To the Reaching Out (Interviews) Table of Contents
(This interview was taken from Andrew Marvick's The Garden.)
Peter Swales's Musician interview (fall, 1985)
[The following group interview was conducted by Peter Swales for Musician magazine. This version includes what was printed in Musician as well as that which was edited out. Peter Swales, for those who are interested, is a friend of the Bush family, and he is the author of several papers on aspects of psycho-analysis. In particular, he has recently dealt with the ongoing controversy surrounding the publication of some unedited correspondence of Sigmund Freud, which appeared a few years ago in a book by Jeffrey Masson, and which was the catalyst for extensive argument within the psycho-analytic community. He is currently writing a book on the subject of Freud's collaboration with Wilhelm Fliess. This version of the Swales interview with Kate Bush is edited by Andrew Marvick.]
It fascinates me that, despite the basic rock instrumentation which you employ, your music doesn't seem to owe very much of its ancestry to American sources. I would venture to say you're one in the very few popular artists to have evolved such a uniquely British kind of music.
"Yes, that's very interesting. I think probably most of the stuff I have liked, though, has actually been English, and possibly that's why my roots aren't American. Whereas perhaps with the majority of other people, well, you know, they were listening to Elvis and people like that and most of their heroes would have been American. But the artists I liked, such as Roxy Music and David Bowie, they were all singing in English accents and, in fact, were among the few in England who were actually doing so at that time. I mean to say, Elton John, Robert Palmer and Robert Plant sound American when they sing, although of course they're English."
Yes, right, but it must go a lot deeper in terms of musical genetics. I mean your melodic invention and conceptions of rhythm are really quite un-American. You were born in 1958. When did you first tune in to what was happening in music, who were the first artists you began listening to?
"Well, I think the first pop thing I ever heard which I really liked was Little Red Rooster. I heard it in a car coming back from the shops and I thought it was fascinating. It was the first song I'd ever heard where the singer was actually singing out of tune. I don't mean that derogatorily. What I mean, I suppose, is that the record sounded so unconventional, and I just hadn't experienced anyone singing like that before."
The Stones had that record out around 1964, was this when you were about six years old?
"Yes, around that time, I suppose. It was really a fantastic sound -- the fact that someone wasn't singing quite in tune and, because of that, was getting a very different emotion out of it. But I suppose, really, I first became aware of pop music around the late 1960s. I was hearing that sort of music through my two brothers and thinking just how good it was. But for the fact that my brothers were playing those records, I probably wouldn't have heard them, as my friends in school wouldn't have been listening to things like that! I think that was the earliest pop music that I really felt was good."
Paddy Bush: "But you see now, that's an interesting thing, because we weren't really involved in the pop thing at all at that time. Jay [John Carder Bush, Kate and Paddy's elder brother] and I were very much involved in the English folk revival, we had an incredibly staunch approach towards traditional folk music."
Paddy, surely you're not going to mind talking about your sister right in front of her like this. When was it you began to become aware not simply that Kate was musically gifted, but that she was also a force to be reckoned with?
Paddy: "Right from the word go. She was about ten years old at the time."
And did you and perhaps Jay attempt to cultivate this gift in the hope that she might one day bear fruit?
Paddy: "Oh no, no, it cultivated itself. To cultivate music you have to spend a lot of time by yourself, making a lot of very strange sounds over and over again. It's not the sort of thing you go hammering into others. When there's a family all in one house and you're getting your music together, normally the others in the family close the doors and try to keep the sound out. And when you've got several people playing instruments in the same house, well, things can get a bit complicated! I remember having things thrown at me during the early days because I was playing the same tune for six months. It would get people down! And when Kate began working on the piano, she'd go and lock herself away and wind up spending five or six hours, seven days a week, just playing the piano."
You mean by now she was about thirteen or fourteen?
Paddy: "Yeah, and wow! I mean, at the age of thirteen or fourteen she was spending tons and tons of time writing, but starting in fact when she was about ten."
And did this begin to assume almost pathological proportions and start alarming the family?
Kate: "Pathological!" (Kate, the daughter of a physician and a former nurse, seems to find this notion rather funny.)
Paddy: "Yeah! But no! Because of the heavy Irish tradition in the family, I think it was escapism on her part. Our mother is Irish and I think Kate maybe felt, you know, that there was a slight obligation to appease the Irish spirit. And somewhere out of my mother's imagination came the idea that Kate should learn the violin. It seems to be a tradition that the violin is forced upon people. I mean, there are few who take it up of their own volition! And Kate was certainly one of those who only took it up under pressure, she didn't really like it very much. So the piano was a kind of way of exploring music in dimensions diametrically opposite to what the violin must have represented to her. Escapism, pure escapism! You know, the command would be, 'Go and practise on that violin, Kate,' but the piano music came out instead! I think perhaps we Bushes are a bit like that...So yes, her piano playing was in the first place a direct reaction to straight music as we knew it, or as she knew it, at the time. The sort of style which she evolved in her piano playing and singing were direct opposites of all the kinds of straight music which she was being fed right then. Pure escapism, and very beautiful!"
