Eric Philippe is the man behind the iconic cover artworks of Rhapsody’s first two albums. Here is the story of how it all happened.
First of all: who is the artist Eric Philippe?
Eric: I’m an artist and freelance graphic designer, based in Belgium, Europe. After graduating from the Saint-Luc Fine Arts Institute in my hometown of Liège in 1983, I went almost immediately into creating logo designs and painting airbrushed illustrations for rock bands. Passionately fond of metal music in those NWOBHM days, I started soon to work for bands and records labels. My work involves the creation of artistic concepts and graphic realization of artworks, logo designs, brand image, commercial and merchandising graphic designs for companies worldwide.
So, the reason you ended up working with this type of music is because you are a personal fan?
Eric: At the base, I’m a hard rocker and I grew up with the NWOBHM. I’m no musician but I express myself with graphic art in that field. So, it was obvious for me to collaborate with Metal bands and Metal labels.
How exactly did you career start, working for record labels and bands I mean?
Eric: When I was still a student at Arts Institute, I started creating logos and graphic designs for bands around 1981/1982. I used to go to gigs, had after-show meetings with the artists and started to propose designs. I got some reviews about my art work in magazines and soon I have been contacted by labels for commissioned album covers. As I was frequently working for the Belgian label Mausoleum, they finally proposed me to work full time in the company in 1985. I stayed there for a year and a half until the company closure. Then I decided to work for myself and I have been a fulltime freelance designer since 1987. Time flies, isn’t it?
Yes, it truly does! How has that affected the importance of cover artworks for bands, in your opinion? And how has that changed and developed during the years?
Eric: I must say that in early 80’s, the business was not so developed as we know it today. Bands were recording their demo in their rehearsal room, most of the time in their garage, with a cheap tape recorder and then they used to send their music on a cassette to the few record labels to get a deal. When lucky, they were going to a real recording studio to produce their album and the labels were taking care of the album cover art. You must be aware that computer was not even existing then, no CD, barely a fax machine. So, bands needed labels for production and promotion.
Let’s go back to 1997 and the debut album of Rhapsody: Legendary Tales. You did the design of both the album artwork, but also the logo. How did you end up doing that?
Eric: Each year I had been participating to the MIDEM, the world’s biggest international event for the music industry and a customer of mine introduced me to a German label I never worked with. From then I started to collaborate to their next productions. One day, the German label sent me a tape cassette with Rhapsody written on it. This «new Italian band» got a deal and the label asked me to propose logo designs sketches first and then the CD album cover. I must say it was the average way to work.
Do you remember the conversation between you and the band; did they make suggestions, and did they have an idea beforehand about how they wanted the artwork and logo?
Eric: In general, when labels are commissioning me for a cover, there was little or no communication with the band. That was pretty much the case with Rhapsody. I had a few phone conversations with Luca Turilli but the main communication was with the record company. For the logo design, this is my own concept, creation and realization.
The Rhapsody logo is, for me, one of the best band logos out there as it truly states what kind of band this is. How was the work making that logo?
Eric: Thank you. Well it all starts with a pencil and a blank A4 page, as simple as that. Common to every design when you want to make personalized art. I start sketching until I find some interesting solution for me and for the band. Then I develop in a much more detailed drawing and decides how to realize it according to the final results. Both Rhapsody logos [grey and gold versions] are handmade, airbrush and brushes fine illustrations.
How was the work with Legendary Tales technically speaking; how did you create it?
Eric: For the first album, I based my work on the lyrics and the few information from the record company. I started drawing a pencil sketch, sent it by fax to the label. I remember there was a colorful sketch realized with acrylics and brushes, sent by post to the label for approval. Keep in mind we had no internet at that time, no e-mail, no Messenger, no Facebook… The fastest way to communicate with an image was a fax machine. And then after approval from the label and from the band, I made the final realization on large size, handmade fine illustration with acrylics, gouache, airbrush and brushes. A real painting.
How much time did you spend; was it difficult to make the band «happy»? How many drafts was created during that process?
