of the few useful
pieces of unsolicited email I've ever received arrived in my in-box
on Thursday, Sept. 11, 1997. It was a press release from Beth Brody
of Brody Public Relations in Stockton, N.J., detailing "Mind Over
Matter: The Images of Pink Floyd" (Sanctuary
Publishing; ISBN 1-86074-224-6), the new book by Storm Thorgerson,
designer of nearly every Pink Floyd album
cover, as well as loads of other classic images. Within a week of
my reply, Brody had a copy of Thorgerson's book in my hand, with
a phone interview in the works between Thorgerson and myself shortly
53, had just stepped into his office on Tuesday, Sept. 30, when
I placed the call to his London office from my Burlington, Vt.,
domicile. Cordial if not a little clownish, his first concern seemed
to be for my well-being, considering the trans-Atlantic time difference
that was requiring I conduct the interview at 7:30 a.m. my time.
"Are you awake?" he asked. "Are you on the ball?
Are you focused?" he demanded with a rapid-fire British clip.
I was up to the task, but not entirely sure of the nature of "Floydian
Slip," I explained I produced a weekly Pink Floyd show, broadcast
in the state of Vermont. "Is that where you're ringing from?"
he asked. "Good grief."
you know where Vermont is?" I asked, certain, as many Vermonters
probably are, that the rest of the world hasn't a clue about our
I've been there, darling," Thorgerson purred back
at me with mock indignation.
speaking to one of the most prolific cover designers in history
and a collaborator of the Floyd at that! seemed intimidating
even moments ago, I now felt like I could breathe easier. I settled
in for what I hoped would be an interesting chat, and wasn't disappointed.
Casual and without pretense, he gave every impression that no topic
was off-limits and that for as long as I asked questions,
he'd be willing to answer them. We spoke for 35 minutes.
edited version of this interview was broadcast on "Floydian
Slip" on Wednesday, Oct. 29, 1997. We've provided
a complete transcript below.
How'd you get your first job with Pink Floyd?
ST: The band and I come from Cambridge, which is a university town
about 50 miles north of London. I'm sure you will have heard of it
one of the two major university towns in England Oxford
and Cambridge. We were not of the university, but of the town. We
knew each other in Cambridge, because we were in the same high school.
Roger Waters was a year above me, and Syd
Barrett was a year below me. And David Gilmour,
in fact, was in a neighboring school, but since we didn't like the
neighboring school they were the enemy. So we all knew each another,
and Syd and I were in the same kind of peer group when we were kids,
I didn't really have that much to do with them for three or four
years. I went off somewhere else to college. And in the meantime
they went off to architectural school and they formed a band. Then
Syd joined and they became The Pink Floyd.
Did the first album, "Piper"
which I had nothing to do with. And was initially asked to
help intercede in, as it were, trying to handle the Syd situation
when Syd was going into orbit and was playing a different tune altogether,
literally and metaphorically. And the rest of the band had the very
awkward position of trying to live with it or trying to not live
with it. And I was asked for some advice on this, but I didn't have
much to say or I probably had something to say, but it must
have been unintelligent. It was very hard to cope with one's own
problems let alone somebody else's.
But I did
volunteer my services to do the cover for "Saucerful,"
when a mutual friend who had been previously asked, declined.
So that was 1968.
ST: It was the turn of '67/'68, isn't it? Because "Piper"
came out in '67. So this would be the turn of '67 to '68. And this
mutual friend failed to come up with the goods, and I kind of jumped
in boldly. Foolishly! Headstrong. Opportunistic and all the rest
of it never having done a record sleeve. Anyway, that's what
I did first. And since they knew me from previous times, they said,
Did you have any idea you were entering what was to become a 30
ST: (Laughs) God no! If I'd known! I don't think you ever think
like that, do you, when it's happening? It's sort of like an equivalent,
professionally, of a domestic marriage. You know. You may think
this, and you may think that. Plus cette chance, we say.
The book that you just put out, "Mind Over Matter: The Images
of Pink Floyd," you start about by
talking about Syd and the early days of Floyd. You write that, "One
of the many extraordinary things about Syd was that he was not so
extraordinary at least not to us at that time." What
did you mean by that?
ST: Well, you know, if you're in a crowd running with a gang,
right? then you're in the gang and you don't think like that,
do you? They're just in the gang. They're just part of the peer
group. They're part of a bunch of friends.
When was the last time you saw Syd?
