KT Cloudbusting -- Kate Bush In Her Own Words


Honest, I just opened my mouth and it came out. (1978, March, Melody Maker)


Inevitably people will compare her to other female vocalists such as linda lewis and joan armstrading, who share similar extremes in their vocal ranges.

Yes, people keep saying this to me, SAYS KATE THOUGHTFULLY. I guess I can sing pretty high. (1978, Record Mirror)


So is it natural to sing that high kate?

Actually, it is. I've always enjoyed reaching notes that I can't quite reach. A week later you'll be on top of that note and trying to reach the one above it.

I always feel that you can continually expand your senses if you try. The voice is like an instrument. The reason I sang that song [" wuthering heights"] so high is 'cause I felt it called for it. The book has a mood of mystery and I wanted the song to reflect that. (1978, NME)


I mean I think I've always wanted to record, since I was a kid, that's what I wanted to do, I wanted to be, if not a songwriter, a singer. And I'd never thought I'd be a singer, and I still in a way really don't consider myself a singer. And it's just fantastic for me that other people do. It's great. (1979, Swap Shop)


I'd like to ask you, do you know about your highest note that you can sing.

[Laughs]. I have not idea. Probably in the bath, I'd have thought. I can singer higher notes in the bath than anywhere else.

You do have an amazing range, don't you. Has it ever been sorta written down, how far you can go?

Oh, no. That's the last thing I'd do, cause if you set yourself a limit then you're probably never going to get over it.

Give us a high note.

What now?

Yeah, break the phone.

[Sings] eeeeeeee [Laughs] it's very early in the morning.

Do you find your voice alters during the day?

Oh yeah, incredibly, it's very interesting.

You wake up as a tenor... (1979, Swap Shop)


*But the voice... Where, where, ... Were you singing like that then, this strange voice that rises up so high?

No, when I first started singing I had an incredibly plain voice, I mean I could sing in tune but that was about it, I mean I really wasn't that good. And really all I did was sing every day, because I was writing songs, I would sing them. And I was concentrating much more on my writing and therefore my voice came through that. And every day I'd be at the piano for hours, so really it was just a gradual progression from something that started...

Do you like your own voice?

No, I don't, and I think this is a problem that a awful lot of artists have, they can't actually enjoy what they do, or their voice, or whatever it is, to the fullest because they are themselves. And it's very painful for me to listen to my voice sometimes as it is for other people who don't like it. [Laughter from audience] But it's something that you have to try to accept, that you have limitations. And that's what you go for. (1981, Friday Night And Saturday Morning)


*Jackie daves of whitchurch in chopshire, wants to know if you have ever had singing lessons at any time in your life? I'm not sure if she's suggesting that you should have? [Kate laughs] but she wants to know.

Yeah. Yes I did actually with a really lovely man called Mr. Farrol. And I used to go there for half an hour, once a week. And I'd sit and play him my latest song, and then we'd do some breathing exercises and a couple of songs that were standards and I'd go away. And what was really great about it was that he gave me a tremendous amount of confidence in my voice, which I really didn't have much of. (1982, Unknown BBC interview)


*What about the singing style, was that derived from somebody, or was that something that just naturally came? Because it's very unique, your style.

I think that's something that grew over the years, because when I first started singing I had a very untoneful voice. I mean I could sing in tune, but there was no quality to my voice at all. And over the years, the more I kept singing the more it started changing and growing.

I'm still at the untoneful stage, so you never know. I'll keep trying. [Laughs]

Yeah, you must try! You must keep trying! (1982, Saturday Superstore)


She confesses that she doesn't do breathing exercises, though she is very aware of breath control when she is singing. She regards her voice as a precious instrument: It can be affected by almost anything: My nerves, my mood, even the weather. (1982, Company)


With regard to voices, yours never stops plunging lower and lower, with each album. It's true that, with `` wuthering heights,'' you were taking the soprano part!

In my first two albums, I had it in my head to sing only in my highest register. A whim, but it made people think that it was the only way I knew how to sing. However, when I was truly a little girl, I never sang in that way. Since then I've been trying to explore the possibilities of my larynx, to find that sound which best suits the piece. Furthermore, in growing older, the voice changes. I'd like to hope that it's changing for the better. In any case, I control my voice much better than formerly. Being the producer also allows me to devote more time and attention to the method in which I want my singing to sound. That's another source of progress.

