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Miscellaneous - Interview with Simon Raymonde Part 2

  by Olga Sladeckova

published: 16 / 8 / 2003

Miscellaneous - Interview with Simon Raymonde Part 2


In the second part of our interview, Olga Sladeckova continues to talk to label boss Simon Raymonde about Bella Union, which is now one of Britain's biggest indepedent record labels

PB: When you are deciding whether to sign a band what helps you to make the decision? SR: Sometimes it takes a while to sink in. I need to have it on in the car a lot as well. I make a copy of the CD and take it in the car and go for a long drive somewhere on my own. The thing is if you listen to it in the office it’s great but then the phone rings or someone asks you something. I don’t listen to music at home at all. The car is the best place because it’s closed so you can concentrate. PB: Sometimes when you listen to music at a different time of the day it... SR: ...does different things. PB: Yeah. SR: Absolutely. We have got this new band called Explosion In The Sky and because they're instrumental you can go off in different directions with their music. I was listening to their album in the morning when I came to the office and then I had to drive up to Manchester one day. When I was coming back, it was quite late at night, I had emotionally incredible experience in the dark with this sky and stars up above and it was just incredible. So, that record works (laughs) all day! So it’s destinated to be successful. PB: Do you also try and see the band live? SR :Yeah, I try but it’s hard with US bands. With Explosions, Mandarin, Jetscreamer and Lift to Experience we have seen them all in Texas, because most of them are Texas bands and every year we go to this festival called South by South West in Austin which is a fantastic place to discover new bands. You have about 200 bands playing in a week and maybe even more. You just walk out of one club and walk into the next one. It’s just incredible. I mean you have to go if you have never been. Or anyone who likes listening to good music has to go there. PB: One day... (laughs) SR: Yeah, you just have to. SR: I signed Lift to Experience there, Explosions, Mandarin everybody really. Apart from couple of new ones who are from LA. People ask me why there are so many Texas bands on the label and it is because there is so much good music from there. There should be a Texan label as successful as Sub Pop. There are just some incredible bands. So maybe I should set up my office there. PB: I was going to ask if you have also thought of collaboration with other record labels maybe outside the UK? SR: I have had a few thoughts but it’s hard to trust people who you don’t know. Having a Bella Union office in New York was my dream and I have met people who I thought could be really good for it, but then you don’t hear from them for a while and become unsure again. We don’t really have the money anyway. Domino Records didn’t do it for a long time but as soon as you get a band that takes off like Clinic on Domino then it gave them the opportunity and then they set up that office. Once something does kicks off you need somebody there. Most of our bands don’t even have a record deal in America which is quite bizarre. Can you imagine Lift To Experience not having a record deal in US ? That’s just insane! I think people are scared of them because they are too different and too unusual. One day they will realise what a mistake they have made. PB: Are they as popular in US as much as they are here? SR: Yeah we sell them back into America. We have good distribution there but it’s on quite a small scale. Lift To Experience sell well in cities, East Coast and obviously in Texas but they have toured quite a lot. Their audience is bigger here but only because they have been here 6 times! They are as big as Dirty Three in the respect that people know who they are. PB: How does it work with the artwork for Bella Union's releases? Are they all designed by the bands? SR: Most of them are. In the case of Lift To Experience they supply all the ideas. My ex-wife used to help them with this. But mostly the bands come with finished artwork. There were only 1 or 2 artworks that I was disappointed with. The Devics first record, 'My Beautiful Sinking Ship', I was really disappointed with but that was my fault not theirs. I didn’t say so loudly enough at the time because I wanted to get the record out quickly and then the artwork turned up and I said it was okay and have lived to regret it. PB: The Dirty Three's artwork is always great. SR: Oh yeah, they are fabulous. Mick Turner (The Dirty Three's guitarist-Ed) does all their artwork. You always know you are going to get a great sleeve with them. It’s fantastic the way the Dirty Three work. I always put them as an example to other bands who maybe are just staring out and are a bit concerned, even if it is just within the band ,about the dynamic inside. I put the Dirty Three as a perfect example. Mick does all the art works, Jim White (Drummer-ed)does all the bookings and Warren Ellis (Violin player-Ed)… well Warren is just Warren (laughs) but they all contribute equally. There is no one sitting around feeling frustrated because they are all giving something to it equally. I think the problem with a lot of bands is that there is usually one person doing stuff and everyone else is sitting around and getting frustrated. The Dirty Three are a great example of how to run a self managed act. They are their own masters. They are everything they do. They run their own show. They really are smart boys. PB: And they also run their own record label. SR: Yeah, they run Anchor and Hope records in Australia. Mick has also got another label that he has just