Have you ever wondered what inspired the images on your favorite album covers? With Uncovered, we discuss the stories behind the artwork with the people who made them. This week, we talk with Grammy winner Jeri Heiden, the artist responsible for the cover of a-ha’s Hunting High and Low, as well as a long list of other albums.
Prior to working with a-ha, you coordinated the artwork for Don Henley’s Building the Perfect Beast, and were responsible for designing Madonna’s Like a Virgin cover — a pretty astounding string of major albums for any artist. Can you describe the way it all came together?
I was fortunate to land a job very early on (in my design career) at Warner Bros. Records. I started at WB in 1982, and the timing was right for some amazing projects to come my way. The label was experiencing a post-disco renaissance with a slew of fresh new wave, synth-pop, modern rock and post-punk signings and label affiliations, in addition to their solid core of established pop, rock, and folk artists. I was 23, a little naive, and fearless. I had the support of great Creative Services bosses (Pete Johnson, Adam Somers and Jeff Ayeroff) who had confidence in my abilities and threw me into a lot of stuff that I probably was not quite ready for. I rose to the challenge!
With Like a Virgin, you worked with Steven Meisel; for Hunting High and Low, you had Just Loomis — a pair of pretty amazing photographers. How involved were you in directing the shoots? How much did their work influence the direction your design took?
I chose Just Loomis to shoot a-ha for Hunting High and Low but wasn’t there at the photo shoot. I remember we needed someone to go to England really quickly to shoot them. Don’t remember why it was a rush, but it was. Just Loomis was a trusted friend and I knew he’d be able to wing it and get some cool reportage — just he and the band. I edited that shoot and the loose quality of the images helped define the look for the package.
On Like A Virgin, Madonna was already very much in charge of her own image. She made the connection with Steven Meisel. I think they had already befriended each other through an editorial shoot, possibly for Stern Magazine. I was just the lucky beneficiary of that amazing photo session — editing the images and designing the package. As I gained more experience at Warner Bros. I would go on to hire and art direct many, many photo shoots with world class photographers.
How much access did you have to the music while you were working on the design?
We got to hear everything back then! No such thing as watermarked CD’s or password protected digital downloads — haha! Listening to the music while working on the creative was a given. The industry was less paranoid then — more innocent, genuine.
You’ve gone on to do other projects for a-ha, so it seems safe to assume you’re a fan. How important do you think enjoyment of the music is for your work?
It certainly makes the project(s) much more meaningful. The best artwork is usually a result of passion, joy, empathy, and understanding of the artist. Loving the music sustains you through the late nights and long hours. It’s the soundtrack for that creative moment.
Describe your process for the Hunting High and Low design. What materials did you use? How quickly did it come together? Were alternate versions left on the studio floor?
The design for Hunting High and Low started out, and ended up as a collage. In those days we would mock up full sized LP comps with color stats, custom transfer type, paint, ink, graphite, Pantone paper, whatever it took to make it look finished. As I was working on the comps I realized that the “work in progress” was looking pretty cool. I recall Jeff Ayeroff saying something about it too — and that collage ended up becoming our final artwork. I usually remember the comps (or ideas) that were left on the studio floor, but in this case I don’t. So maybe that was the vision from the start.
What’s your strongest memory of the Hunting High and Low project?
How amazingly successful it was. The band was so young and full of promise. The rotoscope video for “Take on Me” just blew up all of a sudden. There was so much buzz and energy surrounding the record that I did a LOT of design and artwork in support of it. I designed dozens and dozens of pieces that all carried the a-ha/Hunting High and Low hand-made collage theme across.
What are you working on now?
Just finished deluxe re-issues for a-ha’s Hunting High and Low and Scoundrel Days, as well as their career retrospective, a-ha 25. Finishing up a book with Autumn de Wilde for Death Cab for Cutie, starting P!nk’s Greatest Hits, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers Damn The Torpedoes (deluxe edition), Good Charlotte and Regina Spektor.