Leesa: Taking a look back over your very long and brilliant career, if you could sum it all up, perhaps even to one event, what are you most proud of?
Simon: Without sounding glib-having been part of a group which certainly affected peoples lives in a positive way. Music sometimes interests, occasionally excites, but rarely moves people. I am aware that this music has touched the core with some folk. An odd feeling actually, but pride is evident!
Is music still a catharsis for you or has it simply become your nine to five?
When I become 9-5 will be the day you shoot me. Funnily enough the only time in my life it felt like that was in the final year of Cocteau Twins when it took all my energy to get up. My one regret is that haven't worked out how to manage my time better. I get to bella union at 9am and leave at 8pm, rarely getting half the things I want to done. When I am producing, I work on average 18 hour days, and when I am writing my own music, I am completetly unaware of time. I completely adore what I do, though the music business itself is a warped, corrupt, slow-moving industry, that is controlled by a few big-players who don't really have much up top. So you're forever battling that, but hey, it beats washing dishes.
What has Bella Union taught you about the music business that you didn't already know?
It's taught me nothing about the business that I didn't already suspect, so I rely on no-one. And make no compromise.
The bands on Bella Union are delightful, where and how do you find them and do you and Robin ever argue about your selections?
We never argue, no. No time for that! I don't want to go to the same gigs that all the other A&R men/women go to, so I don't. Things should just happen organically, naturally. Francois Breut, just a nice series of coincidences. Nanaco, a chance meeting. Dirty Three, right time, right place. The Czars, slow encouragement over a period leading to the delightful recording we did together. Lift To Experience, a recommendation from Matthew from The Autumns, lead us to make a label-excursion to see their show at SXSW this year. Within minutes of them walking off stage, we signed them up. Inspiring, and the very reason we sweat so long and so hard for little reward. Gwei-lo- a demo cd that floored us all completely. Again, minutes after hearing the cd, we signed them.
Bella Union seem to frequent SXSW, how did it go this year and what was the general response to the show?
I guess there's no good reason we go there as opposed to any of the others, except there seems to be more of a music feel to it, rather than an industry feel to it. On 6th street alone, there must be 100 venues in about 500 yds!! It's mad, but a real good vibe. The showcase was brilliant, though I spose I would say that. Each band had great reactions even though the sound sucked. The place was heaving from 8pm till 2am, so it was exhausting, plus by 2am, I was paralytic. Then I had a meeting with someone for breakfast and got up early with a dreadful headache, dog-tired, drove miles to this café, and then sat there for an hour and a half, he never showed. It was a whirlwind week for me, as I had to do a lot of 'business' for Bella Union, plus playing with 2 bands at the gig, then I had to do a seminar/panel on independent labels, but I had a wonderful time.
Any other large festivals or venues planned for the near future? Ever considered a tour of just Bella Union bands?
I am into that idea, yes, but not sure all the bands would be, cos you know some bands just want to do their own thing and not be pigeon-holed...CT was certainly like that, we hated doing gigs with other 4AD bands. But I'd like to get to CMJ, maybe get one of our bands on at Glastonbury? But it's easier said than done. With the Bella Union Series 7 (7 instrumental cd's by 7 different artists, of 7 tracks in length), I'd love to do a tour of that, but a logistical nightmare I guess.
Do poor reviews really get to you or can you look beyond?
In CT we never got that many till the later period, so it was a bit of a shock when I did read them , cos I never figured people would not like what we did!! Naïve prick, eh? I only got annoyed when the interviews were chopped up to make a clever point perfect example, we did this interview with the NME with Sylvia Patterson, and talked fairly in-depth about this and that, and then all she did was talk about what a foul-mouth Liz had. It was funny enough, but the whole piece was more about Sylvia Patterson than CT. There was a period in the UK press where the journos got extremely self-important and self-contratulatory, name-checking each other within the mag, and it was dull reading, but I have to say, I don't read any of the press any more. I read The Wire, Uncut, and that's about it.
The material found on "Blame Someone Else" ran the emotional gambit where did it come from and what inspired you to opt for doing those particular cover songs?
Being in an emotional triangle of CT gave rise to some strong feelings and thoughts, some ambiguous, some not. Observations, personal experiences, dreams etc made up the subject matter of the album. Doing "It's Raining Today" was a big gamble, and some(Sylvia Patterson again) would say a mistake. I felt like I could give it a different feel, and I loved the song, and I felt ambitious that day. Television's "Days" was a fave song on mine and I figured I could make the vocals more… 'tuneful'. Again, in hindsight, perhaps a mistake, but with covers you just never know how they're going to turn out!! And,well, some people like them better than my own songs, so go figure.
What's your first love, the piano or the bass, or none of the above?
The piano and the guitar. Then the bass, having said that I'll probably come back to it...see I never practise any of these things, have no instruments at home, so I kind of feel really excited when I do finally pick a guitar up or sit down at the piano, cos I tend to spend so little time actually doing them.
You've obviously got your hands in a lot of jars, singing, writing, producing to name just a few how do you feel about the criticism that exposure of that magnitude tags you as a "sell-out"?
What criticism? I haven't seen any of it, but tell me where it is, and I'll send the dogs round. 'Exposure', 'magnitude'...I think not...stop someone in the street tonight, and ask them if they've heard of me, The Czars, The Autumns, Bella Union, and their answer is my answer. Sell-out will occur just shortly before I exit the music business and I can only hope that's not going to happen. I may diversify, but I don't compromise.
What's in your cd player these days?
Laika, Lambchop, Czars version of "Song To The Siren," Lift To Experience, Innocence Mission, Natascha Atlas, Bowery Electric, Violet Indiana, Cat Power, Elliot and Patti Smith.
Is there one particular band you'd love to get into the Bella Union studios?
Lift To Experience.
What do you think of your fans?
I think they're all freaks. Seriously, I keep in touch with fans, and have always found that part of being in a band vaguely interesting...there are those who take things too far, stepping over the lines, which I know can be blurry, but in general most people know where to back off we reply to most mail where a reply is relevant, and the "I love Liz and want to have her underwear and her love-child" ones generally get deleted.
Damn it, I have have to ask you a Cocteau question: If you could pick just one, what is your absolute favourite track?
Impossible! Changes often...today though I love "Watchlar." Irrational impulse.
You once said of Four Calendar Café: "I don't want a total recreation of it on our tour." Does this still apply to the stuff you produce? Do you strive to get a sound that differs from their live performances?
Depends. With CT, we were getting it about right live, when we split up. The last tour was certainly the best in terms of what we were trying to do, experiment with. In production, you have to see what's best for the band...with Lift To Experience, were I to produce their music, I would do very little, if anything, other than get them to play and record as if they were in their rehearsal room in Denton. With The Autumns' album, we wanted to retain the energy of the shows, but experiment also, and create two 'sides' to the record I think we succeeded.
What about your Drowning Craze band mates? Ever speak with them? What are they up to?
I speak with the guitarist occasionally, he's a nice lad, could have been more famous than The Edge if he'd stuck at it, he was doing that sound years before he was, would have been a superguitarhero.
Time for a little word association game, I'll give you a word you tell me the first word that comes to mind!
What do you see yourself doing in 15 years?
Becoming weirder. I can feel it happening, instead of becoming more conservative in advancing years which is historically what happens isn't it, I'm getting more odd...so everyone tells me.
Read more interviews with Simon and get all the other pertinent facts at www.simonraymonde.com.