Interviews & Articles


"Kate Bush's Theater of the Senses"
by John Diliberto
February 1990

To the Reaching Out (Interviews) Table of Contents

Date: Mon, 09 Apr 90 11:56 PDT
From: Andrew Marvick (IED)
Subject: Musician by John Diliberto, February 1990

<First, many thanks to Andy Semple for his transcription of the Daily Mirror interview. It was much appreciated by this Love-Hound, Homegrounder, Cariad Kate Internationalist and KBC member! Here's another interview, which IED posts by way of reciproKation.

<IED couldn't remember ever seeing this interview posted in L-Hs, so here it is. He apologizes if it did appear here before. It is John Diliberto's second interview with Kate Bush. (His first, which appeared in Keyboard in 1985, was posted a few years ago in Love-Hounds by one-time Love-Hound Extraordinaire MarK T. Ganzer, in a L-Hs-exclusive complete edition. [see The Garden]) This new interview is from the 2/90 issue of Musician. Edited by Andrew Marvick. As usual, anything contained within parentheses ( ) are part of the original published text, anything within brackets < > are IED's commentary.>

Kate Bush's Theater of the Senses

"When people listen to your record, that's an audial experience; you don't necessarily want to see things," says Kate Bush. "Like when you write a song: the person singing the song is a character. Although it might be you vocally, it's not yourself you are singing about, but that character. It's someone who is in a situation, so you treat it like a film. That's how I see songs. They are just like a little story: you are in a situation, you are this character. This is what happens. End. That's what human beings want desperately. We all love being read stories. And none of us get it anymore. 'Cause there's a television now instead."

Kate Bush creates that elusive theater of the mind, a mood and atmosphere populated by actors from subconscious Central Casting, moving through audio stage settings that could be inspired by Charles Dickens or Werner Herzog. Perhaps that's why her self-produced videos have been so successful. You won't find Bush up there lip-synching her songs in lingerie with jump-cuts and smoke-bombs. Instead, we're treated to intricate morality plays starring Donald Sutherland on Cloudbusting, the sword-wielding temptress of Babooshka, the surreal aboriginal-alien landscapes of The Dreaming, and Bush emerging from a clear plastic womb into the polluted world of Breathing.

It's also why Bush doesn't tour. Her last excursion in 1979 was an elaborate affair full of costume changes, dancers and even magicians. She can't get worked up to do it again, and doesn't see the validity of, as she said in 1987, just being "up there onstage being me."

"What I was trying to say," she now explains, "was that if you give a show, I feel it should have visual elements." But coming from a folk tradition with two older brothers who play Celtic music, it would seem Bush might appreciate simple storytelling, with nothing but words and movements: no props, costumes or lights.

"Oh, I disagree completely," she says dismissively. "Folk is storytellers telling stories. And in the past, storytellers would certainly act things out. It was not unusual for a poet to be brought into a person's house and treated the way we treat television now. Performers are performers, not just themselves, and they show you an exaggerated side. They want to move you. They are being what they feel you want them to be. That's why they are performers and larger than life. They create an illusion that people enjoy."

Bush sweeps into Abbey Road Studios followed closely by her boyfriend/ engineer/bassist Del Palmer. Dressed entirely in black, with loose sweater, jeans and high-heeled boots, Bush is less the erotic exotic and more hip bohemian. Settling into a black leather studio chair in a control room, surrounded by the ghosts of Billy Shears and Eleanor Rigby, Bush is at once revealing and concealing about the nature of her music. In many ways she works in an enclosed world, with the doors carefully guarded and only the appointed few managing to get inside. Since The Dreaming in 1982, she's composed her music almost exclusively on her own, demo-ing tracks with her Fairlight CMI and often playing many of the parts that way. The Sensual World, her first album since 1985's The Hounds of Love <sic> was mostly recorded in her home studio in kent where she works and lives with Palmer. For many, that's a prescription for insularity and self-indulgence. For Kate Bush, it's resulted in her most direct and personal album to date.

"There are personal elements in the other albums, but yes, this is definitely personal, on every level, the process and everything," she avers. "It's a very intimate process I make records in now. We don't have tape operators. I'm producing. So most of the time it's just the two of us, and Del knows the kind of sounds I like. So the communication is very good, and most of the time it's just beating my head against the wall for ideas and things. But all the recording is done very quickly."