But then, Kate, did your family soon come to accept what you were doing?
Kate: "Yes, I used to go to my father and to Jay for opinions on my songs and their feedback was very important to me. Jay is a writer, and he's written some really beautiful things, and altogether he's been a big influence on me. It was through his help that I got my first contact in the music business, which led to my break, and now he deals with the business side of my work. And, besides putting lots of good ideas my way, he's introduced me to a lot of artists who probably otherwise I would never have heard of, and of course hearing new music can be a very big influence."
Going back to the piano, surely your playing didn't evolve in a musical vacuum?
"Well, when I was about twelve, that sort of age, I was such a big fan of Elton John. I think really he was the first musical hero I had in that I aspired so much to what he was doing. I was just sort of starting to muck around writing songs, and then I saw this guy and he was the only one I'd ever seen who wrote songs and accompanied himself on the piano. And his playing was brilliant, and still today I think his playing is fantastic. It's always so right for his songs."
About your singing, I know you used to listen to Billie Holiday. Did you make deliberate efforts to imitate her, singing along with her records and so on?
"Well, that was when I was about seventeen, and I was listening to all kinds of music. And no, I think Billie Holiday is one of the very few artists whose records I would never join in with while she's singing, she's too good. I just couldn't get near it. I think the reward you get from her is in actually listening to her voice. That is what is so beautiful about her, you can almost hear what she's been doing for the last three weeks. Her singing is extraordinary, it's just terrifying, the amount of, well, agony, and yet beauty, which comes out of just that one voice. Terrible suffering, yet so entertaining for those who listen."
You never sing a song straight. Are there singers whom you studied in developing your own style of phrasing?
"I would really be missing the point if I didn't mention Bryan Ferry, because I thought he was the most exciting singer that I'd heard. His voice had limitations, but what he managed to do with it was beautiful, I mean, b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l. For me it covered the whole emotional spectrum, and I just couldn't get enough of it. You know, the early Roxy albums, with this beautiful voice and lyrics, and Eno there in the background-- magic!"
But Kate, I'm very curious. I know you grew up listening to artists like Bowie, Bolan, Dave Edmunds, Roxy Music, Elton John, all that sort of stuff. Yet in my opinion you're so much more musically eloquent than people like that. Your music has a depth and complexity, also a certain opulence, which aren't easily attributable to pop music and which sugges to me that perhaps there are a quite different set of aesthetic values underlying it that you've assimilated somewhere along the way, perhaps even deriving from classical music or opera.
"I think in a way that classical music is, if you like, a sort of superior form of music because it has so much space for the listener to move around in. I think as soon as you have words in a song, it's somewhat restricting for the listener. And I really love listening to classical music because, actually, I find it quite inspiring for my work. So maybe because I love those things so much, I suppose they do tend to rub off on me..."
I see, so you think they just rub off. It's not as if you are extrapolating classical formulae into your own music with any knowing intent?
"Well, I do think that a lot of classical music is so good that it challenges you. When I hear something really beautiful, I think, wouldn't it be great if I could write something even just a little bit like that! So I'm sure that's what it's all about. It's not really copying but, rather, wanting to produce that same kind of, well--vibe. To try and get the same kind of atmosphere which that music creates when you listen to it."
Did you have much of a formal education in music? Are you capable of comprehending your own work in terms of music theory?
"Well, I do know what chords are, basically, but I've not really had any classical training at all. My knowledge of theory comes from when I learned the violin when I was little, and that's about it."
Paddy: "You see, really our roots are in the oral tradition. I mean, that's the way music is carried on in our family."
Kate: "Yes, I think there are an awful lot of major influences deriving from traditional music, especially English and Irish folk music. 'Cause when I was very little my brothers were devoted to traditional music and it's something I've always loved and still love. Especially Irish music, which I love very much. I think I was always impressed by the words in folk songs. I mean, even when I was very little I was aware that the songs had great words. They're always stories, each song is a story, not like the lyrics of most pop songs."
And did you yourself play things like accordians and concertinas?
"No, Paddy used to have a big collection of them and occasionally I used to sneak up to his room and have a quick play when he wasn't there. But really, Pad would always play those sort of things, and I always stuck to the piano."
On different album tracks you've featured not only Irish musicians but also an array of other ethnic sounds. Does this betray a lot of your own listening? Are you listening to a lot of pretty far-out stuff, music for example of aboriginal, oriental, or comparable ethnic origin, and deliberately seeking to integrate that into your own music?
"No, I don't think I am really. There was a period when I used to listen to certain ethnic music. But I don't think I was ever really an avid listener. Paddy is much more of an avid listener to ethnic stuff, he listens to it nearly all the time."
Paddy: "Yes, I take ethnic music very seriously and collect the instruments and the music."
