You'll have seen plenty of Jonathan Zawada's striking work over the years, with classic albums by Mark Pritchard, Rustie, and Wolfmother bearing his masterful covers. The most recent is his artwork for the latest LP by The Avalanches, We Will Always Love You, the Australian artist and designer's biggest project yet.
Released this week, the album is the legendary dance act's third full-length to date. It comes graced by an ethereal and photographic cover highlighting the creative director behind the Voyager Golden Record project, Ann Druyan. While the Avalanches album is inspired by ideas of "loss, love, space, signal, transmission", to quote Jonathan, it was actually the artist's idea to make the record sleeve honour the woman who helped put together that magical set of records currently floating out there amongst the stars.
Druyan and astronomer Carl Sagan fell in love with one another while working together on the Voyager project; the pair first met at a dinner party in 1974. Ann's feelings for her future husband were immortalised into the grooves of the Voyager disc itself, which has been travelling with the Voyager 1 probe across the Great Unknown since 1977.
To communicate those feelings of human love to alien kind, Druyan ingeniously decided to have her brainwaves recorded and then converted into a minute of audio which resembles something like exploding firecrackers. Jonathan took inspiration from this incredible tale for both the theme and techniques behind his sleeve.
"Robbie Chater (of The Avalanches) wrote an incredibly moving summation of the ideas, thoughts and feelings that had gone into the album's creation, the emotional narrative that was behind the music," Jonathan tells Creative Boom. "I was immediately reminded of the story of Ann Druyan and Carl Sagan; I don't think he'd heard the full story of the Voyager probe and the relationship between them and when he read it he was as smitten with it as I was."
"After that, I went on a hunt for photos of Ann and found one of her and Carl Sagan at a dinner party. The expression on her face was absolutely rapturous and had a wildness to it that I thought was so perfect. I then started exploring a few different ways to represent the quality of signal and transmission, running the picture through old TVs, projecting it as light, etc. It wasn't until quite a long way down the track that I remembered the idea of sonification – turning the image into sound and then back into an image again."
"Actually getting permission from Ann to use the image was a whole other story, and for a long time in the middle, we thought that it wasn't possible at all. As a result, several other finished album covers before we came back to this one."
The whole process of working on the album has been a long one for the artist, spanning two years due to the project's sheer scope. Some of the many, many roughs created have been shared with us by Jonathan, exclusive to Creative Boom.
"The album has rolled out gradually over the space of a year, and each song has needed artwork, visualisers and various other material," Jonathan tells us. "We've also been working on a short film to accompany the release, so there has been a lot of balls to juggle. Staying focused on a vision for that length of time is somewhat new to me. I don't imagine I made it easy on myself by trying to utilise so many different techniques and methodologies, either."
Jonathan built the alphabet-based artwork for We Will Always Love You's singles out of typography, illustration, graphics, symbols, charts, and data. The final touch was a 3D process that re-rendered elements as a luminous plane casting light through glass layers and an atmospheric volume. For each single, the artist also dug into the lyrics, samples and music to uncover as many of the layers as he could.
"I then had to turn the songs into their waveforms and would spend hours researching ways of representing lyrics or finding things like Ann Druyan's original EEG scan (of her brain activity), which is buried in the final piece."
"The music to me is so densely layered that I really wanted to represent that in some way. The varied, multifaceted approach also seemed to represent their almost collage-like music well, too. I ended up gravitating a lot to various outsider artists like Paul Lafolley, who created such dense worlds of symbolism, attempting to resolve science, emotion and the unknown into single messages."
It's no wonder that Jonathan describes working on We Will Always Love You as both "completely and utterly unique" and gruelling.
"I've been making covers for music for about 20 years now, and the scope, emotion, process and depth of this one is a completely new place for me. I feel like I've now been spoiled a bit in terms of the artistic depth that this went to."
"I've always thought that designing for music is a unique type of design since you are really only ever designing for a single audience member. I never consider who the musician's audience is; I only ever work to make them feel like the visual is right for the music."
Somehow, we feel any Galactic Federations out there would appreciate Jonathan's final product, out of this world as it is. We Will Always Love You by The Avalanches with artwork by Jonathan Zawada is released on 11 December 2020.