Lisa Tenzin-Dolma interviews Peter Ulrich about Dead Can Dance, This Mortal Coil, 4AD, solo albums, and generally the story leading up to the release of his latest collaboration project release - The Painted Caravan.
Peter, what's the story behind you signing up with City Canyons?
Back in summer 2003 I had just finished recording material for a new solo album and started looking for a label to release it. Being based in London, but with my largest potential market in the US - largely thanks to the American success of my former band, Dead Can Dance - it was essential to me that it should be a US-based label. I made myself up a target list and sent out my demos in small batches over the following months. I had a few expressions of interest and occasional negotiations which didn't come to anything. Then one day I received a very enthusiastic response from Trebor Lloyd, CEO at this label City Canyons in New York which I'd noticed in a US music magazine I picked up in a London branch of Borders. Although it was a small label in its infancy with, if I remember rightly, only two artists signed and one release from each under its belt at that point, I felt immediately comfortable in my discussions with Trebor, with his aims for the future, and with his thoughts on developing my audience. Once you have a good feeling about something like that, things move pretty quickly, and we soon had a contract exchanged and signed. Then there's the inevitable frustrating wait while you do all the necessary pre-release planning and wait for the optimum moment for release - and finally my 'Enter The Mysterium' album hit the streets in March 2005.
Do you view The Painted Caravan tracks as a new creative stage that's evolved from your involvement with Trebor and the other artists? Or do you see it as a natural progression from the albums you made with Dead Can Dance and This Mortal Coil?
Very much the former. Being part of DCD was really amazing - an opportunity that I was incredibly lucky to get and which shaped my musical 'career' way more than anything else. The invitation to contribute to This Mortal Coil was also something I was surprised and honoured to be given. But those elements of my life are becoming ever more distant. TMC was 1986, my last live work with DCD was in 1990, my last recording with DCD was in 1996, and I last worked with Brendan Perry [of DCD] when he arranged and produced my first solo album, 'Pathways and Dawns', which we completed in 1997 (released on Projekt in 1999). My 'Enter The Mysterium' album was a kind of 'rite of passage' as I felt I had been so much under Brendan's wing up to that point that I needed to prove to myself that I could bring an album to fruition on my own. So, while I would never seek to distance myself from the huge and wonderful influence of my time with DCD, I have for many years now been looking to plot my own path. While Trebor has always been very enthusiastic about 'Mysterium', I think from early in our relationship he had a vision of how he could see my music developing, which he introduced to me very gradually and without any pressure. At the same time as chewing over ideas for my next solo album, Trebor mooted the idea of me recording something in collaboration with one or more of the other City Canyons artists and with him having an artistic/creative involvement. I was very open to the suggestion and the first thing Trebor sent me were the lyrics and basic melody for 'Hanging Man'...(Read full story)
Lisa Tenzin-Dolma interviews Trebor "Big T" Lloyd about City Canyons, trans- Atlantic music-making, and generally the story leading up to the release of The Peter Ulrich Collaboration project release - The Painted Caravan
Trebor, can you tell me how you came to set up City Canyons Records?
Many years ago I had been in theatre, an Equity actor and sometime playwright, but had left it all behind to follow, eventually, a career in law, primarily as a copyright/trademark lawyer. While I enjoyed the practice of law, I missed the creative process. So I got together with a musician friend of mine to write a musical about an Oklahoma cowboy who comes to New York City, the East Village of Manhattan in the 1970s and finds a heady, edgy world of love danger and music. The idea was to use a modern, non- Broadway musical idiom of rock and R&B to tell the tale. Early productions of the show, staged concerts in a Tribeca bar, were marvelous. But frankly, the final fully staged production turned out to be very much of a disappointment for a variety of reasons. I didn't find the purely theatrical side of things to be much fun. On the other hand working with the musicians was terrific; I felt a true collaborative spirit. I decided to continue with my work with musicians, which finally led to the establishment of City Canyons Productions and City Canyons Records. And the name of that failed musical? City Canyons of course!
City Canyons is well established now. How long did it take for you to build up the company to the position it has now?
Well bless you for saying that but we were always very much of a micro-label though we've been around for a while. Our first release was Jen Elliott's "The Secret's Out" back in the fall of 2003 so it's been (oh my!) nearly ten years. Later we added Sara Wendt, David Steel, Valerian, ANEMO, The Velmas, The Alrights and, of course, Peter Ulrich. It made for an interesting blend of rock, pop, R&B and world music and we got some quite nice reviews for much of our music and charted well on college radio. However, for a lot of reasons, some business but primarily creative, City Canyons is going in a different direction now. Rather than representing an array of different musical styles, we will strive to speak with a single, unique voice and rather than operating as a record company, we will primarily operate as a production company aiming to license to suitable partners. This is what we have done with our new partner Market Square Records in the UK in the case of our upcoming release The Painted Caravan by The Peter Ulrich Collaboration. There's a hunger in sophisticated music fans for really unique and eclectic voices now. I think that's the reason for the perhaps surprising popularity of bands like Arcade Fire, Mumford & Sons, The Decemberists, Beirut and others. I've also noticed a resurgence in interest in bands like Dead Can Dance, and the Cocteau Twins that reflects the thirst for really unique music. Peter actually became aware of this quite early on, calling my attention to some of the bands I named above. Luckily Peter Muir, the head honcho at Market Square Records, has an eye and feel for emerging trends, especially those that are of the "back to the future" kind, where music revisits its roots while adding new nuances. Our first step in our new direction, as I just mentioned, is The Painted Caravan – a musical collaboration helmed, of course, by Peter Ulrich and featuring Sara Wendt, David Steele, Jen Elliott and an enormously talented group of featured and session musicians plus some terrific songwriters and a slew of special guests...(Read full story)