IVO WATTS-RUSSELL continued...
What do you think of the photography of Tom Baril?

I think he is a remarkable technician. In that first book, he covered most of the areas pioneered by the masters of the previous 70 years. As well as being an incredible photographer (he used a home made pin-hole camera to capture most of his images) 15 years as Robert Mapplethorpe's printer resulted in the reputation of master printer as well. On top of all that, and most importantly, I find his work stunningly beautiful.

Was the intended line of 4AD photography books what evolved into Robin Hurley’s St. Ann’s Press publishing imprint?

No. I had intended to do 2 further monographs identical in format to Tom's. I had really hoped that I could discover a degree of purity in the world of photography that was, sadly, lacking in the business of music. I learned, quite quickly, that was a naive expectation.

Robin was far more knowledgeable about photography than I and had really enjoyed the experience of releasing Tom's book. I guess that's what precipitated St. Ann's Press after he left 4AD.

Do you wish 4AD could have ventured into books a bit more?

It had been the intention.

You began 4AD’s 1998 by releasing a "preview" compilation, intended to give an idea of what lay ahead for the label’s upcoming year. Did you select the tracks?

Yes. I was not particularly enthusiastic about putting together a compilation but it came together very quickly and easily. I love that record regardless of it's purpose at the time.

Where did the inspiration behind the compilation come from – 4AD had never done such a "preview" compilation for retail before?

I'm not sure. A useful tool to do exactly as you suggest, preview what we were up to.

Who chose the name Anakin and why? Wasn’t Anakin the name of one of your staff’s dogs?

Rich Holtzman's dog, Anakin, had recently died very suddenly and deserved the tribute.

Anakin, more than just a label sampler, includes a few songs that are otherwise unavailable elsewhere – like His Name Is Alive’s Ain’t No Lie and starry smooth hound’s Dreamt You In A Dream – as well as some rare demos. What was your goal, to make a basic label sampler or something more akin to Lonely Is An Eyesore, giving a snapshot of what the label was doing at that time?

I really don't enjoy compilations that are made up from different periods of an artist's work. They don't give an accurate picture of the original setting or time of writing. I feel the same way about "various artists" compilations too. They really are put together as a cheap marketing exercise not because those pieces of music were supposed to sit next to each other. Perhaps I enjoy Anakin so much because of the exclusive tracks, that wouldn't have seen the light of day otherwise, AND the fact that it flows so well, to my ears anyway.

How did you first come across starry smooth hound, aka Vinny Miller?

Demo tape of 2 songs.

Was Anakin a reaction to the ending of 4AD’s five year US distribution deal with Warner Bros., a way to get back to basics and reintroduce the label to the world as a fully independent venture once again?

Perhaps it was.

Reflecting back, how would you judge your Warner Bros. years? Were there things you would have done differently?

I don't regret the decision but I'm really not sure what I might have done differently, under the circumstances, that would have changed the outcome. Robin Hurley and any of the people working in the 4AD US office that actually had hands on, day to day contact with WB could provide a far more informed and useful answer to that question.

Whatever became of the Emergency Album that is mentioned in the liner notes of Anakin – was it actually planned for an eventual 4AD release?

As Warren explained, it was there, just in case of the proverbial plane crash or sugar overdose.

You released another classic Kristin Hersh solo album in 1998, Strange Angels. What were your first reactions to it?

I loved it and still do. Along with Mojave 3's Out Of Time my favourite release of the year.

Was it you that decided to reissue the first Throwing Music album from 1986 as In A Doghouse and include the band’s 1987 EP Chains Changed plus early demos and current day recordings of early songs? It seemed like a logical release, to get the first album finally released in the US in a special manner...

That was something that Billy O'Connell instigated, I believe.

You returned to the studio again in 1998 – but this time not as This Mortal Coil. Do you picture The Hope Blister as a follow up to This Mortal Coil or a new beginning? Were you intending to make a much more sparse version of This Mortal Coil or did the resulting studio work simply yield that?

I just wanted to have a project to obsess over again. I definitely knew that I wanted the recordings to be much simpler, less people and instrumentation. I decided that I would restrict instrumentation to bass guitar and a string quartet. With the exception of drums and saxophone, courtesy of Richard Thomas, I pretty much stuck to that concept.

I didn't know what I wanted to do as far as voices went, so I asked Louise Rutkowski if she would sing those eight songs, as demos, to help me decide. At that point I wasn't sure if I would create any original music for the record. I loved what Louise did so much that I asked her if it was OK to go ahead with what she had done. In many ways the incidentals, or instrumentals, that were usually littered around TMC records ended up being mirrored in the way some of the songs were expanded, stretched.

