Interview: Hajo Müller

Born in Düsseldorf, Germany in 1965, Hajo Müller started drawing as a little kid … but unlike most kids, Hajo never stopped drawing yet.
He studied Graphic Design and Illustration in Trier, Germany from 1987 to 1993. He graduated in book design and illustration.
Hajo had several jobs as a cartoonist, political caricaturist, book illustrator/ designer and assistant professor for etching and drawing.
In 1996, he moved to Berlin and worked for animation studios like Filmstudios Babelsberg as a layouter, animator, set and character designer and for smaller advertising agencies as a layouter and storyboard drawer.
He moved back to Düsseldorf in 1999 to work for the big advertising agency GREY as an Illustrator. Since 2007 he is the Head of the Grey Illustration department.
In 2008 was he initiated his first contact with Steven Wilson …  

I was always a fan of Hajo’s work with Steven Wilson, and he was friendly enough to accept the few questions I had for him of which you’ll read the answers for below.  

Hajo Müller

Hey Hajo! How is it going? Would you kindly tell us a little bit about yourself: where are you from, what got you interested in illustrations and photography?
I was born in 1965, deep in the roaring sixties, in Düsseldorf, Germany. Drawing and painting was fascinating for me from the beginning, as a passion, as a kind of self expression… and just for fun of course. I started as child and I’m pretty sure that I won’t stop before I take my last breath.
Photography came much later, actually I started to take it “serious” about seven years ago. The first “ Music- Live” photos are even from 2013. So compare to my passion for illustrations this is pretty young. Photography became nevertheless pretty important to me in the meantime, it’s another way to express myself or to combine things visually.

I love to mix the different creative media like drawing with painting and photography. Further it gives me the chance to do things I was always interested in- for example the “Rock music- live” photography or especially to portrait people. Or when I do this for musicians- to be a part in a creative process I wanted always to be a part of.
I’m a drawer, painter, photographer, designer and I’m able to write my own texts. But music was always the part that was missing in my work. So as a big music fan I’m happy that I have the chance to combine it with my work on this way.
Your illustrations are often dark and twisted involving a lot of scribbling. Could you tell us why?
Well… there was a fascination for the dark things from the beginning. Darkness is not just negative to me- darkness also means often some kind of calm to me. It calms me to dark things when all around me seems to be so “light” and “positive”…what is often enough nothing but a fake for me.

People want to be positive- what is a good thing- but especially in these days we have to realize that there are a lot of unspoken things, aggressions and fears. As long as you not try to handle these dark feelings- and really everybody has such feelings from time to time at least, they will catch you in another moment that could be very uncomfortable maybe even hurting.
When I do the dark things it’s a kind of balance to me- for the things I realize around me and surely also for my inner balance. When I finish a dark drawing for example I’m usually in a very good mood- I’m relaxed, happy and like to laugh a lot. I’m sure this would be more difficult for me if I have to draw just “positive” things.

SW1Your collaboration with Steven Wilson dates back to 2009. You’ve worked on the Incident. Could you tell us how did this collaboration came about and what was working with Steven Wilson like?
It started in 2008 when I sent a portfolio with my works to “Roadrunner” who were the record company of “Porcupine Tree” at this time. They forwarded it to Steven and he liked especially my (twisted) drawings from the beginning. Obviously he was looking for a while now for a drawer/ painter who could be interesting to collaborate- and fortunately he saw a potential in my work.
So we started in 2009 and “The Incident”. Steven gave me from the beginning a lot of space in my work- what I really appreciate. Of course there’s always a concept where the things have to fit- but within the concept I’m often more or less completely free. I love to work this way and it’s a big pleasure to see this combined with Steven’s great music.

Were you a fan of Steven Wilson’s before this collaboration?
Oh yes, a big fan! This was the reason why I tried to contact him, it was a big wish of me to do something with him- so I was more than happy when I got his positive response.
Is music is an integral part of your creative process or just background noise?
Music is a big inspiration to me- far away from just a background noise! Surely more the melodies, the atmosphere…the lyrics just sometimes. Usually I choose the “right music” before I start to work. And “dark music” not necessarily mean “dark images” in the end. I can listen to Nine Inch Nails for example while drawing a cartoon. And I love to listen to movie scores when I’m working- not so much the “big orchestra” but much more those composers like Thomas Newman, Asche and Spencer, Cliff Martinez or Brian Reitzell.
And especially Steven’s music is very inspiring for me. This was another reason why I contacted him- his music was already very close to my work before we met.

