Nick Egan is a multifaceted artist who worked in the field of graphics and music video direction, signing historical covers, such as the one for Clash’s White Man in Hammersmith Palais, or video clips such as Oasis’ Go Let It Out and Supersonic, Duran Duran’s Ordinary World. In this interview, he tells the beginnings of his career, the influences and the relationship with technology, linking many personal episodes.
Creativity, Heritage, Actuality. I’d like to go through these terms with you through a series of questions. The years between 1976 and 1981 were extremely interesting from the point of view of creativity, expressed in all its forms. Thinking about graphics, music, fashion, was/is there even a vaguely comparable period?
Oh yes, I think each decade since Rock’n’Roll was born in 1956 has had it’s innovative moments. The 1950’s with Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis etc, the quiff, the drape jacket, poodle skirts, Teddy Boys, Motorcycles, even the early record covers of Elvis and most importantly it was the decade that created the teenager.
Then of course the 1960’s the British Invasion, the psychedelic period, with The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd and many others, Peter Blakes cover for ‘Sgt Pepper’, David Hockney, Roy Lichtenstein, Swinging London, Carnaby Street, Mary Quant inventing the mini skirt, Biba, Woodstock. Civil Rights, the French New Wave. If anything the 60’s is still the greatest decade for those things.
The 1970’s with Led Zeppelin, Andy Warhol’s Sticky Fingers album cover, Velvet Underground, Roxy Music, David Bowie, androgyny, the ‘Aladdin Sane’ album Cover, Antony Price, Sex/Seditionaries, Punk Rock, DIY, Fanzines.
The 1980’s, New Romantics, Electronic Music, Duran Duran, Bananarama, Culture Club, U2, INXS, Hip Hop, NWA, Public Enemy, Keith Haring, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Betsy Johnson, Marc Jacobs, Fiorucci, MTV.
The 1990’s Acid House, Raves, EDM, Grunge, Nirvana, Oasis, Sonic Youth, Dee Lite.
The 2000’s haven’t created as much in my eyes as it mainly revives the previous decades styles.
Many artists who have lived through that period say they have simultaneously undertaken more than one creative path, trying to put on a band, at the same time doing graphics, photography or acting. Have you ever been in a band? And if you had not done this job, what would you have done?
I was in a band called The Tea Set, we were relatively successful releasing 4 singles and recording an album, we toured with The Stranglers and The Skids and supported Iggy Pop, U2, XTC, The Clash. We just had a compilation of our singles released last year on Cleopatra records.
When I left school at 16 I got a job as a printer, because that was the result I got from a computer after we had careers officers meet us at school, they gave us these questionnaires to fill out which were then fed into a computer and a week or two later we received, in the mail, the answers to what best career would suit us, so I got a job as a printer on a local newspaper. I didn’t know any better. It didn’t take me long to realize I absolutely hated it, so I decided I needed to figure out what I was good at and the only thing I really knew well and was the only subject I got 100% in the School exams, was art.
So I decided to go to art school, although back then, no one ever got a job in ‘art’ so I chose graphic design rather than fine art, on my mothers advice as she said at least I had a chance getting a job as a graphic designer. I hated graphics, it was too mathematical for me, especially type setting and working out spacing and leading.
Luckily the punk rock movement happened right at that time and with punk came a new wave of design that didn’t bother with all the technical aspects of it. It had no rules, you could Xerox everything, use cut out or hand scrawled lettering, stick things down with tape, so it was perfect for me and it leaned more towards fine art and the Da Da movement than it did to design.
While I was still at Art School I started designing single and album covers, and from that I got involved with fashion as an art director for Vivienne Westwood and later Marc Jacobs, in between then I moved from London to New York in 1983 had my own line of tee shirts and directed music videos, having moved to Sydney for a year then to Los Angeles in 1987, so I’ve managed to be successful in more than one job.
Looking back on it, I took a huge risk quitting my job as a printer (which I did for less than a year) and blindly going into something, I never thought possible you could have a career in.
