Interviews & Articles


"A Slowly Blooming English Rose"
by Will Johnson
Dec. 1989

To the Reaching Out (Interviews) Table of Contents

Date: Tue, 28 Nov 89 18:29:41 PST
From: ed@das.llnl.gov (Edward Suranyi)
Subject: Pulse magazine by Will Johnson Dec. 1989

Here's all the stuff from the December issue of Pulse! magazine, which as I've mentioned before is the in-store magazine of Tower Records in America. It's a large, thick, nicely printed magazine.

The cover is an absolutely gorgeous picture of Kate. She's got her eyes closed, and her head is leaning back. She's resting her chin on her right hand. My only (minor) quibble is that she's wearing short hair, like on the album cover.

Everybody who has access to a Tower Records should pick this up. Those who don't should try to get in contact with someone who does. The magazine is free, so we can pick up as many copies as we like!

On the cover, it says:


A Joycean Odyssey through The Sensual World

Before I get to the interview, I'd like to mention the other times Kate is mentioned in this issue. In J.B. Griffith's "Spins" column, he lists TSW as one of the Ten Best of 1989. Even more amazing, Brett Milano lists The Dreaming as one of the ten best rock/pop albums of the decade! He says, "Those other-worldly shrieks in 'Suspended in Gaffa' still bring chills."

A short article on The Innocence Mission once again compares them with Kate.

The album is listed at number four on the chainwide bestsellers list.

So here's the interview:


by Will Johnson

Kate Bush may take her sweet time making records, but The Sensual World, her debut for Columbia, was very much worth the wait.

The location: a sumptuous old world hotel in central London. The reception area is filled with antique grandfather clocks, a vintage leather sofa and a collection of oil paintings -- all very English. Portly, rosy-cheeked gentlemen slink droopily into the diners' lounge for what must be the week's 15th business "lunch" -- lots of coughing fits and spluttering noises permeate this part of the building. It's nearly half an hour after our arranged meeting time, and no sign of the reclusive Kate Bush. Perhaps we weren't supposed to meet here at all -- perhaps the interview was set up for a hedgerow in deepest Kent, or up a tree in the remote Scottish Highlands.

A black cab pulls up outside the foyer, and out steps an attractive brunette wearing a dark velvet ball gown. It must be her, but no. The woman is immediately followed by a young tyke whose nose is running profusely.

Two minutes later, a slightly out-of-breath, petite woman rushes through the swiveling hotel entrance, effusing all due sweetness and offering her most profound apologies for her belated appearance. She'd been shopping at Tower Records, Piccadilly, where her friend, violin wizard Nigel Kennedy, was signing copies of his new LP, Vivaldi's Four Seasons. Kate Bush clings to a signed copy; written on the sleeve is, roughly translated, "What the hell are you doing here, Kate? Love and hugs, Nigel, xxx."

Her attire is fairly ordinary. One might expect Bush to arrive wearing some sort of peculiar Oriental dress, but instead she's sporting faded jeans, pale blue high-heeled boots and a patterned knit pullover of the kind Princess Di always wears when she's watching her husband fall off horses at polo matches. Her dark hair falls well past her shoulders and has a slightly reddish, henna-ed look. She's virtually make-up free -- she has what you might call a certain natural hominess. She nips to the bar for a glass of orange juice; we then adjourn to a small, secluded room appropriately named The Pump Room.

The Sensual World is Bush's first LP (and her debut for Columbia in the States; she remains on EMI for the rest of the world) since the Hounds of Love some four years ago. That album was her most commercially successful to date -- it charted Top 30 in the U.S., as did a single from Hounds, "Running Up That Hill." Between those two albums, EMI released a compilation, The Whole Story, and the "Experiment IV" single of '86. Bush has been quiet in the meantime -- never pursuing publicity, never courting the public eye. It looked at the time like her hermit tendencies had completely taken over and she'd decided to pack the whole thing in, preferring retirement somewhere in England's green and pleasant land, a life dedicated to saving the chickens from extinction in Bedfordshire.

But The Sensual World shows Kate Bush at her best. Innovative, novel, unique, but above all *different* -- she possesses a talent impossible to pigeonhole, a mystery very hard to solve. The title track commences to the sound of church bells, followed by those breathy, childlike Kate Bush vocals: "Mmh yes, Then I'd taken the kiss of seedcake back from his mouth/Going deep South, go down, mmh, yes/Took six big wheels and rolled our bodies/Off of Howth Head and into the flesh, mmh, yes/He said I was a flower of the mountain, yes/But now I've powers o'er a woman's body -- yes."

