Cloudbusting -- Kate
Bush In Her Own Words
- The way I've always worked is to be with the piano. I never write
songs without the piano - it's always me and it and we communicate. And I
always write the words with the tune - they seem to come together and it's very
much a thing of moods. If the chord I'm playing is telling me something, then
the words will come from that. If it is a minor feel, it will be a sad song
because minor chords are very sad things. If it's a major chord, it will be a
slightly maybe, rockier, happier song.
- What happens is that I sit down and I start playing the piano and
it's the progression of chords that comes out that actually leads to the song.
Until I sit down at the piano and have no idea what's going to happen.
sometimes, before I go there, maybe I'll have an idea that I've picked up from
a film or just from talking to someone about something I've never known about
before. You can find inspiration can click in so many different ways: it can be
something completely out of the blue that you'll suddenly think ``I really want
to write a song.'' I think that's how it works though. I think art is about
spontaneous feelings and feedback of people, objects, whatever. It's just a
continuous process of creation. (1978, Self Portrait)
- I think music and love are very
similar. They're both natural basic energies, they have the same kind of all
embracing freedom, the elation.
- The communication of music is very much like making love. If you
play a piano, for example, you're so united it's really a beautiful thing.
(C.1980, Music is my life)
When you sit down to write a song, do you fit the words to the
music or the music to the words? Also, when you write a song, do you imagine
the sort of dance routine you might do?
- When I write songs I normally get the music first. They used to come
together, but now the music seems to be sparked off by an idea before the
lyrics, and the lyrics usually fit in just behind the music. It's not very
often that I actually see the dance routine when I'm writing the song. When
it's written, there are basic things there already, and in fact I find that the
more I write - especially recently for this album - the more I see things when
I'm writing. This is unusual, and I tend to shut them out because I can't
concentrate so well on the song itself. (1980, KBC 5)
Was the dance/movement approach just a novel visual image for you,
or did it actually help in the composing of songs?
- The thing is, when I'm actually writing something, I can't conceive
the dance at the same time. But when I'm
listening and watching dance performances, I can conceive musical ideas.
There are several avenues of composing procedures open to you:
Through the lyrics, the dance, the melodies, rhythms or harmonies, or even the
computer. Do you follow any particular one?
- Since I first started writing, the styles and attitudes have
changed. Initially, it was just ``me and the piano,'' and I would write the
song until it was completely finished - the lyrics, the tune of one song would
take me a couple of weeks. For the last two albums [Never For Ever AND The
Dreaming] it's been much looser, and I've been working with rhythm machines as
well as the keyboard, and using subject matter already in my head. I'll then
make up the music almost on the spot for the subject matter. (1982, Electronic Music Maker)
- You gauge by feedback as to whether your voice inside is right. It
says ``Do this,'' and you have to see what other people say about it. The
barrier against self-indulgence has to come from within yourself. You have to
see other people's criticism to be able to do anything about it. You can get a
different answer to a problem from everyone you know.
Do you try too hard for mystery?
- I don't sit down and try to express mystery. I worry that I try too
hard to create SPONTANEITY. I can be singing a song of a calm person who
suddenly becomes aggressive, and I try and reflect that vocally. Different
ideas come across in different accents. (1982, NME)
- There're loads of things I think about writing songs about which are
too negative. There wouldn't be any point. They'd be too destructive and
negative. And there're things which are too personal. I get loads of ideas that
don't make me go, ``Ugh!'' so I don't write about them.
- If I hear something I like, and I wish that my work could be like
that because it sounds better, then it does influence me. Everything I like and
respect I suppose I move towards. It's hard to be specific when we don't know
what pop music is. ``Pop'' is just short for popular - it could even be popular
- But I realize how lucky I am. I realized, making The Dreaming, when
I was able to get Eberhard Weber to play on one track, that I was so lucky
because people you like and respect will want to work with you. (1982, NME)
Can you read music now?
- No, I can't - I read chords, but not the actual music.
So how do you arrange all the instrumental and vocal parts in your
- For most of them I literally just run the tape and learn them in my
head, and then translate them. I multi-track my own voice parts, having worked
them out first at home. Sometimes I can tell that they're going to work in
harmony without having to put one down and then work to that, but it depends,
Do you work up from the root and then add the third and the fifth?
- No, I never work that way - I just go for what sound right, and
never think technically about thirds and fifths, because very often I think
fourths and sixths could be better. I like to use parallel movement for a more
medeiaeval feel, and I also sing unrelated notes against the harmony - say,
dropping semitones - which helps to create a lot of tension. But I do try to
avoid thinking about the technical things when I'm working - it's afterwards
that I like to think about those aspects.
- For the male voice parts, I just sing to them what I want them to
do, and I tell them the particular phraseology and timing. Then they go out and
do it, while I oversee it in the mixing room. I'm lucky in that they're not
really session singers, but more friends with good voices.
