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A Quietus Interview

Lost Horizons: Simon Raymonde Interview & Triptych Premiere
Lottie Brazier , August 20th, 2018 09:32

Former Cocteau Twins bassist, founder of Bella Union and now half of Lost Horizons, Simon Raymonde, plays Sea Change festival this weekend. Lottie Brazier talks to him about Triptych, his new film with BAFTA-winning director Kieran Evans - which has its premiere today on the Quietus

Since starting the record label Bella Union, Simon Raymonde has found himself with little time for his own music, remaining absent from it since departing from Cocteau Twins. But more recently through the creation of the Lost Horizons project with former Dif Juz member and drummer Richard Thomas, Raymonde has found this dimension of his life becoming fruitful once more.

The duo, who have been friends since the 1980s and have both been mainly absent from making music in recent years, have their debut album Ojalá coming out on November 3 on Bella Union. The album features a stellar array of vocalists including Marissa Nadler, Tim Smith of Midlake, Cameron Neal of Horse Thief, Liela Moss of The Duke Spirit and Ghostpoet).

But Lost Horizons have been busy and before the album comes out their first major project - providing the soundtrack to the film Triptych - is just coming to fruition now.

The pair were asked to provide soundtrack music to the film directed by BAFTA award winner Kieran Evans - who works with Bella Union on music videos including those for Manic Street Preachers. It's essentially an experimental music video, created out of three songs, hence the film’s name, and it was shot along the coastal paths of St David’s in Wales.

The rugged landscape becomes the catalyst for the mostly silent protagonists’ love, grief, regret and ultimate loss, soundtracked by music from the Lost Horizons album. Dodging classification as a music video, the 19 minute long film is set to be hosted at the Southbank Centre, and Raymonde and co. will also be performing the Lost Horizons album live at Sea Change this weekend. But you can see it for the first time at the top of this article.

On the Lost Horizons project, you’ve been collaborating with Richard Thomas of Dif Juz.

Simon Raymonde: I’ve known Richie for all my musical life. Dif Juz were one of my very favourite bands, and label mates with the Cocteau Twins on 4AD, so they went on tour with us all the time, and they helped us to build our studio. They were great lads, we stayed really good friends with them, from when we were teenagers. I kept in touch with Richie over the years, even though we both slipped away from making music, after the Cocteau Twins broke up. Since them, I haven’t really made any music at all, as I’ve been too busy with running Bella Union and producing. Richie had also since disappeared from music as well. He had found the whole experience of working with labels disillusioning, and as a result he had fallen out with people. He just butted out of the whole society thing, moved to Croatia and just ended up living a different lifestyle.

We just got back in touch with each other, mostly just by accident. We found that we both really missed hanging out and playing music together. So we decided to do something with only the premise that it couldn’t be a ‘thing’. It couldn’t be a record, it didn’t need a release date, we didn’t want to call it a band, and the purpose was to literally have fun because we both missed making music so much. After having jammed in the studio, I took some of the recordings back home expecting them to be awful, but after listening through I realised that there were actually some really good things in there. Then I just ended up using those jams, and building them into songs, into more structured pieces of music, and that’s how the record came together. If I had a piece of music finished in my mind, I’d think about who I’d want to sing on it, and then send it to that singer, and that’s how the record came together, it’s all a really weird way of working but that’s what we did.

All of the songs featured on the film are in the album as well. Interestingly enough, I think I finished the record and I was sort of listening through and thinking, 'This is missing something. It’s got loads of drums and guitars, it sounds like a band.' Really what I wanted was something a little more sparse. So I went over to a studio where I live in Brighton, where Nick Cave and Warren Ellis had done a lot of their Bad Seeds and soundtrack stuff, because I knew that they had a lot of really great pianos in there. I took the studio for a couple of days, one day just to do some guitar bits in, and the next day to do piano. And the idea really was maybe for a bonus disk, I would have some instrumental ambient noodling. That’s what prompted the last bunch of songs, because I suddenly got back home and realised they were a lot better than I thought they were. That they could actually become songs. In the same way I had with the rest of the record, I just thought to send it to some other people, so that’s how the more minimal tracks got finished. I think that ultimately gave the record a bit more variety and a bit more depth.

Where does the album’s title Ojalá originate from?

