Robin Guthrie's name in the music business has a great deal of success and importance attached to it. Guitarist Robin's earliest appearance dates back to 1979 when he formed the famous Cocteau Twins with singer Elizabeth Fraser. The volume of the Cocteau Twins' name has built up a lot since then as the band worked their way through to the very top of fame. After 18 years the Cocteaus, however, got fed up with having to dealing with other record companies and Robin and the band's bassist Simon Raymonde decided to found their own label, Bella Union. Unaware of how much it was going to change their lives, they also started signing other artists to the label. When the Cocteaus split up in 1998, Robin found new inspiration with Violet Indiana, which he formed with Siobhan de Mare, who had been previously been the singer in Nono, a London-based group, last year.

Violet Indiana has just finished its first UK tour. "The tour was good", Robin says, evaluating it positively,as he sits in a Starbucks coffee shop on New Oxford Street in London and talking to me, as if we have been friends for years.

"I wish there had been more people there," he adds on a slightly less positive note. "But we have a new bass player and a new drummer, so it's been important to play some shows to get the whole thing together."

The band has also toured a lot in Europe and America and things have gone much better abroad for Violet Indiana than in the UK.

"For me it doesn't matter which band I'm in" Robin reflects."I have always done much better in France, Italy or America or other places then the UK. I think in the UK the music business is not really about music. People are interested in the latest fashion. Bands come and bands go and it's not really got very much to do with the quality of the music. I have found that if you go to places like Germany or Italy or other countries people are really fans of the music."

Let's go back to the beginning of Violet Indiana now and to how the band formed.

"I got a phone call from a friend of mine who is a manager," explains Robin. " And his wife was the person who sent Siobhan to her last label. So they were thinking: "Who could we get to work with Siobhan?" " The answer to the question you know.

Siobhan is an absolutely perfect match for Robin and brings a lovely, warm atmosphere to concerts. "Siobhan is really, really nice on a stage" confirms Robin. "She makes people feel comfortable. I think that's important. With the Cocteau Twins it was very much like: "We are the band and you're the audience,"and there was a big line between us. Siobhan has this ability to bring everything together."

I was keen to know how the two came to get their name.

"I thought of Indiana and Siobhan thought of Violet" Robin reveals. "We were on the telephone to each other."

Robin: "Oh, what can we call it?
Siobhan: "I don't know. Violet."
Robin: "No, Indiana."
Siobhan: "No, no, Violet."
Robin: "No, Indiana."
Siobhan: "Okay, I've got it Indiana Violet."
Robin: "No that's shit."

And then we just switched it."

Collaboration on music and lyrics is divided equally between Siobhan and Robin. Siobhan writes all the lyrics and Robin takes care of the music.

"We work at it seperately" Robin explains. "Sometimes I do the whole piece of music and I ask Siobhan to come over and play it and she just starts singing and we go: "Oh, that's good."

"Whatever's been happening in her life that's what she writes about." he adds, talking with great admiration about Siobhan.

If you have heard Violet Indiana's music, you will know exactly what Robin means. I would, however, find it hard, if not impossible to expose myself to everybody and wonder whether Siobhan doesn't mind sharing her emotions with hundreds of people.

"No, I think it's good." Robin argues. "It's surely very honest . I think singers are really different though. They really are."

The band, despite forming just over a year ago, has already come a long way. As well as touring Europe and America, Violet Indiana have released an album 'Roulette', two EPS 'Choke' and 'Special'and a single 'Killer's Eyes.'

"I've been very happy but really we have only just started." Robin says modestly when I ask about the success of his band. "We need to get the band more together and we need to play more places."

" I have noticed that when we were playing a concert that a great many people don't know the music." he continues. "They come and maybe they are thinking: "Oh, He was in the Cocteau Twins." or whatever. So, we play to people who don't know the music and after about 4 or 5 songs you can see that people's attitude is changing. And by the end of the concert they really like it."

As Violet Indiana are staying in the UK for Christmas time, Robin agrees that there might be a few more gigs around Britain then. In January they are then heading to America to play approximately 15 shows.

"I know it will be good because we have a lot more support in America then we do here." he says. "We have a bigger record label in America and also thanks to the Internet, I know that 75 % of people that buy Violet Indiana are from America. So, I'm looking forward to that. That will be good."

It's been nearly a year since Violet Indiana released 'Roulette'. Robin is now working on another record, which is coming out only in America, and is due in January.

"It's all things from 'Special', 'Choke' and 'Killer' plus maybe 2 or 3 other songs" he reveals. "I've written these songs and I know I don't want to put them on the side because I know they are really good. I want it to be the next album. It's going to be really good record."

If you are a fan already of Violet Indiana and own their records, you must have noticed their fondness for packing their CDs into sophisticated paper boxes.

"They all come out like that," says Robin proudly, "because I like that type of package. Unfortunately, it's very expensive to do it but I want in 5 years time to have another 6 like that. In America they don't come out like that. They just come out in regular boxes because it's so expensive."

