest thing, the hardest thing, it would be great to have a sleeve for eurythimics without their name or title on. What about the beatles ‘white album’ or peter saville’s work for ‘new order’, or for that matter the wonderful album sleeve for [ ] sigor ros’s last album, no album title not even any song titles on the package, absolutely brilliant, beautiful and fantastic to look at, gorgeous ‘simplicity’. All design is subjective, and i’m sure that relates to the sleeves i’ve designed for Eurythmics ……. So to say that the new sleeves are ‘too’ simplistic, in my opinion is quite frankly crap. They don’t know what they’re talking about, they need to get out more ……… They need to listen to more ‘john cage’ and to view more of ‘donald judd’s’ work to understand what it’s all about. We’re not creating disposable ‘pop’ packaging here, this is art/work and is incredibly important.
Have you ever argued with D&A over a design, where you preferred one design over another? If so who won the argument!
No, I can honestly say that in all this time we have never argued over the design of anything, or ever argued full stop. Life’s too short to argue, doesn’t achieve anything in a design process. Of course you discuss the design options etc ……… But i’m always trying to get the best for Annie and Dave in whatever I produce for them so we sometimes have ‘creative’ discussions about certain things but never arguments. An album sleeve will be in a person’s record collection for a long time so it’s incredibly important that we get it right.
I have to ask, do you enjoy Dave and Annie¹s music, and is this an important factor in the long relationship you have with them?
Yes i’m a huge fan of Dave and Annie’s music, and think that Eurythmics are an incredibly important band and I don’t feel that they’ve ever really received the respect that they deserve as performers and songwriters. I love their music and always get excited when they’re working on new songs. Often the first time I hear a new track is when Dave plays me the song down the phone …….. If it sounds good then I know that it’ll be a huge hit.
Finally, do you have any interesting anecdotes or stories about D&A that you can tell us?
Yes I have loads of amazing stories about my relationship with both Dave & Annie over the years. We’ve been working together for such a long time that you couldn’t fail to collect stories, especially working with Dave! But there are too many to mention here, you’ll have to wait for when the book comes out !!!!!!
Laurence, thank you very much for your time this evening, our readers will really appreciate your answers tonight!