KT Cloudbusting -- Kate Bush In Her Own Words


And I write in the studio, so from the word go the ideas are being put onto master tape and remain in that form and then perhaps are layered on top of. So the production for me is as much as the lyrics and the tune are to making up what you get as an end result. (1980, Smash Hits)


I think what's interesting for me as a producer and songwriter is using different textures to create an image, a situation and an environment, a mood. And everything that you get can be useful at some point in time. (1980, Smash Hits)


When you do start recording a song, you normally have an idea of how it will end up, hopefully, because that's why you are going in to record it in the first place, and a song can take so many different forms - they can take ten minutes to do, or they can take two months. Normally, the stage at which the album cover is conceived is by the time recording has actually begun. I think that's quite important, because it's not until a certain stage after you've started that a vibe emanates about how the songs are going to fit together, what the sounds are going to be, and what the general feel of the music is. (1980, KBC 5)


How do you manage to do the guitar, bass and drum arrangements, as you don't play those instruments? Do you hear in your head what you want, and if so, how do you communicate it to the session musicians?

Mostly I have a strong idea of what I want to hear. The sound aspect I would explain to the engineer, but musically I would suggest the mood, or any piano lines I wanted picked up. But usually I leave the musical content to the musician, and they always understand the atmosphere you want to create. With the drummer, we're now working a lot with drum machines. I originally explain the type of rhythm I want to Del, who then programmes the Linn. I demo the song using the rhythm, and then ask the drummer to replace the feel, adding his own subtle human adornments. (1984, KBC 16)


Has anything ever happened while recording - say, a strange sound by mistake which you have decided is worth keeping in the track?

A lot of accidents happen, but usually they're re-done for the master recordings. They seem to happen mostly at the demo stage: tracks leaking through, odd voice phrases, a synth that wasn't rubbed off when it should have been. That sort of thing. (1984, KBC 16)


Does your music require a lot of editing?

It really did this time, especially when you've got mixes that are very complicated and demanding. We'd get the whole mix and there'd be one little bit that wasn't quite right, or an echo plate would distort on us. Then we'd just have to edit that in. Having got the whole field right, it seems crazy to do a whole track again, so we prefer to do spot edits.

What's your procedure for recording?

First we do all the backing tracks in one go, and then we'd work on it in layers until we'd got all the other musicians out of the way, so then I can really concentrate on my own stuff. It took weeks to do the vocals, especially because we were having to find the right effects and ambience for each voice. Then on top of that came the Fairlight.

Did you work on the fairlight at home?

Yes. I did as much work at home as I could, but it got very difficult because I was usually in the studio all day, and when I got back at night there were tapes of that day's stuff that I would listen to in order to decide what to go on to the next day. So in fact I wasn't really getting much time, and when I could, I'd tend to do the Fairlight in studio mealbreaks in the control room.

I suppose I could have done tracks like `` The Dreaming'' with a large amount of Fairlight, but it does lack a little top for some sounds, and there are some things, like loops, that can be tricky to do. I ended up using three or four of the presets available on the Fairlight's menu, while most of the others were sampled. What we tended to do was try samples at home, although they would often be too noisy to use, so we'd then do them again in the studio. I have to be honest about the instrument - I really only have a working knowledge, and everything I want to do I can. I love the sampling facility, it's one of the best things - being able to put your own sounds in and then play around with them. Features like the revers play are useful too. There's loads I can't do yet, I'm sure, but I'm taking it step by step.

I would have thought the fairlight was almost a ``trademark'' for you, because it can conjure up aural images while you're making the visual dance movements.

Absolutely, it does work so well for me. As an educational instrument, too, it's fantastic. Initially, I thought a lot about buying one because it was so much money. When I started this album I did try hiring one in, but it was costing me so much, and I knew that to do everything I wanted I'd need it more or less all the time, so I decided to buy it, and haven't regretted it once. I'm also interested in the new rhythm facilities now available.