Once again, Bush's lyrics manage to caress those old erogenous zones; they sensually combine art with eroticism. The idea for the song came from Molly Bloom's snaking soliloquy (which fundamantally concerned sex and lust) at the end of James Joyce's epic "Ulysses."

"The original piece, right, was just the most beautiful piece of writing I've ever read," she enthuses in a soft voice slightly colored by a South London drawl. "It's like this never-ending sentence, this long train of thought, and the only thing that punctuates it is the word 'yes' and it very gradually accelerates. I just thought it was just one of the most sensual pieces ever written. When I came to write this album, I suddenly remembered this writing, and the original lyrics were from the book. I just picked it up and all the words fitted perfectly to the music. I couldn't believe that the two things would just come together.

"But when I applied for permission to use the words I was refused, so I was *extremely* disappointed," Bush continues. "Then I had to rewrite the words trying to keep the same sense of sound, but obviously I'm not James Joyce, so it was a question of keeping the same shape and creating a new story. So it gradually turned into Molly Bloom stepping out of her speech in the book and into the real world. In the book she's a very sensual woman, and it was the idea of her stepping out of this black-and-white world into the real world and being hit by the power of the sensuality of the world, the environment, the elements."

"And at first with the charm around him, mmh, yes/He loosened it so if it slipped between my breasts/He'd rescue it, mmh, yes/And the spark took life in my hand and, mmh, yes/But not yet, mmh, yes/Mmh, yes."

"A lot of people have said it's sexy," she continues. "That's fine, that's nice. The original piece was sexy, too; it had an incredible sensuality which I'd like to think this track has as well. I suppose it is walking the thin line a bit, but it's about the sensuality of the world and how it is so incredibly pleasurable to our senses if we open up to it. You know, just simple things, like sitting in the sun, just contact with nature. It's like, for most people, their holidays are the only time they get a real burst of the planet!"

The title track contains the usual Celtic influences that characterize so much of Bush's work, with an Irish contingent of Davey Spillane blowing the uillean pipes, Donal Lunny twanging away on the bouzouki and John Sheehan on the fiddle. Bush's elder brother Paddy is on whips. But what's her approach to songwriting -- each LP seems to be taking longer to produce, each more sophisticated as a result?

"You see," she says, "the thing is, I always want to do something different from the last record, and in some ways it's a question of putting space before the last project before you can even start. After the last album I just wanted to spend some time and just come down to earth again. I suppose this record took about two years in total to make; we took lots of breaks in between so the project actually felt like it had been going on longer, even though it's not been intense work. I found it very difficult to write some of the songs on the album -- some were very quick, but others were long and painful. I always find lyrics very hard, anyway, and the whole thing was very much a layering process, just sort of putting in all the different elements, putting the jigsaw together. It's not by choice it took so long; it's never fun being involved in a project that long, but I just couldn't do it any quicker. It's something that happens in phases, where you get times when nothing's happening -- and that's a good time to take a break, or else you're continually working on lyrics and stuff and you get a breakthrough. You might write a song and it comes very quickly, and you've maybe got lyrics and melodies for, say, another two, so you get musicians in and build on those tracks. Then you let them sit for a bit and go off and do something else. I think it's useful that you do 10 or 11 tracks on an album, so you can keep dotting round, so, even though you always end up getting sick of hearing them, you can at least keep diverting."

As her career progressed, Bush has gradually been able to gain more control over her music and output. Two things have been important here: firstly, the acquisition of her own recording studio somewhere in darkest Kent (southeast England), and secondly, the cementing of her relationship with longterm boyfriend/bassist/ engineer Del Palmer.