There's a lot of counterpoint in your compositions. Do you find
this comes naturally?
- Yes, it's something that I find works in layers as well. For
example, normally the song, with its basic tune and chords, would be down, and
then, as things start to go on more to the track, I can just hear holes that
need to be filled in a certain way.
- Sometimes I would be doing this with tapes at home or during a meal
break at the studio. I'd go round and round parts of the tape and sing with it.
So your procedure is to compose the piece on the piano with the
lyrics and have some definite ideas for performing it at home.
- For the actual tune; whilst any additional harmonies would be added
afterwards using a tape with the basic piece on it. I use a Revox half-track
machine to sing along with - I never put it down through at this stage - I just
sing with it to see if it works. Really, it's for playback, to help me, and I
would use an eight-track studio for demos. I've also been using the Teac
Portastudio 144, which I find useful.
Do you have any set way of composing your harmonies?
- None at all, it depends completely on the song. Whatever the song's
saying, then that little hole in there that's waiting for a harmony needs
something special. For example, in the `` Hammer Horror'' song, I thought out
the clashing harmonies carefully, and the `` Violin'' piece came about because
that was the only instrument I was ever taught. [Does this indicate that
kate composed ``violin'' on the violin???] (1982, Electronic Music Maker)
actually kate has very kindly brought us in a tape of a piece of music you
recorded... How old were you with this one kate?
- Oh, I was about fifteen.
Do you mind if we play it for everybody?
[Laughs] I'll shut my ears, ok?
Will you, ok. Would you like to introduce it?
- Yeah, here it is! [Both laugh. A portion of the unreleased song
``maybe'' is played]
Kate had a very wistful look on her face. Why was that?
- I was waiting for the flat note in the middle. [Laughs]
Ah, you mean we faded it just in time!
- No, you caught it actually, I'm sure...
I never noticed it.
But how soon after that was it that emi found you and signed you
- Um, it was about a year, year and a half after that.
Was it on the strength of that tape?
- No, it wasn't. It was on the strength of the tape that came after
that. But that song was actually on the tape that got me there. (1979, Personal Call)
to ask kate, some time ago in an interview, I think it was with mark latshow,
she said that she preferred songwriting to singing. I was wondering if there
was any danger to give up singing to concentrate more on her songwriting?
- Ah, no I don't think so, because I love songwriting, but I love
singing even more, sometimes, you know. It's just such a pleasure to be able to
open your mouth and just let it all out, it's fantastic. I don't think I could
ever stop doing that. (1979, Personal Call)
kate. I'd just like to ask you - how long does it usually take to write your
songs, you know, on average.
- Ah, well that depends. It depends if I've got a strong enough idea.
I've always have to have some kind of idea of a subject matter before I start
writing. And sometimes it will just come out, and sometimes it will take me
days, weeks, whatever. It's very, very unpredictable and I just have to go with
it, you know?
Yeah. Do you write the lyrics first or the music or do they come
- Well if I've got a strong idea, I'll often have a couple of lyric
lines that I just fit music to and work the rest in. But normally the music
comes first. (1979, Personal
does she write them? And what's the secret of her success?
- I take the majority of my ideas for songs from just watching and
listening to people. It's people who make life, and that's where my songs come
from, SHE SAYS, MAKING IT SOUND SO SIMPLE.
- It's not really, I mean I have to work at it and it takes time,
because I won't use a song until I'm really happy about it. (1979,
particular area of your work that you enjoy or prefer doing the most, if you
could do one thing - writing songs, recording, touring, working with other
people on their albums, producing, or dancing? [Kate laughs] you're
going to tell me that you like them all, for different reasons?
- I do actually, I do like them all very much. But I think, definitely
the priority for me is the writing of the songs. It's the most challenging,
frustrating, satisfying thing there is.
Would you like to write for other people?
- I've never tried, but it's something that I... yes it's quite
appealing. The problem is really getting time, because I normally only have
enough time to scrape enough songs together myself for an album. But it's very
appealing, yeah. (1982, Unknown BBC interview)
a reputation of doing absolutely everything for your shows, how many jobs do
you do when you go on the road with your show?
- Well, I think I try and do everything that I think I can handle and
because I'm writing the music and singing and performing, a lot of things come
from that which I don't think would otherwise. For instance, I don't think I'd
be able to choreograph if I didn't write the music, because in many ways I know
the music so inside out, and like backwards sometimes, that I already have
ideas for steps and choreography that I wouldn't have otherwise. And in many
ways it just goes from the song, the song just takes off, then a video needs to
be made, and then a stage show. So, it's like the development of the songs, in
many ways. It seems like a natural procedure. (1981, Friday Night And Saturday
- When I'm
writing a particular song, SHE SAYS EXCITEDLY, I can feel a character so
strongly that perhaps I'm feeling the same. WELL AWARE THAT HER SONGS PROVIDE
LISTENERS WITH SOME EXTREME CHARACTERIZATIONS, SHE FINDS IT terribly important
... to make the person I am writing about come alive. Unless I can somehow live
the experience I don't feel that I've achieved what I want to as a writer.
