I first met Robin Guthrie three years ago. I was playing guitar with Seattle chanteuse Heather Duby and we were opening up for his band Violet Indiana. Needless to say, I was very excited, as I had been a Cocteau Twins fan for quite some time. The mere chance to see Robin play live was a thrilling prospect, let alone sharing the stage with him. Three weeks after the gig, I ran into him at the grocery store in Seattle — weird considering he lives outside of Rennes, France. He was on vacation with his family and I had a chance to spend some time with him. Later that year I paid them a visit when I was in France and we have stayed in touch ever since. Robin was born in Scotland in 1962 and began playing guitar when he was 15, inspired by the British punk scene of the time. When he was 18, he formed the Cocteau Twins with Elizabeth Fraser. They remained together until 1997, initially with bassist Will Heggie, but playing for most of their duration with bassist/instrumentalist Simon Raymonde. Since then Robin has spent his time writing instrumental music, playing with Violet Indiana, producing albums and both owning and running the record label Bella Union.
The last time we spoke, you were telling me about your latest project, which involved composing music on a train ride from Philadelphia to L.A. Fill me in on the details.
I wanted to go to California because Cocteau Twins had pulled out of Coachella. A whole bunch of Cocteau Twins fans had spent a lot of money on plane tickets. I didn't feel any guilt about it whatsoever because it wasn't my decision to pull out of Coachella. But I did think that I might make some people happy. So I agreed to play a concert in L.A. the night before when Cocteau Twins would have been appearing. But I thought, "How am I going to do that?" I didn't want to do what I usually do — I wanted to make it special. Slowly but surely the idea came together [to] combine one of the things I like the most — which is traveling — with some new music. I had a look around on the web, had a look at the Amtrak system and found out they had powered outlets and thought, "There we go. It will get me away from family responsibilities, I'll be able to work a bit and come up with some new shit." I don't know why I hadn't thought of it before — [to] come up with things out of a constantly evolving, new landscape.
Did you have your own cabin?
It was little, a small room with a bed. But it was perfect when you've got a laptop and you are trying to make music. You just shut the world out for 18 hours.
What software were you using?
Cubase SX2 — a very, very minimal installation. I really limited myself on the number of plug-ins, instruments, and all that. It really trims the fat off of the songwriting process. I wanted to give myself restrictions. I put in an electric piano, two synths, an organ and some drum stuff. Nothing like what I've got at home. I knew I was going to write the guitar parts once I got [to] L.A. I was making karaoke tracks basically, something to play along with. That's pretty much how my writing process is most of the time anyway. The guitar is usually not the first instrument. But it's not always that way.
Are you going to record this stuff?
Well, my writing and recording process is so similar these days. Half of it was written already. I took my laptop home and dumped it into my main system. Then I've got the guitars to record and most of what I'd written for the show will remain. I'll tweak it and work it, but it's basically the same. Some of it will be used in some upcoming shows, some if it will remain instrumental stuff, some of it will become Violet Indiana songs and some of it will disappear.
Are you going to do something similar to Lumière — which I saw in Seattle last fall — and incorporate film and video with these recordings?
No, this is going to be kind of a follow up to Imperial [an instrumental album released in 2003]. I could have gone whole hog and done the travelogue movie thing, but this is not the time for that. I'm really happy doing my visual work without a concrete set of music with it. I always change the music I play with Lumière, or any other visual stuff that I do. I don't want to be doing a DVD — I keep it a special sort of thing. The only time people get to see it is at a concert — it's not something you can really become familiar with. I see this next record as being more of an aural sort of thing. That's not to say I won't do something different in the future. I just need to get some new music out there, that's the mother of everything I do. The rest are all tangents, really.
I think a lot of people feel that way.
I spent the last year really not doing a lot of new pieces of music. I've done a lot of concerts,...