Bella Union is the London-based record label which was founded by Simon Raymonde and Robin Guthrie of the Cocteau Twins. After long term success in music, the musicians decided to contribute to the world of music slightly different way and in 1997 started a record label. In 2002 Robin left Bella Union to move to France to focus on his musical career, leaving Simon at the helm.

In the twelve years of its existence, Bella Union had released recordings by over 60 artists including Dirty Three, Fleet Foxes, Robin Guthrie, Bikini Atoll, Explosions in the Sky and Devics, put on countless gigs, opened a small office in US and is growing faster than ever.

In our second interview with him, Pennyblackmusic caught up with Simon Raymonde to learn how he and his colleagues at Bella Union have managed to achieve so much, what their future plans are and to talk with him about Snowbird, the new band that he has formed with Bella Union artist Stephanie Dosen.

PB : Since we last spoke to you in 2003 Bella Union has moved on a lot. You have signed new bands, released lots of new albums and the press has written about you a lot. You also now have an office in New York. I know that is something you were talking about a long time before it happened. What eventually made it happen and how are things going over there ?

SR : Actually the New York office sounds more swanky than it really is. We have some folks there who look after our USA releases, but we don’t have funding there yet, so the label isn’t really growing as the global entity I might like. To be honest, I am not too bothered right now as I have enough on my plate doing a good job here in Europe, UK and Japan and so on, and I figure when the time's right then it will happen nice and organically.

We do have a few bands from the USA at the moment like Midlake, John Grant, the Autumns, and they've gone down well, but our USA roster is pretty meagre at the moment. I, therefore, ain't sweatin' it just yet !

PB : With so many label closing down at the moment and the collapse of so many independent record shops (about half of them have gone over the last five years) how does Bella Union manage to carry on being so successful ? You still seem to be growing. What do you see as your main reasons for this success?

SR : I don’t really look at it like that. I don’t really see our success as someone outside looking in would see it. That perception of the label is not really how I see it from the inside. I think we're slowly getting there, but the only people who work at the label are Mark (Byrne-Ed) and I, so we're really a tight, small team.

Since we joined forces with our marketing and international pals at Co-Operative music who look after a lot of the bullshit stuff I didn’t like doing before, life isn’t quite so difficult to get things to happen when a band has got to a certain level.

My whole attitude is quite positive with the industry, I don’t really moan about the state of the play and how we're all fucked because I don’t see it like that. There will always be a need for folks who discover music and bring it to the public awareness, and that’s all we do. How we end up getting renumerated for it will work itself out pretty soon I would guess.

PB : Bella Union has had big critical and commercial success with the Seattle-based group Fleet Foxes in particular. They are very different from the early Bella Union bands and have more of a folk/country edge. Has anything changed as regards to signing up bands ? Does everyone contribute when it comes to introducing the bands to everyone else at the label ?

SR : Well, as I say, there is just Mark and I. I found Fleet Foxes, Mark has found Wavves, Abe Vigoda and something else cool we're hoping to sign. Mark is going to be a big part of the label here until he gets fed up and wants to run the whole show at a label which will undoubtedly happen one day because he has brilliant ears.

Nothing really has changed other than I have gotten older, but I still love all sorts of music and, if I love something I hear, I will track it down and find out if the people making it are nice, if the manager is a good person, who else is looking and then if all my boxes are ticked, I might contact them or I might not if our release schedule is just already too hectic. We can’t sign everything we want to...

PB : How did you actually come across Fleet Foxes ? Is there an interesting story ? The last time we met you told me how you first heard Explosions in the Sky while you were driving in a storm. I always remembered that as it must have been really magic.

SR : I think it was seeing Lift to Experience for the first time when they played an outdoor show in the middle of a thunderstorm, but I know what you mean !

I heard Fleet Foxes unglamorously on MySpace I am afraid, but for me it was just as magical a discovery. It was very late at night and hearing 'White Winter Hymnal' for the first time was as important a moment as seeing the Slits for the first time when I was 17.

I became obsessed with the band very quickly and felt it was destiny. I wasn’t very happy with the label at that point as one of our label partners had just gone bust owing us a ton of money which meant we had just taken three steps forward and two steps back. So Fleet Foxes coming into my life at that point was almost spiritual cosmic timing. I was meant to do this I believe, and that was the sign.

PB : What is Mark's actual role in the company ?

SR : Mark began here as a work experience about 3 years ago, and fitted in very smoothly straight away. He became good friends with Johnny who was working here and who now works over at our label's marketing team co-op. They both had wonderful talents in different areas which is what makes them so important. I could see Mark's interests and knowledge were weighted towards the A and R side and to the artist relationship side. He does a lot of that side of the work.

PB : You must be very busy with the label and new artists. Do you still get a chance keeping up with some of your older and in some cases former acts such as the Dirty Three, Lift to Experience and Bikini Atoll ?

SR: Yes of course. The Dirty Three are still part of the label, a very important part. They have been with us since the beginning and I would like to think they'll be with us at the end too ! Sadly Lift to Experience are no more, although Josh Pearson is one of my favourite artists still, and I love what Viva and her brother Joe Gideon from Bikini Atoll are doing together now with Joe Gideon and the Shark. They are a great band.

PB: You have started a new band called Snowbird with your real-life partner and one of your signings, Stephanie Dosen. How did the band come about?

SR: Stephanie said, "Do you like the name Snowbird ?" and I said, "Yes'. I wish all band name choices were as quick and simple ! It isn’t really a proper band as such yet, but we hope it may turn into one if we can get our arses into gear with it. We have written a few grains of some songs and we're currently playing some shows out and about to see if anyone else likes them as much as we do. Time will tell. At the moment they are like little notes to each other, but they will grow.

PB: Have you been enjoying making music and playing live again and what are your near future plans as regards Snowbird ?

SR: Yes, we are really loving it. We've been playing some shows at the Union Chapel and have been out supporting Loney Dear around UK and Ireland. We have another one for Mojo on 23rd June with the Low Anthem at the Union Chapel which will be magical.

I’m looking forward to recording some music soon and we'll release our first album next year.

PB : Could you reveal more about what is coming up in the near future for Bella Union ? Do you have any new signings, gigs or special releases?

SR: We have just released an album by Wavves, a young guy from California called Nathan Williams who we believe will be something very special one day. He just needs a bit of time to adjust to everyone having a pop at him and judging him. It’s been a bit of a shock.

Ohbijou, a collective of 7 from Canada, we are loving. We have also got a lot forthcoming - the new Low Anthem, Sleeping States, My Latest Novel and the new Midlake album all coming very soon. We have also got records forthcoming from Josh Tillman, Peter Broderick, new signings Chimes and Bells from Denmark and a new band from Sweden called I Break Horses. There will be a new Fleet Foxes album next year and we're very excited about a record John Grant is making with Midlake. There will also be a new Beach House album, a new Kissaway Trail album, more Vetiver and more Andrew Bird.

We are always looking forward. We have a stage at the Wireless Festival this year which gives us the chance to put on some other of our favourite artists from other labels which we love. Then at Green Man we are curating the Folkee Dokee stage with Bird, Beach House, Vetiver and Peter Broderick.

PB : Last question. The label is now 12 years old and have gone a long way. Where would you and the label like to be in the next 10 years time ? Do you have any other ambitions or are you already happy with everything since it’s been going so well ?

SR : I'd like to have a booking agency and management arm sorted by then and maybe a USA setup that is stronger. And I would like to be doing music supervision for a great HBO show like 'The Sopranos' or 'Dead Like Me' or 'Lost'.

PB : Thank you.















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