Originally we intended to run this as a grand finale to our Bella Union week last week, but due to being hit by terminal server issues which caused the entire site to die we had to postpone.
But, like a phoenix from the flames we’re back, and to conclude the amazing run of content from last week we’ve come up with something rather special. Who better to interview the man behind one of the countries most respected labels than you, the general record buying public…
When we first put the word out that we wanted your questions for Simon Raymonde we were literally inundated. From old skool fans of Simons old band the Cocteau Twins to folk who discovered Bella Union via the mainstream success of Fleet Foxes – it’s fair to say we had a mixed and varied bag. Graciously, Simon answered each question one by one, and here we’ve hand picked the highlights.
Any prospect of new material from Josh T Pearson/Lift from Experience? Gus Fitzgibbon, London
I know Pearson is close to finishing up a couple of things solo-wise, and I know he and original Lift drummer Andy Young played together recently when Josh supported mbv but more than that I couldn’t say. I do know that josh pearson is a great artist and I treasure having worked with him and the band when we released The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads, still the greatest double-disc debut album of all time.
When oh when will we see a full-length Snowbird album? Tym Rourke, Bedford
It’s a band in infancy just now. We have a few sketches we’ve been playing out live with just piano and voice which has been fun and a challenge. We’ll write some more this month and start recording very soon. I think summer 2010 is the rough release thinking just now.
Yo Simon, what are your thoughts about people who smile while their picture is being taken next to a big fucking animal they had just shot? Max Nelson, Oklahoma USA
Yo Max. Well, I love all god’s creatures, except some of the human kind. Oh and rats and eels.. (Are you sure you’re not Josh Pearson? He has a nice big gun.) And anyway, how “fucking big” of an animal are we talking here, I wonder?
There’s nothing very big about shooting a pig, cos they don’t know how to run for cover, unless you’re chasing them on all fours with a knife and fork, in which case they’re mighty elusive, but yeah I can vaguely understand a bloodthirsty feller with a smokin’ barrel in one hand grinning like a cheese stood next to a dead grizzly bear the size of a house in the other. Sure I can.
But given that even a blind man with a big enough gauge weapon should be able to stop the heart of any oblivious cross-eyed old lion, it doesn’t seem such a thing to exactly be bragging about. They say man’s a born hunter and gatherer. Which of course is utter cobblers. ‘They’ don’t know everything. I say necessity created the hunter. And I do know everything. Plenty of unarmed neanderthal cavemen folks got eaten by hungry critters before they worked out they needed clubs. And Ibiza was just a long sandy beach before they worked out they needed clubs. It’s no different. We weren’t born to kill. We were born to run. Having said that, confronted by an angry grizzly bear foaming at the mouth, I reserve the right to change my mind and bear arms. Or is it bare arms?
What is the most bizarre thing you have ever eaten? Jeffrey Letterly, New York USA
A huge black and white four-legged beast with whopping great udders who was standing in a field with all his friends, staring blankly at me, chewing gum (or something) very slowly, until I smote him with a smokin’ gun. (Part of this story is true)
Why do you rely on licensing bands from other labels rather than signing totally new bands that you’d be responsible for building the foundation for from scratch? Jeff Keibel, Bowmanville Canada
Hi Jeff, Erm…I don’t. I signed Fleet Foxes direct before anyone else, Midlake direct before anyone else, Lift to Experience, Dirty Three, Laura Veirs, The Czars, Peter Broderick, Our Broken Garden, Stephanie Dosen, the list goes on. The only band I actually ever licensed from another label was Beach House, from Car Park Records.
Laura Veirs, Fleet Foxes, The Czars, Lift To Experience, Midlake, Fionn Regan, etc were all unsigned when I found them. Andrew Bird, even though he’d never had an LP out here in UK before was distributed by other labels, which could be what you’re thinking of, but I signed Andrew direct, not licensed from a label. Dirty Three were possibly on Touch and Go in the USA before we signed them and we have worked with them for 10 years, but I didn’t license them from the label, I signed them direct from the band.
Not quite sure what gave you the impression that I just nicked other people’s bands, but it certainly ain’t the case!
Laura Veirs released three albums on Bella Union before any USA label picked up on her. She then got a worldwide deal with a major label. Fionn Regan, similar story. We found him and released his debut album, and then Universal signed him for the world after our deal ran out.
