Rian Hughes interview 26.05.11
Today we talk to Rian Hughes, designer of the beautiful Moments From Eden EP package.
All photos and artwork by Rian Hughes (unless otherwise stated), reproduced with kind permission.
EV: How familiar were you with Ultravox ahead of being asked to produce artwork for their 'Moments From Eden' EP? If you weren't that familiar with their work, what songs / albums did you listen to, to get a feel for the music?
RH: I was very familiar. I bought 'Vienna' and 'Rage in Eden' when they came out, and loved them. I was a big fan of their early Ure-era sound. I retroactively sought out 'Systems of Romance' and the Foxx-era releases too. I was at art college when 'Lament' came out, and vividly remember the back square on white ground Suprematist appropriation that was the teaser poster.
EV: How were you approached for this project?
RH: Midge emailed me, out of the blue. He'd seen some work on my site which appealed to him, so dropped me a line.
I actually thought it was an old friend who still ribs me about my liking for futurist synth, so replied in a somewhat flippant manner (I think I asked if they were going to grow the pointy sideburns again), then that evening realised it probably WAS Midge! So I followed it up the next day with a more professional email. Midge, of course, being a gent, was unfazed. "That's not all I'll have to regrow", I think he said.
A lot of my more interesting work tends to happen in this fashion. Of course, I was flattered and excited to be asked.
Billy, Midge and Chris with Moments From Eden
EV: What sort of brief were you given?
RH: There are four tracks on the EP, so I looked back at the lyrics and the band's themes from the period when they were written. I wasn't actually given a brief, as such, but I did made some recommendations as to what it should look like that went down well. They were very trusting and hands-off.
EV: The imagery used is very industrial and architectural. The band have gone an architectural route before with 'Quartet', 'Monument' and 'Reap the Wild Wind'. Was this a particular request part of the original brief, or borne from your impressions of the band and their music?
RH: The clichéd route for Ultravox reissues from this period tends to be classical statuary, borrowed from the 'Vienna' single, which I thought was a lazy route to follow. The tracks on the EP - 'New Europeans', 'Herr X' especially - come from that time before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and so the photographs are mostly from Berlin - the East Berlin radio tower, the West Berlin Haus der Kulturen der Welt - that represent an optimistic modernism. 'New Europeans' is probably my favourite Ultravox track, and touches on the opening up of culture at that time. Haus der Kulturen der Welt - Culture | berlin.unlike
I think Ultravox during this period managed to look both back and forwards at the same time. Forwards in that they were using new technology and new sounds, back in that with Billy's classical strings the romantic echoes of classicism were there too. A strange marriage, but one that worked. We are now at a point where we can be nostalgic about the future, which is a strange place to be.
EV: The 'Moments From Eden' EP is very plush - gatefold sleeve, 10" red vinyl, CD, embossed sleeve… What informed the decision to do something so radically different from their previous artwork? Was there also a desire to present something more tangible than simply 'a piece of paper behind a clear plastic CD case'?
RH: I think vinyl releases are now, in the day of the digital download, more a collector's or promotional item rather than a mass delivery mechanism. So it's possible to design something quite special and luxurious, as the target audience is mainly those who very much appreciate the effort.
EV: What's the process been like working with them?
RH: A real pleasure. I was very happy they liked what I came up with.
EV: It's a nice touch to see that the figure ('Herr X'?) who features in among the artwork is wearing a 'Rage in Eden' pin on his lapel.
RH: Yes indeed, well spotted.
EV: How did that detail come into being?
RH: I like to add small details for the observant. It's a design tick of mine. Little rewards for paying close attention.
EV: Have you ever read Dean Motter's 'Mister X' comic (which notes Ultravox's 'Mr X' as an influence)?
RH: Yes, and I know Dean personally, and know he was inspired by the song. I tip my hat to the red/black colour scheme of the first issue of the Mr X comic on the back of the sleeve - how could I not?
EV: A lot has been made about the 'marquis artwork'... Can you please explain what it is in the context of this release?
RH: I presume that's the limited print. It's a design derived from the sleeve - it takes the design approach just a little further into a poster.
EV: The diamond shapes in the EP artwork bring to mind the 'Rage in Eden' tour stage set, and also the cover of the 'Rage in Eden' album. Was that intentional, to provide a note of familiarity to the design?
RH: No, coincidence! I just had a look at the 'Rage in Eden' sleeve, with Peter Saville's Hervé Moran-derived design, and can see what you're alluding to, but it was actually entirely coincidental. A happy accident.
Peter Saville and Rian Hughes, taken at the book launch of 'Reasons to be cheerful - the life and work of Barney Bubbles' by Paul Gorman. Photograph by Michael Daks, reproduced with kind permission.
EV: What's the significance of the 'MCMLXXX / MCMLXXXI' logo (beyond '1980 / 1981') - does it pertain to Ultravox, or more specifically to yourself? It does look 'slightly reminiscent' to the 'Device' logo...
RH: It's simply the period the originals came out (I am probably now going to find out I got this wrong...)
EV: Some artwork was shown a while back which had a photograph of Ultravox taken from the video for the 'Passing Strangers' single. Was the intention for the artwork to feature images of Ultravox?
RH: Midge (and the band) were of the opinion the band shouldn't appear on the artwork, and in retrospect I agree. That photograph is actually composed of several screen grabs from different shots from the video - it's kind of a recreated group shot that never happened.
EV: Do you have any 'in-progress' / 'alternative' artwork which we could see / use as part of this interview and elsewhere on the website?
RH: Yes, I will have to dig into the files!
Concept art 1:
Concept art 2:
EV: The photographs used in among the artwork are credited to yourself. Where and when were they taken?
RH: Berlin, around 2006, when I was there for the Typo Berlin design conference.
EV: You've used a very specific font ('Korolev') for the artwork. Did this font already exist, or was it created especially for this project?
RH: It's one of my own design. If you go to the news page of my site and scroll down a few pages, there's a background PDF on its design, showing working drawings and historical reference. It's based on an anonymous Communist designer's type, and seemed relevant in form and evocation.
EV: Was there a particular reason why the lyric lines to 'Herr X' were presented in English, while the song itself was sung in German?
RH: You know, you're the first to point that out. Only that all the other lyrics were in english and I wanted them to sit cohesively as a whole.
EV: The Thin Wall has been made available as a digital download via iTunes. Was this ever going to be part of the CD / vinyl version of the EP?
RH: No, that was always an extra for the digital download.
EV: We've also heard a rumour that you're also working with Ultravox on artwork for their forthcoming album. If that's the case(?), then is the artwork for 'Moments From Eden' a taster of what's to come?
RH: My lips are sealed...
EV: Thanks for answering our questions, Rian. Hopefully we'll be speaking to you again soon...
Rian Hughes: www.devicefonts.co.uk
Below: New York City