Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Artwork explained - the visible part of the music
All the releases have been as much a personal journey as well as a journey through two decades of ever changing styles and musical tastes.
I always felt that a CD cover should be taken as seriously as the music itself and although I have often somewhat failed in producing album covers that highlight and reflect the mood of the songs, it wasn't for lack of trying.
Have a closer, in-depth look at the thought process behind the artwork:
1. Digital Dreams - German Groove - released 1990
Not a great album and, admittedly, not a great cover either. The idea of using a portrait of myself and my then girlfriend and now ex-wife # 1 was loosely based on the famous Kraftwerk "family day out" pictures from their mid 1970's release "Trans Europe Express".
I like to think that both the music as well as the artwork have improved heaps since then.
After all, the very first album of mine was a collection of raw, unfinished songs, recorded on a 4-track tape machine.
2. Exzess - Technological Age - released 1992
The album was a collaboration between myself and Armin Schwarzfeld, with whom I had played together very briefly in a band called "Spirit of souls" in 1985. I met him again in 1991 and we started working on an album straight away.
He had his own little 8-track machine and a few synthesizers and I had a Commodore Amiga 500, which complemented his equipment well. We recorded 2/3 of the album in his room and I had recorded some tracks in a studio, where some future songs took shape as well.
I met Franca Pettrich during the making of the Exzess album and continued my Digital Dreams project with her after the Exzess album was finished.
Armin and I thought long and hard about the artwork and wanted the album to be as mystical as the music appeared to be at the time. My brother Hans Juergen had made some masks and we asked him if we could use one for the cover.
We went to a photographer and used portraits of ourselves for the inside of the tape and the mask was placed on a red shirt and photographed and became "Exzess".
Another handcrafted mask made by my older brother Hans-Juergen
3. Digital Dreams - Hitech Systems - released 1994
Techno and trance rode high in the charts back in 1994 and it was a great time to have an album out back in those days. We were young and daring and the album managed to climb to # 4 in the DRMV charts and we ranked among the Top 10 of all unsigned bands in the Rhein/Main area and enjoyed great success with the album as it opened doors for us to play at a Star Trek convention and later at a festival in front of 6000 people before performing in a high-security prison.
I have no idea why we put a truck on the album. The yellow background is in fact sand blown up and enlarged and it would have made a far better cover without the truck and the spelling error - then again, nobody cared. Artistic freedom is a great thing.
The music on the album is very electronic and soundwise very unique and it all worked well together.
Photoshoot for the album 1994
4. Digital Dreams - Vesicula - released 1996
I collaborated with many musicians on this full-length album and could only afford to have it released on tape.
All songs were recorded in a first-class studio in Frankfurt/Germany, where I could record a bit cheaper than most artists, simply because I had worked with the studio owner/soundengeneer on a number of releases already. Having said that, it was not cheap by any stretch of the imagination.
I was only able to put together my own little studio around 2004/2005.
Vesicula is a medical term for sperms and "life will find a way" is a theme that I explored on the album as it explores relationships among other things. Using a supersonic image was a great idea and also cheaper because the image was black and white and therefore cheaper when it came to having the artwork duplicated.
In retrospect, the cover isn't as strong as I wish it would be but as an unsigned artist one gets used to working within limitations.
Originally released as a MC, many songs found themselves re-released on later Best Of albums
Inside the tape
5. TJ - Pure Love - released 1997
After my techno/trance/dancefloor years I prepared for my very first solo record, which came in the shape of a 20-minutes-long EP.
After dressing up a lot for stage and photoshoots during my times in/as Digital Dreams, I wanted to portray a seriousness for the first TJ solo outing, that's why I chose to wear a suit on the front cover.
The idea was to remind people of the new romantic era in pop history as well as preparing some of my followers for a radical break from all that came before, even though it wasn't that radical a break.
I was in the process of getting divorced when recording started in 1996 and I wanted to dedicate the album to my son Kevin, which I did and he is on the cover as well.
We shot the pictures in my licing room and played around with the lighting to create a shadow of sorts. The "black strip" that underlines the title of the CD is my upside down couch. The room was a mess but it was so much fun.
The Gods were on my side in those days as the album turned out to be a real winner. It managed to get to # 1 in the DRMV charts and the reviews were all very positive.
Three different guitarists are playing on different tracks on the album and to this day it is one of my favourite releases.
Booklet Page 4
During the photoshoot for the "Pure Love" cover (1997)
06. TJ - Darker Than Black - released 1999
After the success of "Pure Love" I felt the need to go against what I had just done and recorded fully digitally and without any other musicians. The cover was shot by a professional photographer and I used a different recording studio to get away from previous influences.
The background wasn't yellow but green and we changed it simply because it didn't fit. The portrait was sort of based on George Michael's "Older" CD cover where one side of his face is hidden, which I thought was rather cool.
The 6-track-CD impressed quite a few people and I was invited to perform on TV and was also been given the opportunity to have a video done for the title track, free of charge.
Of course, some critics said that the album has " a home recording charm" and was "too Europop".
