Sometimes I ask myself: What would a record be without its cover artwork? What would music be without its concert posters and flyers? What would it all be without the wonderful work of some artists? Well, I think that there would be still much left over, because the most important aspect of music is the music itself. But there is no getting around the fact that the visual aspect plays a role that is not to be underestimated in the history of music whether it is punk rock, heavy metal, psychedelic rock, hard rock or rock 'n' roll to name but a few. Some artworks and band symbols have reached an iconic status such as MotÃ¶rhead's Snaggletooth or the four bars of Black Flag. All this has become an integral part of pop culture. It becomes evident that visuals are a part in our sonic world that we can no longer do without.
One of these highly gifted artists is Alexander von Wieding. I discovered his work a couple of years ago with the help of Small Stone Records, because he has done a lot of artworks for Detroit's heaviest record label. His drawings are really inspired and inspirational and continuously surprise me with a wide variety of styles. Added to this is a good flair for the music. While some artists keep repeating themselves, Alexander von Wieding tells a story with his paintings. And it's always a different story. Our talk gives an insight into his fascinating world, his philosophy and working methods. So, be prepared for an in-depth interview.
Hello Alexander! What brought you to drawing in the beginning? Please, give me a simple biography.
Hi Klaus. Nice to meet you. I was born in Heidelberg, grew up in a small town in Lueneburg Heath and studied communication design, where I tried to bring in my drawing skills whereever I could. Been living with my wife and kids in Hamburg now for about eleven years, and working as a freelance illustrator for the ad industry â€“ and doing album artworks for about 6 years. Oh, honestly, I can't remember the exact beginning of it anymore. That must've been in earliest years.
What I do remember is, that I started to re-draw Disney characters when I was about 4 or 5 years old. From what I remember, people were impressed by what I did, so it must've been quite okay scribblings. Haha. Well, Disney stuff was soon replaced by superhero stuff (Spider-Man, Batman... like the usual suspects; and the Masters Of The Universe), and then Heavy Metal Magazine alongside some mangas made quite an impression on me and to what I drew.
Oh yeah, the good old Marvel stuff. Your covers always feel like they coming right out of a page of the story. Do you agree and if so, what's your process for making this happen?
Thanks! That's about what I always try to achieve with my album covers. Not only make it an eyecatcher, but make it stand out on its own. The theme of an album cover is always ruled by the substance of the music that it represents of course. My approach differs on if the band/artist already have/has some ideas for the visual appeal of the artwork or not. The rest is just me trying to interpret the substance of the album. For that, I love to work directly "on" the music. That means, I get some rough mixes or pre-listening tracks, and then I basically put that on headphones, switch off the light, and see what images the music makes appear in my mind. So, basically, it's some sort of "spiritual channelling"... haha. It's a hit-and-miss game, but my strike rate is quite good.
Usually, the essential theme of an album, even if it's hidden sometimes, is in that way transferred into visuals/illustrations. One of those "hits" is the double-cover artwork for Ironweed's 'Your World Of Tomorrow'. It took some time before I had the exact cover envisioned, but then it directly hit the spot. Like you do with your album reviews, I need to give the music some time to breathe and unfold in my mind before it creates THE image for itself. But then sometimes, the first song strikes, splashed out the idea and there you go. That's usually what I love most. There's of course also people coming to me with a very certain idea.
The basic idea for the 'Dronolith' (by Blackwolfgoat) cover for example, was brought to me by Darryl (the man, the guitar wizard, behind Blackwolfgoat) himself. He had the vision of a white roses-bouquet before a white background, so that you only could see the thorns and the green of the stems. I thought that was a badass idea, not only because the visual concept I could work this into was so contrary to the doom/drone tunes of the album, but also because it was of such pure simplicity and beauty - reduced to the essence. Since that was SO representing the music (Darryl "only" layers guitar over guitar and makes a song out of it; which he turned into an artform if you ask me), we had a goer. Yeah, and then there's also the cases, where the band comes to me with an idea for an artwork... but I simply can't get it to work... until I realize that it might NOT be the artwork to the album â€“ at all.
By that time, I go back to "channelling" mode, trying to see what the music itself tells me, and trying to forget "version 1.0". That's, for example, how the artwork for Mangoo's 'Neverland' came together. I'm the one responsible for the shroom. Guilty as charged. I'm sorry (I guess). Haha. But those tunes were SO screaming for an oldschool 70s prog-era visual, and the lyrics gave the hints to it... it just had to be this way.
