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Baker's Dozen

Perfect Calibrations: Simon Raymonde's Favourite Albums
Colm McAuliffe , February 6th, 2014 09:02

Following the release of his new album with Snowbird, the former Cocteau Twins man and Bella Union boss gives us his rundown of his all-time (on this given day) favourite records

Simon Raymonde has spent the past seventeen years in a state of deep mourning. Despite his staggering successes as Bella Union head honcho, the one-time Cocteau Twins bassist was somewhat at odds with his history, his legacy and the protracted, fraught demise of his former band. "As a writer, the last thing I was involved in was the last Cocteau Twins album [1996's Milk And Kisses," he reflects on a crisp January morning in Hackney. "I didn't realise how much of an effect the break-up must have had on me. I didn't realise I was in mourning. I didn't want to do something for the sake of it… that I wasn't really committed to. Being in band with Liz [Fraser, Cocteau Twins singer] makes everything else seem only quite good [in comparison]. She really was something amazing and until I found Stephanie, there was nothing. Not that I was looking; I was producing, keeping my toe in and I loved being in the studio with bands. I still liked that part but I've been so busy with the label. So doing this has been a breath of fresh air." 
The fruits of Raymonde's renewed interest in musical proclivities has resulted in Snowbird, a partnership with Denver-based singer/songwriter Stephanie Dosen. Their debut album, moon, is ostensibly a collection of night-time vignettes, paeans to nocturnal perambulations through a bucolic idyll. However, the album is far from an exercise in narcolepsy; this moon is wide-eyed and brilliantly lit, Dosen's vocals evoking a child-like world shimmering in equipoise between fantasy and reality. And yes, it does sound – in places – like the Cocteau Twins. "Stephanie does sound like Liz, there's no running away from it!" admits Simon. "She was a huge Cocteaus fan and a huge Liz fan. And if you listen to Stephanie's folk albums and her arrangements, her vocal melodies, they are influenced by that period in music: Vega, Bush, Mitchell. And the fact that I was in the Cocteau Twins for so long means that it's bound to rub off a bit."

"All the songs were written on piano. Stephanie was basically extemporising over the music the very first time she heard it. What she sang at that moment was what we used. It only took about three days for me to do the basic tracks and it took ages for her to do the vocals because she did them all and scrapped every track! She started again. But it's not like we had a deadline to fulfil. It took three years and it's almost surreal to have it finished. I thought I had finished, I hadn't mixed it and I got my friend Iggy to mix it because I was too close to it. But I sent a few tracks to Victoria [Legrand] from Beach House, I knew she'd be really honest with me. And she said it was brilliant but it was surprising that I left out some of the trademark-y things like guitars on the album. But she said, 'Don't be frightened to be who you are'. Maybe I tried to get too far away from the Cocteau sound so I tried some things out and it worked beautifully. Paul [Gregory] from Lanterns On The Lake contributed some beautiful textural things right at the last minute. And all of this changed the record from me thinking it was pretty good to thinking I really like it."

Does the Snowbird release scupper any remaining hopes of a Cocteaus reunion? "Liz hasn't made a record in seventeen years and neither had I. What a tragedy it would be if she never made a record; she is still one of the most gifted artists out there. I text her and e-mail her on and off every three months, we're on perfectly friendly terms. Me and Robin [Guthrie, Cocteau Twins' co-founder] don't really get on, he moved away and I guess we drifted wildly apart really. We were all getting well together around the time of the Coachella invitation [to headline the 2005 edition of the festival], we thought it was possible but when push came to shove, it was probably never likely. And I think it was a great thing we didn't do it in hindsight. You gotta move on and accept that some things are best left as they are. Money does corrupt in these circumstances, the temptation is head-turning. But you have to look at the other side, the most important side: being happy, waking up in the morning with a clear head. It was bad enough in the last few years of the band. Pixies managed to do it, but there weren't any personal relationships gone massively wrong. I mean, I did spend the money in my head but it's probably the best place for it!"

The albums Simon has picked for his Baker's Dozen are striking in that all of them cover the period 1969–1984 bar one stray from 2000. What happened in the interim period? "It is a strange list! I just picked the albums randomly - if you asked me today, I'd pick different ones!" he laughs. "A lot of them are from the same period. There's a sixteen year jump from the last two albums. I did fall out of love with British music from the early 1980s until fairly recently. It's only recently Bella Union have signed more and more British bands. I wasn't bothered for so long. Most of those records are from my formative years. It's that time when music is supremely important to you and helps build your soul, your character. Coming out of the punk thing into the post-punk thing, that was a massively influential time in our lives. I worked in a record shop, Beggars Banquet, from 1980 - having the Associates album in there is tied to that, the reggae records are tied to that. When Beggars closed down, I went to work in an Our Price in Shepherd's Bush which was an all-reggae shop. This stays with you and you keep these records in your collection forever."

moon is out via Bella Union now; click on his image below to begin scrolling through Simon's choices