Still from the video shoot to "Darker Than Black"
1999 on German television perfoming the title song and talking about the CD
This is how the CD itself looks
07. TJ - Midnight Dreamer - released 2000
The 1999 CD "Darker Than Black" was very Europop and I was using the same instrument to work on all songs for the "Midnight Dreamer" but the album is completely different to the Darker Than Black CD.
The reason for this is because a) this was my very first TJ full-length album and b) I wanted to highlight myself as a songwriter rather than a sound-manipulating-musician as I had done on some of my albums. The Midnight Dreamer has a much more acoustic feel to it.
While promoting the Darker Than Black in London in 1999 I came across these fun-o-mats where you could make pictures with different backgrounds for £1,- and the picture that ended up becoming the front cover was one of those.
Ultimately, the picture shows a reflection of a person (myself in this case) and I always liked the idea of being a reflection of moments in time. Also, being "behind glass" as it were added some quality to the cover.
08. TJ - Eternity - released 2002
Eternity was released in 2002 and was my very first album recorded and produced outside of Germany. It was recorded in Dublin and differs drastically from any of its predecessors.
The CD contained a 12-page booklet with all the lyrics and information as well as this picture
While nearly all instrumentals had been build around loops in the 'drag&drop style' all vocals were recorded at Dublin's Sun Recording Studio in Temple Bar.
The sound is much darker than usual and on the strength of this CD I was accepted on a digital media course despite the fact that there was a long list of applicants who wanted to participate.
Burned out cars was a common sight in Ireland and my then brother-in-law photographed the one I chose for the cover. In my mind this car was on display there forever from now on and it would become a burden on the landscape, nothing more and I thought about how said that was thus "Eternity" both the song as well as the album title were born.
09. TJ - Sensitivity (the very best of) - released 2005
Released in 2005
Every artist is different - when my mother passed away in April 2004 it was clear that I would put together an album with all the songs she liked plus a few new ones and dedicate it to her.
Maybe I went a bit overboard with it as the cover also contains a picture of her grave but it was a good way to deal with the grieve and the void she had left behind.
The album was ready for the world in early 2005, which also marked my 25th anniversary as a musician/songwriter, therefore the album served more than just one purpose.
For the cover I wanted to appear hidden or obscured and I thought that would be achieved easily by putting my hands up in front of my face.
The label for the CD
The original cover before it received a 'colour treatment'
10. Digital Dreams - Best Of - released 2008
In 1988 I had renamed my music project "Travel Direction" to "Digital Dreams". Between 1990 and 1996 three albums followed under that name and all throughout my 'techno/trance/dancefloor' years my best friend Michael Seib would patiently listen to and genuinely like my music.
He passed away in 2006, aged 36, after a short battle with cancer. When the 20th anniversary of Digital Dreams came around I thought it would be nice to dedicate a CD to him, so I put together the best of compilation and added some new songs to the album.
Digital Dreams had been quite succesful and had enjoyed quite a bit of media attention. Since the album highlights output from a number of years the idea of making a collage from all the newspaper - clippings came to mind and somehow stuck.
11. TJ - Painted Dreams - released 2009
In late 2008 we'd moved from Dublin to Ballymore Eustace, where we lived in a very quiet cottage, surrounded by mainly cows and sheep and only a stone-throw away from the magnificient Blessington Lakes.
Needless to say that the scenery very much affected how I wrote and recorded songs.
The pictures used for the album aren't drawings but photographs altered with a cheap photo editing and altering software. No photoshop was used.
Before the album was finished a video(which is out of sync, unfortunately)was shot at the lakes and I wanted to have as much nature as possible in the video and on the CD cover.
Picture of the Blessington Lakes, which became the back cover image of the "Painted Dreams" CD.
Once I had the cover it was easy to find a suitable title for the album.
12. TJ - Love Letters From Cyberspace - released 2010
Another emotional abum recorded in my small studio in the Irish countryside. The songs for the album came together pretty quick and, to me, it feels almost like a second "Painted Dreams" album and I wanted the cover to somehow reflect that yet be different.
For a while the working title of the album was "Crossroads" and I had planned to photograph a worn-out road but once I saw PK's drawing of the couple sitting "underneath the perfect sky" on her myspace page, I knew I had found the cover.
A couple of emails later I got the go-ahead to use the picture. It was then when I asked her if she had other drawings for the cover and the one with the lake appealed to me very much, especially since the "Painted Dreams" album also has a picture of a lake on the back cover.
PK's original drawing without the writing
Working together with an artist and being able to highlight someone elses work through my CD is a fantastic feeling.
13. Final Composition - Pure - released 2011
I always felt that there is an element of purity in the mellowest of electronic music and that a female vocalist adds some mystique but also some 'clarity' to proceedings.
After playing around with some ideas it became apparent that using the feathers of my parrot Hogan, which he kindly donated, really gives the cover some warmth.
As a juxtaposition, black and white as a theme for the inlay pictures worked well. Sarah Hoyle, who sang the vocals on this production and who is from the West Midlands, suggested the gritty spaghetti junction for a photo shoot and since purity can often be found in the unlikeliest of places, my girlfriend Nicole took many pics of the two of us for the cover.
I turned them into black and white pics and changed the saturation slightly to give it a bit of a harder, industrial feel.
January 2011 at Birmingham's Spaghetti Junction