Glen Wexler Reclaims Classic Rock Through Creative Direction of Heaven & Earth
September 3, 2013
By leading the visual branding and creative direction of up-and-coming “classic” rock band Heaven & Earth, Glen Wexler’s thirty-year imaging career has finally come full circle. A seasoned music photography veteran, Wexler shot over 300 album covers moving into print advertising full time. In both fields, he has become widely recognized for his distinctive style of creating improbable situations through elaborate productions. His imagery can be found on the album covers of Van Halen, Black Sabbath, Rush and ZZ Top, to name a few, and his advertising clients include Sony, Acura and Adobe.
His knack for fantastical situations was well suited for rock ‘n’ roll during the 1980s, when Wexler got his start during college. The door opened when he had the opportunity to photograph for Quincy Jones Productions, and after shooting his first major album cover, more doors continued to open. “Album covers presented the opportunity to produce the type of images I wanted to make,” Wexler says. “These projects often allowed for a tremendous amount of creative freedom. The recording industry provided a visual “playground” to experiment with elaborate photocompositions and to define a signature style.”
© Glen Wexler Studio
Van Halen, Balance, 1995 / Black Sabbath, Reunion, 1998
Influenced by the 1970s output of English design firm Hipgnosis (with album artwork such as Pink Floyd’s Animals and Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy), which he says made up his “art collection” as a teenager, Wexler strived to develop his own perspective within the music industry. “I was never attracted to photography as a means of documenting the world,” Wexler explains. “I prefer photo-illustrations of manufactured, altered or improbable realities. All of this is designed to create a suspension of disbelief.”
© Glen Wexler Studio
Rush, Hold Your Fire, 1987
In the mid 1990s, Wexler tested the waters for music videos and commercials, but found that the level of production he needed for his concepts was difficult to fulfill on a reasonable budget. He kept his focus on print until this past year, when he revisited video production to find the tools are now more accessible and affordable for his vision.
Over the years, he has also picked up entirely new skillsets, creating photographic logos for the 20th anniversary of the Star Wars trilogy, Batman Forever, Universal Pictures and Geffen Records. He started his own in-house image editing in 1992, as it was a necessary extension of his skillset to have the type of control he wanted over his creative process. Branding also came naturally, after working on over 1,000 advertising campaigns. “When you work with some of the most creative marketing minds in the industry, you can’t help but pick up a thing or two,” he says.
Wexler is now asked by many clients to consult with them directly on the development of their branding and marketing, which was the case for Heaven & Earth. He was tasked with the album cover and full packaging of the six-panel CD with 24-page booklet, as well as a double LP. He also shot band photos, created their logo, directed two music videos and created print ads, their website and their merchandise. Wexler also produced their album release party recreating the atmosphere and characters from the first music video at the Fonda Theatre in Hollywood, a new skill he can add to his extensive repertoire.
© 2012 Quarto Valley Records
Heaven & Earth logo design by Ian Wexler / Glen Wexler Studio
Heaven & Earth / © Glen Wexler Studio / Background by David Pinzer
The Heaven & Earth project echoes back to Wexler’s early days: The group is a throwback to 70s classic rock, the genre that kick-started his career, and two of the band members, former Quiet Riot bassist, Chuck Wright, and drummer Richie Onori, were the first musicians he ever photographed. Heaven & Earth’s genuine brand of 70s classic rock is a nod to the era of Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Bad Company, but they required their own type of rock iconography and mythology to accompany their sound. “I instantly felt an affinity for the music, like it has been in my record collection since I was a teenager,” Wexler said. He was also excited for the opportunity to work with vinyl album covers again, calling it “a lost art.” “There is something special about the ritual of putting an album on a turntable and becoming engaged in the artwork and liner notes,” he explains.
His concept for the album cover was the “unearthing of rock and roll” with a gigantic guitar being lifted from an excavation site, like “an iconic treasure that is being rediscovered.” At Wexler’s suggestion, the band adopted the name Dig as the album title. Both photo shoots that Wexler has taken of the band have also tied back into the theme of “reclaiming” the 70s classic rock sound.
Heaven & Earth, Dig, 2013 / © Glen Wexler Studio
Heaven & Earth’s appeal has a specific targeted audience, and it was important to focus the creative direction towards that niche. Their music label wanted to go big, Wexler explains, with “epic” album covers and a revival of 80s style music video productions, which is a challenge for any new band, especially one that is going against the current music trends. “It’s becoming increasingly difficult to attract the interest of the consumer to new music, and even more difficult to hang on to that interest,” Wexler says. “Working on an indie project with limited indie resources, it’s that much more challenging.”
Wexler has learned over the years, however, that his career is not about chasing trends, but developing his own vision. This outlook is key to developing successful branding and marketing initiatives, and Heaven & Earth’s has been a success thus far. The music is reaching the intended audience with the help of social media, with around 800,000 views total on the band’s YouTube page, the bulk coming from the two music videos that Wexler directed. “It’s an exciting time,” he says. “I didn’t think at the this point in my career that I would come full circle to become so heavily engaged in music work again, but I love it!”
For more from Glen Wexler, visit his website.