To the Reaching Out (Interviews) Table of Contents
The Hot Press interview
[The following is an interview with Kate Bush by Hot Press, one of the few British music publications which seldom shows up in the States. The interview was conducted by an anonymous male reporter for the magazine in November of 1985. Edited and annotated by Andrew Marvick.]
The Private Kate Bush
Kate Bush is notoriously wary of press scrutiny. She last spoke to Hot Press back in 1978 around the time of the release of Wuthering Heights, her first single, which subsequently raced all the way to the number one spot.
A megastar ever since, she's the kind of artist who gives Press Officers nervous breakdowns. We've sought another audience on numerous occasions in the intervening period, but the idea remained interminably in the pending file, awaiting what La Bush might deem the most appropriate moment. During the three years since the release of her superb fourth album, The Dreaming, we've kept in almost constant contact (Jesus, the phone bills!)...
With the impending launch of the next meisterwerk, Hounds of Love, by the summer of 1985, the logic seemed inescapable. We made the case as often as possible and (sweet relief) Kate was convinced. Not that everything is necessarily hunky dory once the interview has been agreed to in principle: that was August, this is November. No wonder the press office remain nervous and apprehensive until the writer is safely dispatched in a taxi to the artist's Elsham rehearsal hideaway...
It all seems so out of context when you finally confront Kate Bush herself. She's warm and wonderfully friendly. And you can see right away why people have fallen in love with those two huge dimples on her left cheek: the beauty is in the blemishes. She's admirably unaffected, too, making a quick cup of tea herself, and downing two chocolate eclairs without batting an eyelid.
When the tea is finished, we settle down to chew some tape up. This is what we find.
I am sure you are fed up answering this question, but the obvious thing people want to know first is why there was such a long gap between your last album and this one.
"Yeah, it really is the question! I wanted to sort out my environment. I was living in the city, and I wasn't happy working in London studios--so we moved to the country and built and equipped our own studio, which we then recorded everything in. Also, I was taking time to go dancing again, to get back into training. Whenever I make an album I just stop completely, and it's those gaps in between when I can throw myself back into it. And things like learning to drive, going to see a few movies--actually I wanted to go to see people. Just to do those things that you don't get time to do when you are so busy. And I think it was all really beneficial. It really was."
The second side of your new album has been described as a "concept" piece. Was there any resistance on EMI's part to releasing a record with that aspect to it?
"I think if they'd heard demos, if they'd heard about the idea of it being a concept before they actually heard the finished thing, I might have had that problem, yes. But because they were presented with the final thing, with all the songs completed and linked together, and it was finished, I think they were accepting it as music rather than having any preconception of 'concept'--of everyone going 'Ooh, no! That's really Sixties!' It did frighten me a lot, just that word, 'concept'. 'Ooh!' You could feel people shuddering just as you said it. But it is what it is, you can't get away from it."
Obviously on one level The Ninth Wave is about somebody nearly drowning. But I was struck by images which suggested that there could be drugs involved. There's the line in And Dream of Sleep [sic]: "I can't be left to my imagination/Let me be weak..." And then there's the mention of poppies.
"Definitely there is the connection, with the poppies. That imagery wasn't really meant to be drug-orientated, but when you think of poppies you automatically get that sense of terrible drowsiness, and I suppose you do connect it to opium."
Then in The Ice Song [sic; the interviewer is thinking of Under Ice] there is the reference to "making [sic] lines, little lines," which can obviously be interpreted in those terms. [Obviously?] There's also a connection in snow and pervasive whiteness.
"Yes, absolutely. But really it wasn't conscious when I was writing it, and it was only a few weeks before we finished the album that people said, 'God, have you looked at this: "Cutting little lines," and I had really not consciously considered that at all. I mean, the whole thing is about skaters cutting ice, and leaving tracks instead of footprints. And it's cold and empty. For me, the ultimate loneliness is not a complete wasteland, but for it to be completely frozen. It was that imagery more than a drug-based one. But you are right..."
Someone experiencing a habit could metaphorically be said to be drowning. I definitely think of the second side as a description of what it might be like to get over a heroin habit.
"I think it's parallel to so many things, really--It's definitely going through an experience and coming out the other side and it's definitely not a pleasant experience. I definitely find it very frightening, the whole concept of being in something so huge and it's night and you're alone (small laugh).