Ever since she took over production on the 1980 album Never For Ever, Bush's music has grown increasingly textured and complex, full of eddies and rivulets of sound. She layers line upon line of synthesizer orchestrations with flourishes provided by a small coterie of musicians like Palmer, drummers Charlie Morgan and Stuart Elliott, and her brother Paddy Bush. Kevin Killen, whom she met on Peter Gabriel's So sessions and who has mixed for Elvis Costello and U2, is one of the few to gain entry to Bush's inner sessions and who has mixed for Elvis Costello and U2, is one of the few to gain entry to Bush's inner circle.

But Bush will have to make some changes following the death of long-time guitarist Alan Murphy. He had played with Long John Baldry, Level 42 and Go West. His textures provided the dark undercurrent and pointed punctuation on so many Bush songs since 1979. He died shortly after The Sensual World was completed. "He was a guitarist who I felt used his instrument like a voice," says Bush solemnly. "But also like a chameleon, I guess. He could just change it into anything. 'Al, I want you to be a racing car.' Fine, he'd become a racing car. 'Al, could you be this big panther creeping through the jungle?' You could throw any imagery at him and he would never balk, he would just be with you, you know. Making albums will never be the same again for me without Alan. I'll miss him terribly. I already do, as a person as well as a musician."

Her brother Paddy keeps her abreast of world music sounds, from Celtic music to the aborigines. Her acute sense of orchestration has found ways to interpolate digeridus, bouzoukis, uillean pipes and fiddles along with Celtic harpist Alan Stivell, German jazz bassist Eberhard Weber, string quartets arranged by minimalist composer Michael Nyman, and on her new album the haunting, ecstatic vocals of the Trio Bulgarka.

She approaches this sound palette without the self-consciousness of world-music chic. Instead it's all blended through her dramatic sense of studio space and Fairlight and synthesizer orchestrations. She never loses her own sense of self in a delicate balancing act of assimilation, one that she approaches with deference.

She speaks in awe of all the musicians who support her, but none more so that the Trio Bulgarka, whom she feels are working on a higher plane of creation. "We are talking big music here," she admits. "We are talking real music, that goes back so far. I can't imagine who would have put music like this together. Way beyond me.

"I suppose the main thing was getting up the courage to actually approach the Trio," she reveals. "Cause I wanted to work with them so badly. But I was also very scared that I wouldn't do them justice. Particularly in the context of contemporary music. I really didn't want them to be belittled into pop music. The kind of music that they are working with was in touch with something that I think we've lost touch with. And it's very rarely now that you are affected that powerfully by music, like that. Contemporary music occasionally hits you in the heart and very, very rarely reaches your soul. But music like that is so old, intense, powerful and spiritual--instinctive music, almost. You know, I'd like to see anyone who could stand in the room with those three women singing for more than twenty minutes and not cry."

Smiling behind her wide brown almond eyes, Bush is too modest to concede that there are many who would say the same for her music. Songs like Houdini, Under Ice and Suspended in Gaffa plumb a psychological, emotional range <plumb a range?> that's rarely heard in modern music. It can be frightening in its cathartic nakedness on Get Out of My House, and poignant in its insights on The Fog, from The Sensual World.

Both emotionally and sonically, the Trio fits deftly into Bush's multi-tracked choral vocals. On Deeper Understanding they are the spiritual countervoice in a song about emotional disconnection, where the protagonist finds love in a computer program.

"Yes, it is emotional disconnection, but then it's very much connection ," says Bush, "but in a way that you would never expect. And that kind of emotion should really come from the human instinctive force, and in this particular case it's coming from a computer. I really liked the idea of playing with the whole imagery of computers being so cold, so unfeeling. Actually what is happening in the song is that this person conjures up this program that is almost like a visitation of angels. They are suddenly given so much love by this computer--it's like, you know, just love.

"There was no other choice. Who else could embody the visitation of angels but the Trio Bulgarka?" she laughs.

