H1 — The Heavy
The logo for Bath’s biggest export, The Heavy, was designed with no brief, no record label and no fee. It was created by co-songwriter and guitarist Dan Taylor’s younger brother James.
The monolithic Stone Henge-like logo was powerful, solid and playful all at once. With tongue firmly in cheek, it went on to adorn a series of eclectic and unusual record sleeves, including the band’s breakaway US hit ‘How You Like Me Now’.
Brothers in rock bands are a tried and tested formula, from The Kinks to Oasis. But brothers getting commissioned to design band logos is a path less trodden. When Dan Taylor of The Heavy (at this point a duo of Taylor and singer Kelvin Swaby) asked his illustrator brother James to create a visual identity, he didn’t need a brief. James knew his brother’s music inside out, and knew just what to do.
Speaking today, James says, “I knew what they liked, everything they were into. They’re not into overly designed things, there has to be an element of it falling together to feel right. And of course appropriation of other things — which is exactly what their music does, and is exactly how I still approach any work for them.” The result is a hand-drawn, rough-edged hunk of rock that was apparently “dashed off” by James and influenced by “Monty Python, DJ Shadow, old comics and The Cramps logo [see C1 of BLJB]”.
The band’s debut album, ‘Great Vengeance and Furious Fire’, a mainly home-recorded mashup of samples and live playing, was soon picked up by über cool record label Ninja Tune. The label loved the logo, even though James “never got around to finessing it — what you see is the first iteration. But in a way, that worked and felt immediate and almost untrained.”.
The strength of the logo gave James the freedom to put whatever he wanted on the covers, while still creating a record cover that looked like it came from The Heavy. His approach to artwork for the band has always been to not overthink things and just go with his gut. The visuals are made to to feel almost found and re-appropriated, with wonky, skewed, hand-rendered type sitting with pen-and-ink drawings and photo montage elements.
This cut-and-paste approach reflects the band’s musical blend of new and old, new riffs and melodies laid over old samples, found after years of crate digging. “Anything I did that was too laboured or crafted was rejected by the band as trying too hard. There had to be an element of the artwork feeling cobbled together in an urgent way.”
Another big influence for Taylor around this time was Sister Mary Corita — a fairly obscure American screen-print artist who created religious themed artworks by using pop colours, photography, hand-drawn elements and re-appropriated type. The sixties artist seems a perfect influence for the band in both era and location.
The Heavy was James Taylor’s first foray into music graphics. He’s since gone on to work with labels like Sony on “some bands that have disappeared”, and some that have stuck around like The Go Team. But he says his best experience has been working for The Heavy and he continues to push their strong aesthetic. Last year’s ‘Hurt and the Merciless’ LP carries on the theme — it’s punchy, hand-drawn, black and fluro green sleeve was sketched up at the eleventh hour after plenty of rejected ideas.
“The Heavy’s anonymity is what’s great.” he says. "As soon as they want a picture of the band on the cover that will be the death knell for me. Ha."