"I can't really pinpoint it--perhaps from war films and people coming off boats, planes, into the water, and they're there all night, having already been through such terrible experiences. And there they are, dumped in the middle of nothing. Ooh, so many things that human beings went through in wartime--It's just incredible what people could do, even do to their own people. Terrible.
"I like the whole idea, too, of being in water, and sensory deprivation--losing a complete sense of where you are, and then off goes your head: your body is left there, but your mind is travelling. I think everyone gets these glimpses, moments, somewhere in your life when you experience something and you suddenly realise how you're taking it all for granted."
If you look at it from the point of view of somebody who is unemployed or finding it hard to make ends meet, writing an album on that kind of abstract theme could seem like an indulgent exercise. How would you respond to that particular criticism?
"I would say, is it right to put this kind of limitation on art? I think very visually, when I write things, and I particularly saw this piece as a visual thing. Also, I think perhaps it would be more hypocritical of me to write about a situation that concerns those kind of people. I don't think I could understand it enough to make something worthwhile from it. It's very difficult; I always remember the criticisms of someone like Elton John--How can someone that rich sing about being poor when they don't understand it? Margaret Thatcher, how can she understand it? When you're dealing with contemporary situations, you have to be terribly careful not to insult rather than do what you want to do, which is 'Yeah! Come on, let's do it!'"
So tell me, how would you vote in an election, if there was one in the next week or two?
"That's something I wouldn't want to say. I think it's a very personal thing, voting. I also think it's a crazy situation we are in, where there is not much choice. You look at the people who are up there, who we have to choose between--Is that really a solution? I don't think it is at all, is it?"
So what's your opinion of Margaret Thatcher, then?
"I don't feel I am a political thinker at all. I don't really understand politics."
On the other hand, you must have opinions about her.
"About her. I don't know, I don't know what I think of her, or any of them. I think it's incredible, really, don't you, the people we have to choose between?"
I think that there is a shocking limitation in what they aspire to.
"Also, there's the big fib that everyone has, that they do aspire to these things--but it's just a promotional thing, to get them to number one! And even if someone in that position wanted to help, could they? Could they? Because they are so tied in by the whole bureaucracy of the thing, it's like a big game that's much deeper than it looks, really."
But Margaret Thatcher--She has basically attempted to dismantle the Social Welfare system.
"That's horrific, that's really terrible, the hospitals... But I don't know if there is anyone besides her at the moment who would really do it better, would they? I don't know, I wish there was, it would be good. It would be great to stop National Health going down the drain--It's disgusting to think of people having to die because they don't have the facilities to care for some people. But the unemployment thing is--I don't know. I don't like what governments do, but I can't talk about individuals because I don't know enough about them. I really don't. I'm ignorant."
As somebody who is involved in making records, you are also involved in creating a product and to an extent, Kate Bush becomes a commodity. How do you feel about that?
"Yes, that is something that does scare me. If you want to make records, videos, you have got to have money, and to get that money you have to have albums that are relatively successful. You have to promote them. And that's where I feel the commodity side comes in, because as soon as the personality seeps into it rather than the work, you're making that person vulnerable to the public. I don't like that. I'd much rather work on albums, videos, and explore films and that, without having to promote them. I find it difficult, I feel false. It's very against what I feel is right.
"I think sometimes the work speaks much better than the person does. I certainly feel mine does. Because I can spend a lot of time trying to say something, and I don't feel that I am good enough at what I am doing now to really warrant doing it, other than for selling my work. And I think sometimes it can go against the work: the personality can almost taint it."
Can you give an example of that?
"Preconceptions can cause problems, and I think, say some of the press I got a while ago was very flippant. And I felt that that, to a certain extent, did work against what I was trying to do. It created an impression of me that wasn't really what I was, and perhaps gave that impression to people who could have seen me in a different way."
You can't escape the fact that this is the century of mass communication, and the whole way in which the media work is through creating resonances off one another. To me, it's part of the excitement.
"I suppose if we start talking about someone else, I can automatically relate to what you are saying. I am curious about what made Sting write Message in a Bottle. But at the same time I can see things that have happened to other people, where it would have been better if that area of their personality hadn't been aired."
The initial poster promoting your first album was a close-up shot of you in a leotard. That caused quite a bit of controversy at the time. What's your view, retrospectively, of that?