Where do you work your songs out?
- I've had a home studio for the last few years. For this album, we
put together a master home studio. The difference it makes is fantastic. The
obvious difference is that we're not paying a phenomenal amount of
money every hour for a London studio. That
makes you feel so much more relaxed. The amount of pressure that the studio
situation puts on you is quite surprising. You also feel a lot freer to
We understand that before, you'd do the demos and often not be able
to duplicate the same feeling in the studio.
- I think that's one of the most impossible things to do, and everyone
in the business must have it happen to them. You do a demo and it's the song,
the spontaneity of how you put it down, that little inflection in the voice
there, or something in the demo says it all. Even though the vocals are rough
and the drums are out of time, it's got the feel of the song. Them you come to
master it and it's not there. It's too fast or too clean. It's just not the
same. Trying to recreate the moods of something you did so spontaneously can be
so impossible. What we've done on this album is make the demos the masters. We
demoed in the studio so that there were no demos anymore. They've transformed
into the masters. (1985, Keyboard)
Bush says that as a composer she has benefited greatly by such
musical tools as the fairlight and emulator, both computerized musical
instruments. She can work out arrangements more accurately with more realistic
sounds and test her theories before committing them to other musicians. She
says it's the best thing to happen to her since the drum machine.
- You have a whole barrage of different sounds that can spark off
ideas and really develop the final arrangements. I consider myself very lucky
because I'm a keyboard player, and it seems like the best advances in musical
instruments have been keyboard instruments. I can't write music out [Kate is
being modest here - she did indeed notate the six-line string parts for the
medici quartet while recording `` cloudbusting'' - ied], so I've always had
to use the spoken word to communicate my ideas. Now I can compose parts I never
could before at the keyboard - it lets you get so much closer to the whole
- The whole process of writing anyway is a very insular one, whether
you write books or poetry or songs. It's
an intimate form of expression - a private thing, a solitary occupation.
- For me, it all started with tinkering around with the piano at the
age of ten or eleven. That sort of grew into songs, and my voice got better as
I worked it through the songs. Then I went through the studio environment, and
by the time I had got that far I realized that the studio had such a big effect
on a song that if I wanted to be in control totally, I would have to produce it
too. Then came the visual side, which for me in many ways is the performance
aspect. All of these elements are extensions of being a songwriter, and that is
what I consider myself to be. (1985, Now)
songwriting is self-taught. I've read where you went to the library to find
books that would try to teach you how to
put word to music. How did you finally learn, just by doing? Trial and error?
- Well, I think from the word ``go'' it's been just a gradual process
of teaching myself what worked and what didn't. It's just through practice,
really. Any time you're writing a song, you're learning about some aspect of
songwriting. (1986, Island-Ear)
I'm interested in how your song writing process works. When you're
trying to communicate with other musicians and tell them exactly what you want,
do you give them a tape on cassette?
- It very much depends on the musician. Some people would not want to
come in to the studio without having had a cassette that they could listen to
and work some ideas out from. But normally what happens is the musician comes
in, we play the track, which would have the basics on it. I sort of work
backwards to most people in a lot of ways in that the
bass quite often goes on nearly as one of
the last instruments. So the track they would hear would have the drums, piano,
voice, some keyboards, even guitar sometimes. And quite often now, we have a
very good atmosphere going on the tape before the musician comes in, so
although it might be very rough, what's on there is a very strong mood of what
it will be like at the end. It's got all the feelings in there, and it's just a
matter of tarting it up!
Yeah, because you don't want to lose that atmosphere.
- Yes, it's very difficult to re-create things like that, and that's
why it's so good for me to be able to write straight on to tape. You might get
some really dodgy things, and quite often you do; but there might be something
that is so spontaneous that you won't be able to do again in the same way, and
it's there on tape. (1987, MuchMusic)
How are you putting together songs now?
- At least six or seven of the tracks on this new album have been done
in totally different ways. There's one track that I literally wrote on the
Fairlight and then re-did things completely with strings. And the drums, which
were originally Linn, were re-done with a live drummer. Then there's another
track that's completely different, where I'd write through a guitarist. It
really needed to be based around a guitar and I can't play guitar. If I'd used
a piano or Fairlight, it would've been wrong, so I literally had to write
through the guitarist. That was fabulous.
What was it that made you decide to replace the fairlight and linn
with real strings and real drums?
