Most people know Robin Guthrie as from his role as one third of the influential underground band Cocteau Twins. His shimmering guitar work was immediately identifiable, as well as influential, and became equated with the whole "4AD Sound." Still others may also know him from his trademark production work with such bands as the Twins and Lush, among others. As the Cocteau Twins disbanded, him and Twins bassist Simon Raymonde focused their attention to their Bella Union label. The label is going strong, releasing some wonderful music from bands like The Czars and The Wave Room. Now, Guthrie is getting back into music. He has teamed up with Siobhan DeMare (formerly of Mono) on a new project called Violet Indiana. Their debut EP "Choke" will be released in October on Bella Union.
In March, Guthrie and DeMare were in Austin for the South By Southwest Music Festival to preview material from their new project. Now, to me, this was a great opportunity. As a musician and as a fan, I am a firm admirer of Guthrie's guitar work and production techniques. In addition to this, as a music journalist, it would be a fantastic opportunity to see what Guthrie had up his sleeve and get the scoop on the whole thing. So, tell me, fine folks, how do you balance being a fan and being a professional? I've had many interactions with musicians, but this is one of the folks who is way up on my list. I don't see many interviews with Guthrie out there, so I wanted to be cool and professional, and not a geek. Well, as you will soon see...I don't think I did a good job...at the not being a geek. Have you ever had one of those really surreal experiences that throws you for a loop, but later on, you really get a kick out of it? This was one of those experiences.
I met up with Guthrie at a local Mexican food/taco bar joint where there was an afternoon show going down. We were gonna find a place to have the interview when he grabbed DeMare and brought her along. We went out front to look for a bench or something, but the road noise would have killed the sound. So we decided that sitting in my car would be a good idea. It was a warm March afternoon with the impending threat of heavy thunderstorms (there were tornadoes in the area less than 40 minutes after the conclusion of the interview.) Guthrie (who must be the long-lost twin of my friend Richard M.) climbed into the back, while DeMare slipped her willowy frame with two soulful eyes into the passenger seat. What I really needed was a Valium to be as loose and crazy as my subjects (who made "are you a mass murderer?" quips on the way to the car.) Needless to say, there was a strange vibe in the air...
From here on out, while I try to get information from them, they are trying to turn the tables and give it back to me. Confused? I think it would be best for the tape recorder to speak from here on out:
(Guthrie and DeMare are sitting there calling each other "Mummy" while I get the tape rolling.)
tom topkoff: Okay.
Robin Guthrie: (Very chipper) Well, okay, what do you want to talk about?
Siobhan DeMare: (Very playfully) So do you know who we are?
tt: Yes I do, as a matter of fact.
RG: Well, what do you know about us?
tt: Well, that's what I'm here to find out...
RG: But we want to know what you know about us
SD: I want to know about your childhood...
tt: You want to know about my childhood?
tt: I didn't have a childhood.
SD: (Looking in my eyes) Were you born an adult?
tt: Sometimes I think that.
SD: How's your mum?
tt: We're like this (fingers crossed.)
RG: Like this in a healthy way? You know because this (fingers crossed) is very close.
tt: No...my mom is my best friend. She's supported me in everything I've wanted to do.
RG: Great mum!
SD: Do you call her "mummy?" Will you call me "mummy..."
tt: If that's what you prefer...
SD: (alluring) I want you to call me "mummy."
RG: (to DeMare) I want you to call me "daddy." And I want everything that's said to be a little secret between us.
(chuckles and laughter going around)
RG: We discovered LSD in Texas...a very fine drug.
SD: No! We don't take drugs. (sternly) No drugs, kids. Stay off the morphine.
tt: Setting a bad example....
SD: Well, you can always gossip.
RG: Now back to the question. Now, we want to know what you know about us.
tt: See, that's what I'm here for. I don't know much about the new project. Everything I know is what's been on the Bella Union site, which is (pause) not a lot.
SD: That was very negative did you hear that?
tt: Now wait a minute. It makes it hard to be fully.....