I was pleasantly suprised that, despite the absence of John Fryer in the recording process, I could hear some sort of intangible continuity from TMC. That's when I decided to ask John to get involved for the mixing process.

How did you go about choosing your collaborators for The Hope Blister?

I'd met Laurence O'Keefe recently and really enjoyed him and his bass playing. I was a fan of Audrey Riley's string arrangements ever since her work on Split. I guess I didn't approach Martin McCarrick or John Fryer in an attempt to differentiate between TMC and THB. Louise, also heavily associated with TMC, just did such a beautiful job that I didn't consider anyone else.

How many songs were in the running before you settled with the eight songs to cover?

I think there were 12 but I knew after the backing tracks for 8 were started that that was all I wanted.

Why are there some recurrent samples used along the tracks of This Mortal Coil / Hope Blister? What do those samples mean to you?

I wonder what you're referring to. There ARE "found", mostly human voice, samples on both Blood and Underarms (Werner Herzog, Dalai Lama). If you've spotted them you would be the first to do so. I love both of their voices for very different reasons. Herzog just goes off on a rant and the Dalai Lama is so giggly. There are some sounds from an early 80s documentary called East 116 St. as well. You took your love away from me. Left me here in misery.

Chris Staley and yourself co-compiled the …smiles’s OK album – how important had Staley become creatively at 4AD over the years? What is he doing now?

Chris had been brought over to the US a few years earlier. He never really did find his place in the US office (just like myself) so we helped set him up at home to do some mastering and other sonic projects. He has good ears that ended up assisting quite a few of the artists in the final stages of making a record. Lisa Gerrard, in particular, enjoyed his input. He's currently working at a Los Angeles mastering house, Precision.

Who is Sheena Bizarre, credited in the's OK liner notes?

A dominatrix. She was married to Daniel Boone, who worked at the studio in New York where's OK was mixed. She used to come into the studio most days and I really enjoyed her harsh, in your face voice and manner. I got her to leave a message on the studio answerphone one day, just describing her journey to work that day. She rambled on beautifully for a few minutes but I just ended up using one word..... Underarms.

Who is the woman pictured on the disc itself of …smiles’s OK?

That's my mother, Gina Watts-Russell, on her honeymoon in Egypt during the war. She's just hanging her head over the balcony, letting her hair dry. That's love in her eyes.

Thievery Corporation was another signal that 4AD was moving in new directions...

A Holtzman discovery.

Lisa Gerrard and Pieter Bourke collaborated for the Duality album in 1998. Why didn’t 4AD in the UK decide to release the single for The Human Game as was done in several European countries?

Singles serve different purposes in different countries. I guess there really wasn't much expectation of radio play in the UK. It was included in the first pressing as a separate 3 track CD.

Warren Defever of His Name Is Alive began taking his band in yet another musical direction on their Ft. Lake album, produced by Steve King. What did you think of the emerging R&B influence and new singer Lovetta Pippen?

She has an amazing voice. I wouldn't say that the R & B/Hendrix period was my favourite but it was executed with flair.

The last two His Name Is Alive albums for 4AD, Someday My Blues Will Cover The Earth (2001) and Last Night (2002) almost completely abandoned the previous styles with that of a R&B theme with Lovetta Pippen’s voice. What do you think of these albums?

I think that Someday My Blues... is one of the saddest and most beautiful records that I know.

Do you think this new musical direction prompted His Name Is Alive’s departure from the label in 2002?

I think Warren prompted his own departure from the label.

Cuba was a new signing sounded unlike anything on 4AD previously. What did you think of them joining the label? What do you think of their one and only album, 1999’s Leap Of Faith?

Square peg, round hole. Being persuaded by Simon Harper and Robin Hurley to let Colin Wallace go and keep Lewis in his place as UK A & R person was a huge mistake. Cuba were a Lewis signing.

Lisa Germano’s Slide album was, oddly enough, not formally issued in the UK, with CDs imported from the US. The album used the CAD78014CD catalog number. Ft. Lake from His Name Is Alive also used a similar number CAD78009CD. What does that “7” represent (incidentally, apart from the Canadian Slide CD, no other CAD8014CD – minus the “7” – exists)?

Whenever copies are imported and not manufactured locally it's an indicator of low sales expectations. Not sure about the 7 thing. It was probably a US requirement.

Why did Lisa Germano depart 4AD in 1998 after four years with the label?

Sometimes it's more healthy, both for the artist and label, to make a change. By 1998, I was in the process of leaving. Myself and Robin had been the biggest champions of her music.

How did the Pixies At The BBC compilation come about? Were you happy that these radio sessions were finally getting a general release on 4AD?

It's easy to license BBC sessions. It was probably viewed as a bit of an earner. Fans like them.