I certainly love developing artists from scratch, and seeing a band like Midlake grow with us over the course of the last 5 years since we signed them has been a real pleasure. It doesn’t always work out though. I discovered The Czars, in Denver around 1999, and over the next 7 years released 4 albums with them, I produced two of them myself, one out in Denver, and spent a large slice of time developing that band, but it didn’t pan out. The band just never sold that well around the world and eventually they broke up. I still think the Czars’ singer John Grant has one of the greatest voices in music today which is why I am about to release his debut solo record, the Queen Of Denmark. In a weird coincidence, the Midlake guys all fell in love with John’s voice too and invited him down to Denton this year to let them work on his record. They play all the instruments and produce. It’s genius.
Which female artist would you most like to work with musically? Brian Alan Diaz, California USA
In the studio? I am lucky enough to have worked with Stephanie Dosen and Elizabeth Fraser at close quarters and both have extraordinary gifts. I have been pretty spoilt. I would like to record with Victoria from Beach House, Beth Jeans Houghton, and Alessi from Alessi’s Ark, Heidi Spencer and Joni Mitchell.
What do you generally find yourself saying in response to a random fan whom you might meet on the street, train, club, etc whenever they ask you how different your view of the music industry is, now that you run a label as opposed to your view of the industry whilst a member of Cocteau Twins? Leesa Beales, Toronto Canada
Hello Leesa, I didn’t like the industry then and I don’t much like it now. It sucks for most bands and for most labels. Always has and always will I guess. The experiences aren’t so dissimilar. I am still just trying to create a label I wish we had been signed to. (I should add no one ever comes up to me on the street or on the train and asks me anything other than “what time is it?” or “ do you know where I can get these shoes re-heeled? “)
I heard that Peter Broderick was making you cry. Also I heard that you found it weird. Why? He always brings me to tears when I listen to him. I really love him. Simon Rodrigue
Well that’s not strictly true Simon. Yes Peter Broderick’s music is very emotional to me and I do shed a tear or two when I see him play live, but when I started to get a ton of texts and emails from friends after the Green Man festival last month, and saw a ton of postings saying that there were several people in tears during his set, and walking out at the end crying, I thought I would write an article called “Something weird’s going on: Peter Broderick is making me cry” which was to be a collection of personal stories of those fans of his who find his performances so moving, as I was curious to know whether anyone really knew why they were crying.
I really love him too..that’s why I signed him!
What was it like being the token Englishman in a band with a pair of Scots? Ian Mitchell, Oldham
Hi Ian, Initially I didn’t think anything of it, but when I played my first show in Edinburgh I got tons of stick from the old bassist Will’s pals. Probably justified as they would have seen me as a southern softie, but I was a bit freaked out. Haha. After their initial suspicions wore off, I did then end up going over to Grangemouth with some of their pals and going to Celtic v Rangers in the jungle end which was something of a wild experience. It’s not often you feel the warm trickle of a man’s urine down your back.
How old were you when you went bald? I’m 28 and have less hair than you! Follow on question – Do you believe there are women who like bald men, as I can’t find any! Andrew Dempster, Inverclyde
Hi Andrew, I was about 36 when I started losing my thick head of hair. I think it got fed up with me sticking lots of black and white hair gum in it every day and sticking it up in vertical spikes, so I started to shave it soon after as I don’t like staring in the mirror longing after lost bits of hair. Seemed a bit pointless.
You’ll be fine though. Jason Statham, Billy Zane, Bruce Willis, VIn Diesel and me. We all manage! Oh, and if women don’t like you, I doubt it’s cos your bald. ;)
Did you ever gyrate and or make pelvic thrusts toward the drum machine in the early days of Cocteau Twins? Edward Colavito, New Jersey USA
There is a video for ‘Pitch The Baby’ where we were choreographed by Paula Abdul in which Robin and I both mounted the tape machine in a highly sexual way, while Elizabeth mimed fellatio with the microphone. We then did a parody of Prince where we all crawled along the floor after the tape machine, which was sashaying ahead of us, and as it moved on its castors, we licked the floor in its wake. It was a pretty cool video, you can probably check it out on YouTube.
