Cocteau Twins’ Simon Raymonde learned that the best plan is none at all
Simon Raymonde of Cocteau Twins speaks on the music process, the history of the band and his new double record, ‘In Quiet Moments.’March 2, 2021
Simon Raymonde is a man of many talents. His artistic range spans from the ’80s with the prolific dream-pop/shoegaze band Cocteau Twins to the founding of Bella Union, an independent record label that’s seen the likes of Beach House, Father John Misty and Explosions In The Sky. His recent project, Lost Horizons, are also signed to the label, and they’ve just released the second part of their luscious record, In Quiet Moments.
This release is quite dream-like, with Raymonde working alongside Richie Thomas, former drummer of the Jesus And Mary Chain. First formed in 2016, the duo released their first album through the Bella Union label in 2017 to critical acclaim. The record features guest vocalists to engulf the listener in a melodic atmosphere, backed by instrumentation that can only be described as carefully crafted.
It’s imperative to know that Raymonde doesn’t actually mean to be so meticulous in his songs. Expectation isn’t something he’s attached to when creating, dating back to his early days of playing music in the punk scene, where he got his love for “doing things for the right reasons.” From there, he met Cocteau Twins, and seven albums later, the group disbanded, but that doesn’t prevent Raymonde from keeping the appreciation alive.
Raymonde speaks of the early days of his career in music, his time with Cocteau Twins and the growth of their fanbase over the years, as well as his latest record and how he approaches music creation.
What was it about the punk scene that established some ideals regarding music for you?
I loved kicking against the pricks, being able to be outside the mainstream, the attitudes, the clothes, the whole DIY ethic, printing fanzines, making cassettes, standing outside the BBC waiting for John Peel to arrive and handing him your tape with a handwritten note, going on marches against racism, and just the way punk and reggae crossed over was special and was inspiring. I loved how it was never about the money—[it] was always about doing things for the right reasons. Never be a phony and stand up for yourself. Punk gave those of us who felt like outsiders a community, a step on from the hippies earlier in the decade. [It was] a community not of flowers and love and peace but one of shared anger and resentment at the elite snobbery in our society. Living in Thatcher’s Britain was tough for so many, but musically and culturally, that period was so influential. Its reverberations can still be heard today.
Why is it easier for you to approach music creation with the idea of not having any set thoughts on the outcome or approach?
Partly because that’s how I’ve always done it. From the day I joined Cocteau Twins, it was how we wrote and created all [of] our music. And partly because it keeps it exciting and full of mystery and unknowns. When you wake up, you have no idea what you’re going to come up with that day, and when you go to bed, you just wrote a whole new song. If you don’t like something, just delete it or move on. Come back another day and try something else. That’s my attitude. I think it is also in part due to my already busy life and how I prefer just to turn up with Richie [Thomas] and let the magic happen if it can. I simply don’t have the time to prepare in the way others would. Let go and trust each other.
With the release of the second part of In Quiet Moments, how does it feel to create such lush music?
Once I heard these records, I was immediately engulfed in the sound and place of the music. I think that’s what music can do when it is at its peak. To make music now at this time in my life is really a significant happening—game-changing. But while I’m doing it, I am just so deeply in the moment [that] I am not consciously doing this or doing that, not trying to create anything particularly lush or soundscape-y. If we have achieved that and you can feel something for the songs, then that makes me super happy.
Seeing as though you went from playing in such a prolific band as Cocteau Twins to now releasing more music under various projects, how can you say you’ve grown?
I have often been drawn to emotional things. Sad music, melancholy work, it’s just my nature. I can’t write happy things. Even when I try, it sounds sad. When you improvise music in the way we do, it can only serve as a diary or testament to how you are feeling at that moment. My mum died just prior to me starting this second LP, so I was certainly very emotional during the first sessions we did. Losing your last remaining parent is a profound experience, and there is a lot to process. Thankfully, music is the perfect outlet.
What was it like working at Beggars Banquet record shop and meeting Elizabeth [Fraser] and Robin [Guthrie] for the first time?
Amazing first job and I would not be here had I not taken it. [It] was the catalyst to all that has happened to me since, both good and bad. Now with our own vinyl shop here in Brighton, we are still flying the flag. Record shops are my happy place.
What was it like to create an album with the late Harold Budd?
It came through a TV company that wanted to make a documentary [about] pairing two artists from wildly different genres. We knew very little about Harold’s music. I think I had The Pearl at the time, but our label boss Ivo [Watts-Russell] suggested the idea, and it seemed like it might be fun. So Harold arrived, and then suddenly the TV company went bust or something. We felt it was a bit sad just to send him back home, so we asked him to come and make some music with us at the studio. It only took three weeks to write, record and mix it, so it was very spontaneous, and it sounds that way even now.
Liz Fraser said she combined different languages and sounds, and, ultimately, words to her didn’t mean anything until they were sung by her. Does this mirror any methods to how you create your music when writing and then performing [or] recording them?
For each album, our process was for Robin and me to compose 10 instrumental pieces for Elizabeth to add her voice to. Every day was a new blank canvas, and by night time we would have a new instrumental all ready for her incredible imagination to be let loose. If you overthink these methods and overanalyze the work and the process, then immediately you will lose the wonder, the joy of the unknown. So we didn’t.
Why do you think the fanbase of Cocteau Twins continues to grow, especially now with the younger audience?
I am not 100% sure. Our aim was to make albums that were timeless. I’m not sure we always achieved that, but once or twice, maybe. Bands that break up amidst drug and relationship problems are a constant online fascination for people, and that will always be the case. I think the patronage of Prince, the Weeknd, etc. never hurt and helped new people discover the band. I, for one, am actively involved in keeping our music alive as much as I can without overdoing it. There’s a big place for the past, but it has to be balanced.
When Cocteau Twins dissolved, what motivated you to continue the record label that was created for the sole purpose of putting out records for that band?
Something to do. After 14 or so years doing the one band, I think I was in shock. Maybe I have a bloody-minded streak. It certainly kept me busy and my mind creative after a trauma like that. I had no idea what I was doing, and in a way, I still don’t, and that’s the beauty of it all. I just sign bands I love. I don’t look at stream numbers, Facebook followers or any statistics when considering a new band. Naturally, I’d be obsessed with their music, but more than that, I am looking for good people—relatable, intelligent, caring people. We put a lot into what we do, so it’s a lot easier if the people you’re working for appreciate it and there is some empathy beyond just digging their music. I don’t think I could have imagined still being in business after so long, but as long as I still love my work, I’ll carry on.
Do you think that if Cocteau Twins never disbanded, you’d be touring and making more records with them, therefore not having Lost Horizons, or would it still have been a solo project that you would have pursued at some point?
Hypotheticals aren’t for me. The reason I started Lost Horizons was because I had to for my mental well-being. I hadn’t grieved the loss of my band until almost 20 years after it finished, and I hadn’t come to terms with not making music again. I had to answer a lot of those questions about myself and moving on, about comparing the Simon of today with the Simon of before. So to come out on the other side with a band I love being in, making music that thrills me and has so many possibilities on a daily basis, fills me with happiness. Who knows “what if” this or “what if” that? Live in the moment and don’t worry about the stuff you can’t control.