RG: I would blame the guy that does the web site then...
tt: I was trying to do some research....
RG: Sometimes less is more.
SD: Are you cross?
tt: Me? No.
RG: Have you ever considered that? (referring to the "less is more comment.")
RG: You have, then.
RG: So there's a little bit of work to be done...we can help you with that.
tt: Any help I can get.....
(Guthrie starts messing with DeMare again.)
SD: You're really freaking tom out.....
(So she decides to lay it on)
SD: (Staring into my eyes and totally role-playing it up) tom, I was a bit disappointed in your grades....mummy's cross. Mummy's gonna have to smack you.
RG: So anyways...about this interview. About the first album...
SD: Violet Indiana!
RG: So what do you want to know. We haven't put anything on our web site because we're new. We're just new. (Lightly) We're fresh!
SD: (Taking over) Violet Indiana are two people that came together. One used to be in the Cocteau Twins and one used to be in Mono.
RG: (stretching the word out) M-o-n-o.
tt: How did y'all get hooked up and start playing music.
RG: They were named after that well-known disease, I believe.
SD: Mono...kissing disease. Basically, Robin was extremely established and very famous and sold loads of records and I sold quite a few records and wasn't that established, and he phoned me. I was very depressed 'cause I had just broken up with Mono, and he said "Hey, what are you doing now? Do you wanna come and work with me." I said " I don't know. I don't know who you are." So we got together...
RG: She went and asked her sister.
SD: I said to my sister, "Robin Guthrie from the Cocteau Twins." And she collapsed, and she's still in a coma. Sister in a coma. And basically I met him. I went to this festival...it was a festival.
RG: In a church.
SD: It was in a church and he was playing and I went "Oh my god, he's playing the theme tune to my life. I need to get on stage and sing now."
RG: So I had security throw her off...roughly.
SD: No...he saw me and went "Oooooh. She's nice, I wonder if she'll have an affair with me?" (Then she erupts in laughter.) "I'll pretend that we're gonna work together." So, I declined the offer and we started working together and we made this wonderful album very quickly full of tragedy and melancholy.
RG: Actually, I was actually considering having an affair with Siobhan, but my wife wouldn't allow it.
SD: (Coyly) And I never considered the idea.
RG: She has....
RG: She's been stalking me...she wants me.
SD: Well guys, have a look at the web site and you make your own mind up.
RG: I'll be posting shit up there, that's for sure. Anyway...we are concerned with...
SD: (Interrupting) Sickness!
RG: Let's put it this way...we touch ground round about the same place. We have lots and lots of things in common. That are not necessarily the types of things that most people...it's not "hey, we support the same football team." We kind of go a bit further down than that. It's so much. We both love to talk. This is my, sort of like...I've got an imbalance of estrogen, I think...I like shopping and talking.
SD: He's a fourteen-year-old teenage girl...and I'm his sister.
RG: Really...so we talk and talk and talk. And because I've spent a lot of years in therapy and getting myself...you know sorted out after...you know.
SD: I've really just wasted all that time...
RG: I've come to be able to talk and just empty out...you know. I haven't really met anybody else that could really relate to me or just accept me saying my shit without giving me advice or, you know. Just mesh...a soul mate that's just been there for me. Which is really nice. So that's good, right...
SD: Now let's talk about...
RG: No, wait a minute...this is very important...(DeMare makes an exasperated sound) this is where it's coming from. Now, I've had this necessity in my life over the last couple of years. (He pauses and says with a chuckle) She's checking her make up. (DeMare is indeed looking at herself in the make-up mirror on the sun-visor of the car...then without missing a beat)...over the last couple of years, it's like, I've not been making music...I've been making record labels, web sites all this other stuff. A few months ago...let's see...nine months ago, I said, "I gotta make music. I got a lot of stuff. I'll stop everything and just make music." Because I realized that, it sounds really corny, it's been said ten million times before...
SD: He's got a short tape...get to the point.
