To the Reaching Out (Interviews) Table of Contents
Date: Tue, 28 Nov 89 10:10:59 GMT
Subject: International Musician Tony Horkins Interview Dec. 1989
From International Musician and Recording World
December 1989 Volume 15 No. 13
Copyright Northern and Shell plc
What Katie did next
Tony Horkins delves deep into the private life of Kate Bush to discuss her new cut, The Sensual World.
Sitting comfortably in the high tech surround of Abbey road studios, Kate Bush, that most English of English roses, is trying to define exactly what English music really is.
"I think lyrically there's a lot that defines English music, and I suppose a certain approach to sounds," she considers emotively. "There are very definite American approaches to sound - guitar sounds, approaches to songs, the Fender Rhodes; as soon as you hear that it's America. But to actually define African, or American."
Which may go some way to explain why her new album, The Sensual World, is so mixed in its influences and so far removed from anything we may immediately consider to be English. A swirling mass of eastern European rhythms, Bulgarian singing, Irish fiddling and that unique vocal and lyrical quality that belongs to Kate Bush. But then Kate Bush isn't the type to be influenced by day time radio; not for her hours spent tuned in to the inane ramblings of Gary Davies and co.
"I don't spend much time listening to radio, and when I do it tends to be Radio 4. I guess we spend so much time listening to music in a very sensitised way, in recreational terms, that you need relief for the ears. I tend to listen to more when I just finish an album, rather than during, which is stupid.
"A good example of this is that when I finished the last album, I heard this Bulgarian music. (Les Voix de Bulgare, the extraordinary close-harmony choir whose two Les Mystere albums were surprise hits for 4AD). I thought 'Shit, I wish I'd have heard this while I was working on the album.' I think it was good in one way because I had a lot of time to think about the possibility of doing something with them. The thing that would worry me a bit is that if you like something you are influenced by it, and I'd probably try and connect to other people's music of that time. it takes me such a long time to make an album that it would be drastically out of date."
This is, perhaps, something of an underestimate. It's been nearly four years since we had the opportunity to discuss her then current album, Hounds of Love. Surely she hasn't been working on The Sensual World since then?
"I was saying to Del (Palmer - boyfriend/ bass player/ programmer/ mixer) that I think my tapes wouldn't know what to do if they weren't left sitting around for years. I think they'd have a nervous breakdown - they go through a fermenting process. Like wine, or something. I don't do anything to the songs, I just sit and let the tapes mature.
"I think in real terms it's been about two and a half years, and it's been done in bits. We started and then took quite a few months off to do a few things at home, and also it was the only way I could cope with this album - to keep taking breaks. It's quite an intense process - especially Del and I working together so isolated. We had to take a lot of breaks to think about stuff. A lot of time with this album was spent thinking. Not actually doing, but just thinking."
Home is where the Art is
As with Hounds of Love, The Sensual World was recorded mainly in Kate's home studio, with orchestral parts added at Abbey Road, Irish extras in Windmill Lane, Dublin, and the Bulgarian women recorded at Angel studios. The result is as diverse as it is interesting, and on first listening much more complex than her other albums.
"Some of them are really bizarre - I worry about my sanity sometimes, really. All of the tracks have taken such completely different processes."
Including the opening track, also the first single, which didn't quite end up as Kate imagined it initially would.
"Now that was a really complicated process for a track to come together. It started off with a song - no words. I'd had this idea for about two years to use the words from Molly Blooms' speech at the end of Ulysses, which I think is the most superb piece of writing ever, to a piece of music. So Del had done a Fairlight pattern, and I'd done a DX riff over the top of it, and I was listening to it at home, and the words fitted absolutely perfectly. I thought God this is just ridiculous, just how well it's come together.
"We then approached the relevant people for permission to use the lyrics, and they just would not let me use them. No way. I tried everything. So I thought if we're really getting nowhere with this, let's take a different approach to the song. I heard this piece of music which a fan sent in about two years earlier, and we put the tune in the choruses in place of what we had. So that went in, and all the lyrics I had to change.
