Facing The Other Way: The Story of 4AD sees music writer - and sometime Q contributor - Martin Aston comprehensively chart the history of the influential indie label. The book tells the story of the home to The Birthday Party, Cocteau Twins and more through its releases, artwork and the characters behind the records. Published today (17 July) in paperback The Friday Project, here's an extract about the fates of two of the labels most iconic acts, Pixies and Throwing Muses.
Surfer Rosa would spend 60 weeks in the UK independent charts, though it only peaked at Number Two even when Pixies joined Throwing Muses for a UK and European tour in May. "That was the most exciting time to be working at 4AD," Ivo [Watts-Russell, 4AD founder] recalls. "The Muses were at their musical peak, just phenomenal every night I saw them, likewise Pixies. As mental as audiences were for Pixies, the Muses rose to the challenge. The audiences sang along to both bands’ songs. It was both incredible and intimate."
[Head Of Press] Deborah Edgely’s abiding memory is of Throwing Muses: "Their fingers bleeding from playing their guitars so busily and passionately, this noise coming out of these little girls, Leslie in all her glory and beauty, dripping with rhythm, and Dave, the drummer boy. The venue in Birmingham was this little, low-slung Sixties disco, which had a stage riser, and when Pixies played, the place went absolutely mental, and the riser came to pieces. Dave Narcizo was hanging off the edge of it, trying to stop Dave Lovering’s drums from slipping between the gaps, and then they swapped when the Muses played."
The band’s shared memory is of one tour bus – chaperoned by 4AD’s resident tour-managing couple Chaz and Shirley Banks – having the atmosphere of kids on a summer holiday, except that when they got into town, there would be screaming, capacity crowds to greet them. [Pixies Joey] Santiago recalls getting "shitfaced" in Frankfurt and being chased around a lamppost – for reasons unknown – by an incensed fan. In Greece, he handed out Pixies T-shirts to anyone within sight. "But we were the only ones drinking," he notes. "The Muses kept it straight. They were intellectuals. Well, they read books."
Throwing Muses weren’t party animals, but the band’s lack of hi-jinks had more underlying reasons. As the more established band, they’d begun the tour as headliners, but their complex mosaic of songs was less conducive to crowd pogoing than Pixies’ boundless rock’n’roll; subsequent record sales and crowd reactions meant that, as the tour continued across Europe, it made sense for Pixies to headline instead.
"The tour was awesome and also complicated," says [Throwing Muses drummer David] Narcizo. "We all got along really well, and shared a cornucopia of experiences. Though we could play up the loud side of ourselves, we were different to Pixies and not everyone appreciated that. I honestly didn’t have a problem with Pixies headlining, but it was awkward at times, not between bands but within our band. The Muses was Kristin’s baby and she struggled with it."
Hersh remembers things differently: "It’s true that to follow Pixies, it’s hard for audiences to get down and listen to subtleties when they want to crash some more. But it was such a great high to see a band that you love before you play yourself. We were tiny, goofy babies who’d sing folk songs in the van about being far away from home. My big problem was that being away from my baby tore me up. Charles was a great friend then. We’d walk in botanical gardens and he’d let me be sad where I had to be happy for everyone else. That Pixies got more attention than us was actually a relief. It meant I had the afternoon off or had more time for my songs. Pixies were driven and ambitious; they wanted to be rock stars. I guess Tanya was too, though I didn’t know it at the time."
Hersh was also experiencing the gulf between the way 4AD and [US label] Sire operated. Across Europe, Pixies was handled by 4AD’s licensees while Warners attended to Throwing Muses – or rather, didn’t. To start with, each of Warners’ individual territories had to be persuaded to release House Tornado. Ivo could see the marked difference in effort. "I’d call Seymour [Stein] and scream, 'You must do something for your band!' A chimp on acid could have done a better job than Warners did for the Muses. Ken [Goes] didn’t recognise that he’d failed them. It gave me the confidence to sign non-British bands to long-term deals because I felt 4AD could do a better job."
Tanya Donelly admits that the Muses, not their manager, had the final say on choosing Warners, believing the corporation’s European network was more advanced than that of 4AD. In Amsterdam, Narcizo remembers that the Warners representative didn’t even turn up. "The guy from [4AD’s Belgian licensees] Play It Again Sam even said, 'I’ll do everything to make sure Pixies succeed and you don’t'. In another territory, a Warners guy said it was either our record or Prince’s. I remember thinking, we’re from Boston, we’re not thinking about Belgium! A lot of what we came to love about 4AD was our experience with other labels when we realised how unique and nurturing 4AD was."
Hersh: "Warners was like a million people, in their own little offices, and I’m trying to get my little memos in there. At 4AD, you talked to one person and they leant over the desk and asked the other person if it was true."
Pixies had no such issues, and revelled in the fact they were with sympathetic people who could out-party them. "It was the record label that was crazy!" Kim Deal insists, recalling an inebriated Vaughan Oliver chuck a TV out of a Paris hotel window. "4AD looked more like rock stars than we did," says Santiago. "They had crew cuts, they wore black. Vaughan was just out there and Howard made you feel like you were the most exciting, important band in the world. They were serious, though, and hands on. We knew we were in the right place."
Facing The Other Way: The Story of 4AD by Martin Aston published in paperback by The Friday Project is out now, £12.99. For full details head to Facebook.com/facingtheotherway4AD.