Interview with Mark London (7-6-04)
By Ronnie
Note: Although the interview happened almost a month ago, we waited until the Smile artwork was 'officially' released and shown on Brian's official web site to present this article.

Right: Mark's design for a logo for the Brian Wilson SMiLE Tour 2004

Mark London was the artist selected to design the SMiLE tour programme and the actual album cover for the historic official release. We recently talked to Mark about how he came to work for Brian Wilson and his insight into the new version of the album. Mark's passion for music was readily evident and our conversation often strayed to other fascinating areas of music - so I'll concentrate mainly on the SMiLE-related aspects of our chat. And, while we were talking on the phone for an hour and a half, Mark even designed a new logo for EAR CANDY! How's that for a deal? Get a scoop on SMiLE AND get a new logo designed by a famous artist!

E.C.: I know you've done concert posters, but how did the gig with Brian Wilson come about?

Mark London: I ran into this guy who owned a record shop in Arcadia called Joey Jetson's - they're closed now, but that's the guy that helped me to finance my first poster. I introduced Dennis Loren to him; I'd met Dennis through another friend. You can see his stuff on He's pretty much my mentor. He did stuff for Hendrix - he's one of the original poster artists along with Gary Grimshaw, Stanley Mouse and all those guys. He saw the stuff I was doing for the record store and he dug it. He said, "why don't you start doing some stuff with me?", so we collaborated on some CD's for Del-fi Records. He's done a lot of stuff for Del-fi, he did Bobby Fuller, Zappa, and a bunch of bands. I started working with him and he said, "Why don't you try doing a poster?" I saw these amazing posters on his wall and I said "those are fucking incredible." I never saw my work big for some reason, everything I did was tiny - magazine ads, logos, CD's. I just didn't think in terms of posters. He said, "Well, I think it's time you did your first poster". At that time I had given up my last apartment to an ex girlfriend, so I didn't have a place to live. I was doing the couch tour. I was living on a friend's couch and all I had was my computer and that was about it. I said, "who am I going to do? - how do you do it? How do you get to do this for these people? He said "you have to call the management or the venue." I was thinking, "Who am I going to do it for - Marilyn Manson? The Spice Girls?"

There wasn't really much going on gig-wise that inspired me to do a poster - I'm pretty much into the '60s and all the bands that I grew up with. But, I saw that Brian was coming and I called up the venue (the WIltern) and they wouldn't give me any information. They said, "We don't give that information out". And I said, "Well, whose Brian's manager?, let me call the management company" And they wouldn't give me that number either. I really had nowhere to go, so I just did one anyway! I just did the poster and the guy that owned the record shop there gave me like 60 or 70 bucks to go to Kinko's and run em off. We made some of those and just sold them in the parking lot for 10 bucks each. I made like 700 bucks in an hour and a half, so I figured that that might be the right business to be in! (laughs) I just said, "Support your local artist!" and the next thing you know, they sold out. The next night I figured I'd go to Anaheim where Brian was playing and sell them for that show. I did another run of 30 posters and Jean Sievers, Brian's publicist, kinda caught me. She actually caught this other guy that was helping me sell them and he goes, "Brian's publicist wants to see you". In my book, that's english for get in the car and get the hell out of here or we're goin' to jail! (laughs) And I figured, you know, I've got like 5 of them left - let them arrest me and it will be great publicity to kick off the poster career! Jean said, "Did you do this?" And I said, "Yeah" and she said, "We'll, that's the coolest thing we've had yet! Let me buy what you have left and then call the office on Monday." And that's how that started. Funny 'cause I knew Dennis when I was a teenager, my brother used to hang out with Dennis in the old days.

E.C.: Dennis Wilson?

Mark London: Yeah. My brother David used to hang out with Dennis a lot. I was into Keith Moon myself, so I could care less. I thought Hal Blaine was the guy who did it all, so while I knew Dennis was huge, it didn't impress me as a drummer (which I was at the time) until I saw them live. When Endless Summer came out in the 70's I got heavily into them, but it's cool how it came to be that I'd start out with the Dennis from Venice scene, then end up doing so much work for Brian. Getting back to the posters, I went to the office and they gave me my first official job which was the New Year's Eve 1999 one, Jean, Ronnie Lippin and Melinda stayed loyal to me and I'll never forget that. Besides doing a lot more tour posters for Brian, I started getting calls from all different people. Hal Lifson - Nancy Sinatra's then-manager called me and said he wanted me to do a poster for her, which was a gig with Eric Burden at the Whisky a Go-Go I also ended up doing the disc art for Disney for her California Girl CD. She wanted that to be the cover, but the cover was already done. Hal ended up being my manager, he thought I should start doing movie posters. He got me into 20th Century Fox and I did about 12 DVD covers for them, which along with the concert posters eventually did lead to me doing my first movie poster for Chris (Dramarama) Carter's "Mayor of the Sunset Strip" a documentary about our legendary Hollywood radio DJ Rodney Bingenheimer (Mark London's trivia for today: Rodney's first recording session he ever hung out in was for "The Little Girl I Once Knew" Carl brought him there when he was a kid. Not a bad way to get exposed to Beach Boys music!)

