Following on from part one of our look at the album covers of The Presets, Jonathan Zawada takes us back to the 2008 to revist the artwork for Apocalypso. The album won numerous ARIA awards that year, including a Best Cover Art nod for Zawada, and Album of the Year for the band, making The Presets the first dance act in ARIA history to achieve that honour.
Apocalypso is something of a dark sibling to debut album Beams, and sees the band’s now classic visual motif transformed into a scene from either an ominous parallell universe or some psychedelic underworld. Zawada talks here again about the design and production of the artwork, his typographic choices across all three albums, and exactly what helped him dream up this wonderfully sinister work.
What was happening in your life, and what you were becoming interested in, during the time between Beams and Apocalypso?
Well, for starters I had been buying a lot of old 70‘s Heavy Metal comics on eBay, which may say something about the way that Apocalypso turned out! I had been working more and more exclusively for fashion and music clients, and I had also begun to exhibit work and develop my own projects such as Trust Fun with my friend Shane Sakkeus, so I think my references were becoming scattered further and further afield. My interests and approach were generally becoming a little more obtuse and indirect, and I think I was getting to a stage where I was finding inspiration not from design and art but instead from stuff that was particularly weird and niche.
Do you know much about what was happening with the band during over that time?
Not at all! I think they had been away touring for a long time. I had been in touch with them on and off via email but that was about it. I remember I had one lunch with Kim where we talked about the themes of the album a little bit and I showed him some references I’d been playing with but that was about it. We’ve never really had to talk much about any of it really, a few words have always gone a long way in keeping us all on the same page.
The cover for Apocalypso recreates the composition of Beams, but in a unique way. It’s clearly its own thing, but was there ever any discussion about doing something completely different, and not in anyway connected to the cover for Beams?
Not at all. I think we had already spoken early on in the piece about retaining the portrait motif, but doing something different with it. Kim’s comment about Fleetwood Mac has always stuck in my mind. Having a portrait of yourself on the cover of your album can show a lot of personal commitment to the project, and I always felt that that’s what the guys liked about it to. There’s something honest about it, even with the guys hidden behind facepaint and costumes.
In many ways Apocalypso feels like the antithesis of Beams, at least in a thematic sense. Is there a specific dialogue that exists between these two albums beyond the obvious visual connections, or are they meant to be completely autonomous?
I think for the band and I, and really for most musicians I’ve worked with, you get so sick of what came before so every new album is a chance to get as far away from it as possible. For the band that comes from touring with the same songs for years and for me it comes from designing t-shirts, billboards, special editions, and all the other stuff that continues to dribble on for up to a year after the release. Having said that, I definitely wanted to keep the releases feeling like a family. I’ve always adored Bjork’s album covers, individually and as a set, each is essentially the same thing but with all the details changed to reflect the themes of the individual album.
Can you talk me through the symbolism of the cover and singles?
I had imagined this sort of recursive cover where the guys could be being held in hands whilst holding someone else in their hands and that extended into this strange feeling of scale that was both extremely large and very small at the same time. Sort of like somebody being the god of their own tiny little universe and being unaware there was a greater power in control of them. Visually, the idea of all of this taking place in a kind of black, infinite vacuum was appealing too. So the symbolism and iconography that came out of thinking includes Shiva, Ganesha, the tribal bark mask, and healing crystals. There’s something kind of cosmic about it all, but it’s also quite menacing. Looking back at it now there’s a real sense of paranoia running through it too. I don’t know where that came from exactly but it perfectly matches the music I think. There area couple of little details in there that link back to the Blow Up EP illustrations too – Kim has a badge of the Trans-am eagle and the snake is taken right out of those initial illustrations.
What about the actual production of the image? This one appears to be digitally composited, compared to the relatively straightforward set design and photography used on Beams.
This was definitely a little more involved in terms of shooting all the individual elements, and then I did have to do a bit of work comping them, but actually we retained almost the same process as the first album, down to me spending my own money to get things like the python in there! The hands are actually their A&R’s who turned up just in time, and we built a little lunar terrain for them to stand on out of flour, rocks that I gathered from the neighbourhood, and some black paint pigment. For the singles we created a miniature lunar lake shore with a black mirror for the water and the same rocks and flour as before. All of the singles were actually shot in camera, including sprinkling glitter in from above and putting sparklers in Ganesha’s hands.
There are subtle differences in the covers beyond the actual artwork, such as the typography.There’s a similar application between them, but each album features a different typeface. I’d love to know a little more about your font choices for each cover.
Beams was simply a reaction against the established typographic language for electronic musicas I saw it. I grew up with the Swiss modernist approach, and technological futurism always accompanied the dance and electronic music I listened to, so a serif was an obvious choice in order to not adhere to the established visual language of the genre. I also hoped it would prevent it from dating, again, so that it could sit next to Rumours without creating too much friction. For Apocalypso I was basically just reacting back against that and going in the reverse, so the typeface is like an old computer screen type, something that also linked up with the whole spacevibe. The dance music of the late 80’s and 90’s was sufficiently far in the past by that time to allow me to throw back to it.
Both Beams and Apocalypso see the band put into some fairly bizarre situations. Is what we’re seeing here more or less what you had in mind from the beginning, or did the designs get scaled back (or ramped up) during development?
They’re pretty much exactly as I had intended. In coming up with the concepts for both I did it with the full understanding that I’d be the one having to find all of the props and that the whole thing would have to be done within the very limited budget. Both covers were also shot on film and the processing, development, and scanning costs of that alone chewed up more than half of the budget. As a result everything was planned out in great detail and designed with those production constraints in mind.
Next Up: Pacifica