The British visual artist, who worked closely with seminal record label 4AD, died December 29.
For enthusiasts of goth-rock and dream-pop from the '80s and '90s, the art of Vaughan Oliver is practically unavoidable.
The British graphic designer died December 29, 2019 at the age of 62, leaving behind a legacy of instantly-recognizable album covers from bands like Pixies, the Cocteau Twins, and plenty more. In 1982, he became the first employee of record label 4AD. Nowadays, the label's roster includes big-name alternative acts like the National, Grimes, Big Thief, and Deerhunter, but during their earlier years, 4AD played a crucial role in shaping the fabric of the indie offerings to come. As their in-house graphic designer, Oliver had a major hand in forming the label's visual aesthetic."Without Vaughan, 4AD would not be 4AD and it's no understatement to say that his style also helped to shape graphic design in the late-20th century," the label wrote on their website. Below, we remember Oliver with a list of the best and most significant album covers he designed.
Modern English: After the Snow (1982)
One of Oliver's first sleeve designs was for British new-wave band Modern English. Their sophomore record features the single "I Melt With You," their most popular song to date.
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The Dutch artist and musician's newest release is buoyant dance music inspired by nighttime bike rides.
You might recognize some of the art created by Nick van Hofwegen, aka Young & Sick. It's adorned the covers of Foster the People's Torches and Mikky Ekko's Kids, among many other albums.
You might also recognize his music—and if you don't, you very well may be hearing him everywhere soon. His newest EP, out May 3, is a collection of dance music that's as atmospheric and complex. With its crystalline production, pumped-up rhythms, and dreamy loops of synths and keys, it's tailor-made for clubs, bike rides, or for any time you need a pick-me-up or an excuse to take off and drive. Ultimately, it's the product of a mind that's clearly enamored with its own ability to distill color and sound into shapes and tunes.
The music has a buoyancy to it, a clarity that belies meticulous attention to detail but still meshes well with its sense of electric intensity and free-spirited energy. Standout tracks include "JET BLACK HEART," a track that—despite its brooding lyrics—feels like the sonic equivalent of making it to the top of a mountain after a long trek; the thrilling, bittersweet "IT'S A STORM," and "SIZE OF RELIEF," which layers van Hofwegen's angelic, slightly overdriven vocals over an arrangement of reverb-drenched horns, cool synths, delicate strings, and tense rhythms.
Popdust talked to Young & Sick about the relationship between visual art and music, inspirations for his upcoming EP, and the importance of listening to albums all the way through.
Can you tell me a little bit about your upcoming EP, and the inspiration behind it?
YOUNG & SICK: This collection of work was made right before I went on tour with the Knox. In the back of my mind, while knowing I was gonna be on tour with them, I got really in the mood to make something more uptempo and uplifting, so that drove me to be faster in BPMs than I usually am. I'd also been making a lot of remixes for people, so it tied in with that, too. I took European dance roots and made something more sample-heavy and dancey.
At the time, I was also living in the valley in Los Angeles, and when I was making all the songs I was going on long bike rides in the evening. The songs I'd listen to while riding also shaped what I was creating—it was more dance music, so it made me shift towards that.
Are there any other inspirations, sonically or in terms of place, that you feel influenced your new work?
This EP is very largely inspired by the emotion of the city passing by on the bike. A lot of my inspiration—especially with this record—is drawn from sampling; I'd find a nice little piece of music that I'd chop up, and it would guide me to the next spot.
Have you always been into dance music? Did you grow up going out and dancing?
Growing up in the Netherlands, dance music was always pretty prevalent. I grew up a rock kid. Nirvana was my first love. There was always a lot of dance music around me, though, and when acts like the Chemical Brothers came out and started merging rock music with dance, a lot of people like me got very into that. Dance music has always been around me, and I've always had a big love for it, but it hasn't necessarily always come out in my music before.
YOUNG & SICK - BITTER END www.youtube.com
I know you do a lot of art as well, and it's pretty unique to see someone doing such high-quality work in two fields at once. Which did you start out with—art or music—and how do you see those two fields relating to each other?