Yet she also finds an emotional fury in those same voices. On Rocket's Tail she launches Pink Floyd's David Gilmour on a screaming feedback guitar coda intertwined with the Trio. "Well, I'm sure that secretly Dave has always wanted to be Bulgarian," she laughs. "Electric guitar for me has always had that suggestion of a human voice."

Gilmour and Bush's association goes back fifteen years, when Gilmour discovered her, produced her initial demo tapes and shopped them around. "It was such a buzz for me to work with him," she exclaims, "because obviously I've known him for a long time and he's done little things before, like backing vocals. But I've never really had a song where he could just let rip on a guitar--and it was great."

Rocket's Tail is one of those beguiling Bush songs that have a simple story on the surface, about an eccentric strapping a rocket to his back, but you want to know just where it comes from. "I'm not sure if it's meant to be figured out," says Bush, offering little help. "If you want to figure it out, great; but again, songs should exist in their own space. And if they are a curious item, then that's very nice. Some people are, aren't they?"

The Sensual World continues Bush's flirtation with a certain kind of innocent eroticism, with lines sung in a sultry voice: "Then I'd taken the seedcake back from his mouth/Going deep South, go down, mmh, yes." Bush has said that The Sensual World is an album that brings out her more feminine side, although it seems like the feminine side was where she was always writing from anyway.

"I just felt that I was exploring my feminine energy more-- musically ," she insists. "In the past I had wanted to emanate the kind of power that I've heard in male music. And I just felt maybe somewhere there is this female energy that's powerful. It's a subtle difference--male or female energy in art--but I think there is a difference: little things, like using the Trio. And possibly some of the attitudes to my lyric writing on this album. I would say it was more accepting of being a female somehow."

There's an almost motherly quality to some of these songs written by the thirty-one-year-old singer. This Woman's Work, written for the John Hughes film She's Having a Baby, looks at the plight of a man left on the outside during childbirth. The schism between male and female has been a constant theme in Bush's music and professional life. She was initially marketed as a somewhat quirky chanteuse who cavorted in revealing clothes, singing with that high, panting voice. It's an image she's fought to overcome while never giving up the sensual, erotic images she employs in her videos. Given her desire to be taken seriously, and the obvious control she now exerts over her own career, it has always seemed curious that a woman identified as Kate Bush did a nude spread in Penthouse International Magazine (not released in the U.S.) in the 1970s, samples of which have subsequently appeared as bootleg covers. <This is just bad journalism: the Penthouse spread did not identify the woman in question as "Kate Bush", but as "Kate Simmons". Since the woman did not really resemble Kate closely anyway, there is no excuse for dredging up this nonsense again without first checking the facts. Clearly the writer never bothered to see for himself.>

"No, I didn't," she says, suddenly drawing up her defenses.

"Well, what was it then?" I ask.

"It was someone who looks like me," she says. "I have never done anything like that. All I know is there is a look-alike who's done spreads in magazines, and I presume this is what you're talking about, because I have never taken my clothes off publicly for anyone. I am offended that you should think it's me," she adds, with a tinge of anger lingering in her voice. "I would not do that."

There was little on her first records, The Kick Inside or Lionheart, to suggest that Bush was anything more than a hit-making vehicle (in the U.K., at least), shaped by image-makers and handlers. <This is just colossal stupidity. Both The Kick Inside and Lionheart are, despite their commercial production and marketing touches, deeply personal and profound works of art. Anyone who can dismiss them so cavalierly as this journalist is a fool.> Peter Gabriel helped change that. When Bush sang back-up vocals on Peter Gabriel (III), she borrowed the idea of the cymbal-free rhythm section and the Fairlight CMI. Just as Gabriel's music took a more personal and adventurous shift after he got the Fairlight <another highly questionable assessment>, the instrument seemed to free Bush to create, independently of other musicians or producers, soundstages for her stories. The Dreaming and The Hounds of Love <sic> are rife with orchestral textures and hallucinatory effects. In many ways they are Bush's Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, filled with giddy experimentation brimming with the joy of seemingly unlimited possibilities.