ST: I haven't seen Syd for some many years now. I don't think I've
seen him since '75. That was his infamous visit to Abbey Road recording
studios when they were laying down "Shine on You Crazy Diamond"
You were there?
ST: I happened to be there by chance, yeah. I didn't necessarily
hang out an awful lot at the recording studio, because it wasn't
necessary. But I happened to be there when Syd turned out, and it
was a very I think I write about it in the book as well
it was a very heart-rending meeting. Quite sad, it was.
That was the last time that anyone in the band has seen him as well.
Is that true?
ST: I don't know that for sure. I think it probably is, because
he's not been very well, and he's certainly not very well now.
Do you know what he's up to nowadays?
ST: Well, yes, I think he's reclusive has been for 20 years.
Has not been well. And has not been well emotionally, and certainly
is not, can't, be well physically.
We should mention that this isn't the first book you've written.
ST: (Laughs) Should we mention it? I see. Yes, we should. You're
right, Craig: This is not the first book I have "compiled,"
I think is a better word than "written." I'm not really
a writer. I do write in a conversational kind of style, I suppose,
because it's only me who knows what went on in terms of the covers.
So in terms of designing for Pink Floyd,
if somebody else wrote it they'd have to interview me a lot, and
that seemed to be a bit of a waste of time, so I thought I'd just
write it down myself. In "Mind Over Matter" it's the pictures
that matter and not the words so much.
I'm familiar with your 1978 book "The Work of Hipgnosis"
ST: "Walk Away Rene." I kind of wrote that, too. Again,
I don't know whether write is the correct word. It's also, obviously,
conversational. But it was the same thing, because we were talking
about all the work we did for all sorts of bands, including the
Floyd, but lots of others.
In that one you also include some photos of your original studio.
ST: Oh that the dung heap.
Considering all the classic covers you guys turned out, it looked
ST: Basic?! Basic?!
I'm being polite, Storm ...
ST: (Laughs) That's complimentary. The premises were absolutely
scuzzy and filthy beyond belief. They remained that way for years
and years. I don't think either Po (Hipgnosis co-founder Aubrey
Powell) nor I were particularly tidy individuals. The only bit of
tidiness we might have been interested in was in the art works.
Actually, the art works were pretty dirty, too. But the finished
pieces that appeared to the public were the bits we were interested
It certainly didn't hamper your turning out a lot of covers.
ST: No, I think that, it in some quirky way, provided ... We were
just more interested in designing and thinking up ideas making
covers, making films, making books. I don't think we gave it much
thought. It was a pretty horrible place in retrospect. There are
some people that believe a tidy mind is reflected in a tidy office.
Can you tell a lady by her handbag? I don't know, you know? Do the
contents of a room a handbag or a studio or an office or some kind
of traveling bag. Can you tell a person ... Can you tell a person
by his shoes? Can you tell a record by its cover?
You also write in that early book about your technique. You talk
a lot about cutting and pasting, bleaching, a lot of real mechanical
techniques. I would guess that today you use a lot of computers.
ST: Yeah. We don't use computers I don't very much use computers.
I use them for retouching. Because that is a phenomenal thing that
computers can do, which is to transfer what basically is a photographic
medium into a digital medium, without that much loss of quality.
It's extraordinary. I'm continually impressed by that. And then
to work, obviously, in a digital domain is a lot easier, because
it's uncorruptible. Well, (laughs) I say that it's sort of
uncorruptable. And you can copy it many times and it doesn't hurt
it. That is extraordinary. In terms of retouching, it is seen by
me, and certainly by some retouchers I've known, as a godsend.
I also get the feeling from reading the book that you might hold
computers with a certain amount of disdain.
ST: Yeah, I think I do. But I don't know whether it's because I'm
an old toady person, or whether it's because I have a genuine complaint.
If I didn't know the truth, there are some of your covers I would
almost assume were created with a computer instead of a real photograph.
Momentary Lapse of Reason," for example. I would sooner
guess that was a digital creation than someone dragging 700 beds
onto a beach, which is what you did.
ST: Yeah, that is what we did. And we had to drag them all back
again because of the God-damn English weather. It rained. I mean,
maybe it's kind of the same as Vermont. I don't know whether your
weather's very predictable, but ours is not. And we had waited,
like, for two or three weeks for a reasonably clear forecast. And
this is some three or four hours outside London, so it was quite
a schlep, for us distances being so much smaller here, remember
guys. Anything over 50 miles is regarded as a huge journey. So it
was a long trip, and we didn't want to go until we got a reasonable
forecast. And we got a reasonable forecast and it was still wrong.