[All of this is in reference to the fairlight cmi series ii machine. Kate later graduated to the series iii, and she now owns at least three fairlights in all. Also, she has more recently discussed her use of the fairlight both in composing and arranging songs, not only as a sampling device in the studio. -ied]

Coming back to The Dreaming album, we certainly enjoyed using real sounds, as well. The title track in particular has Rolf Harris on the dijeridu, Percy Edwards mimicking animal noises, bull roaring from Paddy Bush and crowd noises by Gosfield Goers!

Which drum machine do you use?

I've got a Linn drum machine, which is very good for demos, but I don't like it to be used in the finished thing. I think you can tell it's the Linn - it's got a very specific sound - and I can often recognize it on the radio.

Some particular sounds that might stand out are the ``car crash", which was a ``screech'' on the Fairlight; plus several recorded ``bangs'' mixed together. It was in fact the engineer's car door miked up! ["Bang! Goes another kanga..."] There's also fluttering birds, and an orchestra chord sampled on ``The Dreaming'' track, and plenty of others elsewhere.

I like to be involved with everything that's going on the album, and I do have a lot of interest in the technical problems that crop up as well - that's really happened over the last couple of years. In a way, the technical side of what is happening is as inspirational as what you get out of it. (1982, Electronics Music Maker)


You play the piano track on all your recordings, right, but then on stage?

Well, on stage, because of course I'm dancing and doing all these other things, I used a guy called Kevin McAlea who was an incredible find. Because I've never met anyone else who plays the piano, or who can play it if he wants to, so like me. My style is really quite simple, and that's the problem. Professional pianists tend to sort of flourish everywhere, and that doesn't work in my songs because I use a simple style. I did play two or three numbers on stage, the ones that I thought were important, but the rest of the time I was up front. Obviously, though, because it's the instrument that I always used to write on, it made sense for me to put down all the piano arrangements on record. But most of the songs on the new album I wrote on the Fairlight. I'm sure, though, that I'll still continue writing on the piano, somehow it's such an extraordinarily versatile-sounding instrument.

Actually I'm a little intrigued by the fact that, while so much of your music tends to sound so natural and organic, you're often exploiting all the technological wizardries of the studio, and the fairlight even, yet without there ever being any clash or contradiction, musically speaking.

Well, although the Fairlight is called a synthesizer, so many of its sounds are actually of natural source. And I think really that's why I like it so much. I think there's perhaps not such a great gap between the Fairlight and natural music as there is between synthesizers and acoustic music. The Fairlight really seems to be a huge bridge between all kinds of music, it's not actually so removed from natural sounds as you might think. Like what you thought might be a koto near the start of `` Cloudbusting'' was actually a banjo which I played on the Fairlight. And, as an album, Hounds of Love was really quite different because the Fairlight was very involved, rather than, as on the last albums, all the tracks being written at the piano. But `` Waking the Witch'' I actually wrote through a guitarist, Alan Murphy, because it needed to be written from a guitarist's point of view, a piano was just so wrong for that one. And he was brilliant about it. I mean, it was very hard for us because both of us felt a little embarrassed. And then we said, look, let's just go for it. And I said, play something like this - this is actually in the studio, he just came in for the day, and all we had down was the drums and hand-claps, he had nothing else at all to play with. But I told him the idea that I wanted.

In the studio these days, now that you're producing yourself, is it a kind of benevolent dictatorship where what you say goes and the musicians just take it? (paddy falls about laughing, suggesting that the true state of affairs might not be too far different.)

Well, quite honestly, I think it is sometimes. But I think, in most cases, I really do know what I want...

Presumably you must command the respect which induces all these fellows to willingly subordinate their own egos...

