To the Reaching Out (Interviews) Table of Contents
(This article was taken from Andrew Marvick's The Garden)
[Edited by Andrew Marvick.]
Kate Bush tells Karen Swayne about her latest dream
The long-haired denim-clad figure emerging from the recesses of Kerrang! stopped in his tracks, listening intently to the record on the turntable.
"This Kate Bush?" he queried. "Good, isn't she? I really like her stuff."
When I told my mum I'd be interviewing the lady, she was so impressed I thought for one awful moment that she was going to ask me to get her autograph. Now, I can't think of many artists with that kind of across-the-board appeal, and the funny thing is that Kate Bush makes some very strange records.
Her first album in two years is The Dreaming, and it's as far-removed from the current chart sounds as you could possibly imagine (or hope for), but in it went at number three--proof that you don't have to conform to commercial formulae to be (or stay) successful.
A surprisingly slight but strikingly attractive figure with a direct gaze, clad in baggy jumper and jeans, Kate Bush is nothing like her dreadful public image--that of a breathless, squeaky-voiced girl whose vocabulary is limited to words like "wow" and "incredible". I wondered if she finds it disconcerting that people have such a weird image of her.
"Oh yeah, and it worries me a bit, too," she says. "That image was something that was created in the first two years of my popularity, though, when people latched onto the fact that I was young and female, rather than a young female singer/songwriter.
"Now it's much easier for females to be recognised as that, because there are more around, but when I started there was really only me and Debbie Harry, and we got tied into the whole body thing. It was very flattering, but not the ideal image I would have chosen."
Because people see that, rather than hear the songs...
"Right, and I've spent so much time trying to prove to those people that there's more to me than that. Just the fact that I'm still around and my art keeps happening should convince them.
"I can't go around all the time telling people where I'm at now. I just have to hope that there are people who see the changes and change with me. I think it was just that the media didn't know how to handle it, because it was so unusual at the time."
Did you ever feel like you were being treated as a child prodigy?
"I felt that because I was so young people weren't taking me seriously. They couldn't accept that I could be so involved in what I was doing.
"I was very lucky, because when I left school I knew what I wanted to do, and it worked out; and I suppose I did grow up fairly fast, because in a way, I was working in an area two or three years ahead of myself."
Kate is now twenty-four, and The Dreaming is undoubtedly her most mature work to date. It took over a year to make, and the result is an intricate, complex web of ideas and images, with sounds used to create pictures which are sometimes too abstract for easy comprehension. I wondered if she was occasionally being deliberately obscure.
"No, not at all [Ha! Why does Kate say things like this?], because although there's a lot going on in some of the tracks, to me they're kept on a simple basic level within themselves--all the ideas are aiming towards the same picture.
"Like, some people have said it's 'over-produced', but I don't think it is, because I know what I was trying to get at. I think of over-produced albums as the ones that have strings, brass, choirs, that sort of thing."
What about the lyrics, though? As I sat struggling with them, I felt that you had made them consciously oblique in places.
"I don't intend them to be that way. [Ha!] It's just the way they come out. The thing is, when I have subject-matter, the best way I could explain it would be across ten pages of foolscap, but as I've got to get in a song, I have to precis everything.
"Maybe the album is more difficult for people than I meant it to be. It isn't intended to be complicated, but it obviously is, for some. A lot of it is to do with the fact that the songs are very involved--there's lots of different layers.
"Hopefully the next one will be simpler, but each time it gets harder, because I'm getting more involved. I'm trying to do something better all the time."
Do you worry about losing fans?
"Yeah, I do, because obviously from a purely financial point of view I depend on money to make albums, and if they're not successful it's quite likely I won't have the scope to do what I want on the next one.
"But, I'd rather go artistically the way I want to than hang onto an audience, because you have to keep doing what you feel. It's just luck if you can hang onto the people, as well."
The time and cost of The Dreaming has already been fairly well documented--did you intend to spend that long recording it?
"No, not at all. But I find that a lot of things I do now take so much longer than I thought they would."
What is it that takes the time? Translating your ideas onto record?
"Yeah, that's what's really hard. In so many cases you need to be in the studio to get the sounds, and it can maybe take a couple of days just to get one idea across. Sometimes you wonder if you should just leave them."