(Above: A small selection of Alexander's cover artworks. As usual, click to enlarge)
What kind of technique do you use?
Usually, it's a little bit of everything. Like, whatever fits the concept best. My "channelling" still (and will always) take place in the real world. Ball pen and a page of my sketchbooks. Pretty simple. When it comes to finding the style for a concept, there's always a bit of this and that. Water color meets texturing, meets classic drawing, meets digital painting... (sometimes even a 'lil photo manip, but I'm not that much into that). It's at that point when I go digital. Mainly, photoshop and a little illustrator.
I think it's pretty cool to mix varied techniques. Who/what have been the biggest influences on you as an artist?
Oooh. Tough one. There are and have been SO many great artists around, but if I should pick the first few that come to my mind... hmmm... Richard Corben, Frank Frazetta, Katsuhiro Otomo, Moebius, Mike Mignola (the king of shadow-zones in comic panels), Tanino Liberatore, Chesley Bonestell... don't make me go to my bookshelf now. Haha.
Hahaha...why not? That would be interesting.... Well, for several years, you are working for Small Stone Records. How did you get together with Scott Hamilton?
Oh, I've been a huge fan of Small Stone for many years before it actually happened, but that was when I did the artwork for House Of Broken Promises' 'Using The Useless'. When I created that artwork, the band was still unsigned, but then someday, I got a mail from Arthur (guitarist of HOBP) saying Small Stone Records would release the album. Soon I got in touch with Scott (Hamilton), found in him a VERY nice and cool dude, and one of the last few "good guys" in the record industry today.
So, it was not far away that I told him I would love to do more artwork for his label in the future, just simply because there were so many bands on Small Stone that inspired my illustrations with their music... Why not use that fact and try to make some album artwork out of it? (In the end, it usually works best/feels best when the music I'm doing the art for "gives me something" with regard to the inspiration, but it also works without that from time to time.) Funny thing is, it wasn't until I got in touch with Scott, when I realized how many of his releases actually already were in my CD shelf... Haha.
You also work together with High Roller Records and Tee Pee Records, just to name a few. How did this come about?
Tee Pee Records was simply because of the re-issues of Karma To Burn's albums 'Wild Wonderful Purgatory' and 'Almost Heathen', where Rich (K2B bassplayer) asked me if I would be into doing the art for them. High Roller Records was a funny coincedence. Just because it was HOBP again, with the vinyl release of 'Using...' being released on HRR. When we realized that we were on the same page, more and more artwork came (and still comes) together.
In contrast to other artists, you always come up with a motif that fits perfectly to the band and the album respectively. In doing this, you have no problem in changing your style. How important is that for you and how does the process work?
Thanks. I in fact try to give every one of those babies its own, individual look and feel (sure, there's some bonds here and there... half of the bands want "diiiirrrrt", haha). I guess it was back in my childhood, where I tried this and that style and evolving it as good as I could. Never been much of a one-trick-pony after that. On a side note, very personally, repeating myself usually bores ME most. So I usually try to talk people out of "can you make it look like XYZ you done?" That's just some self-protection, keeping me from jumping out of the window.
The cover you did for Tia Carrera's 'Cosmic Priestess' album is one of my favourites. How did you actually come up with that idea?
Oh, that one also got a story of its own... Sorry, another long answer... Haha. Back in the day, even before 'The Quintessential' album, I got in touch with Tia Carrera guitarist Jason Morales, and had that very cool image in mind that I thought would suit Tia's music pretty well. Not only because it was so spaced-out and 70's-like, but also because it had that female character that could easily be the visualization for the CHARACTER Tia Carrera.
He said he loved it, but we somehow lost communication after that... I think it took two years later, after 'The Quintessential', when Jason mailed me and asked me if I still had that painting, because they would love to use it for their next album. Of course I got it, and I loved the idea. And then the thing on top was, they also decided to make the painting's title the album's title â€“ a fact that I feel very honored about. That doesn't happen every day...
I can understand that, Alexander. What's your personal favorite piece you've ever worked on?
Man, Klaus. I'm sorry... I honestly can't tell... just simply because I love all of my "babies" equally.
No problem. Besides drawing cover artworks and other rock 'n' roll stuff, you've done some comics as well as a couple of beautiful illustrations for children's books. Are you still doing that?