"Having the sort of creative freedom that I've now got," she explains, "having my own studio, taking the time to make albums, not putting something out 'cause there's pressure to, working very closely with Del as engineer, I just felt incredibly lucky to be in this kind of situation. It's a real privilege and I'd hate to abuse that. I think that the problem with writing songs is that you want to care about what you're doing, and sometimes the stuff you come up with is just so banal, you just have to really wipe through it. Get rid of all the shit, do you know what I mean? [laughs]. Hounds of Love was very much the main step, 'cause that was the first time we had our own studio, and I suppose the progression from that one to this is that we've upgraded the equipment. Also, on the last album, I was working with lots of different engineers who could only give me a certain amount of time, because they'd block-booked to someone else, and because I work so experimentally, I didn't want to block-book too far ahead or I wouldn't be ready for them. Working with Del, I've managed to get a bit closer again to the whole process. You know, if it's not working, then we can just go home. If I have an engineer in, it would be difficult to have that freedom and also to feel relaxed; there's a lot of time spent getting to know each other."

The Sensual World LP features 10 new Bush tracks, all written and produced by the enigmatic songstress, recorded by Del Palmer and mixed by Kevin Killen, whose most recent credits include Elvis Costello's Spike. ("Walking Straight Down the Middle," [sic] an atmospheric tale of the reluctance of human beings to face up to their fears that features some truly shrilling vocals by Bush, is only available on cassette and CD.) The first single, "Love and Anger," is probably the meatiest track on the LP. Throughout there's an African beat, the sound of Zulus raiding at dawn, interspersed by some slumbering fretless bass lines (courtesy of Eberhard Weber), and a "big" chorus orchestrated by the power chords of Pink Floyd alumnus Dave Gilmour and Bush bellowing as best she can. It took her a mere 18 months to piece together.

On "Heads We're Dancing," Bush warns the female of the alluring male: "They say that the devil is a charming man/And just like you I bet he can dance. .. A picture of you, a picture of you in uniform.. .. Hot down to the floor/But it couldn't be you/It couldn't be you/It's a picture of Hitler."

But it's the overall feeling of sensuality, of Bush's concept of the being and its relationship with the outside world, that underscores the entire album. In particular, it's the way in which the child comes to realize and experience his or her environment. The solo violin of the aforementioned Nigel Kennedy is accompanied by cello, Celtic harp, whistles, the mysterious Dr. Bush, and Kate's manic witch-like laughter on the eerie, "The Fog": "The day I learned to swim/He said, 'Just put your feet down child'. .. . The water is only waist high/I'll let go of you gently/Then you can swim wiht me." [sic]

On "Reaching Out," the tinkling of the ivories is followed by these vocal utterances: "See how the child reaches out instinctively/To feel how fire will feel."

"Deeper Understanding" features features the first of three vocal performances from the wailing Trio Bulgarka. The idea behind the song was to contrast the ancient music of Bulgaria wiht the way people relate in modern society to the computer chip. "It's like today, a lot of people relate to machines, not to human beings," Bush explains, "like they hear a telephone [makes ringing noise] and think, 'Is that for me?' I guess it's playing with the idea of how people get more and more isolated from humans and spend a lot more time with machines. I suppose America's a really good example where there are some people who never go out, they watch television all day, they're surrounded by machines, they shop through television, they speak to people on the phone; it's just distant contact. The idea of the computer buffs who end up going through divorce cases because their wives can't cope with the attention the computer gets. They have an obsessive effect on people, and this track's about one of those types."

"But I was lonely, I was lost/Without my little black box/I pick up the phone and go Execute.. .. I turn to my computer like a friend/I need deeper understanding."

"I was playing with the juxtaposition of high tech and spirituality," she continues. "I suppose one inspiration was a program I saw last year about a scientist called Stephen Hawkins who for years had been studying the universe, and his concepts are like the closest we've ever come to understanding the answer. [Note: The man's name is Hawking. I've seen it misspelled this way in several interviews, so I'm unfortunately beginning to wonder if this is Kate's error, and not the interviewers'. Any comments? -- Ed.] But unfortunately he has a wasting-away disease, and the only way he can talk is through voice process. It was one of the most moving things I've ever heard. He was so close to the answers to everything, and yet his body was going on him -- in some ways it was the closest I'd ever come to hearing God speak! The things he was saying were so spiritual, it was like he'd gone straight through science and come out the other end. It was like he'd gone beyond words, and I do think that there is this possibility with computers that we really could learn about ourselves on levels that could take us into much deeper areas. With my music, I like to combine both the old and the new, the high tech and the compassion from the human element, the combination of synths and acoustic instruments."