If I think of your work (graphics, videos), a “unique and scratched style” comes to my mind, a cultured aesthetic used as a weapon. If you could look at your own portfolio with other’s eyes, how would you describe it?
Unique in the fact that I use mixed media in both design and video.
Do you remember the moment when you thought with interest about music videos? Was there a specific video that struck you, in a positive or negative sense?
I was pretty much there from day one of MTV so there wasn’t a lot going on at first, I worked on Bow Wow Wow’s I Want Candy video which was around 1981. The only video I remembered at the time was one by the B52’s but to be honest, at the time, I didn’t take music videos too seriously. I thought a music video was nothing compared to an album cover.
Which video, of any period, made you think: “I wish I did it”? Or, “I could have done it”?
Nirvansa’s Smell Like Teen Spirit.
Making a video, what guides you in the first place? The music? The text? The relationship established with the artist?
A combination of all three.
Is there still something of the punk legacy today?
Good question, I’d say there is, anyone who is out there doing it for the love of music rather than the celebrity has a punk ethic, as well as anyone with a point of view and are not afraid to express it.
Many musicians avoid taking political positions in order to not upset a part of their fans (or customers, if you consider it as a “music market” among the others), while other musicians cannot help but express their ideas. What’s your opinion? Have you ever had problems with messages or quotes used in videos that have displeased the artists you worked with?
I like to have a message in my work, a meaning but not necessarily political, unless the band are political. For example the Oasis Live Forever video I wanted to pay tribute to the great artists who have died too young, Kurt Cobain, Sid Vicious, Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, as they do live forever.
One of the favorite videos of mine is by a group called ManBREAK’s and a great song called Ready or Not. I wanted to show the rebellion of youth that was part of the illegal rave scene. So I set up what appeared to be a mini riot in the streets a cultural revolution taking place. Sonic Youth Youth Against Fascism was an anti fascist statement and again was focused on disassociated youth.
I think artists should make statements, like Banksy, because, if necessary, you can disguise your message with visuals and slogans. The greatest inspiration for me were the Situationists who were mainly art students, they rioted on the streets of Paris in 1968 with slogans like ‘Beneath the paving stones lies the beach’ and ‘Be reasonable, demand the impossible’ they were a huge influence on punk graphics and in particular Jamie Reid who designed all the Sex Pistols artwork.
Artists tend to reflect the world in their art look at Picasso’s Guernica a masterpiece from a man who had already created several masterpieces.
I would almost say that, if you enjoy making a video, I can see it from the large amount of references you make…
Yes, I have several references and influences. Film Directors; Nicolas Roeg (Performance and The Man Who Fell To Earth). Michelangelo Antonioni (Blow-Up and Zabriskie Point). Stanley Kubrick, (A Clockwork Orange, 2001 A Space Odyssey, The Shining). Federico Fellini (all his films). Orson Welles (F for Fake). Movements like Guy DeBord’s Situationist International. DaDa-ism. Artists; Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Jean- Michel Basquiat, Pablo Picasso. Photographers Irving Penn and Nick Knight and finally my great mentor and friend Malcolm McLaren.
I’m sure you noticed that two of my greatest influences were Italian. Ironically Antonioni’s Blow-Up is the best film about London in the 1960’s, he captures the personality of the people which is London, I think it’s amazing that an Italian understood that about London. The Oasis Who Feels Love video pays tribute to Antonioni with the exploding equipment at the end just like the movie.
And what can I say about Fellini, he is the Maestro a true genius. I was lucky enough to meet him in New York in the 1980’s, I was at a party in his honor at the nightclub Area as part of the Lincoln Centre’s tribute to him. The Duran Duran Ordinary World video was inspired by Giulietta degli Spiriti. If you see the film you’ll see where the inspiration for the bride came from.
If I have to make my own selection among your videos, I would certainly put Supersonic by Oasis, White Lines by Duran Duran and Youth Against Fascism biy Sonic Youth. What do you think of this choice?
Excellent, I would also include in there Pressure Off (2015) by Duran Duran.
