LASSE HOILE Talks His Work, Connection with STEVEN WILSON & More

Interview with Lasse Hoile

It could be said for a Danish artist Lasse Hoile that his art marked a small part of history in the last 25 years. He is most known for designing album art for Porcupine Tree and Steven Wilson, for whom he also worked on a few videos and live video recordings. 

In a new interview for Prog Sphere, Lasse talks about his work and connection with Wilson, but he also reflects on struggles artists experience today, the work of Hipgnosis, gear, and future.

I am free to say that your art and designs adorn many great releases that were put out in last 20-25 years. How does it feel to be involved in something that epic?

Well, first of all thank you for such big words, it humbles me a lot. Not sure what makes an “epic” to be honest, other than massive sales of course, but in that case I’m not sure I’ve been involved in such. I’d say I’ve been involved in very big visual releases that have required tons of time and lots of personal sacrifice for the greater good of making best possible art, packaging and of course tying it together with live shows.

There is a popular saying “don’t judge book by the cover.” If we change book for an album sleeve that you designed, this statement actually looses its value. I haven’t come into an album with your design which music I didn’t like. What is the thing that is crucial for you in order to start working on a project? Do you need to hear music before you start your work on design?

I’d, sadly, say that you can indeed judge an album by its cover—some for good, mostly for the bad. In that I mean most people in certain genres just want the same old shit over and over again, and if it works on a t-shirt it’s even better, especially for the management and label, as they sell merch more than albums these days—it’s sad really. Most don’t really think about artwork and packaging until the very end and that’s when you end up with all these so called “special editions” with no thought and mostly same old image used over and over again, because there is no content or idea behind it and somehow you need to make these special editions to actually sell a physical product. Most are not doing anyone any favours since 98% of them are waste of time and effort not to mention that they are not worth the paper it’s printed on so I’ve always been very adamant in trying to work with people who feel the same way about having a strong visual impact that will coincide with the music. Or you are simply wasting time and using up valuable trees to make atrocities that shouldn’t be made in the first place.

Of course I have to like the music to be able to work, I’m not in this to make cash or just do what ever comes along—maybe a bad business decision and why I’m still only one step away from ending on the street [laughs]—but I simply cannot waste my time on something I don’t believe in. It would not only waste my time but everyone else’s and time is precious, there are already too many  people doing the same shit over and over again. It has to be worth the while or there is no point… for me at least.

Steven Wilson, 2010. © Lasse Hoile

Steven Wilson, 2010. © Lasse Hoile

You have been working with Porcupine Tree and Steven Wilson for many years now. How did your collaboration start in the first place?

I simply wrote SW after having seen Porcupine Tree playing to about 18 people at a little club in Denmark around 2000, I think it was. It was me and two friends driving down to see this amazing band only we knew. We thought the place would be packed but it was empty and we couldn’t understand it—I think we probably experienced one of the best shows ever—and I just said I had to do something, this can’t happen, these guys need to be seen and heard. I just offered my help to Steven and he replied and the rest is history, as they say. It’s been a long and hard trip, it still is. I quit my day job, which in hind sight might not also have been the best idea, but if you don’t step into unknown territory once in a while you never progress, I think… I don’t regret anything, although it hasn’t been easy with a few near-death experiences, but the adventures make up for it and the people you meet along the way and stories… It’s all worth it.

Which of your works that you did for Steven Wilson—solo or Porcupine Tree—are you most proud of? Which one was the most challenging to work on?

Gosh, very hard question. I love em all, they are all very different—different approach, style, direction, themes, use of materials etc. Each and every one has been a new ground, and just trying to get to the essence of it can sometimes be hard, but that’s also what makes it so interesting; you constantly learn and have to reinvent, what keeps you on your toes. Also with each release something has always happened in my personal life—death, break-ups, depression, hospitals… you name it—so you can say blood, sweat and tears have certainly gone into each of the works. But the end goal is what keeps you going, and luckily having a friend such as Steven who really wants the same as me in terms of quality and makes just something special each time, it just gives you the energy to keep pushing on, pushing me. So I really can’t say, but I’m certainly proud of Insurgentes as it really was our first attempt and then Grace For Drowning. But I have equal measures for all of them, I think we did something no one else has done in the same way, and certainly Hand. Cannot. Erase, which is something I’m not sure I’ve seen anyone else has come close too.

Porcupine Tree - In Absentia, 2001 © Lasse Hoile

Porcupine Tree – In Absentia, 2001 © Lasse Hoile

Let’s talk about your work on Steven’s upcoming, fifth studio album To the Bone. What was your approach to this one?

Since Hand. Cannot. Erase. was such a massive thing, I think myself and especially Steve were not trying to “beat” the previous release, but just make To the Bone different. There was simply no point in trying to repeat ourselves, and the fact that Steve’s new album is also different type of album than before—of course I can’t give anything away—I think you will understand when you see the new editions and hear the music why we did what we did this time. It’s no less ambitious by any means, on the contrary, but it’s just different and that’s a very good thing in my book. No point in doing the same old crap all over again, like a lot of others sadly do simply because they feel the need to do that way without having any interesting content.

The album cover for To the Bone is rather simple, but then again it sort of feels that it has a very deep meaning. How does the album art reflect on the music and the opposite?

I’d say it’s because it’s much more personal. Again, I really can’t give anything away, but I’d say when you hold it in your hands and go though the book and listen to the music, I think it will make perfect sense.

To The Bone (deluxe hard back book edition)

To The Bone (deluxe hard back book edition)

You and Carl Glover have actually released a book which illustrates your work with Steven, particularly the period from Porcupine Tree’s 2002 album In Absentia up to Hand. Cannot. Erase. What does it include?

