Kula Shaker & K2.0 : A designers journey with Rob O’Connor
Rob O’Connor started his career as in-house designer at Polydor Records but left to start Stylorouge in 1981 taking some of his existing clients with him such as Kirsty MacColl, Level 42 and Siouxsie and the Banshees. Stylorouge have gone on to work with hundreds of artists including Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Blur, Squeeze and Kula Shaker for whom they have designed the majority of their record sleeves since 1996. Here Rob describes how his team developed the final cover concept for K2.0, the band’s fifth studio album, recorded in 2015 in London and Lompret, Belgium and released the following year on CD, vinyl and digital download.
When Kula Shaker’s debut single Tattva was re-issued, Sony opted for a visual change of direction which was fortunate for us! We were asked to bring in some new ideas so we created a number of mood boards with the band to see what they responded positively to.
HERALDRY AND LOGOS
We considered some of the band’s other interests; the graphics produced by the arcane pacifist community called The Kindred of the Kibbo Kift which based itself on an outdoor culture – camping, hiking and handicrafts. Our brief flirtation with the Kibbo Kift took us into another world stylistically, and we were concerned that it could end up looking a little sinister. It reminded me of The Lord of the Flies.
Image from a camp of The Kindred of the Kibbo Kift.
We also continued to explore other design themes, one of which was based on updating heraldic symbolism, another the glorious illustrative decorations that were prevalent on the leather-bound books of the early 20th century. We were keen to create a strong, established-looking logo specifically for the album and so we brought a bit of medieval typography and Middle Eastern calligraphy into the mix too.
Illuminated manuscript letters
Logo sketch for Kula Shaker album by Stylorouge
MOUNTAINS AND WOLVES
We also created a sleeve visual based on a found 1930’s art deco sculpture of a wolf, moonlit, with a mountain in the background, but the band preferred just the mountain as it was relevant to the title of album.
So we were finally moving forward, and started gathering together other images of mountains such as Mount Kailish
And with the band now needing to share some of the new music they were making with selected media, we produced an early temporary promo CD cover just using mountains – in this case K2 of course!
At the same time we put together further visual references of mountainscapes, trying to find foreground imagery that created an appropriate mood and narrative for the music. We set about researching historic books of folk tales and children’s stories that evoked the right feeling – The mystery, enormity, and power of nature, and ways of conveying humanity’s relationship to it. Images of flags, animals, and Indian deities were considered. Lyrics from the songs threw up more visual references that could become important to the final composition. An illustration felt like the best way to encompass everything we and the band wanted to convey, and somehow someone had to pull it all together.
LOCATING THE ILLUSTRATOR
I have long been a fan of an early 20th Century Russian fairytale illustrator called Ivan Yakovlevih Bilibin, whose work the band responded well to. We initiated the search to find an illustrator with a similar style.
Images by Ivan Yakovlevih Bilibin
After a lot of searching we found Kate Baylay – she was pretty young at the time. We loved her work and I met her to discuss the band, the project and the visual brief. She left the Covent Garden cafe looking and feeling quietly confident. However when her first sketch came back I was a little disappointed. I needed to remind myself of the quality of her finished work – sketches are often just the first stepping stones to building a composition and don’t convey the final style. Sure enough, I shouldn’t have worried. As Crispian, Kate and I liaised more and more throughout the creative process, she moved on to this lovely detailed drawing below (variants also shown at the top of this story).
Drawing by Kate Bailey/Stylorouge
Final drawing with logo for album sleeve K2.0 by Kula Shaker.
Kate produced the work in layers so that Mark Higenbottam at Stylorouge could re-format and augment various elements to extend the visual story, for instance by illustrating the individual songs on the album – the sun and the crows for example – on a set of song sheets which accompanied the deluxe format of the vinyl release. When it comes to the recent resurgence of vinyl and it’s packaging I think the band were ahead of the game really. The song sheets and the album cover itself all look great and yes, I’m really proud of this this project.
Final printed sleeve of K2.0 by Kate Bailey and Stylorouge.