And like Sgt. Pepper, along with the timeless brilliance, come some dated ideas and effects that connect it to a certain moment in history. The dating came from some of the Fairlight's sampling capabilities, in particular the sounds of smashing glass and the infamous Orch. 5, the orchestral hit that was heard on every rap and techno-pop record of the early 1980s. <Yes, but after Kate had discovered them! Besides, what rock album isn't "connected to a certain moment in history?">

"That was terribly unfortunate," nods Bush. "Something I try to do whenever we are working with sounds is to try and make stuff original. I mean, when we were using Orch. 5, that was back in 1980, you know, and we had no idea that people were going to be using Fairlights or that sound the way they did in the times to come. So that was just unfortunate. We happened to pick a sound that is now very recognizable and dated."

Bush also thinks that synthesizers caused her to de-emphasize the voice in her music, although you wouldn't know it from the elaborate vocal arrangements of The Dreaming, with its tribal, Aussie-slang beat; the backing choirs, all by Kate Bush, on The Big Sky ; or the distorted demons of Waking the Witch. True, she doesn't sing in the high-pitched girl-child's voice anymore, although she and Paddy do a good approximation of a children's chorus on Love and Anger. "Ah, well, Paddy wore some very tight trousers and I stood in a bucket," she laughs mischievously.

"Initially I put a tremendous amount of emphasis on the vocals because that was my instrument, apart from playing the piano," she continues. "That was all I had, was my voice. So the piano and voice were pushed into lots of areas to try to get something interesting. Once I started working with synths and the Fairlight, I could take the emphasis off that voice again and off the piano, and put it into instrumentation. Besides the fact that the Fairlight suddenly gave me instruments to play with instead of my voice, and took quite a nice, new attitude into some of the songs. Because by not writing on the piano anymore, that changed a lot of things. But now I'm actually coming back to the piano again. A little less with the Fairlight. It's still very much there. And the same with voices. I've kind of come full circle, but I now have a different approach."

What marks The Sensual World is the way the electronics and synthesizers are organically integrated into Bush's songs. "When I started to write this album, I was in a situation where we had updated our studio," she says. "We had a new desk, and generally just more equipment. The high-tech quality-level of our studio had gone right up. And I found it quite difficult to write because I felt overwhelmed by the amount of equipment around me. It was quite stifling, and I made a conscious effort to move away from that, and treat the song as a song. I wanted to write songs, and then just use the equipment to do what I wanted. Because otherwise it drags you along behind it if you're not careful."

Bush wrote many of the songs on her Bechstein acoustic upright piano, and it remains in the final songs like This Woman's Work. That might also explain why The Sensual World is a song cycle, rather than a concept piece like the Ninth Wave side of The Hounds of Love <sic>.

"Yes, that's very true," she agrees, returning to the common theme of all her music: stories. "It's not conceptual at all. For me they are like short stories, where each song is conjuring up a different mood, hopefully. Although there are definitely feelings that go throughout this album, with this album I really wanted to write ten songs. I didn't want it to be a big elaborate thing. I just wanted to explore what I felt was my technique of songwriting. And that's what I always try to do."

Still, change seems to be constant with Bush, perhaps best evoked by the song Reaching Out, which seems to be about a child leaving the nest. "That's kind of about how you can't hold on to anything," says Bush, "because everything is always changing and we all have such a terrible need to hold onto stuff and to keep it exactly how it is, because this is nice and we don't want it to change. And sometimes even if things aren't nice, people don't want them to change. And things do. Just look at the natural balance of things: how if you reach out for something, chances are it will pull away. And when things reach out for you, the chances are you will pull away. You know everything ebbs and flows, and you know the moon is full and then it's gone: it's just the balance of things."

Bush suddenly catches herself at the crest of this philosophical wave. "Absolute rubbish," she pshaws, laughing. "Just tell them to go buy the record and see if they like it."

Kate's Crates

IN 1984 Kate Bush built her own studio in Kent, which is used by her and Del Palmer. <What, Kent or the studio?> Her dominant piece of equipment is the Fairlight Series III, but she also uses the Yamaha DX-7 extensively. It's centered around a Solid State Logic 48-channel console with automated mixing and two 24-track decks that are slaved together. She takes pains to note that they have a "lot of outboard gear, that's really important."

They use Pultec valve equalizers. Reverbs and delays include the AMS, the Quantec, the Lexicon 224 and 224XL. They also use an AMS Harmonizer and Eventide 3000 Ultraharmonizer. Monitors are AR18s.

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