Interview: Edwyn Collins
[This year's AIM Award for Outstanding Contribution To Music, sponsored by eMusic, was won Edwyn Collins, who has written, recorded and produced some of the most influential music of the past three decades. To celebrate, we're delighted to announce that Edwyn will be sitting in the editor's chair at eMusic all this week. He selected the artists we've interviewed this week: Colorama and Linden. You can read his candid interview with Andrew Perry below; Edwyn cherrypicks his favourite albums from eMusic's catalogue here; and check back daily for his hand-selected Reviews of the Day – Ed.].
When the Association of Independent Music recently chose to bestow their second-ever Outstanding Contribution award to Edwyn Collins, there can have been no more deserving candidate. Collins started his career immediately post-punk in Orange Juice on the pioneering Glasgow indie label, Postcard Records. Since going solo in 1985, has stayed true to the spirit of independence, releasing albums through Demon, Setanta and Heavenly, and in latter years has become renowned as a nurturing producer for the up-and-coming bands on his own label, AED.
When he suffered two devastating cerebral hemorrhages in February 2005, most very reasonably deemed his career to be over. Yet, through a grueling period of recovery, his commitment to music has proved to be undimmed – indeed, music has been a driving force in that recovery. When eMusic spoke with him in 2011, he was basking in positive feedback for Losing Sleep, the brilliantly uplifting collaborative album he’d written and recorded, post-illness.
Today, as he holds court at his West Heath Studios in North West London, it is a joy to report that Collins has gone from strength to strength. In defiance of paralysis down his left side, he now scuttles around on his silver-headed walking stick at a fair clip, proudly showing off studio equipment, crudely defaced gold discs and a dancing James Brown figurine. His speech, initially somewhat monosyllabic, has acquired greater flow, with occasional prompts from Grace Maxwell, his wife and manager, with whom he shares a remarkable, if amusingly sparring relationship.
And he has been busy, having almost completed a new solo record, and numerous other productions. Andrew Perry caught up on his latest news, and then asked him to reveal his favourite albums from eMusic’s catalogue – among them, friends young and old, and heroes of soul, ’60s beat-pop and ’70s art-rock.
After all you’ve been through, your career seems to be on the up-and-up.
Edwyn Collins: Before my strokes, Doctor Syntax [2002 album] was full of medium and slow [songs], and one track, “Adidas World,” was fast. I had terrible headaches, before the strokes. I wanted Losing Sleep to be a fast record. I wanted to be vibrant again, and exciting.
Grace: That’s been such a great record in your life, it did very well. It’s also given us the chance to think in general about your work, hasn’t it?
Has that success given you the confidence of knowing people still want to hear your music?
Edwyn: Yes. I’m finishing a new album at the moment. Eleven songs are done, one song to go. And, what can I say? It’s Northern Soul again, and funk, and a variety of things.
Grace: But there are no collaborators on this one, it’s just you.
Edwyn: Grace decided, what about going alone?
Grace: Don’t give the impression I’m some horrible Svengali behind you!
Edwyn: But you are, Grace! Only kidding. On my new stuff, the guitar – I did it myself, on one song. [Paralysis in his fret hand had hitherto prevented Edwyn from playing guitar – Ed.] I just used an amplifier, and some simple Memphis chords.
Grace: You sort of hammer onto the strings with your fingers, and through a special setting, you can get a sound.
Edwyn: It’s called Memphis guitar, and it’s perfect. Simple – so what? I like it!
So much that you’re doing now must’ve been inconceivable seven years agoâ€¦
Edwyn: After six months in hospital, I wasn’t sure [about ever making music again].
Grace: Maybe it was coming out of your fear. He couldn’t think, couldn’t concentrate. Edwyn would say, maybe retire. He was pretty monosyllabic at that time. You couldn’t even remember the studio, you didn’t know where it was. Could you picture it in your head?
Edwyn: Yes, I knew my studio, but I couldn’t picture the house.
Grace: Your memories are great of childhood, and records. Weirdly, the details of how his career panned out, the business side, are little bit sketchy – the stuff he wasn’t ever interested in! Could you remember how to work all the gear in the studio, and what it all did?
Edwyn: No, impossible! So yes, I’ve had to re-learn, with Seb [Edwyn's in-house engineer] – he showed me the way. Seb and I work fast – before my stroke, after my stroke, always. [In a sappy voice] “Right now, let’s ponder a minute, hmmm, my muse” – and all that. “No! Straight to the point! Next! Get on with things!” I’m like that, Seb too.
You’ve even started your own label, AED.
Grace: We like making records for people struggling to make records, so we thought the sensible thing to do was have a label. It’s called Analogue Enhanced Digital, which was a name Edwyn came up with ages ago. It’s actually a very small model at the moment. We don’t really need to go to a backer for the money to record. When you get into the guts of how to manufacture and release stuff, it’s very interesting, and you start to formulate your own opinions about how you go about that, and your ethos.
We keep telling ourselves, don’t put a lot of pressure on with deadlines, just get it right. Things are not so chart-driven anymore. You put a piece of work perfectly into people’s lives now, and the records may even have a longer life. There was a time when you had to have all your ducks in a row for the week of release.
Edwyn: Especially in the ’80s and ’90s. Even early 2000s, [with evident relish] but now it’s gone!
Grace: We’ve got a new shop for our website, so we can serve people a little bit better, and give them what they want – big files if they want, or vinyl. It’s a cottage industry. Edwyn has all his own rights, so we’re going do a box-set of all his solo catalogue, and loads of 7″ vinyl.
Are you able to cope with the pace of writing, recording, producing, touring and running a record company?
Edwyn: I keep kind of busy.
Grace: You’re very busy at times, then you have a little respite, then you have very busy times again. Edwyn has a perfect life! He doesn’t trouble his mind with anything he doesn’t fancy troubling his mind with. He keeps his head clear for all the nice things – seeing his friends, working with musicians and with his studio, writing songs, producing, and now playingâ€¦Or pottering about the house, collecting rubbish, going to charity shopsâ€¦
Edwyn: Rubbish? My albums – rubbish?!
Grace: What about that ceramic-y stuff – that weird Portuguese stuff with lizards all over it. [They smile at each other.] Anyway, Edwyn lets other people do the worrying for him. It’s not a bad approach to life, is it?