To the Reaching Out (Interviews) Table of Contents
(This article was taken from Andrew Marvick's The Garden)
[Edited by Andrew Marvick.]
by Kris Needs
What's Kate Bush doing in ZigZag? It's a fair chance that's the thought flitting through your noggin as you espy our rather tasteful cover. Well, I thought it would be interesting, a laugh and definitely on for you lot to get a peek at the lady without all the 'Oo's yer boyfriend, then?' or 'Drop 'em!' techniques so favoured when she's in the media's sights. Also, because she seems to get roundly slagged, piss-taken or sycophated over every time she pops up in the Music Weeklies. These sort of injustices and the prejudices they foster could've kept you from giving Kate Bush a fair listen.
Kate's been boxed and packaged in shiny paper with little ribbons on top, it seems. Safe, but 'odd' enough to let the purchaser feel outrageous displaying it on the coffee table.
Well, let's see. If you profess to like Modern music which is breaking down fences and capturing true emotion, Kate Bush has just as much right to be there with A Teardrop Explodes, Bowie or whoever you care to name. A different field, yeah, but she's capable of moments of heart-stopping passion, breath-taking drama and beauty. She's also very honest. The characters might be put on, but that's it.
I'm not gonna trot out Kate's history, just that by her mid-teens she'd already reached a staggering level of creativity and success. Number one with Wuthering Heights, followed by the haunting Man With No Arse in His Trousers, Wow and the immaculate Breathing. [Note: For the record, Kate was already eighteen when when Wuthering Heights, the earliest of the above records, was released.]
There've been three albums: The Kick Inside, Lionheart, and the new Never For Ever, which sees Kate starker, stretched out, and covering a wider range of subjects, including the eerily anti-nuclear war Breathing and mother's-torment of Army Dreamers.
Kate had to be persuaded to do this interview. She didn't believe we wanted to talk to her! Thought we'd come in and stitch her up, I s'pose. However, once she'd perused a stack of old ZigZags, a meeting with a still-rather-puzzled Kate took place on a Friday afternoon at EMI.
Kate Bush has just done the Daily Express. Now it's me...But no way does she just press her nose and gush out the conveyor-belt niceties. We talk for over 90 minutes, touching all manner of subjects in an enthusiastic flow. Quite deep at times--"It's like two psychiatrists talking," she said after. I left impressed with her honesty and sense of awe, which, in the wrong hands, could be the reasons detractors have a field day. She don't deserve it, even if you can't stick her music. And I'm warning you, don't just take my word on Kate Bush, then say I wasted your fiver -- it is down to taste, but if you've got any feelings, or just like music, have a go. It's about the only music I like that I can't dance to.
So, Kate, do you think your audience is restricted by these prejudices against you?
"Yeah, I think I'm conscious of people doing that in certain areas, because of the way they've seen me, and I think that's inevitable. I don't blame them. It's really good for me to speak to other magazines."
It'd be good if people could see that you're doing stuff that's pretty new, too. You could never mistake Kate Bush for anyone else.
"Oh, great. I'd like to think that, but it's not for me to say. When you first come out, people say you're the new thing. then when you've been around for two or three years you become old hat, and they want to sweep you under the carpet as being MOR, which I don't feel I am from the artistic point of view. It doesn't feel like MOR to me at all, although I wouldn't call it Punk! Sometimes it's not even rock...I don't know, I think it's wrong to put labels on music. Even Punk, that's really just a label for convenience--it covers so many areas. I think sometimes it can actually kill people, being put under labels. I think it's something that shouldn't be encouraged. If people could just accept music as music and people as people, without having to compare them to other things...which is something we instinctively try to do."
The way you're presented in the press could alienate some people, I s'pose.
"Don't you think any form of publicity alienates the person who is not involved in it? I think that's part of the whole process. That's why I feel that the good thing about albums and gigs and even radio is that you are directly communicating with your audience, but with papers and appearances on TV you're not really relating directly."
