Cocteau Twins

1979-1997
Elizabeth FraserVocals
Robin GuthrieGuitar
Will HeggieBass1979-1983
Simon RaymondeBass1983-1997

Cocteau Twins Artistfacts

  • The Cocteau Twins were formed in Grangemouth, Scotland, by guitarist Robin Guthrie and bassist Will Heggie. They quickly added Elizabeth Fraser, whose voice contributed significantly to the distinctive, dream-like sound that became the band's trademark over their period of activity from 1979 to 1997.
  • Fraser sang in the soprano range, but there was a strange, difficult-to-describe quality in her voice that can't be so easily classified. At its most ethereal, it's one of the most truly unique voices in music history. This quality had Simon Reynolds of the New Statesman declaring, "The Cocteau Twins are still the best by far at the 4AD ethereal dreamscape, thanks largely to the extraordinary voice of Liz Fraser. Somehow she's found a voice that falls completely outside rock or pop."

    The "4AD" in that quote referred to the band's longtime UK record label.
  • The band took their name from the song "The Cocteau Twins," recorded by Johnny and the Self-Abusers - the band that eventually changed their name to Simple Minds and became one of Scotland's most prominent musical acts.
  • The Cocteau Twins were successful with both critics and the masses. In their early career, they were considered a "cult" band by most, but the following they developed carried them through to their commercially successful years from the mid-'80s to mid-'90s. Some of the band's most widely heard singles included "Heaven or Las Vegas," "Iceblink Luck," "Blue Bell Knoll," and "Four-Calendar Café."
  • In 1982, Don Watson of the New Musical Express met with the Cocteau Twins and wrote about the band's early cult status. "The Cocteau Twins are one of the year's great enigmas, a mystery to everyone including themselves," Watson wrote. "Three months ago, their 4AD album Garlands crept into the independent charts. They expected the customary couple of weeks hovering around the lower regions before the usual slide into obscurity."

    The band, as quoted in the piece, was equally surprised at their longevity. "We just couldn't understand it." "We got hardly any reaction from the press and still the album kept selling."
  • Heggie left the band on amicable terms in 1983, following the Cocteau Twins first international tour. In a 1983 interview with Jon Wilde of ZigZag, Guthrie said that the change resulted partially from the stress of touring but mainly from the fact that the tours didn't appear to be financially efficient. At the time, he believed that the Cocteau Twins, which was now just him and Fraser, would never do a major tour again, performing only occasional one-off shows.

    "Although that tour took certain matters to a head," Guthrie said, "we have no doubts that some vital lessons were learnt. It was a great experience, although towards the end, we began to question the advantages of it. Commercially, it has made very little difference to us, as I imagine we only converted a minority of the people we played to. The most important lesson though was the whole question of TOURING itself which just seemed futile by the end of it all."
  • Bassist, guitarist, and songwriter Simon Raymonde joined Guthrie and Fraser in 1984. The three met during the This Mortal Coil sessions. Raymonde was equal partner on several of the band's most lauded albums, including Treasure, Echoes in a Shallow Bay, and Love's Easy Tears. He also played on the band's final album, 1996's Milk & Kisses.
  • In 1995 interview, Raymonde said that the band's unique sound didn't result from any conscious artistic vision nor any mysterious musical influences, as had been rumored for the band's history. "It just so happens that when the three of us get into a room, that is what we sound like," he explained.
  • The band recorded an eerily beautiful version of Tim Buckley's "Song To The Siren" as part of the This Mortal Coil project, which was a musical collective formed by label 4AD founder Ivo Watts-Russell.

    There's an interesting connection here, because Fraser was in a romantic relationship with Tim Buckley's son, Jeff Buckley, for some time. The pair recorded a duet of a Buckley-penned song title, "All Flowers In Time Bend Towards The Sun." The song wasn't commercially released at the time, but it was leaked online.

    Fraser's relationship with Buckley has been characterized by her as "intense," and by others as "volatile." It was ultimately too much to last, but they shared a deep connection right up to the time of Buckley's death.
  • The Cocteau Twins remained a commercially popular band right up to the end, but personal problems forced them to call it quits. Fraser had to work some things out with psychotherapy, while Guthrie dealt with drug and alcohol addiction.
  • Guthrie and Fraser were lovers for much of the Cocteau Twins' history and had a daughter named Lucy Belle Guthrie. They'd hoped that their daughter's birth would help ground Guthrie and help with his drug and alcohol addiction.
  • The band was originally signed with label 4AD, and they remained with them through their early years. In 1988, however, they also signed with the much bigger label Capitol Records for distribution in the United States. Their first release with Capitol was Blue Bell Knoll. Heaven or Las Vegas, released in 1990, was the band's last work with 4AD.

    The band's third studio album, Treasure, is considered by many Twins' fans to be their artistic high-water mark, though it wasn't as big commercially as some of their later efforts. The album was so highly esteemed that it had Melody Maker declaring the band to be "the voice of God."
  • Fraser was known, especially in the earlier parts of the Cocteau Twins career, for using nonsensical words in her lyrics. She would open up books and dictionaries written in languages she didn't understand, and would place these in her songs. She didn't bother to learn what these words actually meant. She'd just grab ones that sounded like they'd sound good in singing.

    In "Whales Tails," for instance, the lyrics are mostly nonsense words with no rational meaning. She didn't have a systematic approach to this technique, but would simply "get a bug" (according to a 1FM interview) and compile long lists of words from sources she couldn't understand.

    Fraser herself attributed this peculiar writing habit to her own "laziness" and to the fact that, for some reason she couldn't quite articulate, it helped her get over her performance anxiety. "The music and the singing and the words created the feeling," Fraser said. "I had a freedom doing this that I didn't have singing English... I just didn't have the courage to sing in English. I felt like shark bait. I felt inadequate."

    Some fans and critics, however, considered it to be an artistic statement and an intrinsic part of the Cocteau Twins magic. "Fraser's anti-lyrics meant these pieces could be anything we wanted them to be; no grounding, no limits, no lowest common denominator," Chris Roberts wrote in Uncut in November 2000. "It's truly epic stuff, all the more astonishing today in its defiance of prose and punctuation, its outsider charm, its gargantuan grace."

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