SR: It’s a Spanish word which is pronounced ‘oh-ha-la’ and the translation of ojalá is ‘hope’ or ‘hopeful’. In Spain it’s quite an important word, and if you talk to someone from Spain, they will tell you that it’s not just, 'I hope that it’s not going to rain today.' It’s about a hopefulness for much better things, for the planet. It’s a larger, more universal, more global kind of hope. Given where this planet is right now, and how shit everything is, we just thought it would be the perfect title for the record. Richie came up with it, and I liked the thinking behind it, and I liked the story behind the word, so we went for that.

How did you become involved with Kieran Evans’ new film Triptych, and what’s its link to the Lost Horizons project?

SR: Kieran and I have been working together a lot over the past twenty years. He’s directed quite a few films already for Bella Union and I’ve always loved his style. He has a very dark, very black sense of humour. He does all of the Manic Street Preachers stuff, he’s Welsh as well. And he eventually got to make a feature film, called Kelly + Victor, which won a BAFTA for Outstanding Debut as a director. So it’s been lovely to watch him grow as a film maker. We’ve kept in touch over the years but he’s mostly been involved with documentary making, such as Vashti Bunyan: From Here To Before and the Saint Etienne documentary Finisterre, which features Lawrence from Felt. But none of the documentaries he makes are straightforward - there are lots of subtle, dark little twists to them because that’s his sort of thing.

So anyway, we were chatting about doing something together again. Rather than just doing a straight video promo for the Lost Horizons album, he just came up with the idea of doing something long-form to tell a story which is linked or inspired by the songs, with the music used within the storytelling, to support the narrative. Because I love what Kieran does, I just wanted to see what he would come up with, and he just went off and did it!

When I originally started watching the film, because of the lack of dialogue I was originally wondering how the viewer might be able to tell where the story was going just from the music but actually you really can. Towards the end, especially, it all comes together.

SR: Yeah, I mean the problem was, with all the music being video driven, with media partners and stuff, we originally thought we should perhaps chop it up. As in, we should put out this song and video first, then the next separately. And I was concerned that if we did that, we would have to do it chronologically, otherwise it wouldn’t make any sense at all. For instance, if you put the third one first that would be completely confusing, so really I am hoping just to keep it a short film. Though saying that, my only concern is who is going to watch a 19 minute long music video? Not many people I imagine, so I don’t expect it to be breaking any box office records, but we’re hoping to get it into some film festivals.

Grief is presented in an almost surreal way during the film.

SR: We’ve both been through our fair share of it, over the last six months. Evans has had a lot of personal drama as well and he doesn’t shy away from confronting those subjects in his movie making, whether it be with music or with film. I really like that, because I’ve been making promotional videos for so long, and so after a while you want something a bit different. The idea of him telling a story, with him using songs as a tool for part of the narrative I thought was clever and different, so I decided to go with it to be honest with you.

What’s Evans’ connection like with St David’s, in Wales? It’s interesting that he chose to shoot such a melancholy film in a place where he grew up.

SR: I think he was just looking for the landscape to be a part of the story. It’s very barren, and it’s quite rough. I mean, that is the place that he knows. The crew had quite an amazing shoot out there, I think they all found it quite emotional as well, just shooting it. I think they were there for about a week, and it was just literally Kieran, Jeff Barrett from Heavenly’s son, just doing the running, helping out carrying stuff. With the actors as well, and that was pretty much just it, so was an incredibly small sort of operation. But I kept getting messages during the shoot that whilst it was pretty inclement weather and whatnot they were all having a really amazing time, finding the actual subject of what they were filming to be quite profound and the music is quite melancholy, but I shouldn’t imagine that they were listening to it, I should think that they were just focussed on filming. I think it is quite difficult, as you were saying before, to tell a story without any words. But it’s a story about humanity, and I think he did brilliantly.

Did you find that original experience of working with Dirk van Doren on Cocteau Twins’ music videos influenced your desire to work on a more ambitious music video with Evans?

SR: I think we had such terrible experiences making videos. We basically didn’t make a decent video until we were just about to break up, when we were in the last year of our existence. I shot loads of stuff on 16mm film and then he put the most amazing graphics all over it. Dirk van Doren just made it just really arty - we had the lyrics written across the films. They were so beautiful and so artistic and we were like, 'Ah man, if only we could have made some of these kinds of film before.' But to be honest with you, ever since I’ve been doing Bella Union, [I've realised] most bands hate their videos. Most of them really do, you end up making your album and the label says, 'We’re going to find someone to make a video.' You see a treatment and they send this thing over and you go, 'Oh yeah! Sounds really cool.' The video gets made and you watch it back and the record’s just about to come out and you spend money on it. You watch it and you think, 'Oh my god I hate it.' But by then it’s too late, as you’ve spent money on it and it’s got to come out. That’s so common.