That's really kind. I've always done both, as long as I can remember. I've been drawing as long as I've been playing guitar. I always say I feel like they come from the same place, and anyone's brain that can do one can do the other—it's multidisciplinary. They feed off each other so well. If I get stuck in either, I just switch up and keep going. I don't think there was one before the other; it was a chicken-and-egg kind of thing.
Your art and music seem to fit so well together. Do you have any sort of synesthesia? Do you see music in colors, or see them related in that kind of way?
I do think they tie into each other incredibly. I know people have full-on synesthetic things where they actually see color in sound—I don't have that to the full degree, but if I do artwork for my music or others' I tend to listen to it while creating the artwork, to really shape them around each other. I do see a very strong connection between them. When a band or artist gets that connection right, it makes me very happy—when someone's just getting it when the music and art live in the same world, it's such a gratifying feeling.
Did you feel pressure to choose between them? Was there a moment when you decided you weren't going to pick one of the two fields?
I wouldn't say I was pressured to ever choose. There were early moments where I was thinking, I want to use this name for both fields, for doing art for other people and for myself and also for making music, and there were definitely moments where people were kind of wary of that. But I never had to choose, luckily.
Your music and art are very psychedelic. Is that something you're interested in and do you explore spirituality in any way, or where does that imagery come from?
My work draws from 70's psychedelia, and obvious bands like the Grateful Dead that I've always looked up to, in terms of their art and how well they made an insane brand for themselves. I'm a big proponent of that type of art, going that far in detail and tying everything together that well. I'm not necessarily a very spiritual person but I do tend to like the occasional psychedelic… I definitely draw inspiration from that.
What's happening next with your music?
I'm working hard on a follow-up. A lot of musicians like me, as soon as you finish something, it's kind of out of your system. I'm working to follow it up with something different, but in a similar line.
What's the inspiration behind your band name?
My manager used to throw a lot of parties in New Orleans when he was going to Tulane University. He'd ask me, do you know a good name for a party? I'd come up with one and make a flyer, and he'd start passing them out. One day I saw those two words [young and sick] together, sitting next to each other, and I made a poster for him with that name, and he said that was one of his favorite parties. I had that poster up in my bedroom in London when I was living there, and I was looking at it and thought, I kind of need that name. I started putting out songs and making art with it, and it kind of stuck. It's a simple, striking name—you just have to tell someone once and they remember.
Are you going on tour soon?
There's going to be a few shows—LA and New York and some festivals—and I'm doing a bunch of DJ sets as well. We're figuring out what the next tour is because we just came off of one.
You do a lot more than visual art and songwriting. What other fields do you work in?
Remixing is something I've been very fond of lately. Obviously, the art for festivals and other people and that kind of thing has been amazing. Fine art and making things, in general, is definitely a big passion. With music and art, there are so many little nuances within each field.
Are you particularly excited about any of the songs on the upcoming EP?
Every time you make a release, there are a lot of songs that don't end up on it—usually I make about triple the amount, and we send them to the people we work with at the label and they come up with their favorite lists, which were pretty close to what I had in mind for this one. Sometimes it's hard to pick between the songs because you made all of them, so it works well when somebody on the outside picks one and it aligns with your choices. My favorite songs all ended up on this EP. The song that's about to come out, which will close the EP, is called "SIZE OF RELIEF," which is also the name of the EP. I wrote it in New Orleans in such a short time—maybe a two-hour window of making the first loops and all the vocals—and it just felt so right. I just had to change a few things, and detailing and mixing took a lot more time—but initially, it just took a few hours, and when that happens, I just feel so good. That one is definitely one of my favorites.
Anything else you want people to know?
I know it's hard for a lot of people these days to take in more than a few songs at once, but I'd encourage people to take off 20 or 25 minutes and listen to the EP in full.
It seems like kind of a lost art to go through and listen to a full album, but it's super rewarding when you do.
That's kind of how it was meant to be heard. If anyone's able to do that, that'd make me happy.
Young & Sick's debut album was released in 2014. "Size of Relief" is now available on streaming services. Listen here.
Eden Arielle Gordon is a writer and musician from New York. Follow her on Twitter @edenarielmusic.
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