Does the bad criticism hurt you?
"No, I don't get hurt. I've read a few reviews of the album, an some of them really couldn't stand me, probably much more than the album. In fact, one guy didn't like me so much, he had to write four columns of 'I can't stand Bush!' That's cool. Sometimes I find it funny. I think a bad review is a good omen in some papers."
At least that's a positive reaction.
"Yeah, if they really hate you, it's just as good as really liking you. You're really getting under their skin so much that they've got to speak about it. That's great!"
And the album still came in at number one.
"I can't believe it, still. Every time I tell someone I feel like I'm lying. I couldn't have asked more for such an important step in what I'm doing, because I feel that this album is a new step for me. The other two albums are so far away that they're not true. They really aren't me anymore. I think this is something the public could try and open up about. When you stereotype artists you always expect a certain kind of sound.
"I'd really like to be able to leave myself open to any form of music, so if I wanted to, I could do funk tracks on the next album, I could do classical, I could do bossa novas. I think it's best to stay as open as you can. As a person I'm changing all the time, and the first album is very much like a diary of me at that time--I was into a very high range. The same with the second album, and I feel this is perhaps why this one is like starting again. It's like the first album on a new level. It's much more under control."
You took a long time doing it. [You think that one took a long time!]
"Yeah, it did. It took a lot of work, but it was very beautiful work because it's so involving and it's so like emotions. It's totally unpredictable and you can fall in love with it or you can hate it or if you want to you can ignore it: you know, all the things that you can do with people."
That's one of the main things I like about the music--the emotions running around.
"I think everyone is emotional, and I think a lot of people are afraid of being so. They feel that it's vulnerable. Myself, I feel that it's the key to everything, and that the more you can find out about your emotions the better. Some of the things that come into your head can be a surprise when you're thinking."
The next single is Army Dreamers, which sounds like a wistful little waltz-time ditty on first hearing, though a bit sombre. Kate adopts a lilting Irish accent--all very nice. But listen to the words and she's mourning her dead son, killed in the army. I thought Kate was singing about Northern Ireland, but not necessarily...
"It's not actually directed at Ireland. It's included, but it's much more embracing the whole European thing. That's why it says BFPO in the first chorus, to try and broaden it away from Ireland."
What about the Irish accent?
"The Irish accent was important because the treatment of the song is very traditional, and the Irish would always use their songs to tell stories, it's the traditional way. There's something about an Irish accent that's very vulnerable, very poetic, and so by singing it in an Irish accent it comes across in a different way. But the song was meant to cover areas like Germany, especially with the kids that get killed in manoeuvres, not even in action. It doesn't get brought out much, but it happens a lot. I'm not slagging off the Army, it's just so sad that there are kids who have no O-levels and nothing to do but become soldiers, and it's not really what they want. That's what frightens me."
A track that's been picked up on by slavering pervo-moralists and them who don't bother to listen is The Infant Kiss, a gentle item about a woman disturbed by the feelings a little boy draws out of her. A taboo subject, but handled in a lullaby refrain with incisive but tender, non-gross lyrics.
"The thing that worries me is the way people have started interpreting that song. They love the long word--paedophilia. It's not about that at all. It's not the woman actually fancying the young kid. It's the woman being attracted by a man inside the child. It just worries me that there were some people catching on to the idea of there being paedophilia, rather than just a distortion of a situation where there's a perfectly normal, innocent boy with the spirit of a man inside, who's extremely experienced and lusty. The woman can't cope with the distortion. She can see that there's some energy in the child that is not normal, but she can't place it. Yet she has a very pure maternal love for the child, and it's onlyy little things like when she goes to give him a kiss at night, that she realizes there is a distortion, and it's really freaking her out. She doesn't fancy little boys, she's got a normal, straight sexual life, yet this thing is happening to her. I really like the distortedness of the situation."
Nice touch having such a gentle, unlusty backing to put this over in...