"To try and keep the sense of the original words, but something that would be original, I came up with this idea of Molly Bloom stepping out of this speech into the real world. And in the book she's such a sensual woman - womanly, very physical, it just seemed that she would be completely taken by the fact that this 2D character could actually go around touching. So that's what it turned into. The fact that they didn't let me use the lyrics turned the song into something very different. It was such a complicated process, and really quite painful to actually let it go."
The Fairlight still plays a large part in the music making process for Kate, even though many others may have abandoned it for more contemporary, and cheaper sampling sources.
"I think it's a very good instrument still. It's just one of those things. Everyone I know is the same; we pull out the Fairlight and they go, 'Oh no sounds rubbish. Eventually you do find sounds that really work. I think the whole process of sampling instruments is becoming very boring, wading through sounds..
And she further proves her reluctance to purchase This Year's Model by raving about a recently acquired DX7.
"I was very impressed. Initially I thought I'd just use it for ideas, but we've used it quite a lot on the album. We blend it in with other stuff, and hopefully it doesn't sound too like a DX7. I use mainly pre-sets. I think it's amazing how different you can make pre-sets sound if you treat them differently and bung another sound with them. It takes on quite a different character."
One of the first tracks she wrote for the album was Love and Anger. Again, the track didn't exactly write itself.
"I couldn't get the lyrics. They were one of the last things to do. I just couldn't find out what the song was about, though the tune was there. The first verse was always there, and that was the problem, because I'd already set some form of direction, but I couldn't follow through. I didn't know what I wanted to say at all. I guess I was just tying to make a song that was comforting, up tempo, and about how when things get really bad, it's alright really - 'Don't worry old bean. Someone will come and help you out.'
"The song started with a piano, and Del put a straight rhythm down. Then we got the drummer, and it stayed like that for at least a year and a half. Then I thought maybe it could be okay, so we got Dave Gilmour in. This is actually one of the more difficult songs - everyone I asked to try and play something on this track had problems. It was one of those awful tracks where either everything would sound ordinary, really MOR, or people just couldn't come to terms with it. They'd ask me what it was about, but I didn't know because I hadn't written the lyrics. Dave was great - I think he gave me a bit of a foothold there, really. At least there was a guitar that made some sense. And John (Giblin) putting the bass on - that was very important. He was one of the few people brave enough to say that he actually liked the song."
Do you give your musicians quite a free hand?
"When I don't know what's happening, yes. But that song was just so bizarre. In some ways it's a very ordinary structure compared to the other songs. I think putting the Valiha on was very important. It's a beautiful sounding instrument - it looks a bit like a Zither, and it's from Madagascar. It sounds like sunshine - it has this really happy, bubbly sound. I think that really helped to give the song a different perspective. It's a very straightforward treatment - drums, bass, guitar, piano - and I think for me it's one of the more straightforward songs on the album. A chirpy little number."
The next track, The Fog, finds Kate once again exploring atmosphere and emotion through music; like a lot of her material, the motivations and expressions behind the lyric and the way the track is recorded are inseparable. One very clearly dictates the other.
"That started at the Fairlight. We got these big chords of strings, and put this line over the top, and then I got this idea of these words - slipping into the fog. I thought wouldn't it be interesting to sort of really visualize that in a piece of music, with all these strings coming in that would actually be the fog. So I wrote a bit of music that went on the front of what I'd done, and extended it backwards with this bit on the front that was very simple and straightforward, but then went into the big orchestral bit, to get the sense of fog coming in.
"Then we put a drummer on, and Nigel Kennedy, the violinist, came in and replaced the Fairlight violin, which changed the nature of it. He's great to work with - such a great musician. The times we work together we sort of write together. I'll say something like, 'what about doing something a bit like Vaughan Williams?', and he'll know the whole repertoire, and he'll pick something, and maybe I'll change something. By doing that we came up with this different musical section that hadn't been on the Fairlight.
