Ahead of a new exhibition within the current U2 retro at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, designer Steve Averill recalls the early days.
Averill and his design team, now called Four5One, have worked with the band on their visuals from the beginning - album covers, Propaganda magazine and tour programmes as well as digital design work like the interactive menus employed on the Elevation 2001 Live from Boston DVD.
As Matt McGee points out, in his interview with Averill for fan site atu2.com
, the relationship goes back to before U2 was U2, 'when The Hype sought the counsel of a Dublin punk rocker named Steve Rapid.'
Here are some highlights from the interview.
Your exhibit is replacing an exhibit of Anton Corbijn's photography, which leads to an obvious question: you're the band's art director and their image is your job. But so much of their image is also tied up in Anton's work. How closely do you work with Anton and who takes the lead in making sure the photography fits and complements the overall art direction?
The relationship with Anton is one of mutual respect. I first suggested that Anton work with the band for the War album when Bono asked me which photographer should we work with and I thought his photographic style would suit the mood I wanted best.
Anton has such a strong visual sense it is more a question of working on ideas than art-directing him. However, once the photography is done we devise several strategies based on the photography or including it as an integral part, to see which direction the band want to pursue. Anton is involved at this stage but not as heavily; his involvement varies on individual projects. At that point it is essentially down to the band and myself and Shaughn McGrath, the other half of the Four5One equation.
Let's go back to the beginning -- your first image-related work for U2 was coming up with the name "U2". Once and for all, what's the story behind the name, how you came up with it, and what you had in mind when you suggested it?
After several discussions with Adam on numerous music-related topics we talked about coming up with some potential names. We felt that The Hype was inappropriate. So Adam would say that the direction they were thinking was like this particular band or that particular band. He then said at one meeting that he would like a name like XTC. I thought about that and my suggestion was U2. As it had a graphic simplicity and strength and would be easily identifiable in a worldwide context. It also comes from the frequently used expression "you too", and it was the name of the Gary Powers spy plane as well as turning up in a lot of other places. For instance, my tape deck was a Sony U2.
Did I read somewhere that you gave Adam a list of ten name ideas? Do you remember any of your other suggestions?
Only one other name, which was somewhat tongue in cheek, was The Blazers. Though there is a band from East L.A. using that name so maybe it wasn't so bad. It kind of fits with the Hives and Strokes type of name now.
As you work on the current project, is it more challenging because you're working with a band that has such an extended history? I mean, people on the street hear the name "U2" and in all likelihood, they already have an image of the band. Do you find yourself fighting against that history at all?
No more than any band that has created its own iconography as they have. When talking about image, etc., they will reference the Beatles or the Stones but, in their own way, they have also got a visual history. You are always aware of it but we always try not to do something predictable.
The overall thing for me is to produce covers that are largely free from being tied to one particular time. The sleeves should be able to work if they were coming out now. In other words, I think that if Boy was coming out now for a new band it would be as strong a cover image now as it was then. Hopefully, by and large we have achieved this.
Finally we love working with them, and as a band as I feel that they see their best work is in front of them and they are always looking to challenge themselves and to do something new, for them, and we try to match that enthusiasm and outlook in our work with them.
Read the whole of this interview here www.atu2.com