"I like the idea of making the musical and subject matter at odds. Like in Army Dreamers the obvious thing is to write a slow, heavy song, but if you do that it always becomes too obvious, less easy for people to accept. When it is something so heavy, if you disguise it in a light tune or something happy, it will be accepted, and then when it's actually realised it will probably hit home a lot harder."
Lots of possibilities for the stage show on this LP.
"Yeah, I'm dying to do another tour. The problem is money and time, and I have to make a decision very soon, what I'm going to do next: whether it's another album or a tour. I want to do them both so much."
Whichever one, it'll be the next year of your life.
"That's exactly it, and I think people find that hard to see. It seems the more I do things, the longer they take, especially if they're going to be done right, and, as you say, that's whole year. That's one of the reasons I'm not so quick about deciding."
I asked Kate what she listened to at home: Stevie Wonder, reggae, Bowie, early Roxy, Steely Dan, rock-jazz...and our old hero Captain Beefheart.
"He's so new. I'm really surprised that the English market at the moment won't let him in, because he's brilliant. He's not mad at all, it's perfectly real. I'm sure he's in touch with Mars or something."
I asked Kate if she was into the occult or astrology or anything, cos the words and bat-demon visuals sometimes suggest a bit of a fascination with all that, but drew a blank.
However, "I do believe in spirits, and I also believe that people communicate by much more than word of mouth. There are people like beacons sitting on top of hills. You must have some friends that you can just feel calling you some days. They're just saying 'help!' and you pick it up."
She's well into the individual "stating your presence," citing Punk as an example. But everyone's got the same insecurities and fears.
"It's so bloody easy to be forgotten. It's so easy to go under unless you fight. Everyone has to fight, and there are different ways of fighting.
"I'm definitely trying to state my presence, I must be. It's important for me to do things on a one-man basis. I seem to work, produce, create, better as one entity, and then I involve others for feedback. That seems to be the ideal way for me to work. You see, musically, too, I feel I've only just begun. I'm not doing what I want to do musically, yet. I'm getting there, but it's nowhere near to what I actually want. I'd love to play you some of the new stuff I'm doing."
So what are the new songs like, then?
"They're much more up. I'm getting to work much more easily with rhythm boxes and synthesizers at home, and I've got some time. That's what I need, and this year is the first I've really had any time to breathe. I'm experimenting all the time and finding new things. It's great, all the toys that are around to play with--digital delay, chorus pedal, you could write a sound purely round the sound."
Do you ever feel the pressures of success (that old one!)? [That is the interviewer's own comment.]
"Sometimes. It really depends on the areas I go in. When I'm in the studios I'm not aware of my success. It's only really when you do the rounds of promotions, things like this. But the real pressures of success I think are something that come from the inside. Probably more than outside in, and that's got a lot to do with the kind of person. It's a big trap for a lot of artists because they're normally very sensitive people, maybe slightly neurotic. That's why they write, because there are things they have to get out. Normally what goes along with that makeup in a person is this neurosis, this insecurity, and it's inevitable that someone who is like that, when they're put in a situation where there's pressure, things they can't actually see as a reality, are going to crack. They find the pressure is too much. They lose themselves and everything they have, and that's very sad. I don't intend to let pressures of success make me go under and lose everything I have. Pressures of life, yes, I think that's something that can happen to anyone. There's nothing you can do about it except to try and be as strong as you can. Pressures of success are something so meaningless anyway. Success is a label other people like to put on you so they can go (points): 'Success!' I don't feel successful. There's so much that I have to do to feel that I've really done what I want to."
Yeah; but you have shifted a pile of the old units, Kate.
"Yes, which doesn't mean a thing to me. My success is in terms of fulfilment of my art, perfection of my art. That's something I'll never reach. I never will. And I have to accept that."
Talk gets onto Breathing, her best yet.