- I suppose it's when I get the voice and lyrics on, they tell me what
to do. I thought, um... Although the Fairlight strings were interesting, they
didn't have the... the warmth and the intimacy that the song required, and...
it sounded a bit bland on the Fairlight. That particular song was a very
intimate one. It needed... a wooden, human error, you know, the fact that it
wasn't always on the beat, and that there was this group of people working
together creating that sound. I do feel that in most cases when you've got a
brilliant musician and an instrument you really... I mean, what's the Fairlight
there for? I think it...it's a different purpose, to me anyways. I don't feel I
want to create the world's greatest cellist on the Fairlight. You know, I'd
rather get a really good cello player in, and record him with a good engineer,
and then use the Fairlight to do something that complimented that. The most
exciting thing for me is the combination of real and natural sounds and
extremely electronic synthesized ones. It's just the blend of two worlds that I
find fabulous. In the next few years, it's going to be really lovely to see how
people start working these things. We've been in a real synthetic era for the
last three years. People have been interested in the new advances in
synthesizers. It's really exciting, and I think it's got people so wrapped up
in electronics that now perhaps will come the time when the blend will happen.
What about the idea that you may not be create the best cellist on
the fairlight, but that you will be the cellist? It won't be pablo casals'
expression, it will be kate bush's expression?
- Yes, I think that could be interesting, but I also think that could
be boring. On this album I've done so much of the work that I really enjoy
other people's input. I find it boring, actually, to have to work with my ideas
all the time. The great thing, again, you can do with the Fairlight that I
enjoy so much is I can write a piece on it, say, with an acoustic guitar or a
cello, and I can write it out, and then I can get a musician in to actually
play that. So he's playing what I've written, but he's doing it much better
than I could do. You see, without the Fairlight, I probably couldn't have
written these parts before. I would have written them on the piano and they
wouldn't have had the feel of the strings, or acoustic guitar. And at the same
time, you know I don't think me playing them on the Fairlight is as good as
these people. But it's an interesting blend.
Do you feel you have a better understanding of how these people
- Well, certainly in my experience, it's given me the most incredible
insight into composing and how instruments work. And I think it's sort of... If
you're not careful it can give you an arrogance as well, where you're sort of
sitting there playing all these drums and thinking, ``Hey, you know, why can't
you do this?", you know - like it's so easy. On the other hand, you know, there
are little inflections that would be so difficult to get on the keyboard. I
mean, you could probably get it to sound very close, but it... it might... just
not sound like the real instrument. A lot of natural instruments, that's what
it's about. It's the inflection of the musician, the way he works it,
personalizes it. I mean, you know real instruments should never die. I don't
think they can. That's what all these electronic things have come from. They
should go hand in hand.
Do you compose on paper or right into the fairlight or tape
- It's really in my head first and then onto the tape machine. I only
compose onto paper when it's an instance like a guitar or cello, where I play
in real time to the track, and then when I like what it is, I'll write it out
for someone to play. If it's me playing it, I don't bother to write it out. I
work much better in my head. It takes me hours to write things out. I'm so
slow. But writing it out is a very accurate way to get them to do what you want
Kate, do your songs just burst out of you like so many athenas out
of the head of zeus, or are they very crafted and do they cost you a lot of
suffering and effort to construct as finished art-pieces?
- It's very different every time, really. With the Never For Ever
album, I had to work really hard to write most of those songs. It would take me
weeks and weeks just to get a chorus or to write the words. But then, when we
went into the studio, it was actually quite spontaneous and very quick. Whereas
with most of the songs on The Dreaming, I just sat down at the piano, got a
rhythm and just literally wrote the songs. I couldn't believe it! I mean to
say, the words probably weren't there, but the idea was there, and all the
tunes were there. That was the first time I'd actually demo'ed the songs while
writing them. I put the piano down, put a voice down, put backing vocals down,
and I had a song! And apart from `` Houdini,'' which nearly killed me, the rest
were just so easy, it was really frightening. But then, as soon as I hit the
studio, all that speed and spontaneity seemed to evaporate and turn into
something completely different. The recording became really, really hard work,
and it was very intense. With the new Hounds of Love album, the songs took
quite a lot of time and effort to come out. Now that I've got my own studio, a
lot of the writing process is very much the recording process so, rather than
going in with a finished song, I'm able to go straight in and actually write
the song in the studio, so that took a little bit of time.
So it's not as if you're so abundantly creative that we're being
deprived of a whole wealth of songs that never got onto disc?
- I wish, I wish, I wish! I think if I was abundantly creative, I
could just sort of sit back and go: ``Ah, there's another one, how about
that!'' But I just find it so hard. Usually with every album I'm in a situation
where I scrape together the songs. The first album was the only
one where that wasn't so, then I had literally hundreds of songs to choose
from, as I'd been writing from about the age of eleven. But now it's just
getting harder for me to write. I think the longer I'm around, the harder it is
for me to find something convincing in my art. There are all kinds of
subject-matters which I think I could probably have enjoyed at an earlier time,
but which now I find trivial. So there are all these changes. You know, the
more you see, the more there is to fear, and the more there is to learn. And I
think that very much applies to my work.