How do you feel about your early records now?
"I don't really like them. A lot of the stuff on the first two albums I wasn't at all happy with. I think I'm still fond of a lot of the songs, but I was unhappy about the way they came across on record.
"Also, until this album I'd never really enjoyed the sound of my own voice. It' always been very difficult for me, because I've wanted to hear the songs in a different way."
Why didn't you like it?
"I think a lot of people don't like the sound of their own voices. It's like you have to keep working towards something you eventually do like. It was very satisfying for me on this album, because for the first time I can sit and listen to the vocals and think, 'Yeah, that's actually quite good.'"
Were you pushing it more to create different sounds?
"In a way. But I probably used to push it more in other ways. I went through a phase of trying to leap up and down a lot when I was writing songs. I used to try to push it almost acrobatically. Now I'm trying more to get the song across, and I have more control. When I'm trying to think up the character is when it needs a bit of push."
Do you always try to put yourself in the role of a character, then?
"Yeah, normally, because the song is always about something, and always from a particular viewpoint. There's normally a personality that runs along with it.
"Sometimes I really have to work at it to get in the right frame of mind, because it's maybe the opposite of how I'm feeling, but other times it feels almost like an extension of me, which it is, in some ways."
You have been accused in the past of living in some kind of fantasy world. Would you say you refuse to face up to reality?
"Now. I think I do, actually, although there are certain parts of me that definitely don't want to look at reality. Generally speaking, though, I'm quite realistic, but perhaps the songs on the first two albums created some kind of fantasy image, so people presumed that I lived in that kind of world."
Where do you get the ideas for songs from?
"Anywhere, really. They're two or three tracks that I had the ideas for on the last album but never got together. Others come from films, books or stories from people I know. That kind of thing."
What about Pull Out the Pin, a song about VietNam? Was that something you'd always wanted to write about?
"No, I didn't think I'd ever want to write about it until I saw this documentary on television which moved me so much I thought I just had to."
The title track concerns the abuse of Aborigines by so-called civilised man. Where did that interest come from?
"That's something that's been growing for years. It started when I was tiny, and my brother bought Sun Arise [a hit of the early 1960s by Rolf Harris.]. We thought it was brilliant--to me, that's a classic record. I started to become aware of the whole thing--that it's almost an instinctive thing in white man to wipe out a race that actually owns the land. It's happening all around the world."
Do you hope to change people's opinions by what you write?
"No. Because I don't think a song can ever do that. If people have strong opinions, then they're so deep-rooted that you'll never be able to do much. Even if you can change the way a few people think, you'll never be able to change the situation anyway.
"I don't ever write politically, because I know nothing about politics. To me they seem more destructive than helpful. I think I write from an emotional point of view, because even though a situation may be political, there's always some emotional element, and that's what gets to me."
The thoughts and ideas are expressed through a variety of sounds, an adventurous use of instruments and people--from Rolf Harris on dijeridu to Percy Edwards on animal impressions! Kate has also discovered the Fairlight, a computerised synthesiser.
"It's given me a completely different perspective on sounds," she enthuses. "You can put any sound you want onto the keyboard, so if you go 'Ugh!', you can play 'Ugh!' all the way up the keyboard. Theoretically, any sound that exists, you can play.
"I think it's surprising that with all the gear around at the moment, people aren't experimenting more."
Whatever you may think of Kate Bush, you could never say that she's not been prepared to take risks. In the four years that have passed since her startling first single Wuthering Heights, she has grown increasingly adventurous and ambitious, creating music that she hopes will last longer than much of today's transient pop.
Of The Dreaming she says: "I wanted it to be a long-lasting album, because my favourite records are the ones that grow on you--that you play lots of times because each time you hear something different."
Never particularly a public fave, her last live shows were three years ago, and although she plans to do some in the future, they'll take at least six months to prepare. [Try six years and counting.]
She admits that she found her initial success hard to cope with at times.
"I still find some things frightening. I've adjusted a hell of a lot, but it still scares me. There are so many aspects that if you start thinking about are terrifying. The best thing to do is not even to think about them. Just try to sail through."
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