Pictures of Me

Last week I wrote about album artwork I find very enticing, this week I am looking at two of my own album’s covers. Both of these were released with The Unbending Trees, a two man band formed by HAVASI, the renowned pianist and myself. Although by the same band, both of the albums were recorded and published under very different circumstances.

Chemically Happy (Is The New Sad) (Strange Feeling Records, 2008)

Design: I WANT Design

When we signed to Ben Watt’s then newly founded indie label Strange Feeling Records, I was a recording artist with very little experience. I had no contract with a record label before that. I didn’t know what to expect with regards to album artwork, but I was also not giving it much thought. We had done our debut release in September 2007, a vinyl EP, for which the artwork was very quickly agreed to, probably the very first solution that was presented to us we thought perfectly suitable to our music. This prominently featured our new logo, also designed by IWANT Designs, who looked after all of Strange Feeling’s visuals. We liked the logo so much that even after we parted ways with the label, we carried it on.

Being so fresh in this world, I knew next to nothing of labels’ ‘visual strategies’, and I never had considered that one label could aim to have some kind of a connection or consistency between their releases by different artists. The initial proposal by the label of just me being pictured on the front was quickly ruled out by my fellow musicians (we were a trio back then), and so the label started sending us proposals. These designs were coming from a very different world than us. I somehow found them very difficult to relate to, and of course I thought it very important that my first ever album should have visuals that I could identify with.

The photo by Bálint Rádóczy originally selected to be the album cover for Chemically Happy (Is the New Sad)

One thing I should have known, is that when you release an album, this is as much about your audience, and the way they perceive you, rather than a piece of self-expression. It is comparable to letting the audience make up what the songs mean to them. Thinking back, I should probably have given more control to the record label. Which they had in any case, so I could probably have saved myself a lot of stress. Anyhow, then we did have arguments and strongly phrased emails.

The final artwork shows a meadow in a forest, with what could be a ghost child appearing. In hindsight, it goes well with the music. I am still not certain about the umlaut in the “I”-s, though, all through the cover and the booklet. But this is history now.

Meteor (HAVASI Records, 2013)

Photo and design by Cleverprime

By the time of Meteor we already parted ways with Strange Feeling, and HAVASI, the pianist, took on the project on his own record label.

The recording of the album was slower paced, with a lot more studio time available, as well as me having the chance to work with one of my best friends, Ambrus Tövisházi as the producer. I also prepared more for this recording, and took singing lessons for over a year.

When it came to the artwork, it was an easy process. The photo you see of me leaning on a balcony in London was taken in 2009 by Lee Faircloth from Cleverprime, and we had known for a very long time this image would find its place somewhere sometime. The photo was taken on the twentieth floor of a social housing highrise in Bermondsey, and I was petrified while posing for it. It was probably the first time I agreed to take my t-shirt off for a picture.

The album artwork, including the booklet, was also designed by Lee, and it was more of a collaborative process than the first album. We spent a lot of time on Skype discussing it and working out the smallest details. It was a lot of fun and definitely no stress.

The original photo by Lee Faircloth from 2009. Easy to date, as The Shard was still not built then.

Despite the differences, I do hold both artworks dearly. Both ways of working produced something that I still like looking at. It also makes me think about my upcoming album, the first that will have my name as the performer. Wish me luck.

By Kristóf Hajós

The singer of The Unbending Trees - your favourite Hungarian crooner from Amsterdam

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