Well, there are never really any serious problems because the fellows I work with are great, and I think they just find amusing all of the things that I like and ask them to do. And they're fabulous, really. I mean, I've never really been able to communicate properly, like those producers you see sitting there talking about A-flats: ``Now take it from the A-coding,'' and all that. I don't find that comfortable at all because, for a start, there might be one of the band (like me!) who doesn't know what you're saying. So what's the point? Because everyone needs to know. So I talk in really basic language. Obviously I have to identify chords and things like that. But in a way, the most important thing for me, I feel, is if I can convey to them the atmosphere of the song, the sort of feeling which I want them to produce. Then I feel that they will give me what I want. As long as they're in tune with the song on the same level as I am, then I'm gonna get what I want. So, rather than saying to each of them ``You do this,'' or ``You do that,'' I spend an awful lot of time trying to explain the story and that sort of thing. And I think the one that was the most difficult, but the one I was most pleased with was `` Breathing"- that was an epic. We spent three days trying to get that backing track. And the silly thing was that we had all the riffs and everything by the second day, it was just that no-one could play as if they meant it, because we'd been playing it for so long. (1985, Musician)


Is production exciting for you? As exciting as writing and singing the songs?

Yes, it's totally a part of it for me now, and it's just become a continuation of the writing process and it's through that control that I feel I can afford to spend the time on the stuff. I don't feel that there are that many people who could be as patient as I am with the work, because I can hope that at the end of all these mad ideas something will come of it, and perhaps it would be harder for someone else to have that kind of faith in my ideas; and I feel I can then spend as long as is necessary to make the song better.

How often did you have to go back to a song and do a little extra piece?

Never. The structures of the songs were as were, except for ``The Big Sky,'' but that was just because that was re-written several times.

So you knew exactly what you were going to do with each song before you went into the studio?

Well, yes. The songs were written in the studio. What we were hoping for as well, with this album, was that the demos as such no longer existed, in that they were the masters.

The demos were the masters?

Yes. So everything that I wrote went straight onto master tape, and then we built on top of that. So from the word go we had one take, and that was what we worked on and built upon.

That is in itself very unusual.

I think it is, and I don't think I could have done it a while ago. It's the involvement of working in studios. You just find you can put things down and they either work or they don't, and again that's why I think I can leave songs in an unfinished form, knowing that they're not going to be as good as they could.

Obviously, having your own studio to do everything makes an enormous difference...?

It's the best decision I think I've ever made, certainly to do my work. (1985, Homeground)


Well, you found a magic formula there, since `` running up that hill'' is a worldwide success, your first hit in the united states, and since the album stayed at number one in england for a month.

It's extraordinary. You can't imagine the pleasure that brings me, after having worked so hard, to see that the public receives this record so well.

Do you think of the public when you're in the studio?

I think that one always writes a song for oneself. You let yourself be swept away from your environment and you listen to your ``interior voices'' The only censure consists in knowing what works and when. But ultimately, you're on the watch for the opinions of others: the musicians who come to play their parts, the engineers; you sense immediately if their interest is aroused, and maintained, when they hear what you're working on. Everything is public. (1985, Guitares et Claviers)


I understand that you've built your own studio and you're working from that now.

Yes, and the difference that makes is phenomenal. One of the best decisions I've ever made is to get that studio, because automatically I'm relaxed, and can put the ideas straight onto tape, which again I just could not afford to do when working in a commercial studio. It's so expensive; you have to work out a lot before you go in and there's not time to experiment and change things as much as you'd like. Or if you do, the pressure of what it's costing I think actually becomes anti-productive. (1987, MuchMusic)


Then, the only people she still had to convince were the musicians: I think the basic fear in everybody's head was, ``god! Does she really know what she's doing?'' but you have to trust your own decisions. When everyone else is saying, ``no, that's dangerous,'' there's always a little voice in my head saying, ``yeah, yeah, it's all right.'' (1989, Q)


It's a layered procedure. I take a lot of time writing, and thinking. [she emphasizes the latter as she sits back on the couch, describing the process by which she produces her musical strata]. The actual performances from people are got very quickly. So hopefully, there's a tremendous amount of spontaneity performance-wise. But I have taken a lot of time between to change bits of the songs.