"So when I got all this down it seemed to make sense story-wise. This new section became like a flashback area. And then I got the lyrics together about slipping into the fog, and relationships, trying to let go of people.
"It sounded great with the Fairlight holding it together, but it just didn't have the sense of dimension I wanted. So we got hold of Michael Kamen, who orchestrated some of the last album, and we said we wanted this bit here with waves and flashbacks. He's really into this because he's always writing music for films, and he loves the idea of visual imagery. So we put his orchestra in on top of the Fairlight.
"Again a very complicated process, and he was actually the last thing to go on. I don't know how anything comes out as one song, because sometimes it's such a bizarre process. It does seem to work together somehow."
However, some come quicker than others, like track four, one of my personal favourites, Reaching Out.
"That was really quick, really straightforward. A walk in the park did that one for me. I really needed one more song to kind of lift the album. I was a bit worried that it was all sort of dark and down. I'd been getting into walks at that time, and just came back and sat at the piano and wrote it, words and all.
"I had this lovely conversation with someone around the time I was about to start writing it. They were talking about this star that exploded. I thought it was such fantastic imagery. The song was taking the whole idea of how we cling onto things that change - we're always trying to not let things change. I thought it was such a lovely image of people reaching up for a star, and this star explodes. Where's it gone? It seemed to sum it all up really.
"We did a really straightforward treatment on the track; did the piano to a clicktrack, got Charlie Morgan (Elton John's drummer) to come in and do the drums, Del did the bass, and Michael Nyman came in to do the strings. I told him it had to have a sense of uplifting, and I really like his stuff - the rawness of his strings. It's a bit like a fuzzbox touch - quite 'punk'. I find that very attractive - he wrote it very quickly. I was very pleased."
Kate's always used a wide variety of musicians on her records, but drummer Stuart Elliot seems to have been there from the beginning, even though he sometimes shares the drum stool with Charlie Morgan.
"He's the only one that's worked on every album - he's lovely to work with. I think it's good to keep that long term relationship. He's so easy to work with because he knows what I'm like. Occasionally I even ask him to use cymbals on a track now! He's been through that whole stage where I just couldn't handle cymbals or hi hats. Now that I'm actually using them again he can't cope.
"I always found them something that we used too much. I felt they were leant on too much. It held the music down in such a specific way. They're very marked. Not using them is just a way of opening up the music, I think. I learnt a lot from it. It's always been, 'this is the drum kit, so let's use it.' I always found that extraordinary. But I think now that I've taken that break from it, I see it very differently."
Even though both Stuart and Charlie get to contribute on most tracks, The Sensual World features more programmed drums than earlier recordings.
"We replace a lot, but there's a lot that's still there. We used the Fairlight for the drums this time, and because the quality was so much better we could keep them all. It's just the last album, with the Linn patterns, they had to be much more disguised because they sounded like a Linn machine. We had much more finished drum tracks to work with - that caused some problems. They were so good that I didn't want to get in and replace them at an early stage like on the last album. I had to be quite brutal and get drummers to just get in there and throw bits of the Fairlight away, just to give it different levels. On the next track, Heads We're Dancing, it was all based around the Fairlight pattern that Del did, which is the basis of the whole song. The only thing I think we replaced was the snare."
"Because I think it gives it a human feel, even though he's got to stay in with the machine. There's still a certain amount of movement, and there's all this human energy. I even believe that the sounds a drummer makes can be part of the track - they all make sounds, sing along while they're playing, grunting ... It puts air in there. It's nice to get someone else's input as well.
"I like to use real musicians - it's so exciting. Machines are great but you can get such great feedback from people when they think they're working on something intimate. Things you'd never think of. Like Mick Karns' bass on Heads We're Dancing puts such a different feel to the song. I was really impressed with Mick -his energy. He's very distinctive - so many people admire him because he stays in that unorthodox area, he doesn't come into the commercial world - he just does his thing."