"It's great to hear you say that. From my own viewpoint that's the best thing I've ever written. It's the best thing I've ever produced. I call that my little symphony, because I think every writer, whether they admit it or not, loves the idea of writing their own symphony. The song says something real for me, whereas many of the others haven't quite got to the level that I would like them to reach, though they're trying to. Often it's because the song won't allow it, and that song allowed everything that I wanted to be done to it. That track was easy to build up. Although it had to be huge, it was just speaking--saying what had to be put on it. In many ways, I think the most exciting thing was making the backing track. The session men had their lines, they understood what the song was about, but at first there was no emotion, and that track was demanding so much emotion. It wasn't until they actually played with feeling that the whole thing took off. When we went and listened, I wanted to cry, because of what they had put into it. It was so tender. It meant a lot to me that they had put in as much as they could, because it must get hard for session guys. They get paid by the hour, and so many people don't want to hear the emotion. They want clear, perfect tuning, a 'good sound'; but often the out-of-tuneness, the uncleanliness, doesn't matter as much as the emotional content that's in there. I think that's much more important than the technicalities."
The NME review said the album was all glossy dressing and little else.
"Well, the other two albums were what I would call glossy, and I could understand them saying that. I feel this one is the rawest it's been, it's raw in its own context. I feel perhaps the guy just wouldn't let me in, and that was the problem. He saw me as this chocolate-box-sweetie little thing who has no reality in there, no meaning of life. That's cool, I really understand that, but I like to think that people will let me in, and I'm lucky to have so many who do.
"I think it's good for you to read reviews like that about yourself, because they don't matter, and although people are going to read them, it's good for you to realise in some ways that people can say anything they want about you. It shouldn't matter what they say. I think the public are starting to realise the hype in the media manipulation, the propaganda. I pick up papers and read something about someone, and I start believing it, and then I realise, 'God, I'm doing just what other people are doing to me!' I think journalism could be such an art, and some people treat it as such. Others use it as an extension of their egos. You get nothing out of reading it, other than this thick blanket of: 'Me-e-e-e!'"
Breathing and Army Dreamers are social comment songs, which you ain't really done before, have you?
"No. I've thought a lot about the political aspect--this is when people label them as Political Songs. But it's only because the political motivations move me emotionally. If they hadn't, it wouldn't have gotten to me. It went through the emotional centre-- when I thought: 'Ah...OW!' And that made me write.
"The nuclear situation is such a real danger, the fact that buttons have been pushed and planes have gone into action. It's something to be scared of, it really is. None of us wants it to happen. We're the innocents. Saying something about it from the heart is not going to change the world or anything, but at least people can think more about it."
It's good that you've got a big following among very young kids and are doing this, cos they'll have to know more than just Janet and John books and Tiswas soon... [Tiswas was a British television programme which was ostensibly made for children, but which eventually attracted a large adult audience, as well.]
"So many of them knew, you know. They hear a lot more than the media generally give them. They really understand the song, and I don't think it frightens them, but it really upsets a lot of them. That's good--it's not nice but it's good that that actually ot through to them.
"When I wrote the song, it was from such a personal viewpoint. It was just through having heard a thing for years without it ever having got through to me. 'Til the moment it hit me, I hadn't really been moved. Then I suddenly realised the whole devastation and disgusting arrogance of it all. Trying to destroy something that we've not created--the earth. The only thing we are is a breathing mechanism: everything is breathing. Without it we're just nothing. All we've got is our lives, and I was worried that when people heard it they were going to think, 'She's exploiting commercially this terribly real thing.' I was very worried that people weren't going to take me from my emotional standpoint rather than the commercial one. But they did, which is great. I was worried that people wouldn't want to worry about it because it's so real. I was also worried that it was too negative, but I do feel that there is hope in the whole thing, just for the fact that it's a message from the future. It's not from now, it's from a spirit that may exist in the future, a non-existant spiritual embryo who sees all and who's been round time and time again so they know what the world's all about. This time they don't want to come out, because they know they're not going to live. It's almost like the mother's stomach is a big window that's like a cinema screen, and they're seeing all this terrible chaos."
