Rob O'Connor was part of the 'in house' design team at Polydor. He first worked on the cover for 'Join Hands'. In 1981 he set up his own design company 'Stylorouge'. He continued to work with Siouxsie & The Banshees and was responsible for the record sleeves for; Happy House, Christine, Kaleidoscope, Israel, Spellbound, Arabian Knights, Juju, and The Creatures' Wild Things, Miss The Girl and Feast. Stylorouge are now an international and well respected design company. They have been responsible for record sleeves for artists as diverse as Blur, Geri Halliwell, George Michael and also have been successful in many other fields including film and web design.

Were you part of the 'in house' design team at Polydor when the Banshees were signed? 

No, I joined in January 1979.

You didn't work on their first few releases, were/are you a fan of their music and what were your thoughts on the album sleeve for their debut 'The Scream'?

Yes, I enjoyed their confrontational no-nonsense attitude to the major record company pomposity of Polydor right from the start. I was brand new at the company and had been involved in the so-called new-wave scene down in Brighton previously. This was just the start at Polydor I was keen to be involved with. I still had to work for the likes of James Last and later on the retro mod bands and new romantics however.  I thought The Scream had a great cover. Dark, evocative, not predictable, not literal, quite slick in fact. I was a fan of Jill Mumford's work. It was Jill who I replaced at Polydor.

'Join Hands' was the first Banshees album sleeve you were involved  with.  We know that the cover for 'Join Hands' was pretty much a last minute decision when copyright for a previous piece of artwork of two children holding hands became an issue.  Were you involved with the initial drafts of the album sleeve, and do you remember the first choice of picture?

Yes vaguely. I believe it was done in part by John Maybury who went on to be more of a film-maker. The Join Hands sleeve that eventually made it to the shops featured four of the soldier statues cut-out from a press shot of the band , I believe taken by Adrian Boot for the NME or some other paper. The real battle for us was to convince the company to use textured board and make it a gatefold. The lack of colours helped to win  the day. The wreath of poppies was devised to help add colour and create a graphic device for use  on merchandising. I've seen the odd T  shirt with the soldiers on even recently.  I've always liked the illustration of the band on the inner spread - it was the only  part of the original design that survived.

Join Hands Tour Program Front Cover Click Here For Bigger Scan Join Hands LP Front Cover Click Here For Bigger Scan Join Hands Label Click Here For Bigger Scan

Within the constraints of the Polydor 'in house' design team were you given much of a free reign.  Was there a sense of loyalty to the company, to a particular band, both, or just to follow your own vision?

Polydor was an unhealthily overweight, generally out-of-step company at the time - I was a newcomer and a fairly insignificant cog in the machine, but an ally to the bands I worked for. There were some bands who seemed to exercise much of their communication with Polydor mainly through the art department. My aim was always to pursue as iconoclastic a visual path as possible, wherever possible, after all, this was fashionable at the time

'Happy House' was the first Banshees picture sleeve to feature Siouxsie on the cover.  As the band was always adamant that they were a four piece and not just a backing band for Siouxsie was the cover something you pushed for or was it never an issue? 

It was one of a handful of ideas that I put forward. The solo shot of  Siouxsie had a deranged look about it and seemed to suit the feeling of incarceration. I don't remember the other members of the band having a problem with the cover. The only single format was 7" vinyl and a group shot wouldn't have had the same impact. Usually we would avoid having any shot of the band anyway... this one slipped through.

Click Here For Bigger Scan Happy House 7" Single Front Cover Click Here For Bigger Scan

The covers for Join Hands and Happy House were simple and definitely conveyed a sense of what the buyer was going to find on the record. They were also definitely from the 'less is more' school of thought. Did you find any resistance to the artwork presented for these releases? What inspired such minimal covers?

To some extent I was still cutting my design teeth at the time, and getting used to what was possible. I hadn't yet come to appreciate the potential that collaboration offers, so the early designs reflected a combination of the Banshees and my own taste and the limitations of my own artistic abilities. One of the objectives was to avoid the sleeves looking like so many other 'post-punk' sleeves of the time.

'Christine' is one of my all time favourite record sleeves and probably the first time I became aware of Rob O' Connor. Who were the models used in the photo shoot?

It's a simple 'trick' photograph really, shot and assembled in an early 20th century European kind of way. It's a single girl, cast from a model agency, shot in two positions and composited in the darkroom (no computers then). The look of the sleeve conveyed the band's interest in German film   and photography. The hand painted type and purple turtles hopefully added a sense of personality and naivety

Christine 7" Single Front Cover Click Here For Bigger Scan

The 'Israel' cover is unique in the respect that the reliance is more on the record label than the sleeve, whose inspiration was that?

I think this was my idea, although I won't sue if someone contradicts me.  The sound of the track seemed very grand - the theme of the song itself was certainly not traditional pop song material. It felt like it needed some thing outside the norm. The painting of the chrome Star of David was adapted from an old album of traditional Jewish songs.

Israel 7" Single Front Cover Click Here For Bigger Scan

As an introduction to your book 'Stylorouge' you mention an early advertisement for 'punk' group 'The Adverts' consisting of a series of guitar chords.  Was this still in your mind when you worked on the 'Juju' album sleeve?  I've read that the mask featured on the sleeve was a contribution from the band themselves.  Was working with the band generally a collaboration, how much input did they have themselves?

The band's input was often essential. Only by understanding the way a band see themselves can really effective artwork be produced. For juju, The band suggested using the African figure - a fetish - and I commissioned the photo illustrator Thomi Wroblewski to research and photograph possibilities at the Museum of Mankind. They had also asked me to try and give the final  image a Dada kind of approach, and  the eventual combination with  crumpled and hand-coloured sheet music achieved that I think. Thomi  had a bunch of prints of the fetish, some of which had been printed using the transparencies as negatives, which turned the almost black wood of the object to look more like gold. The convergence of all the influences involved was helping to create something almost unforeseen - very exciting.

