Interviews & Articles


Star Parts(?)
"Kate Bush Isn't Your Everyday Songwriter"
by Phil McNeill

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From: rhill@netrun.cts.com (ronald hill)
Date: Sun, 12 Jul 92 01:03:26 PDT
Subject: STAR PARTS INTERVIEW by Phil McNeill 1985


Source Unclear, Possibly The No.1 Book or Star Parts

Reprinted in Never Forever 19

by Phil McNeill

[Transcribed by Ron Hill]

Kate Bush Isn't your everyday songwriter.

For years she's been regarded as one of the best in pop - as songs like "Wuthering Heights", "Army Dreamers", and "Running Up That Hill" have proved. Yet no one else has ever recorded one of her songs [several people had actually recorded Kate's songs by the time this was printed], and she wouldn't know how to write a hit single if she tried.

What's more, she reckons most of her lyrics leave most of her fans completely mystified.

Compared to hard-headed commercial songwriters like George Michael and Madonna, she's almost unworldly.

Like Prince, she's intensely private. When she spoke to us for The No. 1 Book, it was her first and probably last interview of 1986.

"I don't really like doing interviews," she confesses. "People have so many preconceptions about me that even when they meet me they still go away writing about the preconceptions."

Even so, she answered our questions thoughtfully, trying to get to the art of her art: the songs.


Kate Bush signed a contract with Britain's biggest record company, EMI, at the age of 16, so it's not surprise to learn that she stared songwriting young.

"When I was about 11, I used to much around on my father's piano in our house in Welling, Kent. I got a tremendous sense of fulfillment out of it - it just became an obsession. I used to spend all my time writing songs."

Because Kate was so young, she hadn't heard enough music to be influenced by other artists.

"I didn't really listen to music until I was a bit older," she admits. "my influences were traditional, which is the music by brothers Paddy and Jay were into."

When she did start listening to pop, she developed at least one thing in common with George Michael: a taste for ELton John.

"I thought he was fantastic because at that time pop was mainly guitar - I didn't know anyone else playing the piano and writing songs. He was an inspiration."


In those early days, says Kate, "I used to just write at the piano. It's changed now. I've got my own studio and the production has become part of the songwriting."

From being simple, songwriting has become a highly technical operation. With thousands of pounds worth of electronic equipment like a Fairlight and an Emulator - which between them can ape just about any sound on Earth - Kate's songs can start anywhere.

"It's quite difficult to say there's a certain way I write. I'm very lucky to have so many facilities - it's made a tremendous difference.

"Commercial studios put so much pressure on you. You've always got people watching you, and it costs so much every hour. That makes me nervous. The freedom I have now is great.

"What is also really good is that my boyfriend Del (Palmer) is an engineer. So I can go into the studio with an engineer who I feel totally uninhibited with, and play around with ideas."

Kate's songs usually start from a sound. The studio is her inspiration.

Take "Cloudbusting" for instance - that bewitching single with just violins and cellos marching behind Kate's fragile voice. Most artists would write the song on acoustic guitar or piano and then think, hey, that would sound great with a string sextet! Not Kate:

"I was just mucking about in the studio. I got a violin sound on the Fairlight, and wrote the tune on it. Then we replaced the Fairlight with real strings on the record.

"The words came after the music."


This doesn't mean that Kate's words are less important than her music. If they seem hard to understand, that's because there's often quite a story behind them. In the case of "Cloudbusting", it's a whole book...

"It's not very often that I have actually written songs about books. "Wuthering Heights" is a well-known one.

"But there's this incredibly emotional book I picked up years ago called The Book of Dreams by Peter Reich. He was the son of Wilhelm Reich, who I suppose you'd call a psychoanalyst. This book is about their relationship.

"Reich had this theory about an energy called Orgone. He also had a machine he'd built that could make it rain.

"It's a terribly sad book because people don't understand what he's trying to do. He ends up being arrested and dies soon after - and his son is left without his father who has been absolutely everything to him.

"It's a true story. The book's so full of anguish, yet at the same time there's something happy about it.

"I very much wanted to capture the combination of happiness and sadness in the song."

Now that Kate explains it, it's possible to see some light in the song's mysterious phrases: "I still dream of Organon... Every time it rains, you're here in my head... you son's coming out..."

