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Cocteau Twin flying solo

by Barney Spender

Article published on the 2010-01-06 Latest update 2010-01-15 09:46 TU

Robin Guthrie in St Petersburg 2008 (Photo: robinguthrie.com)

Robin Guthrie in St Petersburg 2008
(Photo: robinguthrie.com)

In the 1980s and 90s, Robin Guthrie was a member of the influential British band Cocteau Twins, the guitarist whose rippling layers of sound formed a pivotal part of the band’s unique but much copied sound. Today, he is a solo artist whose most recent work Songs to Help My Children Sleep was released in November.

Culture in France: Robin Guthrie

06/01/2010 by Barney Spender

Robin Guthrie is not a man to sit back and bask in his past glories, even if, as a member of the influential British band Cocteau Twins, he has every right to do so.

After all, they were big. Very big. Some critics mark them down as one of the three most influential bands of the 1980s, alongside New Order and The Smiths.

So Guthrie has plenty to gloat about if he wants. But he doesn’t, not least because he is way too busy to rest on his laurels.

In 2009, he turned out two albums – one with the British artist John Foxx - and two EPS, the most recent in November being the hypnotic Songs that Help My Children Sleep. He was also touring his live show Galerie and doing a bunch of producing in his home studio in Brittany.

And it looks as though 2010 is going to be equally busy.

One EP, Sunflower Stories, is already recorded and awaiting release and a third album with the American pianist Harold Budd is also in the works. And he has live gigs and production work on the go all the time.

On top of that, he works with ex-Mono lead singer, Siobhan De Maré, in their and on-and-off band Violet Indiana.

“I am very much a 'let’s see what comes along' sort of fellow,” he insists as he sits, cosied in between banks of recording gear and guitars in his French studio.

“I am not driven like a younger man to try and be famous or successful. When I hit 40, I thought bugger this, I don’t care any more.”

During the 1980s and 1990s, Cocteau Twins set music on a new path, an airy ethereal track with rippling guitars and other-worldly female vocals. They opened the door for the likes of Beth Gibbons’ Portishead and many others.

The band split up in 1998 and, in spite of various suggestions in the music press, there is no likelihood they will ever play again.

In an interview with the Guardian in November, the former singer Liz Fraser – the mother of Guthrie’s elder daughter – ruled out the idea.

“They were my life,” she said of her bandmates. “And when you are in something that deeply you have to remove yourself completely.”

Guthrie is equally adamant that a reunion, once mooted for the Coachella Festival in California, is a non-starter.

“It’s not something I am interested in,” he says.

“It could be nice to play some old songs for some old fans as a way of saying thank you.

Onstage with Cocteau Twins, New York, November 1983 (Photo: robinguthrie.com)

Onstage with Cocteau Twins, New York, November 1983
(Photo: robinguthrie.com)

“But I am not a nostalgic person and that would be a complete nostalgia trip, like one of those 70s nights when you wheel out the old bands so they can play a couple of their hits."

He prefers to "go forward", he says.

"The rate at which I am doing that is staggering. I am making music much more quickly and efficiently than I have ever done.

“If one day I feel I am not going forward and doing stuff that I don’t think is worthwhile, then maybe I will say let's go and have a look at that old stuff.

“But you know, Cocteau Twins was not really the best part of my life at all, emotionally, not the way that band was sucked up, swallowed in and shat out by the music industry.

"Apart from the fact I was in a cool band I haven’t got anything to show from that period of my life, certainly not financially, so why would I want to go back?”

Royalties on Cocteau Twins record sales are almost entirely taken by the record company.

“I occasionally get the odd cheque for publishing when someone uses a song in an ad or in a movie but that’s it. That is why I still have to work.”

Guthrie was always the brains behind the arrangements of Cocteau Twins and his skills as a producer remain much in demand.

In his stable, the Paris-based Australian band Heligoland as well as the American singer-songwriter Annie Barker who talked Guthrie into producing her first album Mountains and Tumult after bumping into him at a Hollywood guitar shop.

“I was and still am a huge Cocteau Twins fan and then became a Robin Guthrie fan when he went solo," she tells RFI.

Annie Barker on Robin Guthrie

06/01/2010 by Barney Spender

"As a teenager I fell in love with that whole dreampop/shoegaze sound and loved his production quality, his style that he added to it.

“It was a style that I was trying to create on my own but he just brought the magic and finesse that he does so well.”

Not to mention lots of guitars.

Guthrie left London in 2001 and went to live in the north-west French region of Brittany with his wife and younger daughter. It was as much a case of turning his back on the established music industry as it was finding a new, clean start.

He has developed a new method for writing music.

“In the last few years I have really taken to what I call location song-writing. I will go away and find a quiet part of this or any other country, spend some time on my own, stop at different places and work with my laptop and create something based on what I am looking at.

“This summer [2009] I was in the heart of France – in the west and the centre. That inspired me to write an EP called Sunflower Stories which was essentially four pieces of music written among the sunflower fields.

“I bring those pieces back to my studio, flesh them out and turn them into the finished deal.”

Performing Galerie at the Ritzy Cinema in London(Photo: robinguthrie.com)

Performing Galerie at the Ritzy Cinema in London
(Photo: robinguthrie.com)

Guthrie turned 47 at the start of January. A couple of days later he was on a plane to New York, looking for new inspiration in his location song-writing. Not in search of a deal or a big money contract but to do what he loves doing.

“I just want to continue doing my art, if I can call it that, creating what I create, without having someone else’s agenda … without having a record company down the back of my neck wanting me to deliver something more accessible or something that is easier for them to market.

"I mean how do you market a middle aged guy with a guitar? It’s a marketing man's nightmare.

“I am very grateful that I have an audience – people that are able to tune in to what I do and get some pleasure from it - but primarily I do it for me.

“It’s something I feel a certain drive to do, something I have to get out of my system, to try and make the world a more beautiful place.”

More information on Robin Guthrie at http://www.robinguthrie.com/

 

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