"I didn't really see it objectively at that time, and I think now, when I see it, it's quite embarassing--but I suppose that's because I'm a long way away from it. I don't think it had too many sexual connotations--I thought it was rather nice at the time."
But why do you find it embarassing now? Is it the fact that you can see your breasts through the vest?
"Yes, it should have been cropped, and I think that's something that we would certainly do now. It's not necessary, it's just something that I didn't see then. Looking at it retrospectively, I can see that it was suggestive."
At the same time, there is a projection of sexuality through the photos on the latest album.
"Do you think so, on this album cover?"
Yeah, I suppose it begins with the fact that you're in a sleeping position...
"Yes, you are right. That was very difficult. Because the album is called Hounds of Love, and it was very difficult trying to get a picture of myself with dogs that wouldn't look either like something out of Country Life or too period--it was impossible. The original idea was just to have the three heads--myself and a dog each side of me, but it just didn't work. The dogs wouldn't stay still! It was ridiculous, and the only way we could do it was to lie down with them and just get them to relax enough so that they would sort of ZZZzzz! And that was the way it worked. But I suppose you're right, though it wasn't initially or consciously thought of as a sexual thing at all. In fact it's something--I have become I think a bit--It worries me anytime I think there is any kind of sexual connotation: 'My God! Should I be careful?...'"
But why does that worry you so much?
"I don't know. It confuses me. It's really annoying, too, because I don't see what's wrong with having sexuality, with recognising the sexual quality of things. But I suppose it confuses me because when I am doing things at the time, maybe people will say "That's sexy," and I can't relate to it. I can't see myself sexually-- I just see me being silly. I can't be objective about myself."
In a funny way, there's quite a strange kind of sexuality that comes across through all your photography. For example, the second album, where you are in the lion's costume.
"Yes, it didn't occur to me again--it really didn't-- until people started saying 'Oooh!' And I couldn't see it."
I suppose it's--On an entirely crude level with Hounds of Love, the implication is of consorting with animals...
"Yes, I see, Hounds of Love, definitely. It's fascinating, I think, the idea of humans becoming animals. Like the guy in An American Werewolf in London -- It's really the first time it's been done well, isn't it, the idea of a man actually transferring into an animal. It's got a wonderful, very primeval, magical sense about it. And I suppose that dividing line--We are animals but we are different, we are much more intelligent--There is a separation but there isn't. It can be really disturbing, I think, really scary. Interesting."
When you see an image, you automatically read meanings into it. There are certain connotations that are unavoidable, and implicit. The latest sleeve: I would have thought lying with two dogs asleep, entitled The Hounds of Love [sic], connecting the two you have created quite a definitive...
"Yes. I think Hounds of Love is very obvious--quite a lot of people have suggested that. But when you think of it in terms of the song it's completely different. It's the sense of the 'hounds' of love: the hound symbolically representing that force. You're terrified of it so you run, but it keeps coming after you, and you're terrified that when it catches you, it's going to hurt you."
But if you interpret that on a subconscious level, what does it mean?
"On a subconscious level! What are we getting into, Freud?"
Well, why not?
"I haven't gone that far. It was an image, the idea of being scared. Instead of this force of man, it was a pack of hounds."
But what are people afraid of? People are afraid of sex. People are fascinated by it, but it does also have the quality of inspiring fear. And particularly if it's with somebody or something which isn't an accepted part of everyday situations. So it's to do with temptation, and once you commit the sin, everything is actually fine--because that's what people experience in relation to sexuality. [Huh?]
"I suppose you're right. I suppose the fear of relationships is what it's about, but obviously it's dealing with a man and woman, and that does have to do with sexual energy."
There are other areas where you have specifically taken a taboo as a theme--for example, The Infant Kiss.
"Yes, that was fascinating. It was based on the film, The Innocents. I saw it years ago, when I was very young, and it scared me, and when films scare you as a kid, I think they really hang there. It's a beautiful film, quite extraordinary. This governess is supposed to look after these children, a little boy and a girl, and they are actually possessed by the spirits of the people who were in the house before. And they keep appearing to the children. It's really scary -- as scary on some levels as the idea of The Exorcist, and that terrified me. The idea of this young girl, speaking and behaving like she did was very disturbing, very distorted. But I quite like that song."
But there are those who would say it was totally perverse.
