Album cover artwork has felt like a neglected industry in recent years, with labels keen to cut costs and our tiny iPod screens unable to do justice to full-blown Pink Floyd-like concepts. But one man continuing to exploit the medium’s potential is Leif Podhajsky.
The Australian artist and creative director has masterminded the visuals for Foals’ hotly-anticipated third album, ‘Holy Fire’, and quickly become the go-to guy for the likes of Sub Pop, Modular, Warp Records and more. “I think album artwork has lost some of its magic in the transition to digital mediums,” he says. “It used to be all about opening up a gatefold record, putting on the wax and sitting back to gaze at the album artwork. It was the key insight into a bands ethos.”
“Nowadays, it’s crept back into vogue as people realise how key it is to connecting with an audience. Visuals are usually the first thing people associate with a band or record and it has to tell the story of what’s inside. I like to think of [my job as creating] visual stories for musical adventures.”
Leif’s own adventures into album art began with Tame Impala’s debut, ‘Innerspeaker’. “Someone at Modular Records saw a feature on my work and I received an email out of the blue,” he explains. “The weird thing was that I had been fan of Tame Impala’s music for a while and actually emailed them six months prior asking if I could do some work for them.”
The cover featured many of the hallmarks of Leif’s style, from his fondness for images of the natural world, to his use of distorted colours and graphic repetitions. He is equally as influenced by album designers such as Peter Saville, Mati Klarewein and Storm Thorgerson as he is the “rainforest, ocean and mountains” that he grew up surrounded by in Tasmania and Byron Bay.
After a stint in Berlin, Leif now lives in the UK (“London is a bit like a punch in the face most days but it grows on you slowly”). Keen to find a larger audience for his work, his move to Europe coincided with a creative purple patch that has also seen him create sleeve artwork and tour posters for some of the most exciting acts of the last few years, including Shabazz Palaces, The Horrors, Peaking Lights and Grimes. “Loving the music definitely helps with pushing your work and producing the best outcomes,” he says.
In 2013, Leif is hoping to exhibit his prints around London and also launch a range of silk scarves bearing his designs. But for now he is happy for people to keep discovering his various record sleeves, then realising it is all the work of the same person. “I think this lends itself to people having a deep personal affection for the work, like finding an amazing band that is unknown,” he says. “It’s almost as if it’s your little secret.”
Lykke Li - ‘Wounded Rhymes’ (2011)
In 2010, the Swedish popstrel summoned Leif to New York to collaborate on the cover for her second LP. Monochrome, atmospheric and sparse, it neatly echoed the shift in her music.
Young Magic - ‘Melt’ (2012)
Leif created his most psychedelic and engaging design to date for this Brooklyn-based trio’s debut album, which shares its name with the artist’s own collaborative blog, Melt (www.visualmelt.com).
Foals - Holy Fire (2013)
An old shot by National Geographic photographer Thomas Nebbia proved the starting point for this cover. Leif adapted the design for the band’s boxset, single covers, posters and website.
Words: Steve Pill