Interviews  |   Amplifier Magazine, 2006

Robin Guthrie achieved what few could attain during the 80's: reverent iconic cult status. His fashion, his personality, his intensely creative music, and of course his hair were the standard for the underground and the avant-garde. He was a producer and a musician, collaborating with the likes of Felt's Lawrence Hayward on Ignite the Seven Cannons, and constantly changing and experimenting with the sonic textures of Cocteau Twins, one of the most influential and truly individualistic bands of the entire 80's alternative era. The Cocteau Twins disbanded shortly after the release of Milk and Kisses in 1996, ending an almost decade and a half of consistently diverse music. Some would say (and even he) that Guthrie has fallen into obscurity, never able to reach the height of his band's previous success. However, he’s alive and well in the French countryside, enjoying an interesting book or chumming with his wife Florence. Despite the artistic hermitage, Guthrie has always remained musically active, producing emerging bands, like Darla label mates Mahogany, establishing a prosperous solo career, highlighted by 2006's Continental, and even now collaborating with “the godfather of ambience” and longtime friend, Harold Budd.

Budd and Guthrie have collaborated together on each other's albums since the 80's, but the two new collaborative albums, Before the Day Breaks and After the Night Falls, mark the first time the two pioneers of ambience and shoegaze have entered the studio together for one project. Says Guthrie, “Harold's area of music is so far outside of mine. Our attraction is based on the different styles of music. I play guitar. He plays piano. We struggle to make things work, putting our individual styles together, letting it sound organic. This new project is much different from our previous collaborations. We put together the score for the film, Mysterious Skin, but we didn't actually collaborate in the studio together. Harold recorded half a dozen tracks and then I did another half dozen, so there are touches of both of us on the score, but never anything cohesive like on these two new albums. This time we got together in San Francisco in the spring of 2006, finally able to record the albums together, which I think actually strengthens the music this time around, as we're able to play bits on each other's songs and really create a true collaboration. These new albums are unmistakably us. We may be an odd couple, a 45 year old hanging out with a 68 year old man, but it’s the music that matters. It's about the music, but more importantly it's about playing together and feeding off each other's ideas.”

Guthrie in his post-Cocteau Twins career has continued to innovate and create music beyond the curve and norm, even if it's a collaboration or the production of another band. “When I was young and egotistical the projects I produced had more of me in them than the actual band. Twenty years on there is more of me in these collaborative projects, and less of me in productions; it’s now more a true partnership. I produce records for them, not me. Working with others, especially the emerging bands, I'm reminded of myself when I was younger. I want to make them try to see the whole picture. I wouldn't want someone to come and tell me what to do.”

Guthrie's career has always been characterized by intense individualism. As the guitarist/producer/mastermind behind Cocteau Twins, Guthrie created some of the most distinct and creative music of the era, setting the foundations for the later shoegaze scene of the early 90's. His melodic, complicated sonic textures and lush harmonies remain some of the most original and experimental sounds of recent alternative music. Guthrie has created his own distinct personal sound, truly unlike any other of any period. “I take the records as they're supposed to be. I let the music flow, enjoy where it's going, and I don't have to prove to myself that it must sound a certain way. I stopped worrying about what people think a long time ago. I think I get better and better over time; there's more discipline as I get older, and I don't want to have to go fucking changing my sound every six months. I have no cerebral element where I have to change something. There's nothing I can do to keep people interested in my music. I'm not a part of the marketing, advertising, or publicity. I'm just a musician. There's nothing I can do about people knowing where I am or what I'm doing.”

Guthrie has always remained active, stimulating his avid creativity and engineering consistently vibrant sonic experiments, even though they may not be noticed by the music world at large, relegating the cult icon to contemporary obscurity. “Many journalists criticized Continental as sounding too much like Cocteau Twins, claiming I was reinventing the same old material. Well, fuck yeah I am, because I was in Cocteau Twins. I sound like the Cocteau Twins because I was in Cocteau Twins. That band's gone and over. I've moved on with my career; I can let go. The others just need to please fuck off and move on.”

Guthrie continues, “despite my frustration, people are always surprised that I sound the way I do, that I’ve never moved on and changed my sound. There's always been heavily marketed products throughout the years that are classics, like Kellogg's or Coke, which everyone always goes back to, despite the other options. Why can't I be like that; a classic? I want my music to be around for a long time. Today so much music lacks longevity. I doubt many new artists in the last ten years will still be around in twenty years, still making music. Nowadays it's so different; you get what you can while you can. Last five years there's not been a lot of introspective music. Growing up, The Rolling Stones were the loudmouths of their generation. Who's the loud mouth of this generation? What are my kids going to listen to in twenty years? Oasis? I sure as fucking hope not.”

Guthrie philosophically concludes, “I work when I want to. I don't work when I don't want to. I live a very independent lifestyle, but sometimes I guess I do wonder where I'm going to fit in? But I guess in hindsight this really doesn't matter. I've really moved on with my career, creating more music after Cocteau Twins than with Cocteau Twins. I'm definitely more comfortable with myself now. There's no way I'd go back to being 22. I'm content, very isolated in the French countryside. I don't know too many people or contact too many people. I don't go to many shows. I much prefer a good book than going out. I really do get a lot of inspiration from reading more than anything else. I like where I am, even if no one really knows where that where is. I've learned to not set my sights too high. Sometimes there's just disappointment.”

Interview by Wes Barker.