Although it looks like I've only done concert posters, you don't see the other stuff because I don't get an art credit for the DVD stuff. I've also done about 12 book covers for book companies and you don't get a credit for that either. I met Stuart ( I just figured that that would be a good place to have like an online portfolio without having to run my own web page. I've done so much work in the last 5 years that it's all kind of a blur. I mean a ridiculous amount of work! But I dig it all.

I collaborated with Peter Blake on "Getting In Over My Head", which was nothing more than choosing the right colors to go with his art, and layout and design the booklet and back cover. That's Peter's handwriting for the song titles. For SMiLE I was going to use the cover for the Tour book, but I thought in CD size it would look to close to what he did for "Gettin' In" And if anybody has any questions about how he does his work - there ain't no Photoshop! He cuts and pastes it up with glue - does the whole thing. We had to send it back about 3 times to him. You don't get internet jpegs from Sir Peter, you get a package from England. If you want to change a photo, you send it back to England, wait for him to do it, wait for it to come back.

Right: Mark describes, "Although it's not a solo shot, I'm pretty blown away at this pic. I was invited 2 years ago to a TRPS (the rock poster society) event where all the collectors buy and trade stuff. They invite the artists to sign their work and answer questions. Basically the Concert Poster version of a Star Trek convention! Allen Cohen, the guy on the far right, passed away a few months ago - he started a legendary underground paper called the San Francisco Oracle and was one of the first mags to publish the young Psychedelic artists. Dennis Loren is my mentor and the first guy to suggest that I do a concert poster. Grimshaw moved back to Detroit, he did the famous MC5 logo among tons of other stuff. Conklin did the famous Santana lion album cover. Singer did more Fillmore posters than anyone, Mouse of course did all the Grateful Dead, Steve Miller, Journey, and also was one of the first to do the Monster Hot Rod airbrushed T-Shirts with Bid Daddy Roth in the early 60s. All in all, not a bad hang! "

E.C.: How large was the original of "Getting In Over My Head"?

Mark London: Probably about 20" by 20". You know, the whole groove with him is you gotta love him cause he's Sir Peter Blake. I mean, he basically invented pop art. He came up with using the target from the old airplanes and put them on shirts (think early Who) I met him in England at the Smile shows and he asked me if I wanted to collaborate with him. I couldn't say no, but I said to him "to tell you the truth I think you're perfectly capable of doing your own records!"(laughs) He was a really, really cool guy.

It was pretty funny, at one point, one of the versions of the cover had a huge picture of Brian and Melinda on it. Like huge, right in the middle bottom there. And Melinda goes, "God, this looks like a Sonny & Cher album!" (laughs) That was one of the ones that we had to change, make that a little smaller. That was for "You Touched Me" - he basically did a photo piece to go with each song.

E.C.: Was Smile the first album cover that you did on your own?

Mark London: Let me think…I've only been doing this professionally for 5 years! I did the cover for Hal's (Lifson) 1966 CD and the CD sampler for "Mayor of the Sunset Strip" & I'm sure I've done more than that, but I just can't remember to tell the truth. Sometimes the jobs just blur into one another. But everything I'm into, I'm into a 110 percent at the time, then you just don't think about the last gig and move on. The Smile tour book took me 5 months to put together.

Right: The cover of the tour programme for Brian Wilson's 2004 SMiLE tour

E.C.: I know you had done the posters but how did you get the job to design the cover of Smile?

Mark London: Well, I'm not just the cover guy, I'm doing the whole package. Did you get the tour book? [the Smile tour programme]

E.C.: The British one?

Mark London: Yeah, that's the only one that exists until the US tour begins.