And is it then you who's responsible when you add one of those instruments to one of Kate's tracks, is it you who's conceived of what is possible there?
Paddy: "Normally, yes, when it comes to unusual or ethnic instruments. Because that is what I am interested in. I come in with the suggestion for such and such an instrument. Kate then listens to it in the context of the track and if she likes it, it stays; if she doesn't I try and find something different."
Paddy, maybe you'd give a quick sketch of your career as a musician prior to your involvement with your sister.
Paddy: "Well, I suppose it all started off initially because there's always been so much music in our family. Our mother comes from a very musical family, all her brothers, i.e. our uncles, played on accordians and fiddles and stuff. So music was something we were always exposed to as young kids and we were always hearing Irish dance music, which has been very special to me ever since. But my initial involvement in music came when I used to play for an English Morris Dance team. I used to play the concertina, and the Anglo-chromatic concertina. I did that for a very long time and worked for the English Folk Dance and Song Society. The Society's image is one of lady dance-teachers sat at pianos with children prancing about. But, basically, at that time, it was the only source of broad-spectrum information concerning folk music. So I used to play for their Morris Dance team, not a very big nor a very popular team really, but that was where my earliest experience of performing came from. We used to work a lot in folk clubs and, at that particular time in the Sixties, the folk revival was happening in England and out of it came several thousand LPs that are almost all unavailable and forgotten by now, but some of the stuff was just incredible, and that was our source material until I started getting involved in Irish dance music. It's crazy! I happened to go to school, here in England, with a guy called Kevin Burke, who's considered the best fiddler in Ireland. I was just walking past this classroom one day, and there was this geezer in there doing this absolutely incredible Sligo fiddle playing. I'd never heard anything like it, I mean, it was a delirious kind of music! And then, from all that, my interest in musical instruments just grew and grew to the point where I tried to seek an apprenticeship with a musical instrument maker, actually with a harp maker at that particular time, 'cause I was interested in learning how to play all the things. So I looked for an apprenticeship for nearly two years--that would have been when I was between about eighteen and twenty--but I couldn't find anybody at all interested in taking me on. But then eventually, towards the mid-1970s, I discovered a place in London that was offering a course in musical instrument technology, not just on one instrument, but on everything. I mean literally, piano tuning, violin making, harpsichord building, keyboards, ethnic musicology with Jean Jenkings, and so on. And it seemed too good an opportunity to miss. So I went and studied at this college, the London College of Furniture in Shoreditch, for three years and became a musical instrument technologist specializing in mediaeval musical instruments."
And you were still playing around folk clubs during those years?
Paddy: "Oh, yes, certainly. Folk music--it's very, very hard to give any sort of adequate description of what folk music can mean to you if you're not yourself completely involved in it. It's more like a way of life. It can't stop. It's like swimming, once you've learned the art you can't go and forget how to do it. You know, somebody goes 'dum-dee-diddle-dee-dum-dee-da' (Paddy breaks into an Irish jig) and you're off! It instantly makes sense! If you're born into a tradition of playing some particular kind of music, you can branch out into all kinds of other music. But the tradition is something that's always there and just never, never falls apart. So, in my case, the folk tradition was constantly there. But my major interest in broad-spectrum musical instruments just grew and grew and grew. And being at that college was the perfect place to pursue it..."
So then you came out of that into helping Kate?
Paddy: "Well, I struggled by myself for a time as an artist, an artist of weirdness. I had a couple of exhibitions of some things that I'd made during that time. You see, towards the end, my course in musical instrument making became very curious and strange, I started making instruments with arms and legs and out of very unorthodox materials; and instruments that didn't play and which demonstrated other sorts of principles. I had an exhibition at the Whitechapel Art Gallery and sold a couple of things, there was a great deal of interest, but not much success! Then one day Kate said, 'Do you want to join the band?'"
Del [Palmer, Kate's demos engineer, mixer, bass player and boyfriend], you played bass in the original K.T. Bush band. The guitarist Brian Bath was once telling me how one day in the mid-70s, Paddy asked him to sit in and play with his kid sister and he was so overwhelmed, he just couldn't believe what he was hearing...
Del: "Yeah, and he wasn't the only one. I'd heard about Kate from Paddy 'cause I'd known him for some time. And Brian had told me he'd heard some of her songs and they were really great, and I trusted his opinion. But I just had this impression that she must be older and more mature. Then at our first rehearsal--Kate, Brian and me, and a fellow called Vic King on drums--I felt a little nervous because, you know, I felt a particular emotional involvement coming on right from the word go. But I also just thought: this girl's like just eighteen, whereas I'd been struggling for years on my bass. And I knew I just had to get involved some way because this was going to be mega. It was a phenomenon because it was so completely different from what anyone else was doing. And I've never had any desire to work with anyone else since. It wouldn' be anywhere near so adventurous and demanding. It's no good you sitting there laughing, Kate, it's true! The songs always started off in a way I found instantly...well, familiar. But then suddenly they'd leap off somewhere completely different, and I'd think, how could you possible think of going to there from what you were in originally? I would never have thought of doing that, and yet it always works! And that's the case even moreso nowadays. For me, a great musical artist is someone who can always keep surprising you with what they do, and there's very few people who can do that for me, very few. I've got very limited musical tastes..."