We certainly have and it’s called Index—it mainly features outtakes and a bunch of unseen works from Porcupine Tree and all of Steve’s solo projects and other stuff he has been involved with over the years. But since both Carl and I do around a few thousands pics for each release, there is simply no place to put them all, so some are featured in this book and some will be featured in a few more books we are working on, although these are “solo” works both from Carl and me. I’m very excited about these and hopefully some more info will come out soon.

Index book

Which artists did inspire your work in the first place? As an artist who is mostly associated with Prog bands and musicians, what is your opinion on the art of the Hipgnosis studio and Roger Dean?

To be honest I was never into the whole “prog” thing until I met SW properly, still not into much of it, but I do love many of the Hipgnosis works. It’s classic and iconic, and even if you don’t know the music you surely have seen the images one way or the other. I’ve always been super fascinated with the very first Black Sabbath cover and what Marcus Keef (aka Keith McMillan who sadly passed away in 2012 with no mention, and sadly forgotten) did in the ‘70s. I love much of his stuff—he made simple yet captivating pictures. Personally, I think a photograph done right is just 100 times more potent than any silly drawing or paint job. Keef almost always had a person or people in his images, and one thing we humans relate mostly too is other humans. He also had a sense of making his images look out of place or from some parallel universe, not quite here in this time or place, but just askew enough to draw you in and think… And you remember them when you see them for sure, they do something to you what no graphical or silly symbol work can ever do!

I don’t really have any connection with Roger Dean, I know a few of his covers, but to me they all look the same. Yes never did much for me anyways, I love some of their tunes but cannot listen to a whole album… I think it’s from a time where spacey things were the shit, and you had to do cosmic and that kind of stuff.

I think that Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell made album covers into an art form which sadly seems to be forgotten, especially in these days with streaming music and images the size of postage stamp… I think it’s a damn shame and sad, but if you are not on fucking Spotify, you don’t exist in this day and age… I just hope that maybe places like Spotify and Apple music—if they love music as much as they proclaim—would also start to take note of the artwork and include credits etc. How hard can that be? Maybe some of thousands of jobs in this industry could come back… Because, damn, there is tons of shit out there and people don’t really seem to care about it… Of course I’m biased being my work, but I moan for the industry mostly. There are luckily still people who gives a damn.

Beside doing graphic design you are also in videography. Does film give you a greater opportunity to tell a story?

I don’t do graphic design, I leave that up to the pros such as Carl Glover. I started as an autodidact artist since I couldn’t get in any art school, nor film school. So what do you do? You keep on doing what you love the most, which for me is making art and taking pictures and try and see if you can get through the noise somehow. Since film is also a big passion of mine I find merging the two together only natural… But been working on super low budgets ever since, keeps you inventive but also hard to really show what you can when not given the budgets. But hopefully someday… It’s a constant fight since a lot of people are “afraid” of someone who hasn’t attended a proper art school or film school. You must have a paper to show that you are an artist or a filmmaker, but keep on trucking is what I know… It’s not always like trying to tell a story, it’s also to convey the emotions of the song though simple things or just create the right atmosphere without going over the top.

You’ve done both music and concert videos. I am sure that many people would love to know what kind of gear do you use for recording and editing

Well, it’s a bit difficult because all my stuff is bought on online instant loans and most projects don’t pay well so I always end up having to sell my gear again and try to not end up in debt. Just keeping a silly license nowadays alive and up to date is damn costly. I think I’ve sold all my gear about four times now, even my bed on two occasions and most of my inventory at home. But it’s only things… Things are not important, creating is for me and making things that make me happy is most important. Right now I only have a MacBook laptop and working in an old version of Photoshop—CS6, I edit sometimes in Premier Pro (CS6) and Final Cut Pro (6 or 7). I should upgrade soon… I do have a Nikon D800 which I just paid off but I’m still paying off my laptop and a few other things. Not sure I’ve ever owned much of my own gear. Obviously if there is a budget I rent some decent gear and try and employ some help to make it work. Gotta be inventive. Keeping on your toes.

Do you think that album sleeves today are way too digitalized? There are not that many of them nowadays that go that far like having a picture of a cow on an album cover. Do you think that the album sleeve art was bolder in the past?

Yes, and that’s a big yes! Seems like it’s the easiest solution and everyone with a camera and a computer can somehow whip up something, and a lot of people think they are suddenly directors or photographers or artists, when most of time they are just simply camera owners and nothing more. But it’s so easy with the tech that helps you not make mistakes to do something that looks nice… But is nice good enough? I don’t think so! 98% of what I see is so damn forgettable and atrocious I simply have no words, but then again a lot of people simply don’t give a damn! And of course people are used to so much banal stuff that it seems to be a norm today, and with social media people are afraid to speak their minds unless they hide in forums with fake names and then it’s the opposite. [laughs] I just think there is very, very little thought behind covers and content so why even bother? Maybe bands put so much time and effort into making their art which is very personal for them. Many also think because they might be good at music they know a lot about how a cover should be, but in many cases they don’t and it just falls flat on their feet, sad to say… I’m certainly not impressed with the output these days and it’s not getting better either.

From a perspective of an artist (designer, photographer, videographer) is there something that you are aiming to achieve? What are your goals?

Not to end on the streets, seriously! Also I would like to do more exhibitions as I’m an artist at heart and lot of what I do is actually personal stuff which just ended up on album covers… I have to get expenses covered somehow, right?

Visit Lasse Hoile’s official Facebook page and YouTube channel.

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