Interview with Simon Raymonde of Lost Horizons and Bella Union records

Please note that Melting Vinyl have said: Lost Horizons are really sorry to announce that they’ve had to re-schedule their upcoming UK and Italian shows which includes the Brighton date originally on April 18th. A new Brighton date is now confirmed for 17th Sept. All tickets remain valid and refunds available at point of purchase.

Lost Horizons are due to play Brighton Komedia on 18th April. Brighton Source spoke to band leader, former Cocteau Twin and Bella Union record label boss Simon Raymonde about the new band, the making of their album ‘Ojalá’ and how to make it in the music business.

On the touring band…

When we play live we have seven people on stage. There’s basically me and Richie (Thomas), the two main partners in Lost Horizons.

Then we’ve got the amazing Helen Ganya Brown (Dog In The Snow) on guitar. And then there’s another girl from Brighton called Beth Cannon (Libra Libra). Her voice is stunning with the most incredible range and dynamics, almost operatic. She’s somebody I found from being in Brighton as I used to bump into her all the time when she literally worked 50 yards from my flat and then I discovered she was a singer and when I heard her voice, it was mindblowing. She sings on the album on a track called ‘Bones’.

Because I am in Brighton I wanted to keep the band pretty much based here. So Beth is from Brighton, Helen’s from Brighton. Then there’s Chris Anderson (Crayola Lectern, Zoff and ex-Departure Lounge) who is also another Sussex boy. Chris does all the piano stuff from the record.

Ed Riman has a debut record coming out this year on Bella Union and sings on two tracks on the album. He’s in the live band too, so we’re keeping it all in the family.

And then there’s Richard on drums, I play guitar, and another Brighton girl, a 21-year-old bass player called Asya Fairchild who has a band called Blush who are very cool.

Later this year we are also going to do one show with everyone who is actually on the record at the South Bank (Sept 14th at Queen Elizabeth Hall, London) but it’s going to be a one-off, and there’s no way I could afford to do it more than once.

About playing live…

I wanted the music to be live with nothing programmed.

I play guitar live. I use lots of funny tunings when I improvise on guitar and I’m not technically very good so I thought it was going to be too much trouble for me to re-teach what I created on the spur of the moment.

It’s sometimes difficult listening to a record and isolate the parts. With my bass parts it was easier and I made little videos of me playing bass on my iPhone and sent them to Asya and she was able to work out what I was doing from that. Chris is a very good piano player, way better than I am, so he could work out my parts too. Helen’s a great guitar player and she fills in some of the stuff that I can’t do all on my own.

Vocal duties are split between Ed, Helen and Beth. They’ve all got different styles of singing – Ed obviously does the bloke’s voices, Beth the more strident powerful stuff and then Helen the more vulnerable singing. I don’t do vocals myself. I did sing on my first solo record, the first release on Bella Union, but you’d be hard-pushed to find that anywhere now and I’m not too bothered.

That ethereal Cocteau Twins sound…

The thing about the Cocteau Twins sound, the reason it was like it was, is because the sound of a guitar plugged into an amp is boring to me, so we would use pedals and bits of outboard to mess about and find an inspiring sound. It was the sound that inspired the song. If it sounded awesome, then you’d start playing more cool things and suddenly you’d have a song. Lost Horizons wasn’t exactly the same but that habit of ‘let’s just plug in and go’ was there.

I like organic sounds. I’m not much into synths. I like anything I can pick up and play that is easy and quick to record really.

I don’t use the same musical kit that I used to. In fact it is completely different apart from a piano because a piano is a piano, even if it is treated and doesn’t sound much like a piano in the end.

On the recording process…

The record is just a load of jams, and with a few exceptions it’s all improvised. The album wasn’t meant to be anything more than just me and Richie having a laugh, getting back to playing music in a studio again. It’s quite odd to have done it that way and to have got so many songs out of things that started from just recording our messing around.

I put a lot of work in after those initial jam sessions. The way it sometimes seems in an interview is that it was all improvised but it wasn’t as simple as that. The drums and bass, drums and guitar or drums and piano – whatever the first jam was, that was simple and fun. But after that, when I brought it back home, layered things, started to put it into an arrangement, fiddling around, taking things out, adding strings or whatever, that was long and hard work.

Some of the singers on the album…

I didn’t have a plan but I’d pop into the studio for a bit, start messing around and then suddenly it would be four o’clock in the morning and I’d have finished this thing which all of a sudden sounded like a song, a song without words. So at that point, I’d go “OK, I think I could send this to Ghostpoet now” or whoever. I’d go ‘I’ve got this piece of music, I don’t know what to do with it, but I think it would be amazing if you sang on it’ and they did. I was happy to provide them with ideas for lyrics but if they wanted to do whatever they wanted to do then I was happy with that too. Because it was a collaboration between me and them – I did the music, they did the words.

All of the singers on the album wrote their own words, every single one.

Marisssa Nadler also sings on three tracks that only appear on a bonus disc. I went down to the studio in Ovingdean (‘the Retreat’) where Nick Cave and Warren Ellis work because there’s this beautiful piano there. I said to the engineer, “just press record, I’m going to make some ambient tinkling on the piano…” So I had a day doing that and then a day making noises on the guitar and I thought I might have a bonus disc of instrumental noodlings but when I got around to listening back to it I thought there were some real tunes there.