When you first met Kate, was she herself aware of her own musical precocity, or was she totally naive about it all?
Del: "I'm not sure if I can answer that one. I think maybe she kind of underrated how much of a talent she actually was, if you see what I mean."
Is that still true, Kate?
Kate: "I don't know! This is all very interesting for me, it's almost like I'm a fly on the wall."
Del: "No, but I think you do underestimate yourself a lot. And I think you're not the only one who does. I think there's a lot of people in the music business and the press who underestimate what you're doing and what you're capable of."
Outside of your own work, you must meet with other musicians, most of them male, of course. Musically speaking, do they tend to take Kate Bush seriously?
Kate: "Yes, I think they do. In fact, a lot of the people who said how much they like the last album, The Dreaming, were musicians. And that really means a lot to me."
It does seem that, while Kate Bush is something of an acquired taste, she does on her own tend largely to satisfy the musical appetite of those who've acquired it, so that henceforth they tend to have a diminished interest in other artists.
Del: "Well, you've just summed up my own sentiment exactly. I mean as far as being a musician is concerned, I don't really feel it's worth bothering with anyone else. I mean, sure, there's a certain amount of emotional content in that. But one's always surprised by what you do!"
Kate: "Gosh, I don't know if I can take this!
This is bound to sound a bit off the wall, but it does seem to me that in a way you're the true heir to everything that was good, all that was great, about the 1960s. Sure, a lot about the 1960s was crap, but what I have in mind are things like the Beatles' Walrus and stuff like that. Your own music is similarly large, it seems to me, both in its conception and the actual execution. Very eclectic, experimental, often very exotic, and at the same time animated by a certain spirit...
Kate: "Well, that's great if you think so, very interesting, very complimentary. I think certainly the sixties was the time when I was growing up and all those early influences are very strong. But I don't know whether I would say what you said, although I do find it very flattering."
Del: "Well, I think you've hit the nail right smack on the head, it's the truth, Kate is more or less all that was good about the sixties."
And you know her music does strike me in a way as rather Beatlish. I mean, most rock artists work within one or another genre but usually tend to be limited by it. But, like the Beatles, you're always able to flit around in different styles while yet remaining recognizably yourself. Also you're always musical, always dynamic, always very polished...
Del: "Yes, exactly. And it's remarkable, too, because you were never really exposed to the Beatles at the time."
Kate: "Well, I take that as a great compliment. I think that, because I was too young to be caught up in Beatlemania, then when I did hear them--and that wasn't perhaps till four or five years ago, I heard them objectively, if you like. And I was just so astounded by their musical quality, I mean, every track! And something like the Walrus track, it's still so contemporary. I mean, there are very few people who are doing something really good. But apart from the sixties, when there was this huge wealth of stuff like Motown and everything, it really does seem that you get just two or three who are fantastic. Occasionally you get great bursts of wonderful things, but not often."
Do you know Laurie Anderson's music?
"Yes, I really liked her album Big Science, there was some very interesting stuff on it. I love Oh Superman."
I was amazed recently to see that one of your favourite things was Captain Beefheart's Tropical Hot Dog Night.
"Oh, he's fantastic! And the lyrics on Bat Chain Puller, wow! He's a bit like Lindsay Kemp: he's terribly underestimated and yet he's been such an incredible artist, you know, people tend to use so many of his ideas."
Are there certain singers you are into, or do you tend to listen more to instrumentalists?
"Well, there are certain singers I listen to, but I'd say generally I'm much more into instrumentalists; like there's a jazz pianist, George Winston, for instance, on the Windham Hill label, whom I find beautiful to listen to. But the thing is, when you've been working on an album so intensely, like I've been doing, in fact to unwind I tend to watch visual things because your ears get so tired and your brain gets so cotton-woolly from all the concentration in the studio--say, for instance, if you're listening for clicks or things that are out of time. I find that if I listened to music after a day of that, I'd be sitting there criticizing it: 'Oh, that's out of time or out of tune,' or stuff like that. So it's really nice to watch comedy because it's good to relax and have a laugh. Also comedy is very observant stuff, as well. It's all based on observation of people."
Kate, you've got so many different voices and a four-octave range, but how do you keep it in shape? I mean, it's not like you're getting practice doing performances or anything like that.
"No, no, that's right. Well, the hardest thing is sort of being psyched up in the right way to do the vocal with the right emotional feeling. And the hardest thing for me is to be able to feel relaxed enough to be uninhibited. So sometimes I do get just a little drunk, and at other times I like to do them with Del, because I feel much more relaxed than if there's an outside engineer there. I mean, I do become quite sensitive when I start singing."