Eric: I eventually spent a lot of time on it, around 6/8 weeks or so. More on the airbrush painting realization than on the concept. Only one sketch was proposed. I had well prepared my project, closely based on the label briefing and on the band lyrics. In this case the artwork was a landscape mode. So, I had been quite committed to my work. As usual I would say.
Is it important for you to listen to the music itself before creating the artwork? Is it important that the artwork «disclose» the music?
Eric: Yes, it seems to me very important to hear the music and to know about the band before starting on a new concept. It must fit the band, match their image, their music and the fans expectations. And in my case, you must «judge the book by looking at its cover», isn’t it?
I remember when I was younger we had a record store in my homewtown selling only metal CD’s, and me and my friends would go there once in a while to buy new CD’s. We only picked CD’s by looking at the album cover! That way I discovered a lot of great music, including Legendary Tales, but also the first Sonata Arctica, Falconer and so on. So yes, I agree; the cover artwork is really important!
Eric: Glad to hear that. It gives a real sense to my work and its great role.
How about the album title? Is that also an important element when creating an artwork?
Eric: Graphic wise or concept wise, the album title must click with the whole concept and packaging. I like to put out a real spread.
You did also create the cover artwork for Symphony Of Enchanted Lands (1998). What was the initial idea behind that artwork; was it the band who gave you directions or did they give you free hands?
Eric: For this second album, it was slightly different. After the first album big success, both the record company and the band were more involved in the concept. They sent a much more detailed briefing, more information about the album concept (a double page artwork again). Very interesting to work in such a way. Eventually I proposed a rough sketch and it was matching their expectations. From there I realized the «gold logo» and the cover artworks that you all know. Another huge success all over the place… Suddenly my name was known…
Was the Symphony Of Enchanted Lands artwork your breakthrough, so to say?
Eric: I had already made lots of covers before it but this one opened some eyes and put my name on the map. But at the same time, you are «tagged» with the Rhapsody dungeons & dragons stamp for the next few years. Nowadays it is a reference. One important point, I noticed that the cover artist reputation goes together with the band notoriety. Whatever the quality of your work, if the band sells, you will get recognition from the business and from the fans. But if you do the best job for obscure bands that are not selling at all, your name will stay in the background. So, the Rhapsody adventure was a nice experience for me. Thumbs up!
Icing on the cake: both Rhapsody original artworks have been purchased by Joey DeMaio (Manowar) for his personal collection.
Besides working with Rhapsody, you have also created album artworks for bands such as Holy Mother, TNT, Mob Rules, Riot, Iron Fire, Insania Stockholm and so on, and so on. What are your favorite album artworks – and why?
Eric: This is a hard question. I have so many «favorite» artworks. Some for the graphic realization, some for the «band», some for both. I suppose Brotherhood of Metal for the RODS and Black Butterfly for Steve Walsh (KANSAS) have special meanings to me. But I guess the best one is going to be the next…
And if you could pick: who would be your dream band or artist to create an album cover for?
Eric: This is again a hard question. I’m probably far from dreaming or being in groupie mode but a call from Rush, Rival Sons, Joe Bonamassa, Iron Maiden or the Rolling Stones could be a real challenge. To name a few…
Do you only create album artworks on demand, or do you have a collection of already made artworks you can offer to bands?
Eric: I work on special order only. I realize graphic design and personalized artworks to match the band style, music and requirements. All is made to deliver the same high quality to all my clients. So, no bank image ready in stock, I do focus on bespoke design.
In your words: how has the album artworks changed during the years, and what do you think about today’s album artworks?
Eric: Album artworks have changed, due to the new music styles, tastes and technology. Computer brought easy solutions to people who are not even creative nor graphic artists. It is more accessible but at the end of the day, all results look the same. There’s a lack of creativity. In the seventies, there was an album cover culture. Nowadays CD covers look like movie or game covers, it makes no difference. The market is saturated with images you don’t even know what they are for as they all look the same.