The impression your album leaves, ten minutes after listening to it, is of a profusion of voices and percussion.

That's very interesting. The voices are of capital importance for me. They allow me to express the story of the song in different degrees. I care very deeply about my lyrics. What bothers me is what you just said on the subject of percussion... (1985, Guitares et Claviers)


Your vocal melodies are very original and there's a recognizable style of swooping pitch glissandos, acciaccatura vocal decoration plus a preference for third/root jumps. Then of course you have an extremely wide pitch range.

In fact, I've stretched the pitch range over the years. What I used to do in my earlier performing was to go for notes higher than I could reach easily in the song, so by the time I'd written the song and played it for a good few days, I could actually reach those notes. By making my writing more acrobatic than I was, I was stretching myself to it. It's something that's grown over the years. Definitely my voice has got stronger in the last two years, because on The Dreaming I was so aware of the difference in my voice. Not only is it much stronger, but it is also more controlled.

It has been frustrating for me in the past because my voice has never sounded the way I wanted it to, and so whenever I was listening to the albums it was unbearable for me. It was not just the weakness, but the style, of it. I've always tried to get my voice the way it's starting to be now. Because the songs always controlled me, they were always tending to be in a higher range. It sounds strange, but I think that when you write songs, very often you don't have control of them. You can guide them, but they have their own life force, really.

My use of decorative notes probably comes from Irish music. My mother's Irish, and in my childhood my brothers were very into traditional music and we could hear it in the house all the time. The airs and inflections are beautiful, and I love Irish singing. On the `` Night of the Swallow'' Liam O'Flynn plays the Uillean pipes and the penny whistle, to give the track an Irish flavour.

I think my use of thirds is because in a lot of songs there are times when I want it to sound like someone actually talking than singing. There are things that you say that often people don't put into songs, and I quite like to use those lines. Quite often when people speak they naturally use the ``third-to-root'' pitch-change in their voices - little tension marks that take it up a couple of tones.

Another interesting aspect of your singing style is the way you change your voice tone.

I purposely try to do that because I do feel that every song comes from a different person, really, so this is one way of making something different about it. I like to ``create'' voices. I've been trying this over the years. I often find that I do ``word painting'' without realizing, and my singing/speech style probably comes from the Irish influence again.

Sometimes I don't think the words are important, and I'll just use sound shapes, which establish the mood. The lyrics of the lead vocal are awfully important to me, while the backing vocals are very often just trying to create a picture - as in The Dreaming, with ``Na-na-cha chan cha--'' [This is the original interviewer's transcription. Perhaps kate actually said something like 'me-me-me-me-me, t-t-t-t-t, I-I-I-I-I--'. - ied]

I hardly ever use the Vocoder - only once for a tiny effect on ``Babooshka'' to make the drum sound like the title. [This is no longer true. Kate has spoken about using the vocoder more often for hounds of love and the sensual world albums.]

We've been experimenting a lot with effects units - particularly the flanger, to get different textures with the voices. In several of the songs there are at least four or five layers of voices. In order to have them not sounding like one clump, we've had to try and separate them by treating them and placing them carefully in the stereo field. Some have more reverb or more echo than others, too.

Listening to your past albums, you seem to like running verses into choruses, without the more usual ``here comes the chorus'' feeling. [Absolutely true, but - as the interviewer says - mainly in the early songs. One could even argue that the opposite is true in kate's recent work, in that she now often inserts a characteristic kate bush bridge structure, which she calls the ``pre-choral refrain", between verse and chorus. - ied]

Yes, I suppose so. But you see, for me, I know where all the choruses are because they're so obvious to me, although it's interesting you say that. It's quite likely, too, that people say they can't dance to my music at parties or discos, but of course, I can dance to it, so it doesn't bother me.