So can I assume you're pissed out of your head on "The Big Sky"?
"Yes, I might be getting drunk on that one--the ad libs on the end, that was where I had to get drunk. And definitely on Waking the Witch. I was very drunk doing that!"
Del: "But you were asking whether she practices singing at all, and I think she practices without ever realizing it. I mean like, for instance, travelling in the car and there's a cassette on and she'll always sing along with it and try and get some weird harmony going..."
But I mean, the ability to pitch a note or sustain it, does that suffer because you're not performing?
Kate: "Um, it depends. I mean sometimes I have to sort of work my voice into it, like just learn it, and other times, well, it does tend to depend on how I feel. If I'm tired, it's a lot harder for me to get a vocal. Backing vocals, they're not so much trouble at all. It's the lead vocals that require the right feeling and atmosphere, mentally and in the studio."
So most of the vocals we hear are dubbed on later?
"Yes, most of them take a long time and a lot of work, especially to get the right emotional inflections and that kind of thing. But Man With the Child in His Eyes and The Kick Inside on the first album, those two tracks were done live, vocal and piano with the orchestra, which was absolutely terrifying. I mean awful! I was petrified and I wouldn't have done it if I hadn't been forced into it. There aren't any live vocals on the new album, and particularly for the reason of the vocal sound, as much as wanting to be able to control it all separately."
Del: "Yeah, but what so many people don't realize is that Kate is an amazing ad libber. The Big Sky is a really good example, that whole end section is just ad lib all the way through. I remember on the third album, the song The Wedding List, I can remember going in there and the engineer saying to me, 'Man! You should hear what she's doing here!' I mean, they took about six or seven tracks of Kate ad libbing and you could have used any one of them, they were all just amazing. And people don't generally think of Kate as someone who does a lot of ad libbing, they think of her as being totally produced with everything completely worked out and contrived. But that's by no means the case."
I must admit, while of course I love the mature Kate Bush, what I do miss is that very young and enchanting, almost ecstatic sort of voice on the early albums. You don't often sing in that high register these days but rather an octave or so lower.
Kate: "Well, I think it's li e periods you go through. Albums are really very auto-biographical, and at that time I was writing and experimenting to try to push my voice higher and into different areas, and I'm not really sure why, but I think at that time I felt my voice was strongest at that pitch. But I find that interesting 'cause when she was really young, Joni Mitchell used to sing very high, though now she's very low and jazzy."
Del: "But I think you do actually approach your singing quite differently from the way you used to."
Kate: "Well, I've always found lower voices more appealing, I guess, and I didn't really like that high pitch very much. With high voices, the words tend to escape you more. I think when it's lower you tend to listen more to the words and a little less to the voice as an instrument."
Kate, do your songs just burst out of you like so many Athenas out of the head of Zeus, or are they very crafted and do they cost you a lot of suffering and effort to construct as finished art-pieces?
"It's very different every time, really. With the Never For Ever album, I had to work really hard to write most of those songs. It would take me weeks and weeks just to get a chorus or to write the words. But then, when we went into the studio, it was actually quite spontaneous and very quick. Whereas with most of the songs on The Dreaming, I just sat down at the piano, got a rhythm and just literally wrote the songs. I couldn't believe it! I mean to say, the words probably weren't there, but the idea was there, and all the tunes were there. That was the first time I'd actually demo'ed the songs while writing them. I put the piano down, put a voice down, put backing vocals down, and I had a song! And apart from Houdini, which nearly killed me, the rest were just so easy, it was really frightening. But then, as soon as I hit the studio, all that speed and spontaneity seemed to evaporate and turn into something completely different. The recording became really, really hard work, and it was very intense. With the new Hounds of Love album, the songs took quite a lot of time and effort to come out. Now that I've got my own studio, a lot of the writing process is very much the recording process so, rather than going in with a finished song, I'm able to go straight in and actually write the song in the studio, so that took a little bit of time."
So it's not as if you're so abundantly creative that we're being deprived of a whole wealth of songs that never got onto disc?
"I wish, I wish, I wish! I think if I was abundantly creative, I could just sort of sit back and go: 'Ah, there's another one, how about that!' But I just find it so hard. Usually with every album I'm in a situation where I scrape together the songs. The first album was the only one where that wasn't so, then I had literally hundreds of songs to choose from, as I'd been writing from about the age of eleven. But now it's just getting harder for me to write. I think the longer I'm around, the harder it is for me to find something convincing in my art. There are all kinds of subject-matters which I think I could probably have enjoyed at an earlier time, but which now I find trivial. So there are all these changes. You know, the more you see, the more there is to fear, and the more there is to learn. And I think that very much applies to my work."
And presumably your own criteria of perfection tend to escalate, so it gets a lot harder to reach that threshold.
