Aside from its sonic competencies, Nick Höppner’s two albums in as many years have hinted at a creative mind who’s motivated just as much by visual aesthetics. As the Panorama Bar resident and former Ostgut Ton label head his new LP, Work, we quizzed him on some of his favourite record sleeves.
1. What was the first record you bought or listened to because of its record sleeve? What was special about it?
Well, I didn’t actually buy that record, but I got Slayer’s “Live Undead” as a chrsitmas present from my slightly older cousin. I have been equally blown away by the band’s sonic aggression and that zombie artwork. I remember us both thrashing around the christmas tree after everyone else had gone to bed already. I’d given him Kreator’s “Pleasure To Kill” as a present in return and we had the time of our lives.
2. How important a role do record sleeves play when you’re buying records?
Generally speaking, it is an enormously important signifier. No matter if a fully fledged artwork or just a simple label on a 12″, it can tell you so much about that record already.
I have to admit though, that a lot of my digging for vinyl old and new is happening online these days, so I am more or less only guided by the music and not so much by how a record looks anymore.
3. Given your affinity to good record sleeves, how have you approached the artwork for your own releases? Any key principals or things you’ve kept in mind?
Independence is something I’ve always regarded highly, so when it came to designing both of my albums, I didn’t want them to look too much like an obvious Ostgut Ton record. That alone excluded a certain kind of aesthetic. My wife actually suggested her friend Frank Bubenzer, the artist who provided the artwork for both of my albums. I immediately related to his collage technique, I see a lot of musical sampling in it, so there’s that connection. The rest is more or less following my instincts, I didn’t adhere to any other principles. It just has to make “sense” and sometimes that “sense” cannot be put in words…
Nick Höppner’s favourite record sleeves
Hard-Ons – Love Is A Battlefield Of Wounded Hearts (Vinyl Solution)
Favourite track: ‘Who Do You Wana Fool’
I found this at Michelle Records one of my weekend trips to Hamburg to visit my cousin in 1989. I saw this cover and I immediately knew I’d love it, as it literally screamed “FUN” and “PUNKROCK”. This record still wipes the floor with Green Day or The Offspring. Whenever I listened to “Love Is A Battlefield…” I did so with the cover at hand, looking at these intricate hand drawn illustrations of monsters, eye balls and superheroes. And when I was done with it, I looked at the inner sleeve which had another super detailed black and white illustration embellishing a pentagram. As far as I know the band has done these drawings themselves. Please also note the band photo of the Hard-Ons on the back in leather jackets and speedos wielding an axe on what presumably is Bondi Beach. So dumb and so cool!
Zawinul – Zawinul (Atlantic)
Favourite track: ’In A Silent Way’
I knew who Joe Zawinul was when I bought this record and I’ve been interested in his work, but even without this fact I would have bought this record. Just look at this man! It’s one of the deepest portraits I’ve ever seen. It’s oozing confidence, mystery and seriousness, but it also radiates a certain warmth and woozyness. His eyes are unfathomable. The cover is by Ed Freeman, who used to be a musician and roadie himself and who designed quite few covers, before he, according to his website, became a “commercial and fine art” photographer.
Sonic Youth – Goo (DGC)
Favourite track: ’Kool Thing’
I already loved Sonic Youth before this album, so again, it’s not a case of buying something just on sight. I still think this is one of the coolest covers of all time and thus reflecting the band’s status as THE epitome of cool at that time. The illustration is by Raymond Pettibon, who is quite a successful artist today. He got his break in the late 70s, though, designing flyers and later on album covers for Black Flag, the band of his brother Gregg Ginn. He formed the early visual identity of THE us-american indie label SST, which I own quite a lot of records from as well.
Treepeople – Guilt Regret Embarrassment (Toxic Shock)
Favourite track: ’No Doubt’
This is an artwork by Mike Scheer, who actually worked a lot for Treepeople and their follow up band Built To Spill. It’s hard to put my finger on what I like about it so much. I can best describe as a “Luis Bunuel meets Looney Toons” kind of vibe. Having looked at this artwork again and again, I still haven’t solved it. What the fuck am I looking at? I think it’s great it’s still kepping its mystery after over 25 years.
L.B. Dub Corp – Take It Down In Dub (Ostgut Ton)
Favourite track: ‘It’s What You Feel’
As I’ve been managing a record label with quite a strong visual identity, I thought it made sense to include one of my favourite artworks we ever used for an Ostgut Ton record. It’s by the artist Viron Erol Vert, who has been shaping Luke Slater’s visual identity on Ostgut Ton. What I love about this one is how bold it is. It is such an eye catcher in my opinion. It also corresponds well with Luke’s music here, which still is pretty serious (it’s Luke Slater, after all), but also shows him at his most accessible.