Heel to toe to hair and hoof and it's head over heels and it's all but an ark-lark...

“Atlanta’s Epiphany”

  • By Noel Mayeske
  • Footnotes
  • 6-Nov 1990

The Cocteau Twins don’t do interviews. Well, not many.

And certainly not many long-distance ones from Lyon, France in the middle of their first tour in four years.

Regarded by many fans and critics as one of the most elusive, enigmatic bands of the ’80s—I never even saw a photo of them until the press pack arrived—I sat waiting for their call from France, half expecting either a ghostly, otherworldly voice to come wafting through the phone line, or for them to not call at all, because they don’t exist.

“Hi, Noel.”

“Is this Simon?” I asked.

“Yes, it really is me. It honestly is me.”

He does, in fact, exist.

And he’s hardly an extraterrestrial at all. In fact, Simon Raymonde, one-third of the artsy British band, is quite a normal chap.

“We usually act like yobs because we’re so desperate to get away from this sort of ethereal, mysterious image that we’ve got,” Raymonde said with a laugh. “Most people, when they meet [us], they’re disappointed that [we’re] normal. We’re no different from anybody else. I mean, if you take it in terms of music, we’re just a rock band, same as anyone else. We’re up for the same amount of criticism that everyone else gets, we’re in the same arena that everyone else is in.”

Over the eight years of the band’s existence, critics have been far more florid in their appraisals. One critic called the Cocteau Twins’ music “The voice of God;” another wrote, “The Cocteaus are to pop music what the Impressionists were to painting in the late 19th century;” and others have written similarly. There’s something about the Cocteau Twins’ music and mysterious persona that seems to set critics and fans alike off into the clouds.

Commonly characterized as erotic and sexual, the Cocteau Twins’ music is a moody, evocative brew of guitars, keyboards and lead singer Elizabeth Fraser’s seemingly impressionistic, stream-of-consciousness vocals. Fraser’s voice is a marvel, sounding much more mature than her years (she’s only 26; Raymonde and third member Robin Guthrie are both 27). Most of the lyrics are unintelligible, but this makes little difference because Fraser’s voice performs acrobatics not possible for normal vocal cords.

Still, every word is carefully thought out and has meaning to Fraser, who writes the cryptic lyrics and titles, even if no one else can understand them. “Oh no, she doesn’t just sing gibberish at all, she spends an awful lot of time on the lyrics,” Raymonde said. “If they don’t sound normal to you, it’s because she phrases them a certain way. You and I might say, ‘The house on the hill,’ in that kind of a monotone style. But she might spread one syllable over maybe three or four notes, or vice versa. Consequently, nobody would be able to pick [the words] out—she’s got a very original way of phrasing. But it all makes perfect sense. If you read it written down, it’s absolutely marvelous.”

The Cocteau Twins aren’t exactly avid tourers. The band rarely tours at all, especially in the United States. The reason for that is not to appear aloof or cloistered, but to do what the bandmembers consider important, which is to stay together and make better and better records without the hassle and fatigue often associated with being on the road.

“It seems that everybody goes on tour and then they split up, or they have massive arguments, or they have about a year and a half off before they make another record,” said Raymonde. “They think that as soon as the LP comes out, they have to go on this massive exodus around the world doing concerts, which I don’t think is a very good idea because you end up hating your songs, and you don’t have a very healthy outlook on life because it’s not particularly a real sort of situation.

“It’s sort of a fantasy world. And unfortunately, a lot of people start thinking they really are as fantastic as the people who come to see them tell them they are. They come back home and they suddenly start telling their friends, ‘Hey John, get me a Coke,’” Raymonde said, laughing.

Despite the group’s desire to shed its mantle of mysteriousness, the fact remains that most fans know little about the Cocteau Twins. Their names and photographs grace few of their releases. This isn’t done to purposefully mystify fans at all, Raymonde said.

“Some people are particularly adept at articulating what their music is about and at posing for photographs and looking good. I mean, there are lots of people that are really good at that, and that’s fair enough. The fact is we know we’re not,” Raymonde admitted.

“We find standing in a photography shoot particularly uncomfortable; doing interviews with somebody who’s asking you quite personal questions is quite uncomfortable. So, we tend not to want to get ourselves into uncomfortable positions. That’s the only reason we don’t do many of these things—it’s not to be difficult or to be different from everybody else, it’s just what you feel comfortable with.”

But the modest, media-shy band will be on stage in Atlanta Nov. 11, performing their music for fans, some of whom think The Cocteau Twins are just short of The Second Coming. Indeed, Raymonde said, the fans’ reaction on the current tour ranges from the awed to the bewildered.

“It’s completely different in every single country. In Germany, the reaction was really … quiet. I didn’t find it at all inspiring. They didn’t seem to know any of the new songs at all. It was all stuff off Garlands and really early stuff they were shouting for, and I find that completely irritating. Basically, a Gothic kind of an audience, expecting us to be wearing capes and nail polish and things like that,” he laughed.

“We are probably quite introverted on stage and there’s not a great deal of communication between us and the audience. Not deliberately because we don’t want to communicate—we just don’t know what to say! We don’t really sort of jump about, dancing and throwing around. I just couldn’t do anything like that; it wouldn’t work.”

With fans as ardent as those of The Cocteau Twins, the letter bag brings pretty interesting fan mail. “We get the weirdest f–king letters,” Raymonde said, laughing. “Mostly people that are smitten with Liz, want to kiss her feet and things like that. Me and Robin tend to get stuff like, ‘Oh I really like your guitar sound; how do you get that?’ But Liz always gets stuff like, ‘I’m falling in love with you and I want to be the father of your children.’”

The band has been around long enough to notice the effect their sound has had on other bands, such as the Sundays and the Sugarcubes. “Some of these groups have written some good songs, but then again the expectation on them is far too great already,” he said. “They’ve only been around a couple of years yet already they’re being hailed as this great thing, and people are going to expect so much of them, they’re just not going to be able to fulfill it all. I mean, it happened to us many times. You need to get away from it all and concentrate on songwriting.”

Though Raymonde denied any overt attempt on the part of the band to imbue their music with the romantic and sexual quality many fans find attractive, some of that feel may have seeped in as a result of the 10-year relationship between Fraser and Guthrie. The couple remains unmarried but had a baby together last year. The real secret to the threesome’s chemistry, however, may lie more in the simple thrill of creating something new and spontaneous, be it erotic in nature or not.

“We find it very easy to make records like that. It gives us a great buzz writing together,” Raymonde said. “We never, ever talk about what we do, so maybe that’s part of the secret. We just sort of go in the studio and say, ‘What are we gonna do today? Let’s just see what happens.’ We’ve got no preconceived ideas. In a way, that makes it very fresh and exciting when you do go in, so that by the end of the day, you’ve got something that you never knew you would have when you started it.”

“So, I guess there’s a lot of reasons that go into making it what it is, but I don’t really want to sit down and analyze them because I think that will f–k it up.”

Indeed. The epiphany will speak for itself.

The Cocteau Twins will play Center Stage Theatre Nov. 11. Mazzy Star opens. 8:30 p.m. Sold out. ▣