More fun than a flame war, it's an interview with Ivo from The American Music Press, by Andrea Parra from September 1993
I admit that this was my most nerve-wracking interview ever. It is not because Ivo, the founder of 4AD Records, is particularly difficult subject to interview, but because it is undeniable that Ivo has had a major role in the formation of independent music as we know it. Perhaps as many readers did, my formitive "alternative" years were spent idolizing the Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, and others on the 4AD label, and I use to have a whole wardrobe to proove it.
4AD Records was founded in 1980 by Ivo and partner Peter Kent as a side project from Beggar's Banquet, where Ivo was then employed. 4AD came out of the then waning days of punk, a fruitful time for the developing independent scene in London. "I followed my interests... when I left school I got a job in a record shop." Ivo explains, "I was at the right place at the right time... I had no knowledge of it lasting so long."
When asked if he feels there is a 4AD sound, Ivo simply answers "No."
But it is evident that there is a cohesion to 4AD releases in terms of their aesthetic, artistically pleasing packaging. Visual design with Vaughn Oliver's v23 (formerly 23 Envelope) was another "one of those coincidences" which began with "the cover of Modern English's 'Gathering Dust'... The guy who was originally to do it couldn't, so he recommended another artist... he said I know this chap who can do it.' Modern English had originally wanted to use a Dianne Arbus photo...this guy [Nigel Grierson, photographer for 23 Envelope] had the same photo."
"A strong visual identity also contributes to aural consistency. People refer to 4AD sleeves as 23 Envelope sleeves, but in fact only 50 percent are... But of course it is intentional to be misleading. A lot of artists have said "it seems to create mystery."
Ivo seems to have had a genius in recognizing what will be successful in a wide range of music genres, from the Cocteau Twins to the Pixies and M|A|R|R|S. What is it that Ivo hears in what he decides is good enough to become part of 4AD? "Something that makes me feel good... something that makes me want to go back and listen... seductive, some kind of connection... The challenge of music is to provoke a response."
Ivo continues "The thing that fascinates me is what gets through... For the Red House Painters, a journalist [Martin Aston] sent me a tape. It took me three or four months to really listen to it... when I had listened to it all the way through it seduced me. I made a telephone call and said 'well, I can't get involved right now...' but then I called back a week later and said 'well, maybe I can...' It was a gradual seduction."
Of course quite a bit of what Ivo receives are musicians heavily influenced by 4AD. "In the last three of four yearsit's apparent...the number of Dead Can Dance inspired groups has been apparent. People have really been inspired by that band."
Ivo can be intimidating: he is brisk, silf-assured, and very succinct.
Someone had assured me that "Ivo is just a nice gentleman," but it was only when I asked him about This Mortal Coil that he really opened up. "On _Filigree & Shadow_, in the first month of recording I worked with 4AD people, but vocal contibutions were not [4AD artists]... I consciously did that because it was a confusing thing to people." But This Mortal Coil was certainly never concieved as something as crass as a "house band." "Well, forinstance, on the _Blood_ album... who was involved with 4AD?" asks Ivo. "I wanted to work with different people... I wanted to create a _character_ of 4AD, but not an artist of 4AD..."
Ivo warms up as he delves further into his relation with This Mortal Coil. "I'm gradually to writing and playing. I produce and direct... I'm in it. I'm the master of ceremonies... I'm responsible for it being fucked up," he laughs. "It's as close to being creative musically that I can get. I've only "done" music since I started 4AD... it has a self-indulgent aspect for me."
If This Mortal Coil is a manifestation of the "essence" of 4AD, then Guernica could be considered Ivo's alter ego. The purpose of Guernica, 4AD UK's side label, is "to be less predictable. Things were getting too traditional... I was inspired by the Too Pure label. I was inspired by their spontaneity. It's getting back to basics... the best of the demos I had. I can be far less preciousabout it," he laughs, sheepishly. "Three releases per year, one-offs only, only albums, no singles."
"The day that the Red House Painters were released I wished I could have been a customer buying it. I am envious of that feeling."
For those thinking of also delving into the business of independent music Ivo advises "Follow your heart.. It depends on your motivation, how hard you want to work. There isn't the same degree of it today. Punk was like a revolution... maybe soon the shockwaves will be felt again. The last four years, the equivalent [to punk] has been dance music... but it very depersonalized. Less of an artist/group thing... not a movement with any continuous theme to inspire other people..."
"It's impossible to start a label now... the public has changed. Their interest in experimentation has changed. There is just as much need for an alternative, but the mainstream and alternative line has blurred." Ivo admits that even for 4AD the line has blurred, citing Belly as an example. "The indie systematically has been raped by majors..." Ivo cites a quote by Daniel Miller: "If they can buy your artists, then they try to buy your staff."
And for all you dedicated 4AD collectors who must have every single release, Ivo had encouraging news about those hard to find releases: "before the end of the decade we will release all the old one-off singles on one compilation."
So is there a 4AD sound? "4AD is the sound of music!" Ivo laughs. "That's very pretentious, isn't it?"
by Andrea Parra from The American Music Press, September 1993
photo of Ivo accompanying the article http://www.vividzine.com/stuff/ivo.jpg