And so even after we put all 700 beds and remember these
are wrought iron beds, these are not lightweight beds, they are
really heavy all individually arranged, all carefully spaced,
and then it rained, for Christ sakes. And when it rained it was
sort of a gray drizzle through which you could see nothing. You
couldn't actually see that you had a lot of beds there. So the whole
point of taking a lot of beds there was something that appeared
to be a complete waste of time. So we had to talk them all back
Is part of the satisfaction for creating a cover like that actually
going out and doing, and not faking it on a computer?
ST: Yeah, I think that this whole business of whether to do it for
real or not, or whether it's in a computer or not, is just something
that, as it were, we did from quite early on, not only for the Floyd
but especially for the Floyd, but also for other people we'd do
it. So that if we arranged some kind of, how shall I put it, set
or some kind of grouping of people or some kind of event, or some
kind of sculpture or installation, we would set it up and shoot
it. We might shoot it in bits, but it would all be shot for real.
And that, I think, is because in some ineffable fashion, it's always
better. Its always better. Obviously you can do all sorts of things
in a computer that look better for doing them in a computer, but
they are computer things. Where as what I do mostly is to rearrange
bits of reality according to what the idea might be in an attempt
to represent the music. Which is why it's called "Mind Over
Matter," because it alludes to sort of little tinkering, as
You listen to an album before you design the cover, correct?
TS: (Laughs; amused) Yeah, of course we listen to it. Yeah! We listen
to albums mucho. We also read the lyrics mucho. And we also often
talk to the band mucho. It depends on the band, really. Obviously
in the case of the Floyd, over time a certain degree of communication
is, as it were, established. However, the communication also can
fall down like it did on "The
Division Bell." Ironically, because one of the themes was
about communication, or the lack of it, we managed to exhibit the
very act of it in doing the cover. Because we thought we'd done
a great design, which is the one we used in the end, but David (Gilmour)
didn't like it at all. No, that's not true. He didn't like it very
much. So for three or four weeks it was in a state of lukewarm rejection.
And that is after many years of working together. Otherwise we take,
as it were, a brief, which is, obviously, the music for the feeling
of it and that would be the form of usually demos. And then
there would be the lyrics, which are reasonably accurate. There
would be some changes later, because vocalists, obviously, give
it new inflection or change words when they actually sing it. And
then there would be anything that the band had especially told us,
or the title or any other thing that they wish to impart. So, yeah,
all these are taken on board. And the music is played over and over
continuously as a sort of a foreground/background kind of thing.
We'd love it if you could tell us you've been working on a new Pink
Floyd album cover. I don't assume you could tell us that, could
ST: (Laughs) Yeah, good question! If only, right?
Do you have any idea when a new album might be coming out?
ST: No, I don't. As for a new album, no I don't have an idea. I'm
actually not entirely sure why there is no new album, sort of at
the moment as far as I know in the cards. But there may be. I don't
necessary know these things. So there may be, and I don't know it.
But in terms of what I do know, concretely, that is that there isn't
at the moment. Great pity.
Roger Waters split with the rest of the
group in the early '80s. You've gone on to work with Dave
Gilmour and the members that have continued to use the name
Pink Floyd. Has Roger ever talked to you
about doing work for his solo projects?
ST: No, Roger hasn't talked to me since 1980. He stopped talking
to me, amongst many others, even before the split. In fact, I don't
even know why, particularly. I don't even know if he remembers why,
We hear a lot in the media about the rivalry between Roger and the
band. Do you think that's accurate, or is it more media hype?
ST: I think a lot of it is media hype. I don't know whether even
"rivalry" is the right word. I think that in many ways
Roger is quite angry about things. But I don't fully know. I don't
know why he left the band.
In the book tell me if I'm reading too much into this
you seem to be placing more of the blame for this situation on Roger
than on the rest of the band. Is that your take on it?
ST: Yeah, well it is my take to some extent that Roger initiated
it. I mean, he tended to be the initiator. So it would stand to
reason that since he was, in parenthesis, more of the stronger force
right? that things would to some extent, as it were,
follow his lead. I would say. But I wasn't there and I don't know
what's in Roger's head, and didn't know what was in Roger's head
then. But I presume that him leaving The Pink
Floyd was what he wanted to do.
There are always rumors about reunions floating around ...
ST: Yeah, I know. But I also think that's also a perennial thing
put about by all sorts of people from publicists to the record company
from the management to the agency from media people
to fanzines. I think it's expressing a desire, to some extent. You
know, I think it would, in the same way as we would say that it
would be great if the Floyd were to make another record maybe. I
mean, maybe it would be great if Roger and Dave could patch up.