If one of your children wanted to do your job, what advice would you give?
My daughter is already walking in my footsteps, she is a multi media artist, she made a video at her middle school, which she directed, shot and edited herself, she’s shot second unit camera for me, art directed two videos of mine and was a stunt driver in another, collaborated with me for an exhibition called Exquisite Corpses and did the interior design for her bedroom with no help, all before she was 14. She doesn’t want any advice.
What music do you listen nowadays? And, while listening to music, is it inevitable for you to “fill” it with images?
I love an LA band called DWNTWN, their last album Racing Time is great. There is also a mariachi punk band from Portland called Roselit Bone and no, I cant seem to switch off when it comes to images filling my head.
Talking about current topics. During the lockdown, many artists still released new songs with music videos that follow some “models”: videos made with found footage, animated videos or self-produced videos shot with smartphones. Have you seen any? What do you think about it?
I haven’t, I’ve seen some of the live music on TV like Miley Cyrus on Saturday Night Live and a couple of other things. Technology makes it a lot easier to do things like this than it did 20 years ago. I’ve shot a lot of things with my iPhone, that in itself isn’t very new, half of Duran Duran’s All You Need is Now video was shot on a Flip camera which was the pre-cursor to the iPhone camera.
I know a couple of movies have been shot on a cellphone and now with the iPhone 11 Pro, you have 3 lenses. But I don’t believe the bullshit Apple claim by putting a photo on the side of a 30 story building and saying it was shot on an iPhone and their promo for the video on the 11 Pro was a cheat because that super sharpness of movement and the snow can only be done by adjusting the angle of the lens, it’s used a lot in fast action sports and I don’t remember seeing a shutter angle adjustment in the camera settings. But having said that it’s still pretty good and the different lenses have given it more scope.
However it’s foolish to think just because we have all this technology at hand, it makes you more creative, thats a lie Apple sell to the consumer to make them feel they are as creative as Stanley Kubrick, which is a joke. A good film maker and a good photographer still needs a good eye with or without technology.
I have the iPhone 11 Pro and used it for time lapse and speed ramping in the Envy Marshall Fire video I did a couple of months ago. My son Roman was the second unit camera on that video, my daughter Ava was the stunt driver, she’s driving the exterior shots of the car and she shot the footage following the car and my other son Dashiell drove the follow car and operated the drone, so it was a real family affair as I had to get what was basically a three day shoot done in one day.
Between new production and distribution technologies, what is the future of music video in your opinion?
That’s a tough call, I don’t see as much innovation as there was in the 90’s with Directors like David Fincher, Mark Romanek, Spike Jonze, Jake Scott etc who all made a huge impact on the film industry. It was competitive but in a good way. We all were nominated and won a few awards and there was never any resentment if a competitor won, because we were all totally different from each other.
I think my daughter Ava (14), and my younger son Dashiell’s (19) generation care much less about social networking than the Millenial generation does, they are much less interested in the amount of friends they have, they believe that quality rather than quantity is important in friendships, they don’t care about how many likes they have and they are the ones who really are concerned about the environment and equality. Yes, they still spend an inordinate amount of time on their phones but it’s with their close knit group, they will be the next innovators in about 10-15 years, I think then we will see some radical advancements in all areas of life not just creativity.
What should we expect from you in the near future?
I never know. Life always surprises me. I’m lucky because I do several things. I always thought of myself as an artist rather than a film maker or a graphic artist. So one job I’m shooting a commercial, the next I’m designing tee shirts for my friend Jeannines clothing label Le Superbe, Art Directing an Album Cover for another friend Mindi Abair, designing a label for her husband Eric’s wine collection, painting for a book cover, photographing for a new street wear company called Maison Soyenne. There are some other things on the horizon, but I’d rather not jinx them until I know they are a go.
In the end, a personal curiosity.
The homepage of your website “hosts” the voice of HAL as “public service announcement”.
Is it a message to someone specific?
Ha! It’s a message to technology, we cant let technology replace our creativity we still need our own humanness to create the masterpieces.