I've got some never released comics flying around, but, nope. For both, comics and children's books. Creating comics (for me) has proven way to time-consuming, and kids' books illustrations I usually felt best with when doing them analog (like water color). And that was a real pain in the ass when it came to revisions, so I simply kicked doing kids' illustrations (haven't been doing some since 2007 I think).
Is there any medium you havenâ€™t yet tried that youâ€™d like to explore?
Oh, there are a few. Never tried oil or acryllic painting that much... Photography... and sculpting... Last one is something like a "secret love" of mine. But it just eats away toooo much of my time... material... and dining table space. My wife won't let that happen (again)... haha.
Did it ever happen that a band was not satisfied with your work?
So far, I'm glad I can say: Nope. (At least I THINK SO, haha)
Can you make a living as an artist?
Yup. Well, that was a short answer, eh? Yay! :))
Are there any assignments you would reject?
Hmmm... Tough one. (Though people tell me my stuff tends to be pretty dark and evil looking at times). I'm not into drawing too much of blood. Like a Cannibal Corpse cover and such. That violent shit just doesn't float my boat (like, if an artwork would include torture-porn-ish crap). Sure, if the atmosphere for an album artwork need its pinch of blood and guts, I'll gladly paint it. But I'm more of an "atmosphere-first" guy, rather than "look-at-what-cool-and-gory-intestines-and-squished-testicles-I-did-on-that-coverâ€œ guy.
What is your ambition as an artist? What would you really love to do?
That's a tough one, too. I guess once I know for sure what it is, I'll let you know, Klaus. So far, there's always been many new and cool artistic challenges, and they keep a-coming. I love what I do, and I still think I'm one of the luckiest dudes on earth, just because I can make a good living out of what I love to do since I was a kid, which is drawing. I guess evolving my styles and seeing what I'm able (or not able) to do with them makes me tick and continue in the end.
Apart from being an artist, you're also a musician. LARMAN CLAMOR is the name of your band and I've noticed that Small Stone Records will release your new album soon. So, tell me a little about the band and the upcoming record.
Hehe, I don't see myself that much as a musician. Just because I ain't THAT good at it. Larman Clamor originally started out as a two piece with a buddy of mine, but when he told me he would rather concentrate on other things, I continued on my own. One thing came to the other (putting out the album 'Altars To Turn Blood' on my own with some cool High Roller Records' help and connections), and I got totally blown away when Scott replied "Sure!"to my question if he would be into releasing 'Frogs', the one you're talking about. Larman Clamor's just dirty ol' Blues â€¦or "downright raunchy", like Benny (Grotto) commented on the album's title track. Haha.
I guess it's all about the clamor. There are those song-sketches I shelved over the years, and 11 of them just became songs that became the 'Frogs' album. It has the dirty, lo-fi, grooving Blues Rock, with a shovel of mud to it. I always felt related to that very special atmosphere of those Southern swamp blues songs, like Tony Joe White, for example. It wasn't on purpose, like "I want to do something in this very genre". That music just came out of me the way you can hear it on the album, and when somes reviewers labelled it as "Lo-fi Garage Doom Blues" - it was extremely cool, since that was what I thought I was doing. I may salute a huge 'Thank you!' to those folks out there who labeled Larman Clamor that way.
Musically, 'Frogs' has got its straight rocking moments (like the title track, 'The Mudhole Stomp' or 'Gorgon's Gold'), but also its mellow and drone-y moments ('Mill Wheel Alchemy', 'Potions & Secrets'), where it felt best to leave it instrumental. I tried to tell a (more or less interesting) story within each song's lyrics, and even had the opportunity to paint an illustration for each tune (which you will fully see in the badass 20 page booklet of the vinyl edition). *shamellessly advertising* Haha.
That's what the interview is for, so don't hesitate. What are you working on now? What do you see yourself doing in ten years?
At the moment, I'm preparing on getting to work on the artwork for the new Wo Fat album, aside of ad industry work and putting some finishing touches to a Karma To Burn compilation artwork and the artwork for Lord Fowl's album 'Moon Queen'. Oh, and I just finished the art for Seven Planets' same titled album. Busy, busy, busy. Ten years... hmm. I hope I can continue like this for a bit more than that. Haha.
Ok, we are done now. Thanks for your time and interest in doing an interview with Cosmic Lava! Any closing comments?
Thank god! Finally! *just kidding* ;) Right back at you, Klaus! Thanks for your interest in my work! Nice talking to ya.