Not a totally different position to her own.
"I suppose so, but I take an awfully long time to do it. What I admire about people like Mick is the way they travel from one environment to the other, but keep themselves intact. For me, I'm so used to being in my own studio now, that if I'm put in another one I actually get so nervous. I suppose it's finding a balance. When I did work in commercial studios all that time, I did find it very uncomfortable, because there was so much pressure, and so many distractions. I love working at home so much - though it does leave me quite vulnerable when I go outside."
Sentiments which must have inspired the next track, Deeper Understanding.
"It's about someone being trapped in the city, in isolation at work, where they just spend all the time with this computer, actually really developing a relationship with it. Which a lot of people seem to do - they talk to it. So the idea is in sending off this programme for the lonely lost; they put it in and this sci-fi being comes out and says 'I know you're lost, but I'm here to help you, we love you.' This person doesn't have human contact any more, he's just kind of addicted to the machine. I suppose in subject matter terms I really do see it visually.
"So I had this thing and started to write it on the Yamaha piano at home - one of the old CP90s, which is still great. I asked Del for a rhythm, and he put down this very mechanical rhythm on Fairlight. I put DX7 over the top, John Giblin did the most beautiful bass - though it took a while. It always does when I work with John - the main problem is that he just makes me laugh so much."
Deeper Understanding is also the first track to feature the Trio Bulgarka.
"That song was sort of finished when I got involved with the Bulgarian singers. I just thought of all the people to represent a being that exudes divine love, it had to be the Bulgarian singers. The idea was to put them in the chorus where the computer was singing, so that they'd have this ethereal sound."
Track seven, Between A Man And A Woman, gets a simpler treatment.
"That was, let's get a groove going at the piano, and a pretty straightforward Fairlight pattern. Then we got the drummer in, and I thought that maybe it was taking on a slightly Sixties feel - not that it is. So we got Alan (Murphy, Level 42 guitarist) in to play guitar - who unfortunately wasn't credited - a printing error. He played some smashing guitar. Then I wanted to work with the cellist again, because I think the cello is such a beautiful instrument. I find it very male and female - not one or the other. He's actually the only player that I've ever written out music for. They're lucky if they get chord charts normally.
"We were just playing around with a groove. We actually had a second verse that was similar to the first, and I thought it was really boring. I hated it, so it sat around for about six months. So I took it into a completely different section which worked much better. Just having that little bit on the front worked much better. Quite often I have to put things aside and think about them if they just haven't worked. If you leave a little time, it's surprising how often you can come back and turn it into something."
The Write Stuff
Inevitably, some of them are set aside for good.
"On this album I probably wrote more than I have in ages, but some of them really weren't up to much. They needed so much work to get them into shape. It's just not worth the effort. And you tire of it really quickly. You hear it three or four times and think it's so boring. I think something's got to have a personality, almost. It doesn't take much. Maybe just a little bit that you think works, and then you develop the whole thing from there."
One track that made it for further developing was Never Be Mine.
"I wanted a sort of eastern sounding rhythm. I wrote it first on the piano, though the words were completely different, except for the choruses. I did it on the piano to a Fairlight rhythm that Del programmed - I think that maybe because of the quality of the sounds, it was harder for Del to come up with the patterns. And I was more strict - he found it much harder. I think the pattern in Heads We're Dancing is really good - really unusual, the best he came up with. But Never Be Mine was kind of tabla based. We got Eberhard (Weber) over to play bass and he played on the whole song. When we were trying to piece it together later we kept saying it just doesn't feel right, so we just took the bass out and had it in these two sections. You hardly notice it going out at all. I think the song has a very light feel about it, which helps the whole imagery. The Uilean pipes have a very light feel, and the piano is light .. I think it's a nice contrast when the bass suddenly come in.