And presumably your own criteria of perfection tend to escalate, so
it gets a lot harder to reach that threshold.
- Yes, I think so, yes, that's right. And also, of course, you can't
really control what comes out, which is something that I have to keep telling
myself. Because, you know, I think I'm going to sit down and write this or
that, but it all just depends on how you're feeling or what's happening. You
can't really control it. Other than rejecting or accepting things and putting
them into different bits of order, you don't have any control over it. It's not
something that you actually own. I could write an
album very quickly, but maybe only one of the songs would be what I considered
interesting enough, and I wanted to make sure with the new album
that all the songs were good. Really, it's the lyrics that are like a big
process that keeps on happening right from the word ``go'' till I've done the
last lead vocal. I mean, still then I'm playing with little bits of lyrics here
and there that maybe weren't quite right...
Is all that what accounts for the three-year gap between the
dreaming and hounds of love?
- Yes, it takes me a long time to write stuff that I feel is
interesting enough, and also it takes me a long while to come out of the wake
of one album and come into the energy of a new album. Because i would be wrong,
I think, to be in the same frame of mind that I was in for the last album. And,
in a way, you have to sort of say, ``Well, O.K., that was it; now I'm gonna go
out and just find some new stimulus.'' 'Cause, you know, you go from one very
intense atmosphere into another one, and you've got to get some new inspiration
in between. But another big reason why the new album took so long is Side Two,
The Ninth Wave. It was incredibly difficult to actually be brave
enough to go for it. I had the feeling that that was what I wanted to do. But
then I started getting scared of it - you know, I knew that, if it didn't work
out, then I'd have wasted all that effort for nothing. Then I decided, though,
O.K., yeah, I'm gonna go for it; but that was a relatively brave thing to do
and it took a lot of time. What really consumed the time, though, was that the
tracks took a long time to finish, they weren't as good as they should be,
there were lots of things that still needed to be done.
Del: I think it all really depends on what the context is. If the
content wasn't too deep, then it could all be done very quickly. It's when
you're trying to create a specific atmosphere that it gets
Kate: It does, it depends on what the songs themselves demand. And
the best thing about having the studio was not having the pressure of being in
a studio that was costing nearly a hundred quid an hour. We do like to
experiment, and sometimes it takes a while to make an experiment work. So we
were able to take the time...
But is having your own studio a two-sided coin, in that, while it
makes life a lot easier, you don't feel under the same pressure, and it's
therefore much harder to complete things and tie them up?
- Well, I thought that might be a problem but actually, the way we
worked, I don't think it was, there was a pressure all the time because the
album kept taking longer and I was very concerned that it should be finished.
I think, only naturally, a lot of people are wondering to
themselves why there's been a three year interval since the dreaming, and
they're fearful they'll have to wait another three or four years before the
next album. Was setting up the studio responsible for some of the delay?
- Yes, yes it was, to set up base down here rather than coming up to
London all the time. As well as actually getting the place together, it takes
some time to actually get ahold of and accumulate all the
equipment, so that you've got what you
need at hand. Also we made the step up from 24-track to 48-track while doing
You don't think that if you were in an urban environment you'd be
under a different pressure, under a different stimulus, and you might be more
- No, I think there're more distractions when you go into an urban
environment, and I think that was one of my big problems.
Del: I think you've been more productive since you've been living
Kate: I have, absolutely.
So then the bottom line is that, even if the bottom were to fall
out, now that you've got your own studio you'd be able to keep on making new
Del: Yes, but I think there'll always be a market for kate's music.
I think so, too! But even if worst came to the absolute worst, with
the studio you'd be able to keep on recording even if only for your own
edification. Once an album finally exists, can you enjoy it or will you have
nothing more to do with it?
- I couldn't with the first two albums as they didn't turn out the way
I wanted them to, so obviously when I listened to them it was quite
disappointing for me because I kept thinking of all the things I'd have liked
to have done. But the third and fourth albums, yes, I could listen to those and
be quite critical about them and yet feel quite pleased about some of the
things on them. Artistically, I was especially pleased with The Dreaming. I
achieved lots more on it than on the earlier ones. But then the songs were, in
a way, more accepting of that kind of emotional style because they were so
intense and demanding. The new album, which is the one I'm most happy with, was
a very different energy. It was summer last year and I felt I wanted to write
songs that had a very positive energy rather than staying in all that intensity
of emotion that was so strong with the last album. I think it's important that
each album should be different, otherwise you're not going
anywhere and exploring but staying in a rut. But then it takes time to carry
yourself over from one energy to another because you tend to get into little
riffs and phrases and so on that perhaps you've got as some kind of theme on
the last album, even if that's not obvious. And it's important, I think, to
start writing in a slightly new style. Now that it's all done, I can sit here
and enjoy it, especially here in the studio because this is the optimal way to
hear it, because this is where it was all done. As soon as it gets onto vinyl,
onto disc, sounds different. And now I can just sit here and relax
instead of taking notes, you know, like to remind me I've got to study that bit
and so on...