Another track on the album, Egypt, paints a convincing picture of a country that isn't all sun and sphinxes. Kate, who hasn't been there, clashes the romantic view against the reality of starvation and disease. I remember that TV show she did round Christmas, when several Never For Ever tracks got previewed. Egypt was one, illustrated by a veiled Kate fronting a backdrop of both sides of Egypt, then getting set upon by two nasty "Phantom Flan Flinger"-like demons as the eerie music built up.
"The song is very much about someone who has not gone there thinking about Egypt, going: 'Oh, Egypt! It's so romantic...the pyramids!' Then in the breaks, there's meant to be the reality of Egypt, the conflict. It's meant to be how blindly we see some things--'Oh, what a beautiful world,' you know, when there's shit and sewers all around you."
Coo, this is turning into a marathon, hope I've got enough room. By now I'm feeling totally at ease with Kate. I dunno what I was expecting: the afore-mentioned standard answers, a bevy of "amazings", the spaced hippy of that reprehensible biog that's just emerged... [This is as reference to the Vermorels' first book about Kate, Kate Bush: Princess of Suburbia.] Got none of that, just a highly likeable girl totally into what she's up to. Her little-girl South London voice, bubbling enthusiasm and turns of phrase could be construed as naive or hippy gushing; as I said, bait for the detractors. But it's obvious her head's screwed well on. She's an Artist and all that comes with 'em, not to mention shrewd. EMI-manipulated? Bollocks...
Next we talk about another track, The Wedding List, and its theme of revenge: "The futility..."
The song sees Kate blasting a hole in the geezer who shot her husband-to-be as they get to the church. [In fact, he is shot just as the vows are being said.] She sees revenge as something that fills you up like green bile and as dangerous as a gun, but admits she's never been that screwed up by it, beyond the usual playground twist.
"Revenge is so powerful and futile in the situation in the song. Instead of just one person being killed, it's three: her husband, the guy who did it--who was right on top of the wedding list with the silver plates--and her, because when she's done it, there's nothing left. All her ambition and purpose has all gone into that one guy. She's dead, there's nothing there."
The conversation drifts into Fade Away [He means Blow Away], Kate's fantasy of all the dead musicians in heaven. But it's not just a jolly fairy story. The song tries to deflate the awe around dying and act as a comfort for those who don't fancy it to the point of hysteria. She mentions those people who you must've read about in the Sunday papers who have been clinically dead for a few minutes and report walking a corridor to paradise.
"None of those people are frightened by death anymore. It's almost something they're looking forward to. All of us have such a deep fear of death. It's the ultimate unknown, at the same time it's our ultimate purpose. That's what we're here for. So I thought this thing about the death-fear. I like to think I'm coming to terms with it, and other people are too. The song was really written after someone very special died.
"Although the song had been formulating before and had to be written as a comfort to those people who are afraid of dying, there was also this idea of the music, energies in us that aren't physical: art, the love in people. It can't die, because where does it go? It seems really that music could carry on in radio form, radio waves... There are people who swear they can pick up symphonies from Chopin, Schubert. We're really transient, everything to do with us is transient, except for these non-physical things that we don't even control..."
And with that we more or less called it a day, me to float to the Green Man, Kate to booze up her number one.
I find this rather amusing: Here's EMI's execs, grasping champers with hands rubbed raw from glee at their album charts coup. Here's Kate, knocked out and smiling with delight, saying right things to right people everywhere, but not moving an inch. She's got them, got the public, but there's much more to come despite all this.
Fairer hearing and digging beyond popular conceptions are highly recommended. I want this to help. Kate Bush cures sore ears.
To the Reaching Out (Interviews) Table of Contents
"The pull and the push of it all..." - Kate Bush
Marvick - Hill
Willker - Mapes
Grepel - Love-Hounds