"Yes, I think so, yes, that's right. And also, of course, you can't really control what comes out, which is something that I have to keep telling myself. Because, you know, I think I'm going to sit down and write this or that, but it all just depends on how you're feeling or what's happening. You can't really control it. Other than rejecting or accepting things and putting them into different bits of order, you don't have any control over it. It's not something that you actually own. I could write an album very quickly, but maybe only one of the songs would be what I considered interesting enough, and I wanted to make sure with the new album that all the songs were good. Really, it's the lyrics that are like a big process that keeps on happening right from the word 'go' till I've done the last lead vocal. I mean, still then I'm playing with little bits of lyrics here and there that maybe weren't quite right..."
Is all that what accounts for the three-year gap between The Dreaming and Hounds of Love?
"Yes, it takes me a long time to write stuff that I feel is interesting enough, and also it takes me a long while to come out of the wake of one album and come into the energy of a new album. Because it would be wrong, I think, to be in the same frame of mind that I was in for the last album. And, in a way, you have to sort of say, 'Well, O.K., that was it; now I'm gonna go out and just find some new stimulus.' 'Cause, you know, you go from one very intense atmosphere into another one, and you've got to get some new inspiration in between. But another big reason why the new album took so long is Side Two, The Ninth Wave. It was incredibly difficult to actually be brave enough to go for it. I had the feeling that that was what I wanted to do. But then I started getting scared of it--you know, I knew that, if it didn't work out, then I'd have wasted all that effort for nothing. Then I decided, though, O.K., yeah, I'm gonna go for it; but that was a relatively brave thing to do and it took a lot of time. What really consumed the time, though, was that the tracks took a long time to finish, they weren't as good as they should be, there were lots of things that still needed to be done."
Del: "I think it all really depends on what the context is. If the content wasn't too deep, then it could all be done very quickly. It's when you're trying to create a specific atmosphere that it gets difficult."
"It does, it depends on what the songs themselves demand. And the best thing about having the studio was not having the pressure of being in a studio that was costing nearly a hundred quid an hour. We do like to experiment, and sometimes it takes a while to make an experiment work. So we were able to take the time..."
But is having your own studio a two-sided coin, in that, while it makes life a lot easier, you don't feel under the same pressure, and it's therefore much harder to complete things and tie them up?
"Well, I thought that might be a problem but actually, the way we worked, I don't think it was, there was a pressure all the time because the album kept taking longer and I was very concerned that it should be finished."
I think, only naturally, a lot of people are wondering to themselves why there's been a three year interval since The Dreaming, and they're fearful they'll have to wait another three or four years before the next album. Was setting up the studio responsible for some of the delay?
"Yes, yes it was, to set up base down here rather than coming up to London all the time. As well as actually getting the place together, it takes some time to actually get ahold of and accumulate all the equipmentt, so that you've got what you need at hand. Also we made the step up from 24-track to 48-track while doing it."
You don't think that if you were in an urban environment you'd be under a different pressure, under a different stimulus, and you might be more productive?
"No, I think there're more distractions when you go into an urban environment, and I think that was one of my big problems."
Del: "I think you've been more productive since you've been living out here."
Kate: "I have, absolutely."
So then the bottom line is that, even if the bottom were to fall out, now that you've got your own studio you'd be able to keep on making new records?
Del: "Yes, but I think there'll always be a market for Kate's music."
I think so, too! But even if worst came to the absolute worst, with the studio you'd be able to keep on recording even if only for your own edification. Once an album finally exists, can you enjoy it or will you have nothing more to do with it?
Kate: "I couldn't with the first two albums as they didn't turn out the way I wanted them to, so obviously when I listened to them it was quite disappointing for me because I kept thinking of all the things I'd have liked to have done. But the third and fourth albums, yes, I could listen to those and be quite critical about them and yet feel quite pleased about some of the things on them. Artistically, I was especially pleased with The Dreaming. I achieved lots more on it than on the earlier ones. But then the songs were, in a way, more accepting of that kind of emotional style because they were so intense and demanding. The new album, which is the one I'm most happy with, was a very different energy. It was summer last year and I felt I wanted to write songs that had a very positive energy rather than staying in all that intensity of emotion that was so strong with the last album. I think it's important that each album should be different, otherwise you're not going anywhere and exploring but staying in a rut. But then it takes time to carry yourself over from one energy to another because you tend to get into little riffs and phrases and so on that perhaps you've got as some kind of theme on the last album, even if that's not obvious. And it's important, I think, to start writing in a slightly new style. Now that it's all done, I can sit here and enjoy it, especially here in the studio because this is the optimal way to hear it, because this is where it was all done. As soon as it gets onto vinyl, onto disc, sounds different. And now I can just sit here and relax instead of taking notes, you know, like to remind me I've got to study that bit and so on..."
Del: "Yeah, you should see the notes! There's two files, this thick! Full of notes, you'd never believe it."
Kate: "Yes, they're little memos and scribbles and charts on takes that are good."
You don't have staves with whole lines of music written out?