Del: Yeah, you should see the notes! There's two
files, this thick! Full of notes, you'd never believe it.
Kate: Yes, they're little memos and scribbles and charts on takes
that are good.
You don't have staves with whole lines of music written out?
- Well, no, the only time I did that was for the cello parts in
``Hounds of Love'' that's the only time I've ever written out a part. I stayed
up all night to do it and wasn't sure if I could. But I worked them out on the
Emulator and wrote out the chords that I played in the treble clef. Then the
cellist Jonathan Williams - he's such a great player and so into the music he
was - helped me out by working i [??? Delete the ``I"] an octave lower.
Well, complex, yes. But I mean unfamiliar. your songs
just aren't so easily sing-able, they're not very easily predictable, in the
manner of most indigenous american music. I mean, once you've heard one verse
and a chorus of an american song you've as good as heard the whole thing. And I
think that's what so surprises me about the comparative success of the dreaming
in the states, as so much american pop music is incredibly trite, so much of it
has to do with stupefaction rather than revelation. But, you know, in one or
two of the american reviews of the dreaming, your music has been described as
``schizophrenic", and to tell you the truth, I feel I can well understand why
people have said that. You know I'm a historian concerned with freud and
psychoanalysis. And it seems to me that, in a manner of speaking, your music
represents a virtual compendium of psychopathology; I mean to say, it is
alternatively hysterical, melancholic, psychotic, paranoid, obsessional, and so
on. And yet, in your case, such traits obviously proceed out of strength, not
out of weakness, they represent roles which you're assuming, or states which
you're simulating, for the sake of a given song.
- Yes! Well, I think that's fabulous that you should say so. You see,
while I'm maybe not scientifically interested like you, I am absolutely
fascinated by the states that people throw and put on. And, you know, I think
that that is the most fascinating thing there is to write about really, the way
that people just distort things and the things they think and the things they
do. And it's really fun for me if I can find an area of the personality that is
slightly exaggerated or distorted and, if I feel I can identify with it enough,
then try to cast a person as perfectly as I can in terms of that particular
character trait, especially if I don't really show those kinds of things
myself. Take anger for instance: it's really fun to write from the point of
view of someone who's really angry, like in `` Get Out of My
House'' on the last album. Because I very rarely show anger, although obviously
I do sometimes feel it. And it was the same sort of thing with `` Waking the
Witch'' on the new album. What fascinated me in doing that song was the idea of
a witch-hunter hiding behind the priesthood, as a guise, and coming to get this
woman who isn't a witch, but he wants to make her so. The girl
closes her eyes to get away from it and goes to a church where it's safe and
secure. You know, churches are supposed to be places of sanctuary and their
doors are never shut, even perhaps for people being chased by the Devil; but
the priest turns out to be the witch-hunter. I didn't really have any heavy
experiences like those that the song is about. It's based very much on other
people's imagery of Roman Catholicism which I've found fascinating - you know,
the kind of oppression, even madness, it can create, I suppose, in some people.
And it's much more that, really, than any personal experience of my own. My
school was Roman Catholic, so there was a big emphasis on religion, but it
wasn't incredibly strict, and I didn't really go to church an awful lot, so I
don't think the experience of religion was as heavy for me as for a lot of
So you're able to live those things out vicariously through your
- Yes, and it can be really fun.
But then, does this ever backfire on you? Do the forces which you
unleash or the identities which you assume ever start gaining their own
strength and begin taking you over?
- No, I don't think they ever take me over. While I don't believe
there is very much of me personally in these characters, obviously there must
be a bit, or I simply would not be able to come up with them. But I think
hopefully I'll recognize that most of them would not be beneficial to me; and,
as long as I can recognize that, then I don't think they'll take me over. But,
you know, I'm by no means a perfect person...
But you do allow them to take you over, to become you,
for as long as you're actually writing or recording a song?
- I can feel very affected by them, but I don't think they actually
take me over. I think I was very much affected by `` Breathing;'' and, when I
was making the last album, I was very affected by `` Houdini.'' Because it was
really sad trying to be Houdini's lady, because he had died and
obviously he must have been amazingly special as a person, someone trying to
escape not only throughout his life, but also in death.
And were there any such role-playings on the new album?
