To the Reaching Out (Interviews) Table of Contents
(This article originally appeared in Andrew Marvick's The Garden.)
[Edited by Andrew Marvick.]
Kris Needs rises with the dawn (Wot?) to talk with the elfin Kate Bush about her new album The Dreaming
Wake up! Is everybody in? The Dreaming is about to begin...
But this morning insomnia rules. I'm going to talk to Kate Bush in a few hours. This fills me with warm anticipation from past experience. So why am I jerked to a wide-eyed horizontal at 6:30 when I needn't get up till ten?
Maybe The Breakfast Show will lull the electrocution away...
Only makes it worse. Any contentment is shattered as the gimmicky strains of a cheap cover of Rolf Harris's abo-anthem Sun Rise [He means Sun Arise.] pollutes the air. And this, the day after Kate's formidably bold single The Dreaming takes a dive in the charts!
Dropped off and had a nightmare. The only records were covers and anyone who tried to release their own song got locked in a big dungeon beneath the BBC.
The Dreaming deserved so much more than to prod an exec into putting out a cash-in. It really did conjure the dusty mystery of baked deserts down under and sun-kissed centuries. Electronic vultures swoop, goats bleat (courtesy Percy Edwards), the boomer gets bonked by a jeep...All this while a mammoth outback thud makes love with the lowdown breath of Rolf Harris's dijeridu.
The Dreaming was a brave step. Not easy enough for the radio so it stiffed. But Kate stands by it as a necessary trailer for the breadth and progress of her strange new album. She can be a pop star or go on and break ground way beyond the Radio One rhino enclosure where feeding time is all glossy white soul and those covers. The Dreaming can't even be spotted in the hills. It pulses with new shapes and guises, voices crawl over your ears and gnaw the brain like beautiful maggots. The drums are enormous, the spaces cavernous. Few songs have an actual chorus [This is absolutely untrue. All ten songs on The Dreaming follow various kinds of traditional verse-chorus-bridge structures.], but each has its own atmosphere and theme, from a macabre look at Vietnam to pure horror. Life and death.
I was bowled over by the new depth and range in Kate's voice. The new deep one on The Dreaming contrasting with the airy familiar. A cracked rasp slicing through Houdini, defiant scream frazzling Pull Out the Pin while a nest of demons burst out of the stomach on Get Out of My House. Backwards and beyond Leave It Open.
"This is the first time that I actually enjoy listening to my voice," says Kate modestly as we talk on an EMI sofa. "It's a big breakthrough. Though Never For Ever was getting there, it was really compromise all the way, because I couldn't do any better at the time. I think it's the vocal chords as you get older. They do something. I can actually put some balls into my voice for the first time. It's exciting!"
The songs are longer and more open, less defined, with a different feel on each. [The songs may be more complex, but they are not less "defined".] Kate welcomes this outsider's first impressions, however garbled mine come over.
Tilts head: "It's like a progression. I've never written songs long as these before. Before they were like three minutes. They all had quite a different process. The idea was to go into the studio each night, put on the rhythm box machine and write something on the spot. Every night I was getting a song, even if it wasn't much good. There'd be an idea I could use in another song.
"It was all spontaneous initially, and became very thought out afterwards. Before, it probably worked the other way. We'd spend ages writing songs, and get it all down quick in the studio."
Hence the greater emphasis on rhythm throughout.
"Yeah. The rhythm box did that. It took me a while to get used to it. I kept moving with it instead of in and out of it, which was restricting me. Now it seems so natural."
It seems to have made your writing more aggressive.
"Mm! I like that, too. It's hard for me to really get power coming across. It's the first time I've had to get that much power, because the songs were demanding it. It was hard."
So how do you think your public are going to react? I ask. You might finally be doing what you want to, but it's gonna shock the comfy listeners and maybe lose a few fans.
"I don't know how they're going to take it. (Not too bad, as it happened, it still came in at three.) I think the people who've understood where I've been so far are going to be into it. They're expecting something different each time, so it's almost predictable in that respect.
"But I think a load of people won't like it. They probably won't understand what it's about. I find the more I write the stuff, the less I worry about this stage, and the better it is. I remember on the second and third albums there were lots of times when I was writing a song and I kept thinking what people were going to think of it. I'd rather not do that and lose some of the people who are into my music, because I'm really doing what I want to do. I'm going where I want and I'm going to keep going for it. I've no idea what's going to happen."
Two years ago Never For Ever had just come out. Kate saw it as a breakthrough with such tracks as Army Dreamers and the holocaustic birthpang epic Breathing. Waterwings before she went for Jaws. Maybe that's drastic, but you catch my drift?
