I’m a really big fan of SIMON RAYMONDE. For my generation, Raymonde is probably best known as the boss man at English record label Bella Union. However, before he was sitting in that chair, Raymonde used to make wondrous music as bass player and keyboardist in the cult famous band Cocteau Twins. For the past 17 years, he has been humbly growing and nurturing some of the finest bands including Midlake, Fleet Foxes, Father John Misty, John Grant, Hannah Cohen and the list just goes on. He also hosts two radio shows on Amazing Radio andStrangeway Radio every week – and because he’s not busy enough, he is now, along with talented vocalistStephanie Dosen, responsible for the beautifully ethereal music of Snowbird.
A baby of the internet, Snowbird’s debut album, Moon, has been a work in progress over the past few years; something which the two have only given their spare time to. But with just a single play through one can understand why it may have taken so long to perfect. Dosen’s delicate voice echoes through the abyss of an imaginary world inhabited by flourishing floras and cliff tops overlooking crystal clear oceans while gliding perfectly and twinning withRaymonde’s soulful arrangements.
With no intentions to tour, Moon becomes a sweet gift from a few brilliant minds, no strings attached and the added bonus of a promise of more to come.
Hazal Alkac: You’ve known Dosen for a long time now, how did you both meet?
Simon Raymonde: I heard her music on MySpace and we chatted for a few months on Messenger. We then met at SXSW in Austin, and even though she had just broken her foot she made her way there from Nashville to meet me.
HA: How did Snowbird come to be?
SR: Stephanie moved in with me and while she was promoting her own solo record, she was asked to go on tour with Massive Attack as their lead singer. The next few years she worked with The Chemical Brothers on music and in between was busy becoming a very successful knitwear designer. I was preoccupied with Bella Union, so the idea of doing music together didn’t materialise until much later.
She got deported when her visa ran out and while I was waiting for that to get sorted I was looking on a classifieds site for a Piano. We’d recently moved into a bigger flat and there was a piano sized hole in one room that I wanted to fill. I found an incredible old baby grand piano for free and after getting it tuned and tidied up, I started playing again, for the first time in many years. Each night after work I’d turn all the phones off and work on a short piece and once I’d practiced it over a few times I opened the laptop and recorded it on GarageBand then would email it to Stephaniein North Carolina. I’d go to bed.
In the morning I’d arise to an email from Stephanie with my piano piece now adorned with beautiful melodies. We continued like this for 2 weeks. We didn’t record the album like this of course, but these sketches were the catalyst.
HA: Where did you record your debut album, Moon? Was this an in and out of the studio kind of album, or did the band work over an extended period of time?
SR: I did all the music in 4 days in North Wales at a studio I’d been frequenting for years. Then I sent a few tracks over to a few friends to do the things I couldn’t do as well. Ed (O’Brian) from Radiohead put some moody guitar on 2 tracks, Eric (Pulido) from Midlake played an acoustic on ‘Bears On My Trail’ and Jonathan Wilson played guitar on ‘Where Foxes Hide’. Paul (Gregory) from Lanterns on The Lake added some atmospheric guitars too.
There wasn’t really “a band”. Stephanie recorded all her vocals in our neighbour Bill’s shed. That took literally months, possibly years. I found out later she’d finished the whole thing then scrapped it ALL and started again cos she didn’t like the way she was singing it. It is a delicate kind of sound and that attention to detail is important. I then mixed it with a friend of mine called Iggy who has wonderful ears and has more patience (than me) to sit in a small room listening to the same song a thousand times.
HA: All in all, how long was the process from when you began collaborating to the finished product? And do you think it made much of a difference in the finished product that you weren’t sitting in the same studio and recording together?
SR: No, I think too much is made of the environment in making music anyway (log cabins etc), the distance between us all today has been reduced by technology, and it was no different for us making Snowbird. Most bands write parts at home and email them to each other before their next rehearsal. It’s just the way it is using bedroom recording these days. We only used that technology for the sketches.
As for always recording apart that’s not telling the whole story. I would go over to the neighbours studio and be there if needed but to honest he was a smoker and I can’t be around cigarette smoke so I’d just leave them to it!
Yes it did probably take over a year to do the vocals because Bill could only fit us in when he wasn’t busy with paying clients. Stephanie would also only record during the hours of midnight and 6am and while her and Bill were both happy enough I couldn’t hack those hours! She’d play me stuff she’d done and I’d tell her it was great or whatever, but at the end of the day, you have to know yourself if you are satisfied with it. And while she clearly didn’t want me to panic, it was some time before she revealed she’d scrapped all the vocals and started again! I don’t think it made any difference to the record that we weren’t in the studio together. His shed wasn’t really big enough for another person anyway! We lived together, spent all our time together so I don’t think that had a significant impact on how the record turned out.
The mixing took about 3 weeks but over the course of a year. Iggy my mix engineer, would only be able to work on it in his spare time so again the length of it all was prolonged by circumstance. From those initial sketches to finishing mixing I’d say probably 3 years passed. But we weren’t in the studio for 3 years! I recorded all the music bar the few guest sessions in 4 days. I am prolific!
HA: Bella Union is not a far throw from its’ 20 year anniversary and in that time you have fostered some amazing musicians, what is it like for you to get back into recording and making music again?
SR: Very pleasing; I definitely feel a weight has been lifted. I’ve been so involved in other musicians work for so long it was odd to experience all those feelings again as well as having to deal with the unknown; the reception of it by the media and fans. It certainly rekindled my desire to create and it won’t be 17 years before the next release, I promise!
HA: After making such iconic music as part of Cocteau Twins, do you feel pressured to create a certain sound, or are you just drawn to ethereal musicians like Dosen and Elizabeth Fraser?
SR: Clearly I am drawn to exceptional voices, but not just of themselves. There has to be character, emotion in abundance. I mean technique itself doesn’t interest me particularly. I can see that a Ferrari is a technically supreme car, but I’m not interested in owning a Ferrari. I’d rather have an old Citroen DS, my first car, which has beauty mixed with aesthetic, an unusual shape [and] original design. It is about emotionally connecting with something, beyond just appreciation. Elizabeth, Stephanie and other greats don’t just sing the song. They inhabit it. They elevate it.
I recall writing music in my old band, we would jam a tune out, Robin (Guthrie) and me, record it and sit back and admire it. We’d think it was pretty good. We’d tinker with it for a few hours, we’d smoke some weed and see if still sounded good, we’d listen to it the following morning to see if it still sounded good. If it was, well we would play it to Elizabeth. Then when she’d announce she would like to record vocals today we’d clear everyone out the studio and settle in for a treat. Elizabeth took cool jams and turned them into mind-bending tracks. That’s what raw and rare talent like that does.
I think Stephanie even from her first solo records got saddled as a pretty pop-folk singer and I knew she was so much more than that. I believe some of the Snowbird record shows that, and know that the next one will enhance her reputation further. As far as the “sound” of the record well, I will take most of the blame/credit for that. Honestly I am technically limited as a piano player, as a bassist and a guitarist too – so I am more painting a spontaneous abstract picture in my head with these tunes and not getting hung up on anything beyond that. If it gets to the point where I record it, it is because I like it enough to take it further.
HA: How have you felt Snowbird’s music has been received since the release of your album at the beginning of the year?
I know some folks who really love it, and some who think it’s a bit wet. That’s about what I expected and I am just lucky I run my own label ‘cos getting a record deal was pretty easy.
HA: Do you have plans to tour?
SR: We really don’t. Logistically it would be very tricky as we both live in different countries and I’m not even sure it’s the kind of music that would work particularly well in the kind of sized bars we would be asked to play. Best to leave some things alone.