- Um...yes. I think `` Cloudbusting'' was quite like that. It must
have been nearly ten years ago, when I used to go up to the Dance Center in
London, that I went into Watkins' occult bookshop for a look, and there was
this book and it said, A Book of Dreams, by Peter Reich. I'd never
heard of his father, Wilhelm Reich, but I just thought it was going ``Hello,
Hello,'' so I just picked up the book and read it and couldn't believe that I'd
just found this book on the shelf. I mean it was so inspirational,
very magical, with that energy there. So when I wrote and recorded the song,
although it was about nine years later, I was nevertheless psyched up by the
book, the image of the boy's father being taken away and locked up by the
government just for building a machine to try to make rain. It was such a
beautiful book! (1985, Musician)
What about when you write your songs, though, do you try them out
on your family? Do they get a chance to
- Yes; yes, they do. There's a small group that is around the family
obviously including Del and a few friends, and they're really the people who
hear it straight after I've written it and I suppose their reaction is the
initial one. You see if it's going to work or not, by just the way they react.
Take, for example, the songs on the hound of love
album. How many songs in total would you say you wrote for the album that
perhaps didn't make it in the end... Or does it not work that way?
- No, it does, initially. I write a batch of songs and try to pick the
best. So I suppose there would have been a good say four or five songs - but
then calling them songs is misleading, because they weren't complete, and I'd
normally find that I'd throw lots of ideas down and then, coming back to them
in a few days, would see that they weren't as good as they could be, so I would
literally just leave them and not finish off the track. And the second side of
the album had one and a half tracks rewritten, really, because the flow of the
side needed to be changed because the whole nature of it kept changing as
things were being put on top of the basics.
Do you ever go back to the songs that maybe you rejected? Say, for
example, for the hounds of love? Would you ever go back to them again, or leave
them totally aside?
- It's quite interesting going back to them, and I have done, and I'll
tend to find little pieces that I think can be re-worked and the rest of it is
probably rubbish, so I'll put out the bits that, um... seem re-usable. And
though maybe if that isn't used itself, it will then spark off something that
can be used again, so they do get recycled sometimes.
Six months you worked on the songs for the album. Now as far as
you're concerned is six months a long time?
- I think it is a long time, yes, but it's just the way the work takes
you. Some things can be very fast, and then the next part of the process will
slow down dramatically... um... and each song has such different
nature. It has its own personality, in a
way. It can be terribly time-consuming trying to get as many of the right
things as you can for each track, and the lyrics can be ultimately frustrating.
Well, I think lyrics are what make your songs, quite honestly.
- Do you?
I love the melodies as well,
but I think the lyrics... I mean I have to sit down and read the lyrics as I'm
listening to the song, and then the song means that much more as far as I'm
concerned. Are the lyrics that important to you? They obviously are.
- Very important. I think the music and the lyrics are the two main
priorities in song-writing, and they should be equally good, hopefully.
But for example, when you're writing a song, does the melody come
first, or do you year the lyric line?
- Um... Again, it does really alter from song to song, but generally
the music comes first -
- - and occasionally you just get like a riff musically that would
have a line, say, connected to it; and that would be the chorus of the song.
And then you can spend, say, up to ten days or whatever, just trying to get the
rest of the lyrics around it. (1985, Tony Myatt interview)
I think most songwriters - I mean, people who write songs all the
time - they do have a certain way of writing a song, if you like. As you say,
you wanted to get away from that? That must be quite a difficult thing to do.
- I think it's finding the right avenue for the song, and in a way I
think you just have to pin down as early as you can exactly what you want to
dress the song in - you know, what colour clothes... It's very like that,
really, and you have to treat it accordingly - and from the word go the song
will then take on an attitude that's maybe completely different from the song
next to it on the album. Um... `` The Big Sky'' is an example of a real freak
on the album, in that it consistently changed until we got there in the end,
and ``Waking the Witch'' on side two was totally written through a guitarist -
the electric guitarist. I knew what I wanted, but it wasn't a song that would
sound right if it was based around a keyboard. It had to be written through the
electric guitar. So the guitarist came in literally working to just a Linn
pattern, and I just told him what I wanted, and it was a very different way of
writing. I've never done it like that before, but I think it was very
successful. (1985, Tony Myatt
But... They must ask you, as I would when I listen to your albums -
particularly the songs on this new one - where do these ideas come from,
because they are really the most original... Every album you've done from the
first one has this stamp of originality on it, and that is why I asked earlier
if it is a burden to keep thinking of totally new ideas for songs. Where do
they come from?
- Well I think that's very kind of you to say that. I think that
originality is something that really doesn't exist, that everything has been
done before, and it's just that there are so many ways of doing things. People
can be sparked off by something that already exists and create something quite
different from that, and I think that's what's exciting, in that - in a way -
that is what people like myself are doing. We're looking for pieces of gold,
and if you see something glitter, then you try to grab it and turn it into
something that you hope, you know, glitters, and just...start working on it.
(1985, Tony Myatt
Do you compose your music with traditional written notation, or do
you rely entirely on demo tapes? And has your process of composing melodies and
harmonies, etc., changed since the kick inside and lionheard? Are
you, for example, more specific in writing out a bass line now than in 1978, or
do you give more leeway to the other musicians during rehearsals than you used
to? [I wrote this question. - ied]
- My notation is very basic. I just write out the chords and lyrics,
and I rely mainly on my memory. This does make it a bit difficult when I try to
come back to a song after a few years, but I can listen to tapes and bash
around on the piano, rediscovering the past. Before the first album it was
easy: I used to practice all my songs every day in rotation, and kept them
totally in my head. But I just don't have the time any more, so I do rely on
the records and tapes to refer to chords - for live performances, for instance.
