- C86 Radio Show/Podcast
- 17-Jan 2019
“I met the band first off when I was working at Beggars Banquet record shop round about ‘82, I think it was, maybe ‘81. I was in a band on Situation2, which was a little subsidiary of Beggars. Upstairs from the record shop was 4AD, Beggars, and this other little label that I was part of…
“They came down to London a lot, and we became friends. I was in a band, they were in a band. And then they moved down and Will, the original bass player, didn’t really want to move—he wanted to stay up in Scotland for family reasons or whatever—and after a wee while they asked me to join and I didn’t really have a hesitation… just jumped in. It was a great time.
“Working in that record shop, looking back on it now, it was the start of everything I’m doing now. Like meeting all the people that I met, and now here I am with my own tiny little record shop down in Brighton. It feels a nice full circle. It was really easy—I know that sounds trite—but before I even knew that they wanted to work with me, I was working part-time on the weekend at this little eight-track studio up in Camden, and I knew the owner was gonna be away one weekend and then when Robin and Liz were down for a visit, I said, ‘Hey, you know, you can use the studio this weekend because I can let you in and you can just do what you want to do,’ and I took them up there and they sort of stared at me, like, ‘Well, what do you want to do?’ And I said, ‘What do you mean?’ And they said, ‘Well, you know, we thought you wanted to write some songs,’ and I was like, ‘That wasn’t in the plan, but let’s do it!’ So we just kinda wrote this tune. Liz went out to get some chips and me and Robin jammed for ten minutes and we had this tune going, and when she came back she was like, “Oh my god that’s the best thing I ever heard,” and we carried on recording it that day and that version we recorded, the first song we ever wrote together, is a track called “Millimillenary,” which was on The Pink Opaque, which was a compilation album that we released in the US only in very early days. Yeah, that was the first song we wrote, and I think because it was so natural and the way we wrote was quite simple, there was no weirdness, awkwardness, that sometimes you have when you work with new people. Maybe they took that as a sign that I was a good person to work with. And it was really pretty much like that all the way through. I mean, it was not an easy band to be in, I won’t kid you. There was also a lot of personal, emotional, and drug-related issues that dominated our career, but certainly the recording part was always the pleasurable part.”
“Elizabeth is a complete one-off. She’s a miracle worker. Sings from places that people don’t tend to go to. She sings from right deep down inside. Very emotional and very instinctive. An incredible gift and a small tragedy really, to the world, that she’s not more prolific than she is. But incredible to work with. It really opened my eyes, and I have to say I’ve been lucky enough to work with and to produce some incredible singers over the years but, you know, Liz is right up there at the very very top. The way we worked was we pretty much had an album—ten instrumentals—all finished, kind of arranged, produced—almost—ready to go, and then Liz would come in and just sort of go through them one by one and put vocals on and just sort of improvise. An amazing ability to kind of improvise the most sort of acrobatic kind of melodies and then, five seconds later, be able to harmonize with it, or you know, do it exactly the same way again. Very, very unusual. It was always kind of made up as she went along. She had a load of lyrics—well, not a load, but a few, a few lyrics—and she would then just go in the studio and just kind of jam it. A bit like we did with the music, because we didn’t have any songs written. We’d just sort of go in and turn the tape machine on and see what kind of music came out. And if not much came out then we’d just go bowling or something, you know, like, just go home and come back when we were feeling more up to it.”