In 1998 you started the 4AD mail order series. The first release was from Kristin Hersh, titled Murder, Mystery And Then Goodnight, which channeled Hersh’s favorite traditional folk songs into her own unique style. The next was a sparse instrumental version of your Hope Blister …smiles OK album called Underarms. The third and final release was a collection of selected Kristin Hersh and Throwing Muses videos. Did you have any further projects for the series planned? I heard at one point there was going to be a video compilation of all the Lakuna Castle Of Crime-era videos.

I didn't have anything in mind but perhaps others did.

What was your reaction to the former Throwing Muse David Narcizo-led project Lakuna?

I liked it quite a bit. Everyone was very fond of David and happy to be an outlet for him. I think he may well have been looking for more input than he received.

Catalog numbers were allocated in an unusually sloppy matter starting in 1999 – both Kristin Hersh’s Sky Motel and Red House Painters’ Retrospective had two numbers each! Sky Motel was issued as CAD9008CD in the UK but came out as CAD9012CD in the US (but labeled as CAD9010CD on the actual sleeve art). Retrospective hit stores as DAD9011CD in the UK while the US version was numbered DAD9013CD. Why were things like this happening?

I was a bit of a fascist about keeping things chronological but had long since not been allocating numbers. I think the entire future of the label, and future of staff and artists, was up in the air by this point. People had more serious matters on their minds. Mistakes get made.

1999 was to be your final year at 4AD before selling the label back to Beggars Banquet. Was this why you had quite a few releases like the Soundpool compilation from Dif Juz and the live album from The Birthday Party, to ensure they were issued before you departed?

I think the label desperately needed to be releasing stuff just to stay afloat. I wasn't involved with Soundpool or the live BP releases.

It was nice to see the band Dif Juz reunite to help with the compilation Soundpool What else would you have liked to include on Soundpool – maybe their mid-80s non-4AD releases or a Lee Perry session track or two?

It would have been great if the Red Flame Dif Juz mini-LP had been included but the group didn't want to let us. Still hasn't come out on CD as far as I know.

Describe what it was like to go compile the Retrospective compilation from Red House Painters. Was it hard to choose a final track list from such a wealth of great contenders?

It could have been a nightmare but, somehow, it fell together in a matter of hours. Realising that I hadn't included Take Me Out (my all time favourite MK song) almost threw me back into starting all over again but, luckily, I just let it go. I hope that anyone who hears the compilation would buy the proper records as well. Mark compiled the out-takes and rarities CD.

What was it like to, on the eve of officially selling 4AD, to finally get to release Brendan Perry’s debut solo album? For a talent like Perry, it’s worth a decade’s wait between albums, isn’t it?

For those that had been aware of different versions of a lot of these songs, from live performances or demos, it was a surprise to hear these versions. The live band that Brendan put together performed them quite differently as well. I love the man, his voice, that record, everything and would gladly pay for work in progress recordings. As I mentioned before, he is a perfectionist and will only release what he is completely happy with. Who are we to argue?

Who chose the track list for His Name Is Alive’s best-of Always Stay Sweet? How did the slightly different track listed Mexican version come about?

Warren, I think. Maybe Chris Staley got involved. No idea on the Mexican front.

The Hope Blister's Underarms is one of the best Drone-Ambient album I ever heard.

That means a lot to me. Thank you. It was very inspired by Sheila Chandra's ABoneCroneDrone.

As a listener, do you feel like you are listening to as much pop and rock as you probably did when you were signing all these bands for 4AD, or are you more prone to follow the experimental-ambient-esoterical music scene. Or would you say that you're able to completely zigzag between genres at any given moment? Or do you only listen to music made past 20 years ago?

I'm listening to less and less current music. I find that I am simply not interested. My infatuation with Japanese paper sleeve mini-LP CDs has led me to a HUGE amount of music that I had ignored when I was young. Progressive rock (King Crimson, Gentle Giant, Van der Graaf Generator and their Italian counterparts Le Orme, PFM, Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso) seems to be filling the void of my own, continuing musical curiosity. In all my years of working in record shops I probably ridiculed any poor "student" that purchased any of the above. Now, I revel in the imagination, virtuosity and, above all, originality of ideas.

Looking back, do you sometimes feel like the 1980's bands used too much reverb?

At the turn of the 90's, some of the bands on 4AD adopted a dryer sound.

It had to be done. Like a mountain waiting to be climbed, technology was providing possibilities that had to be explored. I still love reverb when used to create atmosphere and space. I would agree that when applied to all those crazy drum sounds (blame Hannett and Horn) it's more annoying than interesting these days. Inevitably people grew out of it.

Many people seem to describe you as the "ultimate goth" persona. I guess they picture you as dressing in black robes and listening to gregorian chants. I hear that you do are a fan of ancient music, so how much of that image is close or far from the truth?