started for his own music. They are an exceptional band. Jim has played with lots of bands like Smog and Nick Cave and Warren is in the Bad Seeds most of the time. So yeah I think they enjoy their lives. And they can make a living out of it so they must be doing it right. PB: I would think it can be better in some ways not to be making money because it gives you more freedom. SR: Yeah (laughs) that’s the same with the label. It’s frustrating sometimes but you only do it because you love it. Money does hold you back sometimes. And then dealing with distributors and people like that and doing all invoices and things that's the part of it I just hate. I would be really happy to just be signing bands and let someone else deal with all the rubbish but when you run a small company you have to accept that you can’t have an employee for every kind of job unless you have lots of money. So I end up doing that part of the job too but we all do. We all share it. We also help the bands out with management. That’s one thing that people sometimes can’t understand. How a record label can work as management? It’s a contradiction! Because the manager is supposed to… PB: …get the most out of the label. (laughs) SR: Yeah, rip the label off (laughs). I do end up doing a lot of management stuff but I think it works very well. PB: Well, you want the band to do well because then you obviously get something out of it as well beside helping them out. SR: Yeah, if they benefit then I will as well. All our deals are 50:50 deals. PB: You also still do quite a lot of producing. SR: Yeah but I have decided not to produce acts on Bella Union. PB: Why is that? SR: It’s confusing for me. I don’t know whether I’m the producer or the label owner. I want bands to be responsible for their own music. I don’t want to produce it. I produce other things. It’s been like that for the last 2 years. The Czars last record, 'The Beautiful People vs. The Ugly People', was the last one that I produced. It's just too long to be doing something for free and I feel guilty about being away from the office. If I’m getting paid to do it then I don’t feel guilty about doing it. I need to work to be able to go to Bella Union and work for nothing. I don’t really want to do it all the time but I have to do it. I don’t pay myself at Bella Union. I pay everybody else but I don’t pay myself. I exist on royalties and what ever else I might make. Also I don’t want it to be all my label. I don’t want Bella Union to have anything to do with me. At the beginning it was like “Simon Raymonde and Robin Guthrie have built a label” oh what does that mean? I don’t want my name to be mentioned when I read about Lift To Experience or the Dirty Three. I think it’s totally irrelevant. I just don’t think it’s important. It might have been a few years ago while the bands were getting established. I think if you don’t like the Cocteau Twins and will read a review of one of our bands then you are going to get to that point where the Cocteau Twins get mentioned and think “Oh, I’m not going to like that.” It’s just one of my little things (laughs) that I get angry about and people in the office just think it’s funny but I just don’t like that. PB: You spent a lot of your life making music with the Cocteau Twins. Now when you are running a record label you don't get chance to do that anymore. Do you miss it? SR: Yeah, I do a bit, but I sort of satisfy my urges by producing which I really like. PB: You recently put out a compilation of all your bands on Bella Union called 'At Least You Can Die With A Smile On Your Face" and you had a song on that. SR: Yeah but I didn’t really want that on it. They just wanted something by everybody so I said they could take that one but I didn’t have anything to do with that. I can’t listen to things that I did myself. PB: Are you still interested in making more music? S: No, I don’t think so. I just don’t have very much confidence in writing music anymore. Some bad things have happened as well. I mean, I’m signed to this really dreadful publishing deal and I don’t want to publish another song because I don’t want the record label to own it. PB: Is that a case where you have been signed as individuals for all your future releases and can’t get out of it? SR: Yeah, the Cocteau Twins has signed to Sony by individuals.Robin has managed to get out of it but I can't get out of mine. And I still owe them one more record. So if I make a record they own it and I don’t want them to own it(Laughs). I’m not sure if I want to make more music anyway. and I’m not 100 % sure that I’m a fantastic musician. I think I’m pretty good producer.I get on well with bands that I work with. I like playing with bands or on people’s records. I don’t have time anyway. I work with the label all day and if I’m not with the label I’m producing. PB: Robin seems to be still very much interested in making music having formed another band Violet Indiana and also releasing a new solo instrumental record 'Imperial'. What do you think about his music? SR: Robin is a guitar hero of mine. He has created a sound that has been so plagiarised over the years, from the shoegazing scene with bands like Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine right through to its adoption by modern electronica like Ulrich Schnauss, so I would find it hard to be critical. I know for some people, Violet Indiana with it being fronted by a woman was always likely to encourage comparisons with Cocteau Twins and as Liz was such a big fave for a lot of people I think that created some negative reactions to their first release. As for the solo record, it is a beautiful ambient record. One that sits between Brian Eno's 'Apollo' and Michael Brooks "Live at London Aquarium 'as top ambient