PIGGIES3 or 4 years after the Incident, another collaboration with Steven Wilson occurs, this time on his 3rd solo album: The Raven that Refused to Sing. My question is, how involved was Steven Wilson with the creative process on the cover art and the drawings for the album?
Well, we had the general concept for the album- a book and styles that are made in the spirit of classical, old ghost stories. Surely always in mind that we didn’t just wanted to copy but more wanted to do our own version of this theme.Then it went actually always the same:
As the base we had the story or the story idea for a song. For Steven’s stories/ songs he told me what the stories are about or what is the main theme. For my stories ( Raven and Drive home) that was anyway clear ;-). Then I started to work out first images for each song to create an individual style for each song/ story.
I showed Steven those first images then and in a kind of Ping-Pong system we agreed about the final style. But I have to say- in these very intense nine months, where we worked out the stuff for the Raven, we just disagreed in one case for about one day ( a first version I’ve done for the “holy drinker”)- the rest was always very easy and we were on one page very fast….what was a great way of collaboration of course! The cover art was also my suggestion- the moon was in the beginning “just” an element of one of the “Raven” illustrations.
But when I create an cover art I always think the same way: Imagine you’re in a record store with all those hundred of covers, images, colors etc.
If you want to have a chance that “your” cover will be realized you have to create something that is very unique, simple but eye-catching, “iconic” as Steven describes it usually. Like a good poster. So I thought the moon solitary could be a very good cover: It’s simple but clear, a good drawing, very emotional, something that represented the sense of the album perfectly. When I saw it the first time “alone” on the cover it was very soon my favorite. Steven also agreed. Nevertheless we tried a few variations then, just to be sure. But it was clear- it was the “solitary” moon.
Jess Cope did an amazing job on the video for Drive Home. Did you have any involvement in the creation of this beautiful video?
Jess is not just an enormously talented and very lovely person- she is also very interested in a good teamwork. It’s a pleasure to work with her.
But I should explain in the right order: The characters in the video are all based on the already existing artwork for “Drive Home” that is shown in the book.
I have to say: the artwork, the paintings for “Drive Home” are the only illustrations that were already existing when we started to work on that book. These paintings are made for a story I created about 14 years ago, the “Story of Charles and Lucy”. When Steven and me worked on the book I presented these illustrations and the story idea to him. He loved all from the beginning and said that he will create a song for this story…what was finally one of the last songs he did for the album I remember. But the original story was too long so he started with the song in about the middle of the original story.
Jess got the song, my story idea and the artwork. For the video we had to do some slightly detail changes- the proportions of the main characters for example. And we had to create “Lucy” and the house of “Charles” because this was never shown in any of the illustrations. Jess asked me if I could do the storyboard- of course I was interested J Jess and Tom sent me the treatment for the video and it was to me a pleasure to create a complete little world for this wonderful video. A lot of the final backgrounds and the atmosphere have their base in the pretty extensive storyboard we had finally. Further Jess had this beautiful idea with the newspapers as “skin” for Charles and Lucy. Her, Tom, Ally and a few more great guys worked their ass of then to create finally this little treasure. So, a good example for a very good teamwork I think.

08Any new collaborations with Steven Wilson in the pipeline?
No, not at the moment. Let’s see what the future brings. Of course I would anytime be happy to work with him again- it is really a pleasure- but on the other hand it would be very understanding to me when a creative like him would choose a completely different artwork-way for the next projects. Actually this is usual.

Has working with Steven Wilson opened a lot of doors for you and provided you with opportunities to work with some other idols of yours? Please name a few if possible.
Well, you, or better your work surely get another attention when you work with someone like Steven Wilson. It makes things easier when you contact someone and you can say “I did this for Steven Wilson”. But unfortunately it doesn’t work this way that now several of bands or other creatives try to contact me. I still have to contact them. When you do an artwork for a record- even if this artwork is special- the public focus is on the music. But that’s the way it goes. To me it was helpful to get a contact to someone like Sel Balamir ( from “Amplifier”) Steven Hackett ( with the support of Nick Beggs for some “live “Shots) or Mariusz Duda. With Sel Balamir I already did some stuff for his longtime project ” The Octopus”( a record I also really love!!). The others we will see what the future brings. I don’t think that there will be much for Steve Hackett for example. He’s a very kind, British Gentleman and a legend as a musician. But I think he prefers another style for his records.
Has your style developed throughout the years?
I think I would be pretty disappointed if not 😉 I always try to do something what is different to the last stuff I did, try to develop myself or my work. It would be very boring  also to me I would do always the same. So if I’m not able to do the next step in a project then I try minimum to do a step aside.
But after all these years there are of course several elements that are maybe simply me- the colors, my style of drawing, some compositions. I try never to repeat but after many years and much more images I think I leave my mark in the most of my images- if I want or not. You can compare this to a singer who can do a lot of things with his voice but he never can change the character of his voice completely.

DH2What have been your most challenging and rewarding piece of work thus far?
“The Raven that refused to sing” without a doubt. With all it’s “side- effects” like the creating of the images and the look of 128 pages book, the cover artwork, writing the first, original version for the “Raven” story( the final version was written by Steven and me together) , the artwork for the “Drive Home” CD/ DVD and being a part of the “Drive Home” Video.

What’s next for you? What collaborations or projects do you have planned?
At the moment I’m just working in my daily job in a big advertising agency here in Germany- music is unfortunately a very hard business if you want to live just from “making artworks”…especially when there are no collaborations in the pipeline like at the moment. Beside that I’m always thinking about new stories, new projects- anyway if alone or in collaboration with someone. There are some ideas I’m already  working on at the moment. But without a rush or any kind of time pressure so… let’s see what will finally comes out.

Where else can we find you? (blog, website, twitter, facebook, etc.) (unfortunately NOT updated since 2013… gosh, I have to do this!!!) and on Facebook:
Any words of advice for aspiring new artists?
If you have a vision of your own work and what you would like to do- don’t let anybody tell you that it doesn’t work or that something is impossible.
Even if they should be right in the end- you should ALWAYS TRY seriously to make your point. Otherwise you think that you miss something one day.
And if you work on your stuff – and you know that surely other great artists did something similar (great) before in this way or this way –  try always to imagine how would YOU like to do it/ work it out. Anyway what are the results for the moment. It’s the only way to set your own creativity free.

Thank you Hajo for your time and we wish you nothing but good things in the future.

Hajo MüllerSTE BRE SHOW02

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