"The piano on this is an upright Bernstein that has a really nice sound - I think it has to do with proportions for us. We did have a big piano and it's a small room, and it didn't record well. The small piano sounds much bigger."
How do you decide if a track's going to feature acoustic or electric piano?
"If I write the song on piano in the studio, chances are that's how it will be. If I write at home on the electric piano, or the synth, it's probably going to be a synth track. I was getting worried at one point that so many of the songs are all based around the piano. On Hounds of Love I got away from that, and most of the songs are based around the Fairlight, which gave them different flavours.
Having used the Bulgarian singers to slot into existing tracks on the album, with Rocket's Tail she wrote the song specifically for them.
A Rocket's Tale
"It was a vehicle to get their voices on a track in as dominant a way as possible. So I put this down with a DX7 choir sound so it had this kind of vocal feel. Then we got a drummer in and got this big Rock 'n' Roll thing going. Then I got some friends in to hear what it would sound like with big block vocals singing behind my voice, and although they were English people that sing completely differently, it still gave me a sense of vocal intensity. So these two friends must have spent all day trying to sing like Bulgarians. But it was so useful, because there were so many things I immediately understood we couldn't do, and lots of things it felt like we could do.
"So we took it to Bulgaria and started working with this arranger. I told him what I wanted, and he just went off and said 'what about this?' and they were great. He kept giving me all these things to choose from, and we worked so well together. It was so good that we decided to hold the drum kit - it was originally starting much earlier in the song. Then we let Dave Gilmour rip on it, so we'd have this really extreme change from just vocals to this hopefully big Rock 'n' Roll kit, with bass, and guitar solos."
The last track on the album, though not on the CD and cassette, is This Woman's Work, which again started life on the piano.
"That was a really easy song to put together; all that was added to the piano was a bit of Fairlight, a bit of backing vocals, and a tiny amount of orchestra - about four or five bars. But the difference it makes is extraordinary.
"That song's really all to do with John Hughes, the American film director, who'd just made this film called She's Having A Baby. He wanted a song for this scene in the hospital that's very powerful where the father is expecting to go in there with her, and the nurse comes out and says the baby's in a breach position. He's sitting in the waiting room, thinking about their relationship, and I think it's at the point where he actually grows up. He's sitting there and he's not a little boy any more -he's got this big responsibility. You can see he's sitting there thinking of all these great times they've had together, and that possibly she could die with the baby. I wrote the song to the film - one of the quickest things I've written. The imagery was so strong. I really enjoyed being asked to do it.
"I think this is the big problem with song-writing - it's this blank page. You can start anywhere. There's too much to choose from, and I think technology in studios is doing the same to people. There's so much to choose from, so much information, that you're not working within restrictions that actually help you to form a direction. I'm sure that for me, doing this, it was quick and easy because the song had to be about that. It couldn't be about anything else. I think that helps tremendously."
CD and cassette buyers get one extra track for their money, Walk Straight Down The Middle.
"That song was definitely the quickest I've ever recorded anything. We'd given ourselves a specific day to cut it, so I had to do it fast. The backing track I'd originally recorded ages ago. At the time I wasn't happy with the lyrics, and I felt the song needed more developing. When we came back to hear it again, both Del and myself were really impressed with the sounds and how together the song sounded; previously we thought it had been rubbish.
"I wrote the lyrics, recorded the vocals, backing vocals and synth overdubs in one day, which is totally unheard of for me. The next day we did some more overdubs, and then mixed. I'm glad it was tagged on. We made the gap longer, so that you could get a sense that the album was finished, it sounds okay, but I don't think it holds the same depths that the other tracks do."
How did it feel without the hours of agonising?
"Terrible. I couldn't cope. I couldn't sit and anguish over my lyrics. It was very difficult. But I think it's all right, some nice sounds, nothing special. The whole thing is just an album, that's what I keep telling myself.
"Just an album."
International Musician - extras that accompanied the main article.
