You may not recognise Leif Podhajsky by name or face, but odds are you will have come across his work, or will even own a piece or two. The Australian artist's knack for capturing the soul of a record in one image is undeniable, his striking creations gracing the album covers of bands such as Foals, Tame Impala, the Vines and Cloud Control.
In 2010, psychedelic Aussie rockers Tame Impala offered him his maiden commission to produce the cover for their debut album, Innerspeaker. It became the lucky break that would ignite his career, and today the London-based Podhajsky is in high demand. His distinctive surreal style is based on the elements of nature, connectedness, and everything in between. He tells of popping albums on repeat when working on projects and letting the music run through him in a bid to trigger inspiration and find a true face to the story. Depending on the vibe, the process can take a day or many months.
"It's giving people that first thing they see that draws them into wanting to explore the music," Podhajsky explains. "Each song can be completely different but you just have to pick up the mood somehow. It's trying to do things in a different way and come up with new ideas and almost break the programs into doing something strange and creating something that's not expected."
The collaboration with artists usually involves e-mails, Skype sessions and phone calls. Sometimes he'll meet them in person and share a beer or two.
"It can be intimate because they're showing you their music and their art before anyone's heard it, and you're interpreting something that they're super passionate about," he offers. "When I finish [a piece] it's nice to see, but I kind of give it away to them. I have a small part in this larger thing."
Here, Podhajsky explains the inspiration behind some of his best-known work, beginning with the album that started it all.
"It was kind of the universe saying follow this path. It set me on my way. We came up with the idea of having this natural landscape repeated into infinity. We wanted to create this optical illusion but with nice, warm, acid-tinged colours. We wanted something that summed up the album. It's got that natural feel, but it's quite psychedelic and trippy and we wanted to create a cover that harnessed that. It's still one of the ones I get most e-mails about. Tame Impala have a lot of crazy, intense fans. They want to know everything."
"It's a photograph – it's her on the beach. It's quite hard to tell. We wanted it to be quite surreal and strange. She didn't want her face on the cover, she wanted it to be abstract and strange. It sums up a lot of the angst and passions on the album. Like she'd ripped herself open. I like the silhouetted form blowing in the wind because some people don't even see what it is. She was really cool. We hung out and partied in New York. The album did amazingly and she definitely escalated to where she is now."
"It's quite abstract. It's based off nature. Some people see a wave. Other people see clouds and forest. Everyone sees something different. I think the symmetrical nature of it works quite well. The album's quite organic. It's got that technical side, because he's a DJ and uses computer programs and instruments that are not organic. But there's that organic element also. So it was fusing those two in some way that's quite interesting."
"She wanted to go in a new direction. The album is an ode to jazz and soul music of the past. She wanted to express those elements in the cover and make it really bold. The whole album's based on a food theme because she's really into cooking. She's actually got her own cooking show and trained to be a chef. It's her second passion. She wanted a Seventies vibe but still wanted it to be quite bold and modern. I like looking to the past, but you've got to modernise it in some way and make it relevant for now, not just an ode. It was quite a big job. It took a long time to get the colours right. She was very specific on how she wanted it."
"[Frontman] Yannis Philippakis was interested in working together. We met up and gave each other a lot of shit like friends do straight away. It was easy to work with him from then on. He wanted a really nice natural shot on the cover. We found a photo and I've just treated it. We wanted this old Seventies faded look. It's horses at sunset. It kind of tells a story on its own. You don't know what's happening so you use your imagination. It starts you on that journey. Being part of that album opened up a lot of people to seeing my work."