RG: (continuing) ...it's very, very, very, very therapeutic. The point is just to get my shit out, right? Now this is where it comes out--It's, like, lotsa rage and it's lots of passion and despair. But it comes out in my musical weave...that's how I can get it out. And all of a sudden I bumped into someone with a similar amount of...
RG: Yeah, but it's not necessarily all bad stuff, but someone who can actually be in touch with that stuff and throw it out and want it and not wince about it. "You know, this is how it turns out for me. It's sort of fuckin' passionate and so beautiful..." And I just make this music that just seems to invite (stops)...and Siobhan and I get in a room together. And I've never made music like this before. My experiences with my other band was very, very different. This is...we could probably just sit down with a guitar and just, like, something will come. And that's very different for me. It's probably normal for lots of people, but it's different for me and I'm really getting off on it.
tt: Do you think....(stumbling along like a fool)...well, you still have the "Robin Guthrie sound," of course because it's you, in that new stuff, that good swooshy hollow-body sound... but I guess my question is do you think that being in this new situation where you're feeling this new impetus to write, do you think it's changed your music itself?
RG: Yeah...it's changed...(DeMare tosses something at him.)
SD: (laughing) Sorry.....
SD: I'm just laughing.
RG: tom, just don't ask me any more questions, cause I'm obviously just fucking having a little talk here and taking all the attention away from...do you want to talk?
SD: No, no, no. I want you to talk. I just want you to get to the point sooner than half an hour. I feel like when you cum...(laughter)
RG: Anyways, what was I talking about? I was just talking...
SD: Your childhood or something. Let's start when you were three...your first memory.
RG: When I was seven years old, we used to live in....do you have semi-detached houses in the States, where get like one house here and one house here (making a diagram with his hands, like a duplex. Meanwhile, DeMare opens the door of the car, allowing the chime to appear on the tape briefly.) My family moved from one house to the next door, it was like life in opposite, which really fucked me up.
SD: Can I have a look in here? (DeMare then starts rooting through my glove-box.)
RG: Don't steal anything.
SD: There's some knickers in there...no...he's not sick at all.
RG: He must be, he's in a car with us. He'll catch it.
SD: Do you want to sing? (starts singing..."you disgust me...la, la, la")
(There's a pause as I dig through my notes being completely thrown off by the erupting silliness.)
RG: So, Violet Indiana came about just over the last few months...six, seven or eight months ago. We made an album, which nobody's heard yet because we're so paranoid we don't play it for anybody. They might not like it.
SD: No, I'm not worried about that.
RG: (pointing at her) E.S.P., that's cool.
SD: I'm not worried. You...
RG: You obviously want to talk.
SD: No, you've obviously got a lot to say.
tt: (to DeMare) Okay, so what do you feel about this whole thing. He's gone off with all these heart-felt sentiments and soul-searching and deep digging. How 'bout yourself.
RG: That was all fake though...just for the interview. (Laughter erupts) I really just did it for the money and to try to get laid.
SD: And you know what? He's broke and he can't get laid. Right...(More laughter all around.) But, um...I am Siobhan DeMare from Violet Indiana, and I'm a person...and that's all I have to say.
tt: So, who would win in a fight you or Hope Sandoval?
SD: With him? With me?
RG: No, you.
SD: I don't fight.
tt: Well, if you did fight.
SD: With who?
tt: With Hope Sandoval...oh never mind...In the wake of the whole Oasis thing I was just trying to see if I could pick some fights.
SD: Aaaah. Well, choose someone better. (Pause) Scary Spice!
RG: Chose someone from the same planet...that would help. Do better, she's a friend of mine. Better not write that...she may read that.
SD: With who?
RG: With Hope...she's in Mazzy Star.
SD: I don't know these people.
RG: See, here's one of the beautiful things about Violet Indiana: we have musical pasts. We're coming from two such different places and it's just like "Oh, I get it." (She sighs at him) You talk.
(An interchange about who should talk ensues. Then from out of the blue)
SD: Do you think a woman can cum on demand? Like a man can...
RG: Do you think I care?