Juju LP Front Cover Click Here For Bigger Scan

As a young fan I remember being impressed that the sleeves for 'Spellbound' and 'Arabian Knights' (two singles from the same album) were thematically similar.  Was there any thought/suggestion that the album sleeve should also be along the same lines i.e. a woodcut?

Not really. The woodcut idea was a natural development of the primitive art theme. The band had found a woodcut by an artist - I believe called Gerhard Richter. I contacted his widow at the time - never shy to take the direct route - and she politely declined the use of the work. A husband and wife team of woodcut  artists, Lars and Lois Hokansen, were then commissioned to produce an image with a similar feel - a crazed ritualistic dance scene. I drew the image for Arabian Knights myself, to some extent to save money.

Spellbound 7" Single Front Cover Click Here For Bigger Scan Arabian Knights 7" Single Front Cover Click Here For Bigger Scan

The Wild Things EP musically is very claustrophobic, laid bare, and stripped of any over embellishment, something I think the artwork for the sleeve captures perfectly.  Siouxsie has since said that her inspirations for the infamous sleeve were the shower scene in 'Psycho' and Millias' painting 'Ophelia'.  Were you aware of this at the time?

She may have overlooked the photographs that a couple of gay fans from the USA had sent to her of themselves in a shower. Either that or the band may have made this story up to get me going! I   don't remember the "Psycho' reference although I guess it's an obvious one in retrospect.  What I loved about the images was that the subject matter dealt  with raw spontaneous desire and the shoot was carried out in an appropriately  last minute fashion. It really captured the stripped-back sensuality of the EP. I still find the Creatures projects very exciting musically.

Wild Things EP Front Cover Click Here For Bigger Scan

You worked with numerous different photographers during and since your work with the Banshees but a name that keeps popping up is Adrian Boot.  Do you have a particular favourite?

To work with great photographers has been one of the most fulfilling aspects of my work. I don't have a favourite as such, but I've had the pleasure of working with Simon Fowler, Kevin Westenberg, Sheila Rock, David Scheinmann, Michele Turriani... loads of great people

Photography plays an important part in some of the design elements of your work.  Do you have a preferred medium to work with/in?

Each job will suggest the best way to go. I love photography, illustration and typography. My current obsession is carrying a project over a range of media. Stylorouge has embraced new media - we've got pretty good at it actually! A perfect project is: album and single packaging, print and on-line marketing, promo video, website... I've even got into taking my own photographs more often. Directing videos and EPK's has become as important to us as design over the past couple of years.

Out of all the covers which one was the hardest to sell to the band and did they ever reject any outright?

Without doubt, Once Upon A Time was a masterpiece of bad communication.  The band were on tour in Europe, and without the benefit of modern digital communications we had to rely on post and couriers to present visual ideas. The band had resisted the idea of a Greatest Hits package at all, so we were on a sticky wicket to start with. I'd sketched out an idea involving a moody, spooky photograph of a rag doll of Siouxsie in a Victorian  cot. At that point the album had no title (The Best Of wasn't an option) so I'd  visualised some old fashioned calligraphic type with my own suggested title 'Playthings'. Their manager at the time, Nils Stevenson, took the visual with him  to show the band in Yugoslavia, but failed to show them my accompanying  note.  The idea was rejected out of hand. Later I was to read an interview with Sioux and Severin where they criticized the idea as being a cartoon. Fortunately for me this was part of a verbal annihilation of the record company, not me, but clearly they had not understood or been explained the concept. The relationship of image and title and its reference to the music business was pertinently ironic.

Once Upon A Time Front LP Cover Click Here For Bigger Scan

Do you have a particular fondness or overriding memory of any sleeve design in particular?

Probably Wild Things by The Creatures. It felt very different for the time and the memory of being perched on the toilet seat of a Newcastle hotel bathroom spraying Siouxsie and Budgie will amuse me for ever.

The last piece you worked on with Siouxsie was The Creatures' 'Feast' album.  In your book 'Delicious' you state that when you started your career with Polydor you toyed with the idea of being star struck for a while, but that soon passed.  You describe Siouxsie as being' no different than the people you went to school or collage with'.  When your working relationship with the band ceased did  you follow their  progress.  Were you aware of any of their subsequent record  sleeve designs?

Feast LP Front Cover Click Here For Bigger Scan

Of course. I remain a fan and have enjoyed monitoring their visual history.

When designing an album or CD cover, where do you pull most of your inspiration from?  Do the artists themselves give you ideas to work from, or do you have total artistic license?  How much does the actual music inspire you to make creative images and/or designs? When I listen to music, I get a lot of creative ideas. I think music has a strong link to visual art.

Oh boy. This is a long answer, although the alternative is a great chance to plug the book Delicious where this kind of stuff is discussed - it's readily available on Amazon

Delicious By Rob O' Connor & Jim Davis Click Here To Order Your Copy

Your dream job.  Who would you really like to work with?

Tom Waits? The love child of Courtney Love and James Brown? Greenpeace?

The music industry still occupies a large percentage of 'Stylorouge's' workload.  With the advent of smaller and smaller recording formats and even medium that requires no packaging e.g. MP3,  where do you feel this leaves design in general?

Question 12 has the answer.

Artistically how would you represent Siouxsie in the year 2004?

Brilliantly well.

Click Here For Styloroue's Website

Questions From: Petah, Spellbound, Venus Sands, Robbiefett, Queitkaos, Pico, Betty Jet Blake, The Skull, Exterminating Angel