“We were obsessed with making music, there was no doubt about that. It was our way of communicating with ourselves, with our world. I think we were quite private—well, very private—people, and we didn’t really let other people in that well. There were obviously issues that came to light as we got older and a bit more… I want to say ‘wiser’ but just older, that caused quite big earthquakes in the band, and it became a battle to sort of keep it together, but in the early days I think we were just so in love with playing shows out. I know we were never really great live, I think, but we loved playing shows, we loved touring, and especially loved being in the studio, and that was our way of communicating. I have to say, we were appalling at communicating with our labels, with the press, and with each other. Music was really our way of combating our inarticulacy. It did change, right at the end, but what happened, of course, education and therapy of sorts kicked in in those last few years when things had sort of fallen completely apart, and those tools that we had to kind of help us deal with the mess certainly sort of allowed us the opportunity to understand what had gone on before and maybe helped to deal with the future a little bit better, but, I think at that point the rifts were so sort of enormous, certainly from Elizabeth’s point of view. Once she got the knowledge of why things had gone wrong and to the degree they’d gone wrong, and how she needed to deal with her life going forward, being in the band wasn’t really tenable. It wasn’t really possible. At first it was a shock and I was a bit at loose ends not knowing what to do with her leaving. Looking back on it, it was absolutely the right thing to do, and it was kind of a miracle the band didn’t break up when they broke up, which was several years before that. They were a couple the whole time until they broke up right after Heaven or Las Vegas. They’d already had a child just before Heaven or Las Vegas, as I did, and you know, obviously having a baby and stuff like that, and being in a band around all these drug problems, it was a terrible mess that took some dealing with and eventually we all got sorted out. But, as I say, once we got the tools of how to deal with it all, it probably wasn’t a good idea to be still spending all that time together trying to make this band work because it was just so broken by that point.”
“I got on great with both of them up to a point. When things started taking over our lives, it became very painful for all of us. It couldn’t really continue. I’m glad to say that I have a very healthy relationship with Elizabeth. I see her on occasion… It’s always wonderful to see Elizabeth. She’s an adorable human being. I don’t see us ever reforming. That’s a ship that’s sailed already, and I don’t think any of us want to go back there. Not because I don’t think we could ever do any good music. There’s no doubt when you put the three of us in a room together, something good usually occurs. So it’s nothing to do with that, it’s to do with living life and being happy. And some of the things that you need to protect yourself from—why would you step back into that?”
“We were not particularly nice to people. We were just stuck in our own world and didn’t really welcome outsiders, and we treated people, you know, not well. We got thrown out of the BBC on several occasions and if you look at the output of Cocteau Twins stuff on the BBC is sort of stops at a certain point. Like, the early 80s or mid-80s, and then doesn’t ever pick up again. We never did anything at the BBC from about ‘83, ‘84 until like ‘94, when some of the people had gone and not remembered that we were a total pain the ass to work with. But I don’t regret it. We learnt a lot of lessons by doing this stuff. It’s just the way we were.”
“We were in our own little world. I don’t think we were quite aware of the style of something, like Factory, other than thinking it was great and we were all part of the same thing. I was going to see Joy Division and The Slits and all the brilliant post-punk bands as they were happening in London. It was part of the culture, it’s part of our history, but I don’t remember thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, Peter Saville, what a great designer!’ I know that NOW, and I look back on it and think ‘My god, that stuff’s incredible,’ but I never appreciated it at the time because we were just too busy doing our own thing, and that’s the fascinating thing about that age is that you just do have blinkers on to the point where you’re not really so aware. I don’t know if kids do so much these days. People are lot more aware about everything a lot younger than I was. I was just like, ‘Making music that’s what we do. We just go in and we do it and we don’t really listen to other music. As soon as we’re in a band we just don’t listen to other music so much because we don’t want to end up sounding like anyone else, and that was a really conscious thought process when we were making our records. Don’t let’s go listen to other bands. Let’s just do our own thing. And maybe that is why our stuff does stick out a little bit, does sound a bit different.”
“Heaven or Las Vegas was the most successful, of all of those records. Commercially it was. Regardless of all that, I think it’s the one I feel the most connection with, and I can’t really find a fault in it. It’s a record you can put on start to finish and not grimace. I love Blue Bell Knoll, I love Heaven or Las Vegas. I really love Four-Calendar Café, I think it’s an amazing record, and I think people will probably realize that many, many years in the future. It was such a departure from what we’d done before. And the fact that it wasn’t on 4AD, and the fact that we’d jumped ship and we were on the other side, with the enemy, on a major label, I think people were sort of like, ‘Oh, that can’t be any good.’ But I think in time people will realize what a great album Four-Calendar Café is. Because I think it’s beautiful. Milk & Kisses I think is almost OK. It doesn’t quite work for me on a sonic level. It feels like it’s mixed with a pillow over the speakers. It doesn’t sound right. It’s too muffled. I don’t know why that is. Treasure I think is a weird-sounding record, and I know that’s a lot of people’s favorite.” ▣
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