"It feels like that for me. On the last album I felt like I was starting to get there, that power thing, it was starting to get into a deeper area. A number of songs on the album were still like commercial ditties. This is the first one I feel like I've actually got somewhere. Already I'm starting to hear things that I think I could do better."
Can you talk about the title track, Kate?
"The title actually came last. It always does. It's the most difficult thing to do. I tried to get a title that would somehow say what was in there. It was really bad. Then I found this book (hands me huge tome on Australian lore). I'd written a song and hadn't really given it a proper name. I knew all about this time they call Dreamtime, when animals and humans take the same form. It's this big religious time when all these incredible things happen. The other word for it is The Dreaming. I looked at that written down and thought, 'Yeah!'
"We got Rolf Harris on that. He's great. I think he's really underestimated because he's a children's entertainer, but he's probably one of the greatest mines of information on ethnic music. He was involved in the soundtrack of the film Zulu and he just stood and sang this whole song in African. He's so uninhibited, he just does it.
"I knew the beat from Sun Arise and Aborigine music, so we just ripped that off, used what was already there ethnically. Rolf just came in and did dijeridu."
We started delving deeper into the album. And as usual, Kate's been delving already. A subject grabs her, so she'll research it until there's enough soaked in to be spewed out as a song.
"Yeah, delving, definitely. A few of the ideas for the songs have been in my head for a couple of years, but I didn't feel I could do them. I wanted to do the Australian one on the last album but I hadn't written it. I just knew I wanted the sound. It's probably as well it didn't manifest till this album, because it never would have sounded the same."
Good example of this and a centrepiece of the album is Houdini. Normally titles like this get the Boney M treatment ('Hoo-hoo-hoo Houdini, master of escaperee!' or some such bollocks). Not Kate. Her immersion in the story of the legendary escapologist must've equalled that of the actress taking on a character. In the song, she emerges as Mrs. Houdini.
There's a mysterious quote on the sleeve: "With a kiss I'd pass the key..." It comes from this song, and there she is on the sepia sleeve embracing a chained man, key on tongue.
"It's a little depiction from the song. I didn't even know he was married, but apparently she used to help him out quite a lot. As he used to go into his tank or jump in the river, she'd give him a parting kiss and pass a tiny silver key into his mouth. He'd wander off, then take it out and unlock the thing. That started that side of things because I didn't realise she'd been involved with his tricks.
"He used to be involved with spiritualists--go round exposing them because they were hurting a lot of people. I think he tried to get in contact with his mother, and had some bad experiences. He and his wife made a code together so that if he or she died and the other came back through a medium or something, they would know it was them, not a fraud. When he died, she started going to all these seances, all frauds, but she went to one guy and he really had come through. The code was given; so far as she was concerned, it was him.
"It's such a beautiful image: for this guy, who'd been escaping all his life, to escape death and come back to her. But I didn't know if he had come back, because the other stories said he hadn't, so I rang up Psychic News, and this nice lady got all these papers from the 1920s and read me this apparently official declaration from Mrs. Houdini that this had happened. I feel that they were terribly in love because of the whole story. She was saving his life every time. It's such a great story, I couldn't resist it."
Kate recalls the legend of his last escape, where they had to smash the tank with an axe to free Houdini. Shiver at the stage possibilities! "Terrifying," says Kate.
The song itself, which Kate would like to be the next single but isn't sure if it's obvious enough--"I feel under pressure to go with the obvious one"--is a masterpiece. Kate's handling of potentially dodgy subject matter proves her talent is beyond any law. The most haunting refrain here (love) turns to parched despair (grief) as she coos, then cracks over dark brown strings.
Pull Out the Pin is a great contrast. Kate is a Vietnamese soldier going to fight. A ringing piano motif is the only rope ladder to grasp as the slow beat sprawls through a jungle of helicopter flutterings and creature sounds taken from a cassette recording drummer Preston Hayman made in deepest Bali. "I love life!" she screams in defiance.
"I saw this incredible documentary by this Australian cameraman who went on the front line in Vietnam, filming from the Vietnamese point of view, so it was very biased against the Americans. He said it really changed him, because until you live on their level like that, when it's complete survival, you don't know what it's about. He's never been the same since, because it's so devastating, people dying all the time.
