Robin Guthrie is an international man of mystery. The former Cocteau Twins member has traveled to multiple cities worldwide, tactfully eluded the mainstream press on three different continents, and released eight albums, two film scores in addition to spawning multiple collaborations with indie artists all while under the public radar. Robin is usually a very private person, but he has taken the rare opportunity to enlighten Shot From Guns on details pertaining to his upcoming album Carousel and other events going on within his life.
Many people are familiar with the work that you did with the Cocteau Twins; however the group disbanded in 1997. How have you kept yourself busy since then?
I have been living in the north of France for years. I moved away from the main music business sectors like London because of all the dirty politics and so on. I started doing music for animated films/media. That’s a way for me to experiment with film and pictures. In terms of doing movie soundtracks, I enjoy soundtracks because I can help someone tell a story. With movie scores I look to the director for what he or she wants to create. Overall, I don’t feel tied to the routine constraints of making one album to the next, I do music for my own pleasure. I have to do it.
How long did it take you to start writing and recording new records after the break up of the Cocteau Twins?
First I started a record label with Simon Raymonde (former drummer for the Cocteau Twins), but completely lost interest. I realized that labels, even well meaning ones, can exploit musicians and that’s the nature of the music business. It’s about selling stuff and profiting and I’m not very interested in that. From there I started working with Siobhan de Mare of Violet Indiana, I spent a couple years doing that and now I write and perform instrumental music. I feel there are less constraints within instrumental music.
You’re coming out with a new record called Carousel. Please elaborate upon the release of this new album.
Carousel will be released later this month. There’s no single or anything, I’m not big into singles. I will also have a different ep released in November called Songs to Help My Children Sleep
Can you explain the writing and recording process behind Carousel? Did you have any specific goals or objectives before recording?
It really depends on the kind of project I’m doing. Some of my tracks are very spacey and atmospheric, I could probably explain better with the ep Songs To Help My Children Sleep. The ep was meant for my little girl and designed to be very soothing, bedtime-kind of music. With Carousel, I engineered and produced it. When I create a work, I produce all the artwork, music, mastering, everything. But in terms of other artistic influences or goals, movies and the like don’t influence me as much as books. Movies are passive entertainment and everything is already packaged, books require you to use your own creative intuition and mind. When I make an album I want it to be a journey.
Carousel is being released on Darla Records. How did your current deal with Darla come about? In the current musical climate, why go with a label?
I control all my music now and license my music to be distributed. I chose Darla because I enjoy working with people I like, know, and understand. I’m so used to the politics of a major label and needed change.
You were born and raised in Grangemouth, Scotland. Does your Scottish heritage influence your songwriting? How does your world view impact how you approach music?
No, my Scottish heritage doesn’t particularly influence my songwriting (laughs). I scratch my head sometimes and wonder what influences my songwriting. Yes, inevitably whatever comes into one’s mind will manifest in their work, whether you’re time traveling or doing whatever. I remember the last time I was in Atlanta, I was on an Amtrak train. I was taking the train from New York to Los Angeles and I recall I had my laptop with me. I composed an entire piece of music on my laptop while on the train and then performed it during my set in Los Angeles. I’m not really sure which part of the piece reflected Atlanta, but I’m sure it was in there (laughs).
Whenever I listen to your recordings I hear very light and airy melodies that are coupled together to create these relaxing and diaphanous soundscapes. You use a lot of different effects on your guitar to attain this sound. Are you trying to make your guitar sound like another instrument when you do this?
I feel delay (audio effect) is quite expressive and cerebral. I’ve been using delay since 1981 and I was building my own effects, but I couldn’t play the guitar too well. I had to utilize the materials I had and the resources I had. I have very little interest in guitar equipment, it’s just tools. But as a musician I’ve definitely gone through my gearhead phases. All the new technology and modeling equipment is somewhat fascinating to me. A lot of kids nowadays have easy access to all of these things. I remember I used to use two old, scratchy tape delays that were daisy chained together. Nonetheless, I learned to play the guitar and manipulate the effects at the same time. The guitar is strictly a tool and I play it for recording and shows. I don’t find much pleasure in playing the guitar for hours on end (laughs).
Robin, I became interested in your work through the albums that you did with ambient composer Harold Budd. How did those albums come out?
First off, I worked with Harold Budd while in the Cocteau Twins. But after the Cocteau Twins broke up, I was still in London for a while and maintained contact with Harold. He invited me to perform at his retirement party, which he never really retired, he came back, but we linked together from there. The two albums After the Night Falls and Before the Day Breaks, I produced those really. We recorded the initial tracks in San Francisco and I mixed and engineered them in France.
Are there any new musicians that you’ve been digging recently?
No, not really. I don’t listen to a lot of music, I’m more into creating it.
What about an artist such as Fennesz, who also utilizes treated guitars to make electronic music?
Funny you say that, I was actually thinking of Christian Fennesz, but just didn’t say it. I played a show with him a few weeks back in Ancona, Italy, and he approached me and said I was a huge influence on him and so on. If I am indeed an influence on him, I think it’s really cool that he’s taken that and done his own thing. Fennesz has created his own sound and moved in different directions, that’s what you’re supposed to do. You’re supposed to take the sounds you hear and interpret them in your unique way.
Cool, I’m a fan of Fennesz and feel the same way. Any last words Robin?
Only that I’d like to get a chance to come and play Atlanta, I’m currently performing a live soundtrack to one of my films “Galerie,” and it is the most enjoyable show to play. I’m just waiting for someone to book…
For more about Robin Guthrie, check out his website www.robinguthrie.com to view his bio, entire discography and store items.