E.C.: Well, everyone was talking that the U.S. version might be different…

Mark London: We may add some more pages to it. We dug out those photos from Guy Webster, who did all the oringinal Smile photos in '67, went over to his place with Melinda and we went through around 1000 slides and got a bunch of really cool shots that we'd never really seen before. You know all those vegetable ones? Some pretty amazing stuff. Apparently they did a film of that with Hal Blaine that you can hear the recording of on one of the bootlegs with Hal and Brian arguing. Hal's going, "Get out of my field" and Brian going, "Are your vegetables organic?" He's stealing Hal's vega-tables! So obviously they shot a film of it, or maybe it was only still photos? I asked Guy Webster but he didn't have too much of a recollection of it. Maybe David Leaf who's doing an amazing Smile documentary, will find out what's up with that.

With that programme, I kind of set out to reinvent the tour book. Melinda worked with me overtime. In fact, the group of antiques that I collected over the last year on the cover was shot on Brian and Melinda's washing machine by her, with me holding a lamp over it! We had a lot of fun, and worked a lot of hours finding the coolest photos and getting some great written pieces out of our friends. Dennis Loren worked with me on that too, I've never forgotten how he helped me in the beginning and get him work whenever I can.

E.C.: Yeah, I love it, it's packaged kind of like a vinyl album cover?

Mark London: On the outer sleeve, the hand represents the world reaching for Smile, the worlds been reaching for it for so long and then you pull it out and "it's here!" And of course I have an angel on there because was original album was called "Dumb Angel". That cover represents you and me and everybody. "What was this stuff?!" (laughs)

Here's a little Smile trivia for ya. Do you have the tour book handy? Where it says, "The Myth and the Reality" - on the left side you see Brian with Gene Estes, that's the balding guy there? That guy was the vibes player on Smile. He was also Darian's vibe teacher in high school ! That's the guy that taught Darian how to play vibes. How weird is that? And Darian in high school, it's not like he was a Smile-freak and sought out this guy. It just happened that way. It blew Darian's mind too when he saw that page. Domenic told me that…that little trivia.

E.C.: Do you do your album cover artwork like a vinyl album size?

Mark London: I'm pretty positive that we're gonna do a vinyl version of Smile, too. But I might do something different there than what I'm doing for the CD. The CD's definitely gonna have a booklet. And it will be reasonably sized…of course it's gonna have all the lyrics. We're still kicking around what is and isn't going to be in there, so I really can't tell you anything for sure.

E.C.: So, you've finished the front cover that you sent me this afternoon, but you are still working on the rest of the packaging?

Mark London: I don't think I sent you the cover, that's the new ad for the world tour. I would really dig it if you put that on your website cause the British always fuck with my art! So that would be a little request from me if you could put it up there as it is. I did an ad for the last tour- with a finger pointing to Smile and under it wrote "Encore" Then another hand presenting a little version of Sir Peter's art that said "Debut" The Brits ripped my art apart, took out the images of the albums and made it appear as though the Tour was called "Encore/Debut"! That really pissed me off. In Mojo Magazine too!

There is a new logo I drew when I was working with Frank because originally we were gonna collaborate on Smile together.

E.C.: Frank Holmes?

Mark London: Yeah…there was a problem. I really can't tell you the real story because legally I'm not at liberty to. Nor do I want to hurt any feelings.

E.C.: Some people thought it was sacrilege not to use the original artwork.

Mark London: We just decided that Smile would have a new look for 2004. I mean, I hate to tell you, but Darian didn't play on the '66 tracks either. (laughs) I was really, really looking forward to working with him [Frank Holmes]. I didn't want to do this on my own, at all. And you wouldn't hear that from many artists. A lot of people would give their eyeteeth to do Smile. It was more of a burden because there's such historical precedence put on it. But I kinda mellowed out because the tour book sold more than any tour book in the merchandise company's history. So I guess I did a decent job on that.

You know, the look went over well and I'm keeping that as the vibe of Smile, which to me is colonial…it's Americana…it's "Jay Ward" meets "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln". That's the vibe of Smile to me. I'm just gonna keep it in that vein. I could have easily drawn my own stuff up, but why would I wanna act like I was copying Frank? I just said fuck it - we have so many cool photographs. I can give it the vibe that it needs, let the focus be on the music. I did end up working a lot with Van Dyke, he really helped me with the punctuation- commas, periods etc.. and I also wanted him to be happy with the approach I took in representing his lyrics. I didn't actually collaborate with Brian, but Melinda and I would show him stuff as it was coming along. He dug the old photos, and the girls (Brian's daughters) went nuts when they saw those Firehat shots! As I said, I do work a lot with Melinda, she has an amazing eye for details and we let Brian take care of the music. I've heard he's pretty good at it!

Right: Mark's cover for the 2004 version of SMiLE - see the text of the interview for Mark's description of the 3-D effects.

E.C.: Will there be a new set of essays in the CD booklet?

