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Cocteau Construction

Cocteau Twins

how to find studio premises

Ever looked for a room to set up that 16-track, store the gear and rehearse the band? The Cocteau Twins have, and kindly share their experiences, biscuits and tea with Tony Bacon.

IT IS the west London flat of Liz and Robin. More specifically, it is the front room. There are pink walls, but everything else is black: black carpet, black hi-fi, black blinds, black furniture. There is a large black sofa, too, on which sprawls Robin. There on Robin's lap is Otto, the white Siamese cat. Simon has just popped round, and so all the Cocteaux are together for the interview.

Liz is hoovering. One would imagine that Liz is hoovering principally because of Otto. All that white fur in the midst of so much blackness.

"Lift up your legs, please," says Liz, still hoovering, as I join Robin on the still black sofa. It is one of the few things that Liz, who could accurately be described as shy, says during the entire interview. The other one I remember, just after she has served us with tea and biscuits, is, "Don't feed biscuits to Otto."


But to business. Up until very recently the group were sharing what we must call Another Group's studio. The anonymity is at Robin's insistence: it is clear that they're all well pissed off with the experience. What was intended to be a give-and-take arrangement where one group would use the studio when the other didn't, turned into something of a nightmare, with tales of instruments going walkies and time-sharing being rather one-sided.

But enough of that: suffice to say that the Cocteaux do not advise you to enter into any kind of studio-sharing exercise unless you're very sure of who's doing what when and with whose equipment.

On to new territory, and the Cocteau Twins have just sorted out studio premises of their own in west London, central to their residencies. It seems to be the ideal room in which to set up all their 16-track gear.


If you're looking for studio premises, is it likely that you'll have to roam around a lot and look at plenty of wrong places first? Simon strokes Otto, and grins at the memory.

"Oh yeah, we looked at quite a lot. I suppose we've been looking for about six months. We also did the thing of looking in the back of 'Music Week', which is a sort of trade paper, you often see Studio For Sale type ads. But they're always far too expensive — and there's too many rooms, or too few, it's never quite right. What we eventually got was an empty shell, which we can make into what we want, rather than being stuck with someone else's idea of a studio."

What they've ended up with, in fact, is a sort of industrial unit rented from the local council. But as Robin explains, if you're looking for this sort of place, be prepared for some negotiations.

"The GLC are getting us this place from Ealing council," he says, "and Ealing council are saying there's no way it can be a recording studio. But the GLC said to us it's OK, they know what we want to do with it. So they said to Ealing OK, it's not going to be a studio, it's going to be for repairing and maintenance of electronic and musical equipment."

Presumably, once things get going, they're not really going to know the difference? "No. There's already three recording studios in this big industrial centre place, they're not supposed to have any more — that's all it is. It's not as if we'll be making a great deal of noise or anything, I mean we won't have drummers making loads of noise, and I don't particularly like monitoring at high levels. So we'll be all right."


Of course it wasn't just their experience with studio sharing that led them to seek their own premises. The group seem to a large extent an insular unit, and one can imagine that they would work best on their atmospheric, carefully layered recordings away from bright, brash commercial studios. Indeed they speak of a general dislike of commercial studio engineers (with some honourable exceptions). From what the group tell me, engineers are mostly blinkered equipment buffs who see musicians as unwelcome intrusions into their laboratories.

The BBC's studios and studio-operatives come in for a particular bashing. "It doesn't matter how good your music is," moans Robin. "It doesn't matter if you're moving the earth. When tea-break time comes up it's tea-break time. That's disgusting. They shouldn't be there."

We all calm him down and pour him some more tea. Otto eyes the biscuits.

So is the new Cocteau studio — which Robin is keen to call the Smash Palace — a means to using commercial studios less? "Definitely," says Robin immediately. Then, after some thought: "If I didn't want to use commercial studios ever again we'd have got 24-track gear into the new place. But our place will be a way of saving on studio time to some extent."

All the group's material is written in the studio, so the saving could be considerable. "The music always seems to come first," says Simon, "so it's ideal for us to have a place where we feel perfectly comfortable and the atmosphere's right, where we can sit down and get on with it when we want to.


How much can a group expect to save in this position? The Cocteaux are not keen on discussing specific amounts, although Simon gets nearest to putting the new 500-square-feet of studio into some financial context. "We pay ourselves wages, so if we took £20 or so off our wages a week it'd pay for it."

And as Robin points out, in London, and therefore in most large cities in Britain, the price of rented premises for studio use varies quite considerably from area to area.

"In King's Cross you could get about 2000 square feet for the same rent we're paying for 500 in Acton," he reckons, "so what you pay depends very much on where you go. For our place, it would be a lot of money if you were just going to do it for yourself, but it would be more realistic if it was a commercial venture."

So will they hire out the Smash Palace? "I doubt anyone else will be using it," says Robin, vaguely. And then: "It could be a commercial studio, I suppose..."

But there are other less direct ways you can save money if you have your own premises. Robin: "We have spent a lot of money, for example, on storage of equipment — piles of flightcases locked away in some basement. It has cost us something like £50 a week. Now we can store stuff at our own place."

"Rehearsals, as well," Simon reminds us. "I'm sure we can rehearse at the new place. We've just spent a lot of money, four figures, for 12 days' rehearsal time. That cuts out a lot of money. Also, when you've got stuff stored here and there, and you've got to rehearse somewhere else, you have to hire a van for the day to move everything around."

"And none of us drive," complains Robin, "so we've got to pay someone to drive the thing, too."

"So it all adds up," concludes Simon, "you spend a lot of money. Hopefully we'll save a good deal of that by having this new place."


They reckon the 500 square feet is going to be sufficient — not big by any means, and they admit that 1000 square feet would have been ideal. But 500 is going to have to do. The plan is to have three areas within the empty shell that now exists: a control room, which for a group working in the Cocteaux' musical style really is the main working area; a very small "studio" room, which will in reality be little more that a vocal booth; and a middle-sized area for storage of backline and other assorted gear.

"The control room is the important bit," confirms Robin. "It's obviously never going to be as acoustically sound as, say, an Eastlake room or something — we'll be nailing up Rockwool and stuff ourselves. As long as it's fairly dead we can do the rest with equalisers."


They'll be using their existing 16-track equipment, based around the ubiquitous Fostex B16 recorder and their relatively new Soundcraft Series 600 desk, which recently replaced a Soundtracs 16.8.16 mixer ("noisy and badly set out" was their verdict).

Plus, of course, their mounds of outboard gear.

"Because I'm not so technical, I see Robin's acquisition of equipment as... funny," says Simon. "He falls in love with things really easily: 'Got to have it, it's the best...' Six months later it's something else. At the time I always wonder. But when you come to use it you realise he's right. For example, we bought the Lexicon PCM60, which I thought was great, but then Robin found the Alesis XT. It looks rather tacky and 'nothingy' from the front, but you listen to it and it's incredible for £600."


So we leave the Cocteaux with their empty shell, as they prepare to wield hammer, nails, Rockwool, bits of wood, and lots and lots of "We'll let you know how we get on," promi Simon. "I'm sure we're gonna learn from it."

Watch this space.

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One Two Testing - Dec 1985

Donated by: Neil Scrivin

One Two Tactics


Home Studio


Cocteau Twins



Feature by Tony Bacon

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