SD: Yes...maybe that's why you can't get laid.
RG: I'm happily married with children, thank you.
SD: You know...it's a joke..."How do you make a woman cum? Who cares..."
tt: I've heard that joke before.
SD: Or, "Why do women wear make up and perfume?"
tt: I don't know.
SD: "Because they stink and they're ugly." (Laughter ensues)
RG: That wasn't my joke, by the way, 'cause I think women are gorgeous...especially mummy.
tt: Well then, what about your musical thing. You say you come from somewhere else entirely? He's giving you the chance to speak your peace.
SD: Basically, he's from the indie scene, where people wear black lipstick and lace tights and pointed boots.
RG: You're really being unfair....that's really low isn't it. That's unfair.
SD: They look like they could have been in "The Munsters" or something. But me, I'm from more of the heartfelt, kind of torch singing...
RG: She's making it up...
SD: I'm Dusty Springfield, Donnie Hathaway, Roberta Flack, Minnie what's-her-name.
SD: Her....I like all that stuff. I think you do to secretly since you've met me.
SD: He would, like, listen to Bauhaus when I met him. (Laughs.) And Killing Joke, and yesterday I cut a mullet for him. Are you into mullets?
SD: Well, yesterday I cut Robins hair into a mullet for a laugh with toenail scissors, and a kitchen knife. I have to cut his hair with a kitchen knife. It's part of the Violet Indiana sound. We usually do bread-knife haircuts while he's playing, and I sing, and that's usually how we get our inspiration.
tt: That sounds like a good inspirational M.O.
SD: And if you want to know what kind of movies we're inspired by...things like "Honey I Shrunk The Kids." And "Don't Tell Mom I Shot The Baby-Sitter" and things like that. "Charlie And The Chocolate Factory."
RG: "Honey I Chopped Up The Mexican Maid And Put Her In The Refrigerator" is a big favorite of mine.
tt: I think that's a good cult classic, isn't it.
SD: And "Mummy I Shot Daddy."
tt: That whole thing....I sense a re-occurring theme here. Gotta ask the foolish question here, where does....
RG: We wanted to do a photo shoot in the Whitman tower but nobody would let us. [ed. Note: This is the University of Texas tower where Charles Whitman picked off pedestrians with a rifle years ago.]
tt: I think they'll let you up there now.
RG: Not with a fucking rifle they wouldn't. (Meanwhile, DeMare fixates on a nail file in the car.)
SD: You got a girlfriend? Here's a nail file.
tt: Yep, I'm getting married in September.
SD: Oh my god! Are you gonna have children?
RG: Why not? Are you not able to have children?
tt: No, as far as I know I'm able to have children.
RG: We can help you with that.
SD: What's your girlfriend like?
tt: She's really good.
RG: I suspect he doesn't have a girlfriend, he's bulimic. (Taking the nail-file) And he uses this to (makes choking sound as he sticks nail file in his mouth) to make him throw up...that's why he's so thin.
SD: Are you bulimic?
SD: (to Guthrie) No, he doesn't have an eating disorder, you're just putting your stuff on him.
RG: If I was bulimic, then I'd be thin like him.
SD: Well, he's not bulimic, he's just not fat.
RG: You called me fat. I'm not fat. I've got big bones.
SD: You're not fat...you're pregnant. You're lovely.
RG: I've had inverse liposuction...I've had implants to make myself look attractive.
SD: Don't worry, everything will be fine. (Taking an American accent) Is there anything else you want? Do I sound American when I do that?
tt: That's pretty good.
SD: Is that pretty good? Would you believe me if I lived here and I spoke like that? You would...(she then goes off on a diatribe naming off all sorts of "American" slogans like "you rock" and the like.)
RG: I'm scared....I want my mummy. I want my mummy when you talk like that.
The whole experience, while vaguely discussing the music of their new project, gave me an insight into the people who make the music, more so than the music itself. Sometimes artists are certainly different than what the sound of their music would suggest, and that's one of the inherent beauties in music. It is indeed its own peculiar little world.