"Well, no, the only time I did that was for the cello parts in Hounds of Love, that's the only time I've ever written out a part. I stayed up all night to do it and wasn't sure if I could. But I worked them out on the Emulator and wrote out the chords that I played in the treble clef. Then the cellist Jonathan Williams--he's such a great player and so into the music he was-- helped me out by working it an octave lower."
How did you manage, right from the word go, to find such a great bunch of musicians, all of them so terribly articulate and tasteful, yet none of them so stylized that he might detract from your own musical identity by imposing something inappropriately idiomatic?
"Well, in all fairness, the first album was all down to the producer, Andrew Powell, and the engineer, Jon Kelly. As far as I know, it was mainly Andrew Powell who chose the musicians, he'd worked with them before and they were all sort of tied in with Alan Parsons. There was Stuart Elliot on drums, Ian Bairnson on guitar, David Paton on bass, and Duncan Mackay on electric keyboards. And, on that first album, I had no say, so I was very lucky really to be given such good musicians to start with. And they were lovely, 'cause they were all very concerned about what I thought of the treatment of each of the songs. And if I was unhappy with anything, they were more than willing to re-do their parts. So they were very concerned about what I thought, which was very nice. And they were really nice guys, eager to know what the songs were about and all that sort of thing. I don't honestly see how anyone can play with feeling unless you know what the song is about. You know, you might be feeling this really positive vibe, yet the song might be something weird and heavy and sad. So I think that's always been very important for me, to sit down and tell the musicians what the song is about."
Many of your songs are very intimate and extremely revealing of your own inner life. Does it ever happen that you write a song for self-satisfaction but then decide it is too intimate, too personal, too compromising perhaps, to offer to the public?
"No, that's never happened yet. The only reason a song will get dropped is that it's not good enough--you know, the tune is a bit weak, or the lyrics aren't good enough, or the concept isn't tight enough. If it was good enough it would go on."
The sort of vignette-songs like Coffee Homeground or Houdini, are those conceived in the first place as ideas, intellectually so to say, while there are others which take shape while you're actually playing the piano, whereupon you look for suitable words?
"Well, Coffee Homeground would have been a song where the words and the music were coming together probably at exactly the same time. Actually, that's the only song which I wrote when I visited America about seven years ago [to appear on Saturday Night Live]. Which is quite interesting, as it's not at all American...
A little bit German, maybe? Who did the arrangement?
"Well, actually, Andrew Powell arranged the orchestra. But the riff (Kate sings it)--that was written on the piano and--"
Paddy: "Then translated into different instruments. As a matter of fact, Coffee Homeground vibrantly ["violently"? The word is not clearly audible.] mutated. When the very first demos of it were done, it had a decidedly different flavour. The Brechtian treatment didn't appear until much later on, that only took shape when Kate got the idea of treating the song with a slightly German sort of flavour."
So, with a song like that, it's Kate who actually conceives what is possible, and then looks to the musicians or to an arranger to actualize it?
Paddy: "Oh, yes, yes. But in the case of Coffee Homeground it did mutate. The Brechtian feel is something that appeared only gradually, during the actual recording, and became more definite as time went on."
Del: "It was like that, too, with The Big Sky on the new album. That song song changed about three times. Originally it was radically different from the way it's found on the album, the melody-line, the interpretation, everything. But Kate scrapped it and then rewrote it, retaining only a few elements of the original song."
Did you get in the guy Youth on that track because he's highly thought of as a rock & roll bassist?
Kate: "Yeah, absolutely, the energy was right for the track, he used to play with Killing Joke."
Del: "Also he'd played on the original version and we thought it'd be good, karmatically, to have him play on the later one too. And he plays that particular style that's just perfect for that kind of track. That was very much a case of getting the right person for the right thing on the right track. Horses for courses..."
Besides Youth and Del, you have other bassists on this album, Danny Thompson, ex-Fairport Convention; and Eberhard Weber.
Kate: "Yes, I do love the bass, it's a very beautiful instrument and, there's no doubt, it does put a very strong mark on the track with the player's personality really coming through. And, it depends, but often there are some tracks that are asking for someone's particular style. And on this album I felt that Hello Earth and Mother Stands for Comfort were very much in the style of Eberhard Weber, actually it was partly Del's suggestion. I've been a fan of his for a long time and a few years ago we brought him over for Houdini on The Dreaming. This time he came over specially from Munich, and stayed two days to do the two tracks."
Del: "I think bass players in particular, more so than, say, a guitarist or something like that, are so individual in style, and there are songs that lend themselves to certain players like Eberhard. He's such a talented bass player, he's so together in his attitude and his playing. He turns up with this upright electric five-string double-bass that's like a work of art, and he brings his own amplifier, a tiny little one that I've never seen before that looked home-made and that he carries in a little suitcase, and he has his own stool that he always uses with a little frame that fits on the bottom so the bass is always at exactly the same angle and height. And he sets himself up, and I remember, on the second day, I was standing in the kitchen in the studio making tea and he was just sitting in the other room playing just to get himself going, and what he was playing was unreal. I wish I'd had a tape recorder going! I think personally he's the greatest bass player I've ever seen play. A beautiful player, and so fluid as well."