- I think the process of recording has changed very much since the
first album, perhaps the biggest change being my involvement with the
production. The demos on the first album were just piano and vocal; the demos
for the second and third albums were a very big influence on the master
recordings; the fourth album was completely influenced by the demos; and the
current album is the demos.
- When working with musicians, I find that it depends totally on the
individual, and the communication between the two of us. I will normally guide
the direction to start with, but it's up to the musicians to make it really
Have you ever thought of releasing a live l.p.?
- Yes. (1984, KBC
When you write, do the words or the lyrics come first - uh the
words or the music - come first?
- It's different with each song. And sometimes you actually get a
piece of music in your head that's got words with it - it's like they just sort
of go together. But generally I'd say the music comes first, and the lyrics are
worked in around that, or with it. (1985, Picture Disk)
Do songs come easily to you, or not?
- No. Some do, but the majority is something I have to work for very
hard. It's extremely frustrating, but it's worth it to get something in the
end. Something I got hooked on really quite young. Just playing with the piano
and the whole excitement of actually creating something out of nothing. (1985,
Some call kate obsessive, claiming that her work is the most
important thing in her life, and that everyone around her gets dragged in with
her. It's true, she smiles. I'm obsessive about most things which take my
fancy. I'm like that. Once I start something, I'm committed. I just can't put
it down. It's very hard for example, to stand back from an album, allow it to
be finished and then let people evaluate it for what it is. It's a terrifying
process for me. And consequently making the album in the first place gets
harder and harder for me. This one took me over two years to make, so I had
about two years ``off'' after the last one. So I come back to writing
completely cold. I like, I sing, do I? Every time it's like I've never done it
before. Is it enough? Is it rubbish? I've had to train myself to listen to that
internal voice, the one I go to sleep with. I've had to learn to believe in
myself and in my own judgement. (1989, You)
- Most of the new songs are about relationships again. Maybe I'm
saying, things get rough, it's ok really. And, it takes me two years to say
that I have to sweat blood and shed real tears before I know I've put
everything into it. That's why I worry that the creative process is getting
harder and more painful for me every time. At what point will I find that I've
used it up? That there are no more albums left inside me?
That's a thought. What will she do then? (1989, You)
When you actually set about doing an album, are you terribly
intense about the whole thing and spend all your waking hours writing tracks?
- Probably not when I first start the album. That's probably a
relatively relaxed process. But then once I've got into that process a bit, it
all starts where you think, ``God! This is rubbish!'' From that point onwards
you're beginning, and it does become very intense. I do really have a very
obsessive attitude about my albums - where once I'm in there, I don't do
anything else. I can't do my other projects because it all feels like it's
distracting me. And because I know it's going to take me such a long time, I
feel I have to keep this intensity going, or I might never ever finish it.
Do you let other people come in and listen?
- Yes. It's very important to let others hear it. But more and more it
becomes a problem, because the way I'm working in the studio. Quite often the
song will sound like it's in pieces until it's in a quite developed stage. The
other problem is, if you know you want to change lots of things in the tracks,
the chances are that if you let people hear it in an early stage, they will
latch onto the whole structure of the song and they can't allow for any
differences later. In some ways the most useful ones are at a much later stage
where the songs are almost finished and they're easier for people to hear. Then
you can hear how people react.
Do you always write in the studio?
- Yes, I do now. I play around with ideas at home, but most of the
writing goes on in here, and that's important, too. Because years ago I'd make
demos, and there would be things that I wanted to keep, but of course you
can't, because it's a demo. It's the eternal problem. By having your own
studio, you can get around that. You can actually make the demos the master,
and keep all those little bits that are interesting, but then make the rest
sound much better. I work very closely with Del, who engineers for me. So most
of the time it's just the two of us in there. He works a lot on the rhythms and
things, so at least I'm not totally alone in there. Once the song feels good
enough to work on, then you bring musicians in and just sort of layer upon
layer. You sort of create the picture, as it were, and just build up the sounds
that seem to work for what the song is saying. It feels as though songs have
personalities. You can try something on a song and it will just reject it. It
doesn't want it. And yet you can tray that on another song and it will work so
perfectly. They're all so individual.
What about the tense atmosphere when the album is in its final
preparation stage? Do tempers begin to flare?
- Yes. I think healthy argument is a very important part of the
process, really. Creative or otherwise. Because it can be very constructive.
The problem is actually having a strong enough direction, knowing what you want
to do. (1989, Greater
Cloudbusting / Subjects / Songwriting / Composing