"I suppose they would. And actually, I don't think I could find a younger man attractive, let alone a boy. But the whole idea of looking at a little innocent boy and that distortion--I mean, it's absolutely terrifying, isn't it? I thought it was ingenious, great, so weird and unnatural."
But the thing is, looking at it objectively, that's a song about paedophilia. The strange thing is that, written by a woman, that seems acceptable.
"It's very different from a woman's point of view, and I think that's also what's so interesting about it."
But did it occur to you that if that song had been written and sung by a man, there might have been a really huge outcry?
"That's something I never thought about, but I suppose you're right. But a man didn't write it. I don't know, it's a bit hard to understand, but it was the fascination of a very soft, gentle woman who wouldn't consider herself perverse at all--in fact, she wasn't, that's the thing. She thought she was being a paediathingy --but in fact she wasn't, she was truly picking up a real man's energy and not a kid's, because the child was possessed. It's very different if it involves a man and a little girl--the man is so powerful to start with."
I was thinking of it on a political level [Surprise, surprise.] Say how would feminists react, if I wrote that song?...
"Yes, if you wrote that song, automatically it would have some weird and dangerous connotations. Because you don't normally think--and this is very heavy, this--When there are attractions to children from adults, you normally do think of it as men to girls. It's just more spoken of. And I think you're into very negative, dangerous areas that would make it something very unpleasant..."
Do you consider yourself a feminist?
"I really react to that word, and I think probably the majority of women--but I don't know--would feel the same. Feminist is one of those words. When you hear 'feminist' you go 'ummgh!' It's a 'concept'. You get all these terrible images--like women with hairy legs and big muscles. And I mean you just think of butch lesbians. I think the media's been playing around with it, but I also think there are an awful lot of groups that basically don't like men, and they tend to get quite a lot of publicity. And they are terribly aggressive and quite illogical: 'What have we got men for!' I think a lot of women feel very confused by the whole thing--I know I do--where you've just got to get in there--that's the thing--and work!
"There are a lot of women who --obviously--want the same opportunities, who don't want doors shut in their faces. But you know we should help each other, for God's sake, we shouldn't be fighting against each other. We should be working to help each other. And men have to be educated as much as women do. We have both been really conditioned. Okay, we are different, we have to recognise that, but we should be able to work together and help each other, and I think we can. We are all sort of sitting here feeling confused, both the women and the men! Or alternatively, the men are out there being chauvinist pigs and the women are out there being feminists. But there's a lot in the middle, a hodge-podge of people, just trying to adjust."
You have actually charted a very independent course yourself, and in some ways you'd offer a definition of what feminists would want women to be able to do.
"I would like to think that there is actually a very strong force of women who believe we should have equal opportunities, be able to work, be treated nicely without any threat, all of that. And not necessarily come on with 'We hate men--Off with your balls!' Do you know what I mean? And I think there are lots of women who are starting to really do it properly. Look at comedy. I think comedy in this country is incredible. The best. It really is, it's superb. I suppose a lot of it is negatively based, but it still is superb, and just streets ahead of anyone else in the world. But, I think women have been used so much in comedy. Either there's something really hideous and ugly that's meant to be attractive, and then when it's hideous and ugly everyone goes 'aah!", or there's Benny Hill's cutie-pies that don't speak. But now there's a revolution in comedy which involves women in a much more interesting way. They're not being used as women, they're not really pretty or really ugly, they're just people. I think that really says a lot. And it's nice to see that, because so often I think women are pandered to. Like: a couple of years ago there was a trend of these feminist programmes that were meant to be for women, and they were all basically anti-men jokes. And all the women I knew thought they were horrific. It was totally insulting and unfunny. Yet women were presumed to laugh at this. Women came on and told jokes just as sexist as the men's. But it seems to have changed. It's women--Victoria Wood, Jennifer Saunders, Tracey Ullman--it's women, real women."
You successfully declined to discuss your relationship with Del [Del Palmer, Kate's demo engineer and bass player.] publicly for seven years. Why was that?
"Well, I don't feel our relationship is anything to do with anyone other than us."
But on the other hand, it was made public knowledge through the Daily Mirror.
"Yes. There was a launch of the album, and it was really a decision, whether we didn't go together or whether we'd go together and just behave normally. And we thought it was silly not to go together-- so we went together. And everyone wanted photographs of the two of us. It was quite a shock for both of us--It's been a long time since there's been that many cameras going off for me. And I don't think Del had experienced anything quite like that before. So it's not that it all suddenly came out in the open. There was a launch and he was there. But they loved it!"