records. PB: Are you still looking for new acts for Bella Union? SR: I am not looking for any more bands at the moment! I have had a really crazy signing spree recently. I think between now and March there is like an album every month which is just stupid but I think that is what we need. Last year we only had about 4 albums but this year we will have 12 which a bit crazy and ambitious, but I think they are all fantastic records. PB: Who are those artists? SR: Firstly there is Faraway Places from L.A., and then Garlic from the UK, Bikini Atoll from UK, and a band called Tresspassers William. We are then releasing a hip hop record by Josh Martinez, an album by a band called Mandarin who are from Denton, and then Explosions In The Sky from Austin, and a band called Midlake who are just an incredible act and are from Denton again and that will be in March. So that’s 8 records between now and March and that’s just stupid (Laughs. What was I thinking about, but it’s fun. You really do never know what’s going to happen and this is the kind of business when you really need one thing to take of and then to see what happens. I don’t live for it. I don’t think about that we don’t have records that sell 100 000 copies because it’s not why I do it but I believe that more can happen. PB: You must be quite proud of your bands especially when you see them when you sing them and then a year later they have a much bigger fan base. SR: Yeah I’m proud of them. I think the proudest thing is when I went to see Lift To Experience the first time they played in UK in 2000. The first show they played was supporting Steven Malkmus at ULU in London. They had some air play on John Peel and there were a few people who were cheering for them but they had a very small fan base. Then they came back and were playing to 50 – 100 people which is still quite good for a small band. When I was first going to see the band in London it was always the same faces of PR people that I know and all my friends that I know. I can probably get about 100 people in that I know and can look at them and say I know them. But when they played in Dingwalls in 2002 and the show was asell out I didn’t know anybody there! It wasn’t me telling everybody you have to go to see that band. They were there already. It is the same with the Dirty Three. I feel like I discovered Lift To Experience. They feel like my children (Laughs). It’s something I’m always very proud of. PB: Dingwalls is about 600 right? SR: Yeah, and as I said I didn’t know anybody there and that made me realise that we must be doing something right so that was a really great moment. PB: Is there anything else you would like to add? SR: Yeah, I think we should talk about Lift To Experience because a lot of people are wondering what has happened to them. Andy Young, the drummer, has left the band. Josh Pearson, the vocalist, kicked him out and I think they were upset about that and understandably so I guess. Last year in December Josh did a solo gig at the London Spitz club and we were going to be releasing a solo record by him called ‘Angels Versus Devils’ and it hasn't been done still. I think Josh is going through some personal problems at home which he has to work out for himself. It's really sad because they were a band that were really taking off. I would say as much as I’m proud of the show at Dingwalls I’m equally that sad that that it hasn’t followed through. They might not make another record! It would be a tragedy really after all that work. They got out of Denton where they come from and played in Europe, played with Elbow and the Flaming Lips and did all those incredible shows and had these fans and friends everywhere and for them to not follow that up that’s really sad. PB: So the solo album is on hold at the moment? SR: Yeah it’s on hold at the moment. I think Josh really feels like he has let us down which I feel bad about because he hasn’t really let us down. He is an absolutely fantastic person. He is incredible. He is one of the most talented people I’ve ever ever come across. The trouble was that he set himself this challenge to leave Lift To Experience for a bit and just do something himself. I didn't think he would. Then he rang up and said “I’ve written the whole album in a week.” And I was like “Wow, amazing.” And then he had to come to Europe to do this stuff for a movie. He had written some stuff in advance and I said “I will book you a show at the Spitz and you can do a little solo show.” And he did and it was absolutely one of the best gigs ever! It was just genius. The songs sounded so superb! It was like Lift To Experience but just with an acoustic guitar and instead of the subject being a spiritual biblical story, it was still very spiritual, but it was much more personal. Not his conflict with God but his conflict with relationships and with people. It was so moving and at that point I had this view of 2003 being just all about this record and Lift To Experience following on from that and it just didn’t happen. I still get e-mail every day about it. That's really significant for Bella Union. It makes you realize that you can’t take anything for granted even when you have the most incredible artists. You never know what is going to happen. PB: I really hope it will work out somehow. Well, thank you very much for talking. The second photo that accompanies this article was taken by Bob and originally appeared on his own website www.underesposed.org.uk

Label Articles:-
Bella Union (20)

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Miscellaneous - Interview with Simon Raymonde Part 2

Miscellaneous - Interview with Simon Raymonde Part 2

Miscellaneous - Interview with Simon Raymonde Part 2

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