You'll do something with people that works out really well, and it works out so well it starts taking you somewhere else. You think, ``I wish that worked so well that I could do this with the song.'' So times I do that - take the song away and make it become something better. Working with other musicians is often the key. What worries me is that although the process is very spontaneous, I always feel that it sounds complicated. (1989, Option)


She ponders a question as to whether she is trying to create an aural environment with her densely textured songs.

Yes. That's kind of what it feels like and I'd hate to sound pretentious, because it could. It's like trying to paint a picture. Each song is like a little picture, and you've got to have the hill there, the right proportion. [her hand motions toward an imaginary landscape]. When you look at a painting, even a simple painting, it's still got to have the proportions and everything that goes with that. Some songs will be so quick and easy to write. Some lyrics will be so quick. And yet on other songs they won't. They are all individual, and each one has a tricky bit.

I suppose from a production point of view, the main thing I work toward is a sense of texture. When a song starts, you probably want it to be just sometimes quite small. And then you want it to get very big here so that there's a real sense of climax, and then bring it down again or keep it building. All these thing have shape and texture, [she continues, as if visualizing her music in front of her]. I suppose that's just how I work. It's like trying to give the song the right proportions so that when it's big, it's really big and not too big and not to small. Instruments, different sounds and flavors, really affect all that. (1989, Option)


I don't think I could work in commercial studios anymore. The reason we got studio together is because it was getting so prohibitive to try and spend the time I wanted to spend in writing. In a commercial studio we were paying God knows how much. So for Hounds of Love we had our own studio. And I think it's actually been the best move I've ever made creatively. It gave me much freedom. Suddenly I was a relaxed person, working and writing in a studio, and this was completely new to me. I was able to take half a day off if things were absolutely awful.

Quite often, in a commercial studio, you feel the pressure to keep working, and sometimes you don't get any work done at all. For lots of reasons it became a more intimate process. By having my own studio, I didn't have people popping in at all times. The studio was always set up. And particularly important was the fact that I was working with Del, whom I know so well, on a more extensive basis. By the time we were working on this album he actually recorded everything. He was the recording engineer. So I was in a position where I could write material in the studio with Del. I couldn't really do that with anyone else. It's a very private thing. I couldn't really write in front of other people. (1990, Option)


Because Del plays the bass, he's very good at rhythms and he'll often get the rhythm tracks together. Then I'll build up the song. As soon as I've got an idea, it can go on tape because Del's there. Now for me to actually try to put that on tape, it's so complicated. On occasion I've tried to do it, and it's a joke. [she laughs]. It's impossible. And I don't think I'd be able to do it with another engineer because I wouldn't feel relaxed. I really do have a tremendously intimate creative working environment. I think it's had a very good effect on my music. I feel so much more...too brave sometimes. And that almost frightened me on this album where I actually felt ``This is going to go out to the world!'' It's like my private music. But I do think that's good. Music and art, if possible, should be as personal an expression as possible, as well as a group expression. [Kate looks to Palmer, who has been sitting across from us].

Del palmer: You're actually giving me far more credit that I deserve. The thing about what kate does so well is that she makes the musicians actually work hard. Most musicians never really have to work hard. They are always working on their own level of expertise. On kate's music they do work exceptionally hard. And that's why I think most people really enjoy working with her, because they're made to work more than they are used to...

[Laughing, bush cracks an imaginary whip over our heads. ``hyah! Hyah!'']

Del: When it works, they feel an incredible sense of release and satisfaction. They've done something they have never done before.

What's great for me is that this is our sixth album, and we've been working with a lot of the musicians for years now. They're old friends. We really don't have a band as such, but it's much easier to communicate with someone who knows what you want. Our drummers never freak out now. Nothing seems crazy to them. (1990, Option)


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