Does it create any tension that you are the one who is the bigger earner? Obviously you have the greater income. It's a reversal of the conventional pattern.
"It's not really that unusual now. Del's very involved in the work. He seems to really enjoy the music, so we actually work together. I don't think he minds."
Is there a very conscious root in English culture in your writing? For example, the Tennyson quote you used to introduce The Ninth Wave. And then there was Oh! England, My Lionheart on the second album.
"My patriotic number! Yes, I think there probably was, moreso than there is now. The Tennyson thing is a bit misleading because rather than that inspiring the b-side, I needed a title for all the pieces and there wasn't any line in the songs that really was right. It needed a title that said something, so I was looking through some books, and I found this quote from Tennyson that I though was perfect, so that was it."
Is most of your reading concentrated on nineteenth-century literature?
"I read very little. I'm really terribly ignorant, just like my politics. As a child, I used to read lots and lots, but I just feel guilty now when I pick up books. I think I should be doing something else. It's really an incredible experience--it's so intimate, just you and the book. And you create so much of it. That's what's so nice about it. You are involved with the effort. And I suppose that's why I don't do it much!"
I suppose I got that impression starting off with "Wuthering Heights".
"Right, well it always affects me. Every book I've read has really affected me. It's that special, you do create a relationship, really. And that was such a huge story...Oscar Wilde was one of my earliest influences--his fairy stories. I could still read one of them-- definitely--and cry. Terribly tragic stuff."
So what about the Irish flavour in your music?
"I feel that strongly, being torn between the Irish and the English blood in me, really. And the Irish influence is definitely very strong. My mother was always playing Irish music, and again, I think when you are really young, things get in and get in deeper because you haven't got as many walls up. I just--it's the same as my mother--I watch her, and when the pipes start playing, 'Yahoo!', you know, everything just lights up and it can be so inspiring. It's just emotional stuff. I think I was really lucky to be given that kind of stimulus. It's really heavy, emotionally--the pipes, they really tear it out of your heart."
But do you listen to Irish traditional music at the moment?
"Yeah, I do. It's great. I love it."
What's your reaction to Ireland?
"It's beautiful, totally beautiful. There are so many different kinds of landscapes and beauty. It's so wonderful just hanging around the coast and watching it change. It's always dramatic, stepping back into the last century. It has a real sense of magic. And the people are so fantastic, so warm, so wistful. I really do like Ireland a lot. It's one of the few places apart from England where I'd ever think of living."
Were you ever north of the border?
Would you like to go?
"Yes, I would."
You've no reservations about it?
"I think everybody that's English has hesitations. You can't help but be conditioned. It happens everywhere, and I would very much like to go over, and certainly without having experienced--to understand the reality of it and not the illusion that's created by people."
Was your mother republican in her attitudes? [Ubboy!]
"I don't think that's something I want to talk about. You should ask my mother that."
I just wondered what kind of an impression of the relationship between the North and the South, the English and the Irish you'd been given.
"Totally by media, and by the IRA--that's what the English person thinks of as soon as you mention Northern Ireland. Definitely, people being bombed and shot, and a very military kind of scene with lots of repression and perhaps the English not being too welcome there. This is the impression that we have."
As a child, were you aware of the border? Were you aware of the tensions that existed between the English and the Irish historically?
"My mother's picture of Ireland was of her home, and no further than that--literally. And that is where her heart is. And all her memories and the things she says of home are just beautiful. I think it has definitely affected my attitude toward Ireland. That's why I feel so at home, why I love it so much. I can feel my mother everywhere there."
Would your parents at this stage completely accept this lifestyle, or do you think they ever wish that 'their Kate' had turned out differently?
"I don't know if they wish I had turned out differently. They've never said anything, and I've never asked them. But they are great, and I think they are very happy. They get a lot of pleasure in being involved in it. I think they genuinely enjoy it."
Your family seems to be a very close-knit one. Your brothers are very involved in your career.
"They are, though they're not really involved consistently. But they are important, my family. They've always been there, been supportive."
Given the importance of your family and the closeness that's there, what about the idea of having children yourself?
"That's not something that I can talk about--it's not a desire that I have had yet. My work is totally obsessive. I can't say. I might do."
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