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Miscellaneous - Interview with Simon Raymonde Part 1

  by Olga Sladeckova

published: 17 / 8 / 2003



Miscellaneous - Interview with Simon Raymonde Part 1

intro

In the first part of a two part interview, which we are running concurrently this month, Simon Raymonde talks with Olga Sladeckova about Bella Union, the label that he first set up with his ex-Cocteau Twin band mate Robin Guthrie six years ago

With musicians it's like with those sailors having salt in their blood. Once you have become a musician you can't ever stop being one. Jim Reid (The Jesus & Mary Chain) That those words are absolutely true probably needs no proving. To every music fan and musician it is just a matter of a fact. Sometimes, however, that desire to make and create music, while remaining true to its roots, ends up going in a slightly different direction... Once up one a time there was a band called the Cocteau Twins. It consisted of Simon Raymonde, Elizabeth Fraser and Robin Guthrie. Their music showed immense potential, combining together Fraser's ethereal, other worldly vocals with an atmospheric and spacy sound and lots of guitar distortions. It became known all over the world. The band released incredible 8 albums and influenced the music scene,so much so that many bands followed suit and based their own music around the Cocteau Twins' sound. Besides their glowing popularity, however ,the band unfortunately also entered music history as having a particulary poor experience with record companies. And so throughout their 15 year history the Cocteau Twins changed labels on several occasions and finally in 1997 they found their own record company Bella Union. That might have been the solution to their problem, but however, just after the label was formed the band split up. What happened next is today know as Bella Union records, It currently has nearly 20 bands on its roster and these include the Dirty Three, Lift To Experience, Françoiz Breut, Violet Indiana (Robin Guthrie's new band), Departure Lounge as well as many others. To sum that up and confirm that Jim Reid's words are true, Robin Guthrie continues to make music with Violet Indiana and Simon Raymonde is today the the main person behind Bella Union, which is now one of the most successful independent record labels in Britain. Pennyblackmusic had the chance to meet up with Simon and to talk to him about the label's history and some of the incredible bands in its catalogue. We sat on a sunny day drinking coffee outside a cafe which is just a minute's walk from where the Bella Union office is based in Twickenham. PB: Bella Union was established in Summer 1997. but when did the idea first come up? SR: We started thinking about it when we left the 4AD label in 1991. The problem there was that things were absolutely out of our control at 4AD. The label wanted to take us one way and we wanted to go a slightly different way. And so we had the idea then but I don’t think that Robin and Liz were quite as interested as I was at that time so it didn’t happen. We ended up signing with a big label Mercury which was an absolute disaster. It was great for about a week but then we realized that they didn't understand what we were talking about and we didn’t understand what they were talking about. The moment we signed we said we wanted this particular track to be a single and they said “Oh we don’t think so. We think it should be that one.” The relationship was through 3 weeks after we signed. They were like “These people are going to be pain in the ass.” And we were like “They don’t get it at all, do they?” It wasn’t very successful on number of levels. Our first Mercury record, 'Four Calender Cafe', was released, but there was a lot of problems in the band and it was just about getting the record finished really. But then they didn’t really do what they should have and didn’t really promote it well. At that point we decided it had to stop and started up our own label. So that’s when that idea kind of began. PB: So, initially, you started up the label for your own music only? SR: Yeah. Well, I thought, in the back of my mind, that perhaps if it all works out well we could maybe release more records related to the Cocteau Twins. If Liz would do another record herself we would put it out as well. That was the idea. It would have been great but then I think about 6 moths after that label started the band split up. So it was like “Okay, now what do we do. I supposed we put out some records because we have got a record label.” And then it just sort of happened by mistake really. PB: How did you get in touch with your first bands? SR: The first artist, Françoiz Breut, I actually got sent by Setanta Records. They said they weren't going to be putting it out but I might like to. So I had it in my office. At the time Robin went away on holidays to France with his girlfriend, later wife, and he heard it there too. Then he came back saying "I’ve got this brilliant record!” and I went “Oh, yeah I’ve heard that.” So that was quite nice. We also got the Dirty Three at that point. They were on Big Cat records and were not having a very good time. They put out their third album ‘Horse Stories' and it just disappeared without trace. We get to know them through their manager who also managed Nick Cave. We had always been huge fans of the Dirty Three. It was like a dream for us to be able to put that out. It was a really good beginning to have a band that has an audience already. PB: Yeah, they just really fit the spirit of Bella Union. SR: Yeah, they are great. It’s been hard trying to get new people into the Dirty Three. I do find it frustrating the lack of vision by TV people or radio. They go like "The Dirty 3. Oh yeah…." PB: I think they are amazing! SR: Oh, yeah, they are the best band in the world but a lot of people just don’t take the time to listen to them. I guess they just don’t have the time but you have seen them enough times and I’ve seen them hundreds of times to know that their music effects people in a very emotional and psychological way. PB: The music is incredibly expressive… SR: Oh, yeah! It’s almost old fashioned that way. PB: I think their music is much more expressive than the music of bands that have a singer. SR: Absolutely. You totally get lost in the music. That Shepherd's Bush Empire show they didearlier this year was incredible. And every time I’ve seen them I always think that they did their best gig ever, but the last one was really incredible. Just seeing them on the big stage I felt that they are really special. They are playing there again in October. They are doing a Europesn tour with Bonnie Prince Billy and Cat Power. SR: We didn’t know what we were doing you know. It just happens. You have to learn it or rather not learn it. There aren't really any models of successful record companies. Not in my life anyway. I didn’t