How Matthew Cooper designed last year's best album cover

The designer has created sleeves for artists from Arctic Monkeys to Paul McCartney. Here he tells us what the process is like.

The sleeve design for English band The Last Shadow Puppets came out on top for this year’s Best Art Vinyl awards, so we grabbed the chance to find out a little more about the man behind the idea – Matthew Cooper.

Matthew’s modification of a 1969 Tina Turner studio portrait managed to prove more popular than Jonathan Barnbook’s Blackstar design for David Bowie, which came second, and Jonathan Zawada’s design for Mark Pritchard, which came in third. (Find out more about the competition, and nominees, here.)

But he’s no stranger to the annual competition. Nominated numerous times previously and just missing out on a victory, the British freelance illustrator and graphic designer was thrilled to finally receive recognition.

Image: Matthew Cooper sleeve design for The Last Shadow Puppets Everything You’ve Come to Expect.

Matthew’s own sleeve design work for the independent music sector began with label work for Domino Recording, who signed his friend’s band Bowlfish. From there, Matthew designed a number of album covers for the Arctic Monkeys and other music luminaries such as Franz Ferdinand, Caribou and Paul McCartney. 

The Last Shadow Puppets is made up of Alex Turner (Artic Monkeys), Miles Kane (The Rascals) and James Ford (Simian) and Zach Dawes (Mini Mansions). 

We asked Matthew how his idea for the cover of the band’s second album – Everything You’ve Come to Expect - came about, and what it’s like to design for vinyl while collaborating with big-name musicians.

Image: Matthew Cooper's sleeve design for Arctic Monkeys album AM.

Miriam Harris: How did the idea come about for The Last Shadow Puppets album cover? It’s a bit different to your collage and typographic work.

Matthew Cooper: "Alex Turner and Miles Kane had found the photo of Tina Turner, so that was in the mix from quite early on in the process. However, many other avenues and ideas were explored - but it kept coming back to Tina!

"The plan was always to move The Last Shadow Puppets' artwork on from the 60s feel of their first album (which featured a black and white photograph by Sam Haskins) to a more 1970s feel. The photo of Tina Turner was taken in New York by Vogue photographer Jack Robinson in November 1969 – on the cusp of the 1970s – perfect timing for us."

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MH: How is designing a vinyl sleeve different to your other work? 

MC: "My background is in illustration, where you are often interpreting ideas, texts or themes that originate from other people. I see this as a similar process to working with musicians. My job is to interpret or reflect their themes, feel [and] lyrical content in a visual way. So, in that sense, I see the two processes as quite similar, even though the end results can be very different."

Image: Matthew Cooper design for Franz Ferdinand album You Could Have It So Much Better.

MH: You’ve worked on album covers for musicians such as the Arctic Monkeys and Paul McCartney – what’s the collaboration process like? Are you given a lot of creative freedom?

MC: "This varies greatly from project to project. Sometimes the artist will come with a very strong idea, sometimes with a totally blank canvas or the germ of an idea. Obviously listening to the music is a good start! But a conversation with the band or artist is an ideal start point too.

"I enjoy a process of collaboration and the exchange of ideas. On a practical level, it can also prevent a journey too far down an artistic blind alley."

Image: Matthew Cooper design for Paul McCartney album Kisses on the Bottom

MH: Why do you think there is resurgence in vinyl interest? 

MC: "I think that people have realised, or remembered, what a wonderful thing a record is. The size, the feel, the sound, the smell and, of course, the covers! There may, of course, be a certain amount of fashion involved in the current resurgence, but once the vinyl bug has bitten it is hard to shake off.

"Events such as the Art Vinyl Awards and the Independent Label Market definitely help keep the interest levels high."

Image: Matthew Cooper design for The Map Room album Weatherless

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MH: Will more people want a vinyl cover that offers an overall creative experience, like Blackstar (which has imagery that only appears after exposing it to light over a series of weeks or months)?

MC: "While it's true that many people are attracted to buying records by the artwork and the sleeves – and that the hidden features of the Blackstar cover have intrigued, I'm not sure that records that don't include such features will be a turn-off.

"Having said that, Blackstar is sure to inspire designers to look at interesting packaging ideas."

Image: Jonathan Barnbrook design for David Bowie's parting album Blackstar, which came second in the Best Art Vinyl awards 2016.