Tony Horkins - Dec. 1989
Nesting in the grounds of her parents' house is Kate's studio. Not much has changed since we last visited, though there has been one major investment.
"We now have an SSL. It's an expensive board, but not the most expensive, and it's very versatile. It has a good sound, and all those facilities. For the money the Soundcraft was great, but the SSL is much more efficient to work with. On the last album we spent a lot of time working around the desk, and on this one it was just working around me.""
"We're still using two A80s - we work on 48-track all the time, though it drives people crazy. When you get outside people in, you can see their impatience with the machines. We use them with the Lynx, though we used to have a Q-Lok. I'm not sure there's that much in it, but I think the Lynx is a bit quicker. It would be even better if we had 800s. The A80s seem a bit archaic now.
"With outboard, I love the Quantec. It has a crystalline quality to it, very distinctive. I use it on instruments sometimes, but particularly vocals. We've got two Lexicons - the 224 and the 224X. We hire stuff in when we mix -outboard eqs, like a couple of old Pultecs, they have a really warm sound -warmer than the SSL eq.
"We master analogue half inch. A lot of noise, but I still prefer working analogue. At this point we've found it wise not to change machines mid-stream.
"Monitoring is on AR18s, and we did get some Gold Spot Tannoys, they're quite useful for some things, though generally we stick to the 18s, and Auratones. We don't use big speakers. We had some but they sounded awful.
"As we have a Fairlight, it tends to negate us getting in other sampling gear. We're pretty well covered with the Fairlight and the DX7 for keyboards, and the quality of the Fairlight is much better, though so difficult to use. Everyone says that. I used to programme it myself, but since the new software ... I can't keep up. They keep changing it as soon as I learn to programme it.
"Sometimes we're happier just flying in the half-inch, the old fashioned technique. There's something about it - I quite like the purist approach. Like tape delay - you can't get that same sound. It doesn't have the same presence, it has a whispy quality. With tape delay it's lovely.
"I guess I'm just a sucker for analogue sounds."
Kate and the Bulgarians
"They work so hard!" says Kate: "When we went out there we worked from nine in the morning to 11 at night. They'll sing all day and always stand in the same order; you'd think that the soloist would stand in the middle, but she stands at one end. They run Yanka, Eva, Stoyanka - and it spells 'yes' ..."
"... We didn't mike them individually. We took advice from Joe Boyd, who's worked with them, and he suggested a single ambient mike ... It's incredible the quality when the three of them are singing - you can almost hear the air cracking. The harmonic distortion is so exciting. One of the songs they do I just cry - there's very little music that hits me deeply enough to make me cry."
Dorka Hristova is conductor of the Women's Choir of the Bulgaria Broadcasting Service, conducting some of the most beautiful female voices in the world - including The Trio Bulgarka:
"It's quite different from Bel Canto singing in the West. It is straight and natural. Very direct with great tension. The sound comes from the epiglottis, with the resonance mainly here in the breast and not in the forehead. That is why the women in our choir are ... not fatter, but have fuller breasts!"
But it isn't just the style of singing that makes the music so unusual:
"Well, the harmonies are different. Bulgarian Folk is characterised with one voice singing, then two voices - Diatonic - and sometimes, three voices singing, Triaphonic. Diaphony is typical for the Sophia region. One is a drone and the other voice makes the melody. These are at second intervals and include quarter notes as well as semitones. Western harmonies are based on 3rds ... This type of singing cannot be taught in the colleges; it comes from inside the person. So, it is a kind of mystery to us as well."
Suggested listening: A Cathedral Concert: Les Mystere Des Voix Bulgares (Jaro) Trio Bulgarka: The Trio Bulgarka (Hannibal) Les Mystere Des Voix Bulgares: Records 1 & 2 (4AD)
That completes the International Musician article folks. There is a rather washed out photo of Kate on the front cover wearing a black hat, and a colour photo of Kate with the sand in her hands from TSW promotion.
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