Is it possible to quantify/describe the significance of one Midlake, or more importantly and recently: Fleet Foxes, to a label of your size. Andrew Dowdall, London
I guess it depends by what criteria you define ‘significance’. I think it shows that employing 300 people and having 250 grand marketing budgets isn’t the only way to sell half a million records. What’s interesting is that Midlake were probably a year or two ahead of their time, and when Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes came along, there was, in Europe anyway, more of an acceptance certainly within the key media at BBC radio and television, that music like this was worthy of greater attention than it had previously been afforded. I think unwittingly Midlake paved the way for some of the success that the Grizzly Bear, Beirut, Bon Iver kinda artists had subsequently.
We live in curious times. Many many people like C.G. Jung, Alister Crowley, and various New Age movements are saying that “something” is changing in the world, in human psyche, something inside… Do you believe in whatsoever spirituality? Maybe when you’re looking for new bands, do you take notice of the elements of spirituality? Do you think that your intuition is born from a ghost? Michał Szafarz, Sieradz Poland
Hi Michał, That’s an interesting question. I believe we are born with levels of intuition yes. And as we go through life that intuition is honed to suit our needs. For me, intuition is all I need when listening to music. Initially i don’t bother with the concerns of trade and market forces, although once I start looking into the ‘team’ behind an artist, and start planning the campaign, I guess this does come slowly into view.
A few times I have been thinking of signing a band when a little voice in my head says ‘no, it’s not right’. Is this intuition, spirituality or a ghost? I am not sure, but I try to have a child-like approach to response in music, and when I was a kid I used to talk to invisible strangers and see UFO’s all the time, so perhaps I am using this connection when I listen to music.
I am also aware that finding the music I love is partly a way of making the personal journey from birth to death as beautiful as possible by enriching a part of my soul. Something from ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead’ which I did for my A-levels stuck with me. “We must be born with an intuition of mortality. Before we know the word for it. Before we know that there are words. Out we come, bloodied and squalling, with the knowledge that for all the points of the compass, there’s only one direction. And time is its only measure.”
With download sales probably greater than CD/vinyl sales, what do you think the future holds for the album? Donald Murchie, Ayreshire
In the USA digital sales are much higher than they are here, 30-40% of all music sales, here its only about 12% so the death of the physical product is in my opinion greatly exaggerated. I can’t see there being a time when CD and vinyl isn’t here anymore. If our world is solely about convenience and speed and efficiency, then I am living in another world and I am gonna stay here. I use iTunes and iPods of course, but I also buy CD’s and vinyl. The reason people don’t buy CD’s anymore isn’t because they want to buy digitally, it’s because record shops just gave up and presented music to people like TK Maxx presents clothes. In a big pickle with no love. Go into a shop like Rough Trade East and you’ll see why I don’t think the album is dead. I guarantee if you love music like I do, you’ll walk out with tons of new music and all excited to get home and read the sleevenotes. If you don’t respect the customer, she wont respect you. Sadly we have had too many years of retailers who think selling music is just like selling burgers. You have to be invested in your product to be able to sell it effectively.
If England were to fall into the sea, and you could relocate your home and business anywhere in the world, where would you choose to work and why, and where would you choose to live and why? Hattie Carraway, Columbia USA
When that does happen, I think I’ll move to Corsica. There’s just about enough room there for the UK to resurface from the ocean floor and attach itself to the mainland of France and the edge of Corsica, and then I can pop back home and grab that sweater I knew I’d left behind. Corsica would be a perfect place to work, I could sit on the beach with my feet in the water, wi-fi on listening to surf music. (That’s all there will be then). I would live in a hotel on the beach. (I’m not re-buying all my furniture again). I love room service.
Corsica looks beautiful, and I couldn’t think of a nicer spot to live and work. Think I’ll do it anyway once the kids have left home!
Imagine this is a job interview, so, where does Bella Union see itself in 5 years time? Robin Seamer, Southsea
I could be flippant but this industry has a habit of kicking the shit out of the smug and the complacent when they’re least expecting it.
We could be on the scrapheap or we could be thriving, and either of those two may come as a result of nothing we did, or something we didn’t. I would like to see us doing more cool events, doing more fun things like we are doing this month with the fanzine and the free cassette, hosting our own week of shows etc. Mark wants to do some limited edition bespoke releases of lost classic albums from yesteryear, and I’d like to take a holiday for a change. I want to continue releasing amazing artists for as long as someone will let me. I want to make Bella Union into a label that would make Chris Blackwell proud.