So I got in touch with Marissa Nadler who’s on Bella Union and a good friend and I said I had these ‘things’ and thought that maybe she’d feel like singing on one of them and she’s like “Oh man, I’d love to”. So I sent her a bunch of tracks, and she sang on all of them.

Marissa’s vocal and my piano sound perfect together because she sings kind of sad and I play kind of sad. It added a whole new softer, ballady feeling to the record that wasn’t there before.

On running the record shop in Brighton…

The only other job I’ve ever had was working in a record shop. I worked in the Beggars Banquet shop back in the punk days when I was a teenager and then I worked at Our Price before I joined the Cocteau Twins. It has always been in my mind that it might be nice to have a record shop of my own but it was right in the back of my mind. It wasn’t something I thought I needed to do.

Then moving down to Brighton the pace of our lives slowed a bit. I had been finding London life too much so I came down to Brighton and found a lovely flat on the seafront for about a grand a month, about half what I was paying in London for a shit-hole. So we moved. I just loved the people and the vibe and everyone seemed so friendly.

People say Brighton’s very cliquey but I don’t think so. People help each other out, there’s a really good community spirit. I think everyone’s cool here, it’s a great scene.

One day my wife was in the Lanes and she spotted this tiny place, 150 feet square – very very small – down this little alley and I thought it looked really cool. So we got the details sent and it was so cheap we thought there must be something wrong with it. Previously it had been an erotic art gallery but it’s in a great area. Well, it’s actually a scummy area but it’s near the seafront and it kind of works for a record shop.

We have so much fun in there. We open really weird hours and it’s never going to make us any money because we only sell our own Bella Union releases but we pay the rent. The Flaming Lips came and did a signing, Mercury Rev did, Jonathan Wilson played an in-store, Emmy the Great has played there, M Ward too… And we have a wonderful community of supporters who come in every week and buy something.

Some days we get just three people come in but I can still do my job whilst sat at the till and I get to listen to music all day long. It works for us. We really love it there and we have no plans to leave.

How have you survived and thrived in the music industry for twenty years?

By having really low rent and by being lucky.

On how the record label works…

I don’t tend to be involved in the recording at Bella Union directly but it depends. I am working with a new band from Brighton at the moment, Penelope Isles, and I’ve just given them my studio in Hove for a couple of months to do what they like. If they need a bit of advice on something I’ll go in and help them out.

With most bands I only get involved if they want me to. That’s how I like the label to be. It’s not a boutique project all about me, it’s nothing to do with me. My attitude is, here you are now off you go. If you need any help here I am and if you don’t great, that suits me fine. I’ve got more than enough to be getting on with.

I love putting out new things but I’m very realistic with the bands. I don’t say “Here’s twenty grand now go out and have fun.” What I say is:

“You won’t make any money out of this, you probably won’t sell any records for at least three or four albums, you probably won’t make any money from touring for three or four years, but if you’re happy with that and you understand that’s most likely what’s going to happen then we can probably work together because I can help you, I can put you in the studio for nothing, because I’ve got a studio, or you can play with these bands, because they’re friends of mine. I can help.”

I can help get things moving but it’s up to the acts to be hard-working and exciting. It’s not my job to make them rich or famous, it’s THEIR job. I’m just there as a sort of conduit to get it going and if they want loads of money to help them do those things I can’t help. I might have been able to once upon a time when the flowers were blooming but not now. You just have to cut your cloth to suit.

I don’t think that’s bad, it’s just different. I don’t find it depressing, that’s just how it is now. You’re still going to make music aren’t you? If I gave you one grand or one hundred grand you’re still going to make music. And if you’re not I wouldn’t want to work with you because it should be about what YOU want to do.

Finding ways to do things dirt cheap is smart. I am super-realistic with the acts. If they’re like “we were really hoping for twenty five thousand…” then OK, I say go and meet CBS or go speak to BMG or whoever because that’s not a conversation that me or my friends are going to be able to have with you. Witchita, Heavenly, we’re all in the same boat.

How to succeed in the music business?

For a band like Penelope Isles, I think they’ll succeed with or without me, whether I do anything or not, because they’re passionate. They are in the studio every day and the minute they finish work they go in there, they record. If they’re not happy with it they go back there the following day and do it again. They play shows all over Europe, buy their own van for like fifteen hundred quid, stuff all the gear in the back and the four of them jump in, sleep in the van.

That’s the band that will succeed because they don’t need me. They might like me, but they don’t NEED me.

And then if I come along and say I can help, then it’s exciting because it’s two bursts of energy working together rather than me being excited and the band thinking it’s cool that they have a record deal now. It’s all about energy and momentum and the people in the team each bringing something new or exciting to the process.

If it were just about me, it would be really hard work and it probably wouldn’t work at all.

Simon Raymonde spoke to Jon Southcoasting for Brighton Source.

Lost Horizons play the Komedia, Brighton on 18th April 17th Sept 2018. Tickets from the usual places.

The album Ojalá is available from Simon at the Bella Union shop and all good record stores.

Features 4 months old

Jon Southcoasting

Jon Southcoasting photographs all sorts, including music, writes about things, as often as not musical, and sometimes plays his own songs too. He lives in Brighton.

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