Mark London: I think David Leaf is writing a piece.

E.C.: Different from the tour book?

Mark London: Yep, different from the tour book. I think you need a little bit of history in there, just for people who don't know. Because obviously, not everybody was able to get the tour book. I really didn't want to have a lot of '66 or '67 vibe in it because it's Smile 2004 and I wanted it to be what it is. Because it has such a history, people will accept learning something about the past in there. I have a few more Guy Webster shots up my sleeve that I'm gonna whip out. Again, I just want the focus to be more on the music. If people look at the package and go "that's cool" and they just get lost in the music - I'll know I did my job.

E.C.: What parameters did they give you in the design of the cover?

Mark London: No parameters, just do it! (laughs)

Basically the cover I came up with is gonna be, obviously my new logo. It's gonna be huge in the middle. It'll have that sort of ornate, wrought iron frame around it. It should look like a tile on the ceiling of the White House - it's gonna be raised up…the frame around the logo is gonna be raised up, embossed. And then I'm gonna do the actual Smile letters in blue mirror - it's gonna be like a foil stamp. It's gonna shine, it's gonna look really incredible. And it's gonna look really 'presidential'. But, it's gonna have the humor because the logo is so….' Smile' you know? (laughs). That's the Jay Ward influence there! It's gonna be something that nobody will be able to bootleg, I'll tell ya. I wanted to pull out all the stops on this one…It's up to the record label at this point.

E.C.: Did you come up with a couple of different ideas at first, different drafts?

Mark London: Yeah I did, I came up with a couple of ideas. All those little pieces on the cover of the tour book? Each one of those obviously, I'm sure you get it, but each one represents a lyric or a song in Smile. Every one of those pieces. You've got 'Vega-Tables', you've got 'Heroes And Villains', you've got 'Child Is Father Of The Man', you've got 'Mrs. O'Leary's Cow', the 'bicycle rider'…every little piece on there represents something to Smile.

And I was gonna use those things, but to tell you the truth it just looked too damn small for a CD. It just didn't work, it looked like Peter Blake's thing did, it was too small. Sir Peter I think, was working with albums in mind. He'd been so used to working with 12x12 albums. So when I reduced it down it just didn't look right. But when I did that logo really huge, and then you have that mirror - that blue mirror - it's gonna look amazing. It will jump right off the shelf…and then you'll have that 3-dimensional on top of it. You know what I mean? It's a white embossing from behind, but again, that's my vision. The final execution is up to the record label.


Mark London: I just saw Darian the other day. They are finishing it up.

E.C.: So the recording of Smile is not done yet?

Mark London: They're just getting the mixing finished over at Mark Linett's place. It's gonna sound really good…really, really amazing.

E.C.: So, have you got to hear parts of it?

Mark London: I've got to hear the whole thing. I mean, I went to the rehearsals, I've been around since the beginning here. But, it's gonna sound incredible, that's all I can tell you. It's beyond the beyond…it really is. Brian's really diggin' it.


Mark London: It was really an incredible experience. I saw grown men crying there…literally. It was pretty heavy. Very, very heavy spiritually. It is what music was supposed to be. And leave it to Brian to bring it all back.

E.C.: I was totally blown away after hearing the live shows that were circulating on the internet.

Mark London: When you hear it finished and you hear it and you hear how each song goes into the next song - with the strings and the horns - it's just fucking incredible.

E.C.: Are they adding anything new, or is it basically the live version?

Mark London: Yeah, that's it.

E.C.: Because I think Darian mentioned that they might add a few things…

Mark London: Yeah, I think maybe some instruments and effects that they weren't able to reproduce live.

E.C.: But no song segments added?

Mark London: You know…now you got me…I'm trying to think. I just heard it about a week ago. I don't recall anything, I've only heard the basic first mix with the scratch lead vocals. It could be, maybe there's some new stuff in there - if anyone would know, it would be Darian. As far as I know, its pretty much what we heard [live] with an amazing studio production and more sonic effects.

E.C.: What's it like working with Brian?

Mark London: Everybody loves Brian. Brian is the most real, the sweetest guy, the coolest guy. He doesn't have a mean bone in his body. Very funny, he's got a great sense of humor. But one thing about Brian I gotta tell you 60's fans- the guy does not live in the past. He lives in a new house, he drives a new car, there's no '60s posters on the wall. None of that stuff, his records and CD's are probably the only reminder of the past, along with some framed family photos.

E.C.: What about the old gold records?

Mark London: I've seen a couple, but not to many. I'm thinking maybe his first wife got most of that stuff, or it could be in storage.