Other Bella Union bands are not so keen on this type of packaging. "The way it works with the label is that everything is 50:50" Robin explains. "We share everything with the artists. So, if they spend an incredible amount of money on packaging they make less money. So, I try not to encourage people to do it but me... I like it, so that's what I want. That means that I don't make very much money from it but that's not why I'm doing it."

Robin originally hoped to do some more recording with Simon through Bella Union . "Yeah, we haven't done it yet," he admits. "We've done this thing called Series 7 on Bella Union, which is the idea of seven instrumental records by seven different artists. Each album has 7 songs. We were going do one for that but we just haven't got the time. It's very difficult. It's like one day we'll do it but not quite yet."Bella Union, or Beautiful Connection to give its English translation from the Italian, is without doubt the perfect name for Robin and Simon's label.

"Yeah, it says everything it is" Robin agrees when I suggest it.

"It actually came from a very, very strange source." he adds. "I was reading this book about the history of the American West. I'm a big fan of America. I think it's a really exciting story how this nation developed from nothing a few hundred years years ago to what it is now. 100...120 years ago in Western times they were not still not very developed, and in some of the different towns they had a place called Bella Union. Bella Union was a place you went to for entertainment. It was a bar. It was a theatre. It would have concerts. It would have any of the entertainment that happened in the area. You know, whether it would be a play, music or just drinking or anything like that. When I read that, I thought that that was really good because there was all these different types of things coming together, and then I thought: "The name. I'm gonna have that!". And indeed with the different artists we have on the label, it's not one genre of music. It's many, many different things and those are very international artists as well."

Bella Union features 16 artists at the moment. Despite having a staff of only 4 people, it has already released 33 records. All their hard work is deservedly beginning to be paid off.

"I'm very pleased with Lift to Experience," says Robin proudly, "because they're getting a lot of attention. People like them. I think they deserve it because they made a brilliant record. So that's really nice to see that."

This, however, happens to only a small percentage of bands. Much more often the artist's endeavour doesn't meet the award.

"You see somebody spending 3 months or what ever making a record" says Robin. "They put all that time and all their heat into it and either it doesn't get reviewed anywhere or it doesn't sell very many or people go: "Oh, we don't like it. It's shit." That's very, very disappointing for me and also for the artist as well."

"I don't think it's about taste" he argues. "It's about, as I said earlier, the British and the media being very, very narrow-minded. Nobody will take a risk. Nobody will say: "Hey, I like this." People all go: "Oh, what do you think? What do you think?" They don't want to take a risk because if they say something is brilliant and nobody else likes it they look stupid."

"Recently, I had this with Lift to Experience." Robin continues. "I had a phone call from a very, very well known music journalist. He phones me up and says: "I really want to do a big feature on Lift to Experience." Like a four page in a monthly music magazine." And I was thinking "Oh that's brilliant. That's really good." And then he says "Can you send me the album as well because I haven't heard it yet?" He's hadn't heard it yet but he still wants to do a big feature. That's sucks you know."

Bella Union is becoming a competitive label on the business market. "We sell quite a lot records on the Internet," says Robin, "but still not as many as we do in stores. I would like to sell more on the Internet." "The problem" he explains "is not whether you can sell records in stores. It's whether the store will actually stock your record. And then you have to do deals, like you have to say: "For every 3 records we sell you only pay us for one." That's what all the major record companies do."

In the last 4 years Robin's life has been given a complete new direction. He has found a record label and formed a new band.

"I guess when I was in Cocteau Twins," he says, comparing his past times in the Cocteau Twins to his current career, "we had a lot more success, not necessarily that I was happy about with regards to myself or the music, but just in terms of commercial success which meant that we could go to places like Japan and South America and that people would still come to the shows. Yeah, I miss that. I miss the opportunity to go to lots of place, and that sort of thing."

"You know it's strange" Robin ponders. "We played in Hamburg a few weeks ago and we played in this tiny little club for about 300 hundred people or so but the club was 50 metres from Hamburg Conference Centre which was the last place I played in Hamburg. I played in there for like 4 000 people. And I'm in my hotel there and I could see the club here and I could see the big venue there and I'm like: "Oh, fuck!"

"I like our music very much" he continues. "I think, when I started the Cocteau Twins, and it was me who started the Cocteau Twins, I think in the first 4 or 5 years I felt about that music in the same way that I feel about Violet Indiana now. Really, really passionate about it. And then you know, things change and all of a sudden you're only as successful in other people's eyes as equal to how many records you have sold. If we put a record out and it went to number 10, I would be going: "Brilliant, number 10!" and the people in the record company would be going: "The last one was 7." And I'm like: "Does that mean that's shit then?" Does that mean it's not very good?" I think it's great and they think it's a disappointment. It's not as good as the last one. When you start to think like that. It's over."

Finally what does Robin value as the most important moment in his music life? "Surely when I picked up my guitar" he laughs. " I don't know. I think life is about lots and lots of tiny little things that seem unimportant at the time and then become much important later. It's very rarely that you can say: "Oh, this day's changed my life." That's definitely something to think about.

















Related Links:



Commenting On: Violet Indiana Interview - Robin Guthrie








ie London, England

tick box before submitting comment
 


First Previous Next Last