The group's always sort of been known for shunning the media, hasn't
ST: I don't think the Floyd have ever in their 30 year history,
I don't think they've ... I don't think they've been anti-press,
because, obviously, they need the press as the press needs them.
So they get exposure. They've done interviews and articles. But
I don't think they're much of media people, as such. I mean, they
were pretty faceless most of their careers, weren't they? Even after
Side," and ever after several years of "Dark
Side." I mean, actually, even after "The
Wall." I can't remember precisely when it changed, but
I know that for years and years and years either Roger or Dave or
Rick, they could walk down the street and nobody would know them.
As I think I've written in the book, I think it's quite a feat actually
that they were able to do that.
That's got to be at least in part because they typically wouldn't
have their faces on their albums.
ST: Oh yes, well, that's not entirely true of course, because they
were on "Ummagumma,"
and they're in the middle of "Meddle."
But I don't know whether it's that particularly. Maybe it's a mixture
of things of which a large component might be the music is not
the music and the band's style is not personality oriented.
I don't think, really.
Do you have any idea how many albums covers you've designed for
the Floyd and others?
ST: Well, they're all there in the book for the Floyd. Is it 16?
Or 18? Sixteen, I think. Because there's only three I didn't do.
Four, actually. I didn't do "Relics,"
but I did redo "Relics."
So I half did "Relics."
And I didn't do "Piper."
I didn't do "The
Wall." I didn't do "The
Final Cut." And I think there are a few others across the
world that have been released at certain times you know,
obscure collections from Botswana or Uruguay that I probably hadn't
had a hand in. (Laughs) But maybe the band hasn't had a hand in
it either! Most of it I have done, yeah.
What about other bands you've done work for? There have been a slew
ST: In the past, obviously, I was working quite a lot for Led Zeppelin.
And I worked for Genesis and Pete Gabriel. And, you know, quite
a range of people. We worked for Black Sabbath and various other
darker forces. Recently I've been working for Catherine Wheel, for
(Burlington, Vt.-based) Phish, for Ween and several others.
Which Phish album is it you did?
ST: I've just done the last one. It's called "Slip, Stitch
And is that out yet, or is it coming out soon?
ST: I think it's out in a month? Yeah, it's a live album, and there's
a new studio album next year, I think.
Recently you've been doing a lot of reissues and whatnot. Is it
strange to go back to an album that you finished ...
ST: Are we back on the Floyd now?
ST: Yeah. Is it strange? (Pause) Well, yes and no. I think I sort
of wrote I'm trying to remember what I wrote in the book,
for crying outloud! I think that I wrote about how when CDs
to go to vinyl there was a degree of repackaging or a vast amount
of repackaging, executed by record companies. Who unceremoniously
squashed vinyl designs into CDs into CD booklets and tend
to make a mess of it. Now this occurred whilst the Floyd were in
a state of trauma in terms of Roger and Dave breaking up. So I don't
think that their attention would have been very much on this event.
So what happened was suddenly, without us noticing really, the CDs
had appeared in a rather slovenly fashion put together by the record
companies. The packaging was not suitably adapted. So we have been
sort of renovating since about '88. We've sort of been slowly renovating.
Or was it later, maybe? You know, the pictures. So that the CD packages
were a bit more in line with what it was that we might have intended,
if we had been, as it were, more focused at the time back in '83
Compact discs and the reissues give you work, but at the same time,
your canvas has shrunk by about 75 percent.
ST: Yeah, but the canvas is shrunk anyway, so it wouldn't make any
difference whether we're talking about repackaging or new packaging.
The thing about repackaging to some extent is it allowed me to try
to improve what it was I thought I'd done. So I was not against
doing it. And I was also in favor of doing it in order to repair
the mess made by record companies. On the other hand, of course,
it's not quite so interesting going back over old ground as opposed
to doing new stuff. But it's not without its merits, and we hope,
to some extent, that we have tried to improve it, and to, for instance,
insert things like lyrics where they might not have been. Because
in a CD there seems no reason not to have a booklet, at least in
some way as a substitute for vinyl, which had plenty of space. So
even if you decided not to put lyrics on vinyl, you had plenty of
space to play with other things. But in a CD booklet it seems to
kind of cry out for lyrics really by and large.
What are some of the projects you're doing right now?
