Uncovered: Jellyfish, “Spilt Milk”

Written by Music, Uncovered

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 Mick Haggerty, the artist responsible for the cover of Jellyfish’s Spilt Milk, as well as a long list of other albums.

You’ve worked on some classic covers for some well-known artists — including H2O and Breakfast in America. How did you end up working with Jellyfish?

My friend Steve Samiof was the creative director at Charisma at the time, and one day the phone just rang …. We did Bellybutton together. I never really thought in “classic album” terms — it was more “how the hell can I make something half decent out of all this?” It’s like directing traffic with a blindfold on a lot of the time. I’m grateful I’m not a gambling man, because I would have put money on Jellyfish to be big. I certainly did everything in my power. Of course, it’s great when the covers you’re proudest of get to be the ones with the most popular music attached to them, but it sucks the other way around.

There’s a huge variety in the visual styles that you’ve used from cover to cover. What would you identify as your overall artistic aesthetic?

I intentionally attempt to never repeat myself visually, but I try repeatedly to place a booby trap in that tender and perverse spot where our expectations and the existing visual conventions meet. Question: How can I set you up so I can deliver the whoopee cushion or that pie in the face — or even better, a nice sharp stick in the eye?

To what degree does the music inspire you when you’re working on an album cover? Where did the inspiration for the Spilt Milk cover come from?

For me, music is really important. Remember that a lot of the time I didn’t chose the bands and performers I worked with, so often I purposely didn’t listen to their music because if I did, I’d want to put a bullet through my head. I would build custom soundtracks of other people’s music to listen to as I worked on many of my covers. Supertramp’s Breakfast, for instance, I designed listening to Elvis Costello’s This Year’s Model. Spilt Milk was the most produced record I think I had ever been a part of, and because of the constant remixing and layering, I can’t remember ever getting a definitive track to listen to — but I could always crank up Bellybutton.

Can you talk about the process behind putting together the Spilt Milk cover image — the steps you took to create it?

Andy and Roger were inspired by the Pink Floyd inside spread for … I think it was Ummagumma? You have to remember, this was going to be their Opus. They were going to play about every musical instrument they could lay their hands on, and the recording studio looked more like an instrument rental house. Everything from harpsichords to theremins. It was quite amazing. I can’t remember where the little girl came in, but I do remember the casting call from hell. It’s very uncomfortable to put out a call requesting lots of young girls in ballet tights and tiaras, knowing full well you’re going to chose the saddest and most pathetic one you can find. The mothers were even worse than the kids. I’d work with animals any day.

I shot the studio interior first, then the little girl. We tried everything to make her cry, but in the end, used glycerin for her tears, although I know mine were real. The hand pulling back the curtain was to hint at the “Greatest Show On Earth meets Sgt. Pepper” mood that prevailed in the studio. I then stripped them all together. I wasn’t working on the Mac yet, so I think I made prints for the printers to assemble. The logo I designed to clash as much as possible with the image, also knowing that it had to have legs if the album was successful, ending up on tour posters and T-shirts. I like the logo. It has a nice twisted psycho fairground feeling.

What are you working on now?

I’m working really hard right now on a new body of prints and paintings and books between commercial jobs. I’ve got the music up loud and I’m sharpening that stick…

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