But does Kate seriously think any of her listeners will understand it without the explanation?

"Well, I think it's incredible, the feedback I've got," she replies. "So many people do understand it. I've had letters from so many people who know about Wilhelm Reich and his theories. Loads of people have gone out and got the book - even though it's out of print.

"I actually contacted the man who wrote the book. I sent him a copy of the record and he was very kind about it. It was a very strange experience."


So some people do understand - but what about the rest of us? Does it matter if people don't get it?

"No," Kate replies. "I think the most important thing is what they feel when they listen to it. THat's what music is really all about: emotion."

Would Kate in fact agree that most of her listeners don't know what most of her songs are about?

"Yes, I think that would be fair enough," she admits. "It's the same for me with a lot of music I like. It's the feeling you get that's important."

Why doesn't Kate ever write straightforward love songs?

"Well, I think that love is never straightforward," she parries. "There are lots of tangent and consequences, and it can be very difficult to convey all that in a four-minute song. So often you have to cut at least half of them out."


Kate's last LP Hound of Love was her most ambitious to date. The second side was a series of songs called The Ninth Wave which, as she puts it, "all tell a story together." Now her studio is complete, she's eager to get onto the next album. But will her music change?

"I have no idea," she admits. "I don't know what will happen until I go in there and start mucking around."

In other words, Kate's songs control her as much as she controls them. "It's a weird thing," she says, "because you don't always like what you are writing. I try very hard now to write things I like."

That battle determines Kate Bush's whole life, because without her songs there would be no Kate Bush records, no Kate Bush videos, even fewer Kate Bush concerts and interviews than there are today...

"Yes," says Kate. "Songwriting is the most important thing I do. All the rest comes out of it."

Kate's idea of a love song is "Running Up That Hill". Although it was a big hit, few can have realized it was about two lovers swapping roles.

"It's the idea of two people, a man and woman in this case, who are very much in love," Kate explains. "It's about the problem of not being able to understand what the other person means when they say something.

"There's a kind of delicacy that arises in extreme emotion. When you feel a great deal for someone, you're more likely to be upset by something and take it the wrong way.

"And the whole idea is that if you could be that person in a relationship, looking at yourself, you would know exactly what was going on."

So why the phrase "running up that hill"? [This is the only time that I know of that Kate was asked this seemingly obvious question.]

"It's meant to be the positivism of going somewhere. Climbing up a mountain, going up. It might be hard but you are getting there."


And while we're on love songs - "Hounds of Love" is about fear of being in love...?

"Yes," says Kate. "It's about running away from being caught, being frightened of being trapped. I think everyone is afraid of love, of emotional commitment."

"And in the song it's treated like these hounds that you want to get away from, because you think they might rip you apart!"

This sounds like the right moment to ask [as it does for most interviewers!]: are Kate's songs personal?

"They always end up being personal," she hedges, "because you put a lot of time into them. But I don't think they are autobiographical. Quite often they are observations of other people, or inventions - though they obviously echo some of my attitudes."


One thing that's unusual about Kate Bush is that she never writes in cliches.

Some writers do so quote deliberately. Madonna, for instance, puts together a series of little catchphrases like "Get into the groove, boy you've got to prove, your love to me", and fills them with her own zest for life. The listener can borrow those phrases and use them to make themselves feel good, to get them through the day.

Great pop writers like Madonna and George Michael use cliches in a good way - but all too many use them badly. Certain glib phrases crop up time and again. Yet Kate Bush has probably never used one of them in her life.

"I think that's quote a nice thing to say," she says.

Nice, but true. Kate seems to steer clear of the music business both musically and physically. Does she deliberately avoid outside influences, especially whilst recording?

"Yes, I think that's inevitable," she says, "because it's... an obsession. Once you find the way into an album and you're involved, you just can't get out. It drags you along until it's finished.

"I find there are always points where I don't want to go on. I'm always really glad when an album's finished."

Sounds like a slow process. How long does it take Kate to write a song?

"They're such unpredictable beasts," she replies. "Sometimes it can be just an evening - that's all it took to write 'Running Up That Hill'."

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"The pull and the push of it all..." - Kate Bush

Reaching Out
is a
Marvick - Hill
Willker - Mapes
Grepel - Love-Hounds