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WEDNESDAY BLOG: Talking Global With Label Bella Union, Radio Station WFMU and More

Flying Out

This week I get to to do a 'live on stage' interview with Simon Raymonde, formerly of The Cocteau Twins, This Mortal Coil and for the past 15 years owner of UK independent record label Bella Union. Bella Union is one the more interesting UK labels, releasing artists like Fleet Foxes, Beach House, Flaming Lips and NZ's own Lawrence Arabia. Music Week Magazine, the UK version of Billboard, named Bella Union label of the year in both 2010 and 2012. 

The interview is part of the Going Global Music Summit, an event that is now in it's third year. It isn't a 'panel', more of a Q & A session where we get to talk in depth about a bunch of stuff. Or at least Simon does. I get to ask the questions. 

I'm still researching what I am going to ask, but at the moment I am thinking I will break the interview approximately into two parts. The first part more about his time as a musician and the second about his record label. Any suggestions for questions are welcome.

The Cocteau Twins are an interesting band in that they had such a distinctive and ultimately influential sound. In some ways they helped define their label 4AD's identity. Although Liz Frazer and Robin Guthrie are better known, Simon became an essential component in the production, arrangement and music writing for the band. I am guessing he was the 'organised guy' bass player in the band. He probably had an important role in any of the usual interpersonal politics that go on within any band - so I'd like to ask him about that. For their later albums in the 1990s (Heaven or Las Vegas, Four Calendar Cafe) the Cocteau Twins moved over to Capitol Records and Mercury. I recall at that time, while I was working in a record store, people were very much divided as to whether their more accessible sound was a forwards or backwards step. 

I'm also interested to hear a bit about his time with This Mortal Coil - which was the project of 4AD founder Ivo Watts-Russell….who also sounds like an interesting character. Friends of mine were married to the track "Song To The Siren" - and I am sure many others have been too. Originally performed by Tim Buckley, it is one of those tracks. 

There is an Evening News interview Simon did where he says he was about to give up on Bella Union. He then heard the Fleet Foxes "White Winter Hymnal" and it "saved his life". He decided to persevere with the label, despite various financial and distribution problems. That is definitely something I am sure many people who work in music can relate to. Sometimes a great piece of music reminds you what you were doing in the first place. He signed Fleet Foxes and they went on to become extremely successful in the UK. 

In other interviews he is pretty frank about the financial realities of running an independent label, so I'm interested to hear about that too. Somehow it is reassuring to know it's tough for everyone when it comes to music and money. 

Aside from Simon there are lots of interesting folks at Going Global. Brian Turner is the music director at influential New York College radio station WFMU (and an all round great guy who knows a ton about NZ music). A few months ago myself and Dylan Pellett (from Independent Music NZ) visited WFMU in Jersey. The station is a multi story rabbit warren stuffed with records, cassettes, interesting art, studios and all kinds of stuff. We couldn't stick around, but it looked like Friday drinks were about to commence. I have put some photos of the station with this blog. In the studio they have a Dat tape locked in a glass windowed fire alarm case that says "break glass and play immediately upon the death of Bob Dylan"

Michelle Cable at Panache Booking is also someone worth hearing. She manages Mac DeMarco and Ty Segall and organises the Bruise Cruise - which is described as "a three day tropical rock'n'roll cruise that sails from Miami Florida to The Bahamas and back". Industry naysayers thought she was mad. Cruise ships have a reputation for losing or poisoning passengers. But they we't ahead and it has proved to be a very unique and successful venture - now being copied by others.  

There are lots of other interesting people attending, such as the festival and venue bookers, other record labels, digital platforms (Youtube, Pandora etc) and so on. It is a real honour to have them all travel so far to share their knowledge. I'm looking forward to hanging out with them. 

Going Global happens this week, in Wellington (Thu 5th September), Auckland (Sat 7th September) and Christchurch (9th of September - Chch is sold out.) 

If you want to come along to the Going Global panels, Q & A and various masterclass sessions a full program and list of delegates is here as well as ticket info. There is also a free live music showcase in the evening in each city - info here. Going Global is put on by Independent Music NZ and the Music Commission.

These photos taken at WFMU in Jersey City, New York, USA

By Ben Howe

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  • Sophie Burbery on

    Hey Ben,

    Can you please ask him about the reverb on the snare on Heaven or Las Vegas, or anything to do with production on that album. That album’s been on high rotate for weeks, so this article is very timely :)

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