You know, I still have no understanding of what "goth" was when applied to 4AD. Haircuts and black clothes, maybe. But to compare, even just in the first few years, The Birthday Party to the Cocteau Twins to Xmal Deutschland to DCD to The Wolfgang Press to Bauhaus is, frankly, ludicrous. Gothic always seemed more of an architectural term to me. The house I live in DOES have 18 ft ceilings so, maybe....

Are you misanthropic? Are you being Diogenic in deciding to move away from the city?

I grew up on a farm and spent a lot of time alone, with animals. I couldn't wait to get to the big city (London) and did so by the age of 17. Once I moved to Los Angeles it didn't take long before I was as anxious to return to the country, this time the high desert. I'm not that fond of the human race and really do better when I'm not surrounded by them. Someone needs to be told: Southern California and England are FULL.

What does Diogenic mean?

Or what was the moment which led you to decide "this is where I want to move"? I'm intrigued because it seems like an extreme shift from whatever British environment I presume you were living before.

Before I came to this part of New Mexico I would not have dreamed that the phrase "spiritual home" would have passed my lips. Something clicked. Something as real as hearing a demo and just having to pursue the creator(s) to help make it real. I still, quite regularly, stand amidst the silence staring at my house and just wonder at how I made it happen. As something to leave behind, something that simply would not have existed had I not lived, for me it's on a par with TMC. If I were Tony Wilson it would have a catalogue number. Bizarrely, considering there are only 3 homes out here, my street address is number 45. Should be 33 instead.

Do you feel your career and the choices you've made attracted as much resentment as love?

The upside of not really having embraced the love is that I could ignore most of the resentment. Now (it's never too late to be happy) I gobble up the love. The resentment vanished long ago. Now THERE'S a lesson to be learned.

Is the music business a business of tough love?

My initial response was to suggest there's little love of any description in the music business. Upon reflection, however, I think you're right. If you're to serve any constructive purpose advising musicians it is essential to be honest. That honesty can, sometimes, be hurtful.

Did you see music piracy coming? Did that have any influence on your decision to quit 4AD?

No, not at all. I was, like the Grateful Dead, of the opinion that giving music away would simply win you new fans. It's still inconceivable to me that people are OK with not owning the carrier, the artifact. They don't know what they're missing. If I ever did get involved with something new it would be ALL ABOUT the artifact.

Do you have guilty pleasures in music or art? Or do you find that notion non-sensical.

Of course, it is non-sensical but so too is any kind of prejudice. So, here you go... open to ridicule: Dan Fogelberg. I love his voice. Oh, and one Jewel record called Goodbye Alice In Wonderland. She does some things with her voice on that album that give me shivers.

Have you read or seen Kristin Hersh's Paradoxical Undressing show yet? The part where you made initial contact ("we don't sign American bands") is memorable...

Kristin/Billy recently sent me a copy of the written version but I struggle reading on the computer. I look forward to reading a physical version. I saw them both recently, along with 3 boys, 4 dogs and 2 snakes passing through Santa Fe, moving back East. Reconnecting with such beautiful, intelligent people can get my adrenalin pumping again and I fantasise about rejoining the world. Doesn't last long. I just stumble out of my door with my dogs and look at the space and beauty around me and feel that's the only world I need.

Finally, what does 4AD mean to you – now that you’ve had a chance to step back and see the whole history of the label and now that you can reflect on it all?

I think that I was very fortunate to have been living in London during such an historic explosion in pioneering, do it yourself creativity. After a couple of years figuring out exactly what I was trying to do I think, somehow, the label became a catalyst for some extraordinarily talented and fearless individuals. I'm really proud of the fact that an audience came to trust us as a label. If it's on 4AD it must be worth a listen. That sort of thing. I think the look of the label was so interesting and original, those 23 Envelope sleeves are very seductive. Perhaps that's where we did carve our own unique niche. Design and presentation were as important as the music and we spent a lot of money
committed to that belief. However, there would have been no sleeves, no label without the music. Perhaps many would disagree but I can't think of another label, from that time, that consistently released such strong and original music for over a decade.

We did what we did with a lot of love. I don't mean to suggest that we all walked around with smiles on our faces feeling righteous, but it did, at least to me, feel important.

Thank you, Ivo, for taking time out to talk with us!

Interview by Jeff Keibel with contributions from Cedric aka Sentiment and others from the secret 4AD forum and conducted during early 2009. Ivo currently lives in New Mexico and, as this was posted, he was curating an art gallery exhibit called Evenly Scattered in Santa Fe, NM featuring the works of 23 Envelope co-founder Nigel Grierson and Cathy Fenwick among others.