Baker's Dozen

Artists discuss the 13 records that shaped their lives

Taking Stock: Colleen’s Favourite Albums

In this week's Baker's Dozen, Colleen (aka Cécile Schott) takes Jude Rogers on a journey through her musical life, from car tapes to heartbreak, taking in Arthur Russell, Love, Low, GZA, The Green Arrows and much more along the way.

Ten years to the week that I speak to Cécile Schott, the musician behind the moniker Colleen, I was getting ready for her music to move with me through a room, to act as my support system. I was about to do something deeply conservative: wear a white dress and marry a man. The track ‘Summer Water’ from her second album, The Golden Morning Breaks, would accompany me down the aisle. It felt perfect. It wasn’t triumphant. It wasn’t religious. It was a song about a private, shared feeling between two people. But it was more than that too: it felt like mine.


I first heard Colleen one April afternoon in New York in 2005, my first time in the city. I split off from my friends, and ran off a few blocks down from Washington Square, to the fabled indie record shop, Other Music. As I walked in, ‘Summer Water’ was flowing out of the speakers, taking me forward, lifting me up in its tides and its wells. I soon discovered it was like much of Colleen’s music: ambient and immersive, soft, tender and intricate, but also layered but fissured, buzzing with edges, sometimes the sounds sampled and synthesised, sometimes played acoustic and live then stacked up, almost stratified.


The Golden Morning Breaks became an album beloved by me and my boyfriend, but it always felt like my discovery, my magical find. Every time I played it, I could lose myself in its repetitions, its musical meditations. It would hold me like a body in the ocean, rolling and foaming. It gave me buoyancy.


Colleen has released seven albums proper in all, from her electronic 2003 debut, Everyone Alive Wants Answers, through extraordinary records like Les Ondes Silencieuses playing with ancient, acoustic instruments like the viola da gamba and the spinet. Since 2013’s The Weighing Of The Heart, she’s also sung, and a deal with Thrill Jockey a few years later saw her expand her musical reach. All of her LPs before her latest, out this month, were also illustrated by her one-time long-term partner, Iker Spozio, “my best friend and collaborator,” Cécile says. 


The Tunnel And The Clearing had been four years in the making for several reasons. The first reason was the debilitating illness Cécile had suffered for two years, undiagnosed, which left her permanently exhausted (it was eventually discovered to be a thyroid condition). Ironically, she says, she got better just as the pandemic started. “Which was kind of weird. And then my long-term partner left me, basically, to put it very bluntly.” 

There is sadness in Cécile’s voice, but also a soft edge of resignation, around it. “It was an event of such magnitude, you know? I just had to go through it.”


Cécile found herself alone in Barcelona, the city she’d only moved to a year before Covid-19 rendered it a ghost town (before that, her and Iker had been living in San Sebastian, on Spain’s northern coast). Every day, she would walk through the alleyways and the squares, passing the churches and cathedrals, she says, “just looking at details”. It’s been a great city to be confined in, she says. “Strangely enough, I would even say a great city to have a break-up in, if there’s such a thing. It’s incredibly and objectively beautiful.”


So is The Tunnel And The Clearing, an album full of vivid moments, sparkling with concentration and clarity. Cécile made it in her home studio with a 1973 Space Echo machine which creates analogue tape echo effects (she wants to credit the company she got it from, Soundgas, “this tiny company in a village in Derbyshire”, and her love of tape delay in general: “It’s such a wonderful invention! I think anyone who’s listened to my music can hear this idea of just using getting in and out of space”).


The album’s lyrics document what she was going through. ‘Implosion Explosion’ is about the first time she was out in the street on her own after the break-up: “it was just surreal – being on your own after being coupled for so long…I felt it was like written all over my face, whereas actually it was just in my head, in my imagination.” ‘Hidden in the Current’’s lyrics explore a break-up being hidden somewhere in your life before it happens, about not being able to see it coming. “But that song came to take on another significance. Everything is hidden, somehow, until it comes to the surface, and not just a negative event such as someone leaving you. You can also feel reborn after you resist the idea of being on your own, when you realise that this is your new life and this is your new truth and your new reality.”


‘Gazing At Taurus – Santa Eulalia’ also mentions the female saint Cécile still sees every day on her walks. “Every day I would see the statue out there at the top of the cathedral, and it was just so beautiful. It kind of became a personal symbol of resilience, basically. When you go through difficult stuff, you have to hold on to whatever single thing can make you feel better. It could be a cup of coffee at eleven in the morning. It could be just watching something that you know uplifts you. I would salute her, greet her under my face mask, every single day. It’s something I still do.”

A thoughtful, generous, open soul, Cécile has thought deeply about her Bakers’ Dozen, selecting each album because of its impact on her personal music-making. She has listed the albums in chronological order, she explains, to reflect the effect and impact they have had on her life. She’s loved doing it, too. ”I think because I’m at a point where I’m kind of taking stock of my life, because of my age – I’m going to turn 45 soon – and because of what happened to me last year.” She spent three months in complete silence after the break-up, too, she adds. “But I felt something really beautiful happened, which was I felt accompanied, almost in a ghost-like way, by all the music that I had listened to in my life.”


Colleen’s new album The Tunnel and the Clearing is out via Thrill Jockey on 21st May, she plays Kings Place in London on 7th August. Click the portrait below to begin reading her Baker’s Dozen selections

First Record

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