Kate Bush was born on July 30th, 1958 in the suburban town of Bexley, Kent, just on the outskirts of southeast London, into a musical family which soon cast its spell over the young girl.

"When I was really little", she reminisces, "most of the music that influenced me was my family's. I've got two older brothers who went through a long phase of being into traditional music, English and Irish in particular, so it's always been played in the house. My mother's Irish and she always had relatives popping around, the vast majority of whom were superb musicians. They'd come around and play accordions and things." Her father was a keen pianist, and although she began taking violin lessons, she was only nine years old when she'd decided to take up piano and songwriting. In her early teens, she started listening to more contemporary sounds.

"I remember the early Roxy Music albums", she swoons. "It was like 'Ah! This is *my* music, this is what I want to be associated with.' Such wonderful songwriting, very English as well, not American style, and, of course Bryan Ferry's voice. I suppose another one of my biggest heroes as a kid was Elton John, because, at that time, I used to mess about on the piano and sing. Most of the female artists and male singer/songwriters played guitar; they didn't play the piano and write and sing like Elton did. He was just my hero, he's a fantastic piano player, a great performer. These people make a big impression on you."

Before leaving school she'd signed a recording deal with EMI as a result of a three-track demo that was organized and financed by Pink Floyd guitarist Dave Gilmour, who also plays on the completely off-the-wire "Rocket's Tail," as well as "Love and Anger." Gilmour saw something in Bush he just knew was special.

Her debut LP, The Kick Inside, was compiled in mid '77, and espoused such risque lyrics as "Oh I need it oh oh feel it feel it my love." It sold over a million copies in the UK alone. But for many, the first sighting of Bush was in January '78 wiht her theatrical, musical and visual interpretation of Emily Bronte's "Wuthering Heights," a single that shot to number one on the U.K. charts like a breath of the freshest air on the Yorkshire moors. It was a time when punk had lost its spikes, Travolta had slipped in "Grease" and new wave needed a perm. She had written such a mature piece as "Wuthering Heights" at the young age of 15. [Note: I'm not sure this is right. Any comments? -- Ed.] The Lionheart album from December '80 [Note: I *know* this isn't right. Lionheart is from the end of '78.] included such treats as the haunting "Man With the Child in His Eyes" [how many errors can this guy squeeze into one paragraph?] and the elasticated "Wow." During this period only the dazzling peroxide talents of Debbie (nee Deborah) Harry adorned the walls of more British adolescent boys' bedroom walls. Bush has never been one for the limelight, though ask her about being some sort of sex symbol (you have to be subtle about it as well) and her response is coy: "I don't know, really," she shrugs. "I'm just small and ridiculous! How people see me is up to them, it's not my problem. People only perceive an image, not the reality."

She's genuinely bemused that one of her appeals, initially, at least, was a certain physical allure. Anyone who's seen clips of Bush's only live shows ever played in the spring of '79 can't help but be stimulated by her inimitable stage performance -- a visual spectacular of music, dance, mime and sorcery. The whole experience of releasing records quickly and keeping pace with the related promotion work eventually wore her down. The '80s would see Bush slow her pace.

"The problem with my live work," she admits, "was that I had to expose myself in public so much, whereas now I can concentrate on just doing videos for my work. What I really like about videos is that I'm working with film. It gives me a chance to get in there and learn about making films, and it's tremendously useful for me, because one day I might like to make films myself."

Bush's videos, which she codirects, are easily as vibrant as her vinyl work. In the video for "The Sensual World," Bush stars as a black-and-white Molly Bloom touching that oh-so-black-and-white sensual world. [What? The video is in full color!] Her own favorite is "Cloudbursting" [sic], in which she stars with Donald Sutherland.

In '80, her third album, Never Forever, included tracks like "Babooshka" and "Breathing." The latter concerned itself with the nuclear age and how man insists on screwing up the environment. In the video Bush appeared inside a large bubble, predicting the era of the ozone friendly consensus, lamenting: "Outside gets inside, through the skin," followed by the slow chant: "In, Out, In, Out, In, Out."