The only person I've met who is really into the same kind of approach to playing as I do is Peter Gabriel. He seems to be working ``behind the scenes'' in a similar way - he's going for the emotional content of the music and lyrics, and he changes his voice. As for my use of local vibrato: if there's a song that needs it, I'll put it in. I have used a choirboy's voice (IT WAS RICHARD THORNTON) to get a different feeling on ``All the Love."

During mixing do you consider spatial placement of sounds in relation to your obviously spatial dance movements?

No, I don't think that far, really, but that's a nice audio thing when I'm working out the dance. I do place the sounds - certainly moreso on this new album, since it's the first one I have produced myself. And anyway it's the first time I've known enough to do that.

Do you ``chorus'' your voice a lot?

We have used delay machines for this on a couple of tracks, and added a very slight harmonizer effect, as well as sometimes very tight double tracking. It really does depend on the song, and how strong the lead vocal needs to be. For a more delicate song it would be wrong to put a heavy harmonizer on it - it would sound so affected. [Could she have said ``effected'' here???] We've also been using an awful lot of compression on the new album - with nearly everything, in fact. It's interesting, the kind of dynamics you can actually create, which is what I really never understood before. Especially with voices: as you start compressing them more and more, so many different levels start coming through on it - the breath particularly. And for me, that's as important as the words: it's the space in between.

In ``all the love'' the ``sighs'' seem to be important in this way.

Yes, it's the idea of using the breath as a voice. There was another backing vocal sung by our engineer, and it's fantastic, because in the gaps there are these huge passages of him going ``haahuuh!'' where you can feel the breath moving past. (1982, Electronics Music Maker)


Your vocal arrangements are often complex enough to suggest that a keyboard instrument was involved in coming up with the parts. Is this the case?

Sometimes the backing vocals just come in automatically as part of a song when I'm writing it. Other times, maybe it won't be until I've recorded the main voice and a few events in the song. And then I'll think it needs something there. Those are really the two extremes: I either come up with the backing vocals in the initial writing, or I hear a hole that needs filling. Whether I build up a really thick, grand vocal depends on the song. If the song needs that, then I'll just overdub the voice and build the vocals up. If it's a very intimate song between the singer and the subject matter, then you'd write it with just one voice.

You process your voice quite a bit.

I'm sure there are quite a few people like me who really prefer the sound of their own voice when it's affected a bit. To hear your own voice absolutely straight with nothing on it can be very painful. Again, it depends on what the songs are about. (1985, Keyboard)


Initially I put a tremendous amount of emphasis on the vocals because that was my instrument, apart from playing the piano. 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. (1990, Musician)


When listening to your album, from the very first to the most recent, there's a change in your voice and it seems that your voice is lower and a little more aggressive, as if you're working harder in punching out the lyrics.

Lyrics have always been very important for me, and all people go through phases of things they try out, and at that period when I made that first album, I was very much experimenting with a higher vocal range. It was just something I wanted to try out, and also the production has a tremendous amount to do with things like that. But my voice has changed a lot, and I think that is basically what I see as the difference, that as I grow up, my voice has grown up with me and has become stronger and stronger, and I can do things now with my voice that were not easy for me to do years ago.

Has your voice lost any of its range?

I can get up there if I need to, but I just prefer working in this range now. I think a lot of females go through that. If you listen to Joni Mitchell, her early stuff is very high, and with each album she gets lower and lower. It's just a progressive thing for people. (1987, MuchMusic)


Wow, you know, its always a trip (?), every time a new album comes out its kinda there's a different set of sounds, a different something coming on there. In fact one of our listeners called up, who's wondering if there's ever hope for you to work with liz from the cocteau twins [Kate goes ah!] sometime in the future.

That's a great idea.

It would. She has just done a song recently with ian mccllough [Spelling ???] where she actually sang lyrics [Kate goes uh !] which was something I had never heard her stray into and on your albums every once in a while you stray into singing non-lyrics, using the voice purely as an instrument.

Well, I think the voice is an instrument, and I think its good to experiment with all the instruments we have. (1990, KDGE)


I think the voice is very much an instrument. Especially with backing vocals, because you don't have to have the emphasis on trying to carry the whole story. You can really treat it like an instrument. It's fun just experimenting with different sounds and shapes. (1990, Option)


Gaffaweb / Cloudbusting / Subjects / Vocals