"The way he portrayed the Vietnamese was as this really crafted, beautiful race. The Americans were these big, fat, pink, smelly things who the Vietnamese could smell coming for miles because of the tobacco and cologne. It was devastating, because you got the impression that the Americans were so heavy and awkward, and the Vietnamese were so wbeautiful and all getting wiped out. They wore a little silver Buddha on a chain around their neck and when they went into action they'd pop it into their mouth, so if they died they'd have Buddha on their lips. I wanted to write a song that could somehow convey the whole thing, so we set it in the jungle and had helicopters, crickets and little Balinese frogs."
The conversation is following. Kate Bush's music has this curious effect, where I go babbling streams of thoughts and queries and she sometimes has to fight to get a word in. I won't go on about her toes like a recent paper ("That really pissed me off"), but I love this elfin creature perched on the floor, bursting to explain the dreams she's making.
From its title, All the Love could've been The Dreaming's only straight love song, but the doleful remorse swamping the verse/chorus sections is suitable for what Kate describes as a lack of love song. She cites this one when I ask if any of the songs are about herself.
"Some of them are definitely parts of me. I think All the Love definitely says something...Not necessarily the negative side of me but the self-pitying side. The way you look at human beings and yourself, and think we're just a heap of shit. If we weren't so scared of saying what we meant, it would be so much better. All the times you didn't say things to people, either because of pride, or rejection fears--that sort of thing. That may not be an example of my own life, but I felt it nearly happening.
"It's just a terrible feeling, the thought of people having gone without the right amount of feedback. I think that really fucks people up. There are loads of people who spend all day saying, "What do you think?" I get an awful lot of feedback; even if it's negative it's better than nothing."
Night of the Swallow flits from calm to a torrent of pipes and fiddles courtesy of Irish band Planxty. When Kate sent a cassette of the song to arranger Bill Whelan in Ireland he was back on the blower in no time with an arrangement, which he played there and then through the cables. Kate then went over to Ireland for the recording:
"They were incredible: the energy and attitude towards recording music. We worked from five in the afternoon till eight the next morning, then went straight to the airport.
"The whole idea of the song was that the choruses were this guy flying off. He's a pilot who's been offered a load of money if he doesn't ask any questions. He really wants to do it, for the challenge as well, but his wife is really against it because she feels he's going to get caught. The verses are her saying 'Don't do it!" and the choruses are him saying "Look, I can do it, I can fly like a swallow". We used the idea of the ceilidh band taking off."
But The Dreaming goes out on a nightmare. Get Out of My House sends shivers up the old flagpole. It's inspired by the book of The Shining and the film of Alien. The scares prompted Kate to pen a suitably seat-clutching extravaganza which eventually mutated into the rolling torture of the closing track. Basically the haunted house one, but in Kate's hands anything can happen--and does! She becomes an old black landlady shrieking her throat off at the entity; the wind; a bird; and finally, a venomous donkey when she turns and faces the evil. Voices everywhere, not to mention a sinister clattering backdrop. It took a week just to mix.
I tell Kate that the space between my ears felt like pale jelly after first exposure to this one on the Walkman. She is pleased!
"Oh, good! It's meant to be a bit scary. It's just the idea of someone being in this place and there's something else there... You don't know what it is.
"The track kept changing in the studio. This is something that's never happened before on an album. That one was maybe half the length it is now. The guitarist got this really nice riff going, and I got this idea of two voices--a person in the house, trying to get away from this thing, but it's still there. So in order to get away, they change their form--first into a bird trying to fly away from it. The thing can change as well, so that changes into this wind, and starts blowing all icy. The idea is to turn around and face it. You've got this image of something turning round and going "Aah!" just to try and scare it away."
Time was running out. Two more...
Do you think you've changed much, Kate?
"I think I've definitely changed a lot since it all started happening, the last three years. You can't not change. I think in some ways I don't worry about things so much, but in other areas I probably worry much more. I can't work it out. Maybe I'm a bit harder..."
When are you going to play live again?
"Oh, I don't know. It's probably going to take six months to work it out, but I really want to. Now's the time, because I really wanted a new album before I could do another show again, so I could just work on these two albums and forget the two before. It's different stuff, so it wouldn't mix. I feel the new stuff is more suited to the kind of stage thing I'd like to do. The last show was really like a big experimental thing, to see what could work and what we could do, but it turned out a bit like a circus, all happy with a heavy bit here and there. I feel these two albums can make something more intense, but it's going to be so hard..."
And that was about it.
I don't care what they say, Kate Bush is a technicolour lighthouse in all the murky covers and boring crap. She deserves more from many quarters. Maybe you.
I'm writing this in bed. Funny that. Good night. Zzz...
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