"I think it's really good, the fact that it's so fashionable now," says Bush. "Everyone's pleased 'cause everyone's wanted to do something about it, come out of the closet as it were. Unfortunately it's like most things -- it's not until things start going horribly wrong that you try to do something about it. I think the media's got a lot to do with it, people like David Attenborough (renowned filmer of wildlife, best-known for his strange antics with gorillas, and brother of well-known film producer Sir Richard) 'cause they present things in a human way. There's no lecturing, there's no saying, 'Look, you're very, very naughty treating the earth like this,' but saying, 'Look at all these beautiful things.' The photography is so superior, it just moves people. I mean, years ago, people would not stay in to watch a wildlife program, would they?"

Since 1982's The Dreaming LP ("the album was so difficult to make, just about everything that could go wrong did during that period"), Bush has been more determined to do things her way -- especially in image terms, to get away from her marketing image of "The Tease." She's become progressively quieter; you won't find her sipping Tequila and Cherryade at Stringfellows, or whooping it up in a rubber mini at The Hippodrome, or lobbing french fries around Langan's Brasserie. It's just not her idea of fun.

"I do like the quiet life," she replies almost bashfully. "I do like having privacy; it's incredibly important to me, because I do end up feeling quite probed by the public side of what I have to do. I'm just quite a private person, really. You just end up feeling quite exposed; it's this vulnerability. After I've done the salesman bit, I like to be quiet and retreat, because that's where I write from. I'm a sort of quiet little person."

Which my explain why it's taken so long for this idiosyncratic yet compelling artist to break in the States. "Yes," she says perkily, "I've really had no success in America at all, apart from the Hounds of Love LP. That did quite well, and it was really exciting to think that there were people out there wanting it. But I've never seen it in terms of you make and album and then conquer the world. I must say it's never really worried me that I've not been big in America, but I'm with a new record company over there now, and I really feel good about the people -- they're lovely to talk to and to deal with. It's quite exciting for me. I just hope people out there will have the chance to know that the album's out. Then, if people want to hear it, they can. If they don't, well, that's absolutely fine.

"You know," she continues, "what I like about America is that there's a tremendous sort of hyper energy that I really like. Especially in New York -- there's a much stronger social setup, especially between artists. It's a very isolated setup here, because London's so spread out and everybody's off doing their own thing. You don't seem to bump into people the way you do over there; it's exciting to have that interchanging of ideas, just to talk to people who're going through similar things. It's real modern energy stuff. And also, I really like the positivity of the Americans. I mean here, although I love being here and I love the English, we're very hard on one another, very critical, whilst they have a wonderful willingness to give everyone a chance. We're really hard on people trying to get off the ground -- it's really unfair."

[If Kate likes America so much, why on earth doesn't she *come* here?]

One of the most engaging characteristics of Bush's persona is that she's so much the epitome of The English Rose, the natural beauty with innate intelligence -- a woman who just doesn't have to try. On The Sensual World, she feels that it's the Bulgarian influence -- three aging ladies named The Trio Bulgarka -- that add what she calls "a very interesting female aspect" to the LP, complementing Bush's own very feminine touch. The Trio's music was introduced to her by brother Paddy, and, as a result, she ventured over to Sofia, Bulgaria to meet the threesome. The Trio has an intensity about their voices, a deep expression of womanly pain and suffering, that hit a chord with Bush: "They were so important for me," she relates, "both musically and personally. I got a tremendous amount out of them as people, and a very important musical influence."

The release of The Sensual World ushers in a few changes for Bush: a new record label, a growing profile in America, and a realization that there's life outside the recording studio. "Something that really hit me on this album a bit like a hammer," she says, almost embarrassed, "is that I didn't really have any hobbies, and all I did was work, and everything that had been my hobby had sort of turned into work, like dancing, even reading -- in a way, because your're continually drawing from things that happen to you.

"But recently," she adds, "things like gardening have now entered my life, which is wonderful. I've never had a garden before, just very down-to-earth things like that. Again, it's just having a bit of contact with nature, you know, and planting things and seeing the slowness of it all. I've planted a flower bed; you have to be very patient. And it's a good thing for me to work with, ' cause making an album, you have to be very patient, and this flower bed helped me, *tremendously*, to watch how things have to fight for space: You have to get the weeds out, a little bit of water everyday, everyday a little something. Odd things like that, really!"

So Kate Bush is not really *odd*, she's more like her flower bed, pretty and down-to-earth. And with hope she'll keep watering and weeding her own creativity so we won't have to wait too long for the next trip into her sensual world.

To the Reaching Out (Interviews) Table of Contents

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

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