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The rise of the Moon and an extraordinary musical star

Even for those unaware that Simon Raymonde was once a member of the Cocteau Twins, a cursory listen to his first album in 16 years rather gives the game away.

Moon, a collaboration with American singer-songwriter Stephanie Dosen released under the name Snowbird, shares many hallmarks with the work of Raymonde's celebrated former band.

Most obviously, Dosen's ethereal, multi-layered vocals are not a million miles from the tumbling, otherworldly outpourings of the extraordinary Elizabeth Fraser; and while Moon has a powerful nocturnal atmosphere all of its own, at times it offers distinct echoes of the Cocteau Twins' hazy dream-pop.

Raymonde, the band's bassist, keyboard player and co-writer from 1983 until their dissolution in 1998, is fully cognisant of the similarities. "Of course," he laughs.

"That's what I did for 15 years and it's still a huge part of my life. Stephanie is a woman, she sings beautifully, and she's a huge fan of Elizabeth's voice. She is not the same as Elizabeth, she has different influences and she's a very different person, but I saw a similarity in the way they approached writing and singing."

Moon is Raymonde's first record since his 1997 solo album Blame Someone Else, released a year after the final Cocteau Twins album, Milk And Kisses, and shortly before the band finally imploded. Although the trio announced in 2005 that they would be reforming to play US festival Coachella - understandably tempted by the promise of £1.5 million each - Fraser pulled the plug at the eleventh hour.

"For a second or two it seemed possible, and I have to say I spent the money in my head!" says Raymonde. "But in hindsight it was absolutely right not to do it. It could never have worked, it would have been miserable. The baggage weighs very heavily."

Ah yes, the "baggage". Raymonde describes relations between Fraser and ex-Cocteau Twins' guitarist Robin Guthrie as "super complex."

The pair met in their teens in their home town of Grangemouth, formed a band, began a long-term relationship and had a child together. Their personal split in the mid-1990s hastened the group's demise, and Raymonde rates the chances of a reunion as almost impossible. "I'm not sure what Elizabeth's relationship is with Robin, but I don't have a relationship with him, and I don't see that changing any time soon. I'm loathe to say 100% never, because life is really weird, but I can't envisage a day when we're sitting on a bus together in Ann Arbor sharing pizza."

He is not short of other interests. Since the split, Raymonde has concentrated on his Bella Union record label, founded in 1997 and home to the likes of Fleet Foxes, John Grant and Jonathan Wilson. Nowadays it's a hugely successful enterprise, but in the early years it simply felt like the quickest route away from the group. "I think the band breaking up probably affected me more than I realised," he says. "It's like any big relationship in your life that suddenly ends, you're left unsure. The label was right on the doorstep and I thought, Oh well, I'll do that then. It was better than moping around, or playing bass in one band and then another. That wasn't for me."

Despite the label's huge success, he has missed making music terribly. "It's been a ridiculous amount of time, and I was bothered about it. I was hiding it by signing lots of bands and working with other creative people, but actually I think I was missing it enormously, I just couldn't articulate it. Doing Snowbird I realised that there isn't any more fun than being in the studio making music."

His relationship with Dosen dates back several years. She released her second solo record, A Lily for the Spectre, on Bella Union in 2007, and has subsequently performed with Massive Attack and the Chemical Brothers.

Raymonde, who knows a thing or two about outstanding singers, felt a rare and immediate sense of connection. Although he press-ganged some high-profile friends - including members of Radiohead and Midlake - into appearing on Moon, he insists that "on this record the voice is everything. After working with Elizabeth I didn't ever want to make a record where the vocals weren't of a really high standard".

The album began almost by accident, after Dosen had to return to the United States from London to renew her visa. During her absence, Raymonde sent short piano pieces via email every night for 12 nights. "She would wake up, go to her computer, and as she heard the track for the first time she would press record and sing along. What came out of her mouth on that first listen was the song. It took no time at all to write, but an incredibly long time to finish. Stephanie spent about a year on the vocals, then decided she hated them. She's quite a perfectionist and she just didn't like how she sung it. We weren't in any mad hurry, so she recorded the whole thing again to her satisfaction."

The other complication was more personal, dare one say more Cocteaus-esque. When the songs were written Raymonde and Dosen were a couple, but broke up before the record was completed. "It would have been very difficult to finish it in the immediate aftermath of that," he says.

"It put things on hold a bit, because the motivation to complete it just wasn't there." Happily, they "stayed great friends, and at some point we thought, it's kind of stupid to have gone through all this trouble and then not put it out".

While Raymonde doubts there will be a tour, another Snowbird record is "something I'd certainly consider, but for now I'm just proud that we did it". Let's hope it's not another 16 years before the next one.

Moon is released by Bella Union on January 27

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