think that 4AD was really that great. You can have a great band but then the business side of things may not be quite right. PB: You were in that position yourself with the Cocteau Twins. I imagine now running a label explains certain things to you as well. SR: That’s why we get on with bands because most people know that we were in a band and that that band had a certain amount of integrity or did for a little while anyway (laughs), so people know that we know what we are talking about. I think that you have to be honest with people and say that there isn’t much money in this business and there is a fair chance that the record will disappear without trace and they won’t make any money out of it because most people don’t. Most people who release records still work. There is a tiny, tiny percentage of people that are living out of it. People who make huge a living out it while most of us are struggling. They must know that in the back of their mind anyway, but it’s good to say it. So we won’t say we will sell millions. That’s what they say at major record companies because they have to convince themselves or otherwise they will lose their jobs. Our contracts are just record by record. Actually we don’t really have contracts. I like not having contracts. Unless a band don't know you then they prefer it because they feel more secure that you are definitely going to put it out. It’s not that you are going to rip them off but just really put it out and won’t say the last minute that something else has come up. With most bands that we have we have never had a contract. We have never had one with Dirty Three! There have been a few relationships that haven’t worked out. They are usually because the communication wasn’t good enough or bands wanted something different than what we could have given them and that’s fine. Nowadays I wouldn't actually sign a band if I didn’t feel that they could be friends. If it was just purely because I thought they are a great band, but were horrible people then I think I wouldn’t do it. PB: The main thing that your bands have in common is that they make music they believe in. SR: Yeah, and it’s great to give them a chance to do that. PB: I think when the motivation becomes money then the band loses their identity. SR: Yeah but in the world everything has a value. 20 years ago music had more value then now. A piece of vinyl was valuable and even 20 years ago even a CD was valuable. Now it doesn’t have any value. It’s like a promo. Even the album now is the promo for the t-shirt and the gig. It’s certainly going that way anyway. I think the industry has become very strange. When I was a kid I was so excited about going to a shop and bringing out the thing and looking at it and putting it on. Now the majority of kids don’t actually care because they are not materialistic. Well, they are materialistic about shoes, gameboys, play stations but about music… they are already used to putting it into their MP3 player. They are not actually that bothered about owing the CD. They just want to have the songs. And they can get that for free so what they want to buy it for? So we unwittingly educated kids to get music for free. I don’t think it’s right but it’s not my job to say so. PB: I think there is just too much rubbish that is given a lot of promotion from big record companies which obviously do it for money only and most people just don't look any further. But you still get people that will look for the music in small indie shops and go to see a band that plays a tiny venue because they believe in quality rather then what’s popular or they are being told is popular. SR: Yeah and that will always be there. There will always be people who like something different and who actually like going and looking for it. But people are lazy. They just sit in front of their computer and order everything. I actually like on-line but I like looking for things that no one else hears about. PB: Yeah, it’s nice to find something no one has ever head of yet and then to tell everyone about it. SR: Yeah, because you want to share it with people. I’ve always been exactly the same. And I then tell my friends they have to go and see this band. I don’t really want to be part of the music industry anyway. I am because I run a label and I’ve got all these great bands on it but I don’t really follow what’s going on to be honest. My brother is in that world because he has been working for a major record label for years. I hear all those stories and think “How can you work there? It’s not about music. All you talk about is politics, units etc." It’s not really me. I only really like discovering brans new things. It doesn’t happen every day of the week. Of course I find bands that I think are amazing or great and I will be happy to release, but it’s actually only once in a life time you find a band that really change things for you. I think we have a few of those. We have all these amazing bands but I shouldn’t pick favourites. PB: Could you tell me more about people who work at Bella Union and where you know them from? SR: The girl that runs the label's day to day business, Fiona, used to be the Cocteaue Twins manager. I’ve known her for about 16 years so I trust her as if she is my own family. Peter used to work in our recording studio just up the road here when we made ‘ Head Over Heels’ and did all the records after that. He was an assistant engineer there for a while. Just when he started to hated that we began the label. We just really liked him and we didn’t want to get rid of him even though he didn’t want to work there so we asked him if he wanted to work for the label. We were just setting up then but I couldn’t do without him now! Duncan was doing a lot of regional press for us when we were at record company and he left his job. We asked him if he wanted to do national press even though he had never done it before. He was such a nice guy and really enthusiastic and he really loved all the bands. I think that’s the key really ! If I find a band that I think are incredible I play it in the office. If no one else likes it as much as I do then I won’t follow it up. Even though I think they are incredible I don’t want to put it out if everyone else doesn’t feel the same way as me. I need them to feel comfortable because then I know they are keen to talk to other people about that band. PB: Yeah, you know they will be really enthusiastic to work on that band. SR: There have been a few times in the past when someone didn’t like it and we didn't work with it. The bottom photo that accompanies this article was taken exclusively by Matt Williams for Pennyblackmusic



Label Articles:-
Bella Union (18)


Picture Gallery:-
Miscellaneous - Interview with Simon Raymonde Part 1


Miscellaneous - Interview with Simon Raymonde Part 1


Miscellaneous - Interview with Simon Raymonde Part 1



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