So with Lost Horizons, I just steered clear of doing anything where I was not going to be at least happy with the most of it. Working with Kieran I was certain that it was going to be good. There’s no doubt in my mind that when I see what I get back is going to be beautiful. Because he’s not trying to make a name for himself - do you know what I mean? He’s not competing with anyone. He’s like me, he wants to tell a story and he’s reacting to a circumstance and it’s an instinctive feeling with him. It won’t involve hours and hours of procrastination. I really love that about him. He knows what he wants things to look like, and I’m just such a big fan of his, it feels like a privilege to be involved.

So it’s been quite a liberating experience working with Evans in comparison to making music videos for Cocteau Twins?

SR: It really has! I usually get in touch with him to do things for other bands on Bella Union, but this time round, he rang me and said, 'Could I do something for you, for your music?' At the time I didn’t really appreciate the significance of this, I just thought, 'Oh, that’d be fine.' But when I realised how much he really genuinely loved the music, and how his storytelling in part at least was inspired by them. And so I let him go with it because I thought that really during Cocteau Twins I’d had too much of, 'This is the single, you make the video, Liz has got to be doing this, she’s got to be lip-syncing etc.' It’s like, I don’t want to be in a video - just go off and do it! You will enjoy the experience, and I will love what you’ve done. I had enough faith and trust in Kieran to do that effectively, and he certainly repaid that for sure.

During the Four-Calendar Cafe period in 1993/4, you were only given the money by Fontana at the time to make two other films, but you said that you wanted to make four?

SR: That’s very true. We were quite pissed off at the time. At the time we were trying to make a four track EP called Twinlights, and we wanted to basically do each song but in video form, which is not actually a very common thing to do. We approached the label and they were asking, “How much will that be?”. We were wanting to work with Dirk van Doren, who is a really top-notch director. He was making Nike films, probably getting about £250,000 at the time to make an amazing Nike movie. And he couldn’t have done it for less than £20,000 and that’s what I think it would have been to do the four. Which I think is still pretty reasonable, really. And the label were telling us, 'No, that’s way too much, we’ll give you 10.' So we were only able to make two, and even though they’re both great, and the best things that we ever made, I definitely thought, 'Really? We really had to waste all that time when we could have made four films for just £20,000!'

How is the Lost Horizons album going to work live, as you’ve got about 18 singers on the album? Are they going to be there at the Southbank show?

SR: Well thankfully that’s just one night at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. I mean to be honest with you, we didn’t expect to make an album, let alone play any shows. So the whole putting the band together became really strange, unusual and actually quite liberating. I moved down to Brighton after having lived in London all my life, I moved about six or seven years ago. And I’ve sort of found the community of musicians in Brighton so brilliant, really cool people. The core of the band came together with basically all people who live down here in Brighton with me, except for Richie who lives in London currently. After having sort of started playing a few shows in the back end of last year, we then thought, 'Wouldn’t it be amazing to do at least one show, with everybody.'

But of course a lot of the singers are American, the logistics of getting everybody on one stage at the same time is kind of almost impossible, so that’s why we couldn’t actually do more than one show. So that’s at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, just at the beginning of the tour. Sea Change comes right at the end of August in a week or two, but the big, big show is at the Queen Elizabeth Hall with all of the protagonists on the album and everybody except Karen Peris who sings on that track ‘The Places We’ve Been’, which is on the film. I’m hoping that she comes but she may not, as she’s got a daughter who is graduating. But everyone else will be there.

So with Sea Change it’ll be quite a different sort of performance?

SR: At Sea Change, it’ll be the seven of us that normally do this thing. We’ve been touring a lot this year, we’ve played a bunch of festivals already. We played Green Man, Blue Dot, and Tim Burgess’ Tim Peaks at Temple Calling. So in the seven of us there are three singers as well, so the band is comprised of four people playing the instrumentation. On the record there are about 16 tracks, with quite a lot of different styles of vocal. Some quite strident and out there. It’s amazing fun.

Lost Horizons play at Sea Change festival in Totnes this weekend (Friday August 24). The duo play Ojalá live in its entirety at the Southbank Centre's Queen Elizabeth Hall on September 14