Art history #2 (Brothers & Sisters)
We continue our new series of interviews with the designers behind Coldplay's single and album covers, with a look at the band's second release, Brothers & Sisters. Like the cover of their first single, it was designed by a friend of the band, John Hilton.
Hi John. So, after you'd done the artwork for the Safety EP, Coldplay then got a single deal with Fierce Panda and you were asked you to do the next artwork too.
What was the thought process behind that one?
That was more like a proper project at college. I treated them like the client. At the time, they were quite into Radiohead, so it was quite Radiohead-y. I did lots of ideas in sketchbooks and on Photoshop. And this was when Photoshop was still quite new.
What's on the cover?
Well there's just a little image of some drowning, bobbing people, in that sketchy way. They quite liked that, but it was a bit boring on its own. I had this picture from my back garden in my horrible little student home in Birmingham. I remember there was this white pitbull dog in the garden next door which just used to bark constantly and drive me nuts. So it was a kind of angst-y, teenage-y picture, and it was supposed to be about being somewhere not so great. It was middle class angst, I suppose.
That picture was taken out of your bedroom window?
Exactly, from my college digs. So it's a solarised, negative version of that. You can see a fence, a couple of bin bags and that dog that was always barking. And over the top it's the drawing of Coldplay.
By this stage the band were beginning to go places. Were you under more pressure for this one?
No, I remember it being brilliant. I was really good friends with Jonny - I still am - so I'd go down there to see them all the time at university. And I'd be going with them to Fierce Panda. It felt like I was part of a team. They were very good at making everyone feel welcome. I was properly involved when they were recording things, as was all of our bunch of friends. We'd all be around. I was in the Fierce Panda studios working on the artwork and deciding where all the text and the logo would go. It just felt like I was helping them out, and vice versa.
Do you own a copy of this one?
Yeah, I have got that one. It's a bit battered though. It's had a lot of use.
How do you look back on that cover?
At the time I thought it was good, but you look back and it just looks like a pile of college rubbish now!
It has a certain charm. It's not too slick.
No, it certainly wasn't! This is the point where they still looked like geeky students. There was nothing polished about it.
So once they signed for Parlophone did your role as art man end?
Yeah, that's when it started to become a proper competition. Which was fine. I actually think I had better covers for the Brothers & Sisters one at the time - although in hindsight, they'd have looked rubbish as well - but that was the one that they chose.
Can you remember what the other options were?
Oh there's a whole load of them somewhere. I went off on loads of tangents. But I don't think they ever expected it to go massively stellar at that point. I think they just thought, screw it, it's of its time, it doesn't matter. And it doesn't really matter. It sells on the basis that it's this great early single from a now big band, and it's almost better that it's got a crap cover.
Crap is harsh. Have you designed other record covers since?
Only for bands I've been in. I've put down Photoshop now, really.
Do you still tell people that you've designed covers for Coldplay?
I used to, but I don't any more. I'll mention it occasionally if it comes up.
It's a pretty cool string to have on your bow.
Yeah, it's great. Although I'm more proud of the hundreds of photographs I've got of them rehearsing in their flat.
Have you got any plans to do anything with those?
They're all in a big Camden recycling box at the moment, in my wardrobe. Maybe one day I'll dig them all out. But it never felt right to try and exploit that sort of thing.
And you're still in touch with them?
Yeah. Jonny was my best man at my wedding, along with my friend Gav. We hang out all the time.
They've done quite well for themselves.
Brilliantly, I'm very, very proud.
Are you in a band still?
I am. I've been in a few bands over the years - Bettina Motive and Grand Transmitter. The one I'm in now is called The Complete Short Stories. It's a seven-piece with a girl singer. We've just done an album on Pointy records, which is a subsidiary of Fierce Panda. It's all going quite well at the moment.
Big thanks to John for the chats. Click here to check out The Complete Short Stories on MySpace.