ST: Well, as I said, I just finished a Phish project. And did a
Catherine Wheel a little while back. And I'm now about to do some
peripheral bits on that one couple of singles, for example.
And I've just been commissioned I've just been doing kind
of private design for somebody well, I can't tell you, because
it wouldn't mean anything to you. But it's quite meaningful over
here. And I've been making a film this year, a documentary which
turned to disaster. And also, obviously, I've been doing the book.
And I've also done a couple new things for the Floyd over here.
There was a sort of anniversary , a sort of "Piper"
repackage that I did, which is quite nice. And we've also done something
for the American record company: We've done a new design to have
them advertise sort of some of the repackages that have not been
previously released in terms of, we're talking about Floyd material
now. So we are functioning just about.
A lot of those early covers were credited to Hipgnosis, which was
the design studio you cofounded in the '60s ...
ST: Correct. That is the case.
... with Aubrey Powell?
ST: Yeah. Better known as Po.
You and Po split ways in the early '80s, right around the time the
Floyd split up.
ST: Yeah, it was about a year or two after.
ST: (Pause) Ooh. That's a complex ... Well, Hipgnosis was sort of
wound up by ourselves, because we wished to form a film company,
which we did called Greenback. So Hipgnosis was itself sort of brought
to a halt by ourselves in '83 or '82, and we started the film company
in '83, or something like that. Then we made some videos and some
long forms. And, again, a very difficult financial situation had
occurred due to our own bungling mismanagement. We were in a state
of severe financial loss in '85. And it was against the background
of that that, as it was, we had our differences our differences
were maximized, if you might put it like that. And due to sort of
certain different philosophies also due to the fact that
there were different views about role-playing and what your job
was. And I don't think any of us, particularly me, behaved very
well really. I think I was I think from my end I was sort
of rather keen to direct and might translate into sort of powertripping,
which is not good for everybody. But I think probably the other
two had their own problems their errors, as it were. Although,
you'd kind of have to ask them. But they're both very successful
at the moment. Doing very well. Making films. I think Pete (Christopherson)
is making films, but I haven't spoken to him recently. And I haven't
seen Po recently. He's making a documentary. And we are going to
perhaps going to consider whether we should talk to each other after
not having talked to each other for 12 years.
Speaking of films, you've directed a number of those shown up on
the projection screen during Floyd's shows.
ST: Right. The films that we made for concerts there were
quite a few I made for the '87 tour and for the '94 tour
and a couple previous to that have varied quite a lot. (Laughs)
They've varied in terms of how good they are! But they have been
made, by and large, to complement and go with the songs, which is
quite difficult, because the live experience is not the same as
a video. So video, in a sense, is easier. Because your music is
fixed. Because where in a concert, of course, they might play it
differently. So you have an interesting problem. But I think, by
and large, they worked out reasonably well. I mean, certainly in
the last concert, some of them "High Hopes" worked
very well I thought.
The book is called "Mind Over Matter: The Images of Pink
Floyd." It's out in hardcover and softback. Is it available
now in the United States?
ST: I think it is. "Mind Over Matter" is supposed to be
released published, is that what they say in the book business?
this week. Depending to what degree publishers, of course,
are organized. I would have thought it would have been out very
I had a chance to read it. It's a beautiful book. Printed on a real
quality stock ...
ST: Yeah, I'm not unhappy with it. I think it didn't look too bad,
actually. It was printed in the Far East. I don't know how politically
correct that is, but, of course, it's so much more economical in
some ways to print. Printing is very expensive, so even if you print
in Italy or in Holland or in Spain or in Hong Kong, it tends to
be cheaper. But I actually think it's printed quite well. We went
to Hong Kong to make sure as much as we could that it was printed
the best we could get it. So I think I feel reasonably happy. It's
always a problem with printing, covers or books, that you're reducing
original photograph and original transparency you know, a
continuous tone and a full range of colors you're reducing
them to four colors only, and printing on paper in dots. It's always
difficult to get a result that is absolutely close. But I think
that within those practical difficulties it's not too bad.
Good luck with the book and thanks for talking with us on "Floydian
ST: It's been a pleasure, Craig. Look after yourself.
Special thanks to Candy Peate, Mary Peate and Beth Brody for
their assistance in arranging and recording this interview. To order
"Mind Over Matter: The Images of Pink Floyd," call Music
Sales Corp. at (800) 431-7187, 8:30 a.m.- 5 p.m. ET, Monday through
©1995-2009 Random Precision
Media. All rights reserved.
Dec. 30, 2001