And how did you come to get in John Williams on The Morning Fog?
Kate: "Well, as part of the concept of the second side, The Ninth Wave, the last song had to be very positive, very much the idea of everything bursting into light so it's all suddenly reborn, rather than that everything completely dies. And I thought how lovely the acoustic guitar is, it's such a delicate and uplifting sound. So I wrote out the part on the Fairlight with an acoustic guitar sound and then wrote the song to that. But I thought it didn't sound nearly so good as a real guitar would. I'd met John a couple times over the years when we were working at the same studio, Abbey Road, and times like that. So I asked him if he'd come in and do it. I got someone to write out the part, and he just played it and did it really quickly. Yes, he's got a lovely way of projecting his own personality in there, you know, the little thrills [sic--perhaps she really said "trills"?] and things. Lovely!"
So tell me, how did it come about that you came to bring in Planxty, both on The Dreaming and Hounds of Love?
"My brother Jay was a big fan of theirs and played their records all the time. And when I heard them I though they were fantastic! Then one day I was writing the song 'Night of the Swallow' on the last album and I thought: what would go really well on the chorus is a ceilidh band. So I thought: 'Planxty!'"
Who came up with that beautiful melody-line on the Uillean pipes?
"Bill Whelan, who is a producer and also the keyboard player of Planxty. It was fantastic, 'cause I sent him a cassette of a rough mix, and then he rang up and said, 'Listen, do you want to hear the arrangement?' He was at home in Ireland and I was in the studio here in London. And I said, 'Yeah, I'd love to.' So he said, 'Well, hang on a minute,' and he put down the phone, and then I could hear these pipes and this whistle. They had my cassette going on a machine and they were playing live with it over the phone, and it was beautiful! And then I heard these little steps up to the phone and he said, 'Well, what do you think?' I said 'Great!' It was wonderful..."
Oh wow, what a pity you didn't tape it all!
"Oh I know! If I'd known beforehand, then I'd have had everything going. It was really beautiful, a fantastic moment."
Was that a demo you sent them, or a backing track? Did they eventually overdub their part, or do it live with your band?
"Well, for the actual session with Planxty, we took a 24-track tape over to Ireland with the complete track mixed down rough on two of the tracks, also with a time-code on one track so we could synch it up again with the original tape when doing a final mix back in London. So the rest of the tracks were all free for Bill's arrangement and any other ideas we might get. Planxty were very different to work with as musicians, it was all so much fun."
You brought in Rolf Harris to play dijeridu on the title track on The Dreaming. Were you familiar with the extraordinary records he made with George Martin during the 1960s?
"Yes, it was really because of his Sun Arise that I brought him in. I'd heard it through Paddy when it came out, as it was one of his favourite records. And I couldn't believe it and thought it was fabulous!"
Paddy: "Yes, I think it's one of the most important records ever made; for me it was, at any rate. And since I met Rolf Harris I've gotten into playing the dijeridu myself, like on Kate's new album. I think Rolf Harris was on to something very special; aboriginal music is something very special..."
Those songs which you've used as flip-sides on singles, like Warm and Soothing, The Empty Bullring and Under the Ivy, on which you simply accompany yourself on the piano with no other arrangement, were those tracks recorded originally just as demos?
Kate: "No, they weren't, but in a way they are just demos. Warm and Soothing was a demo-tape which we did basically just to see what Abbey Road sounded like. We wanted to work there, and we went into Studio Two, and really the only way we could tell if it was going to sound good was if I went and did a piano vocal. So I did, and it sounded great. Under the Ivy we did in our studio in just an afternoon."
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 numers 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 quitarist'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 embarassed. 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 dicatorship 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.)
Kate: "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."
We're both agreed it was a great artistic success, why was it not such a commercial success?
"Well, actually, I think it did incredibly well, it got to number sixteen in the singles charts in this country. And it was without any promotion and everyone thought, gosh, it's far too uncommercial. But I think sixteen is pretty good. And also what is nice is that, although in a way it didn't really get that much attention at the time, it's one of those tracks that people are still talking about now, even though they may have ignored it when it first came out."
Oh, I hope so. That's a brave record. I see it's been included in a new compilation album put together for Greenpeace.
Kate: "Yeah, Greenpeace approached us asking us would we like to put a track on it, and we felt Breathing was the most relevant to what they were trying to say, it was quite a conscious track, we thought."
Is there quite a lot of stuff which you begin recording but which you abort and dump half way through?
"That's not happened much. There's only been stuff dumped on Lionheart and Never for Ever, the second and third albums, and I prefer to think resting rather than 'dumped'. Some of the stuff would be fun for a quick listen, perhaps, but not for much else. On the new album, there was actually quite a lot of stuff that didn't get on. But it was in a very embryonic sort of stage, or else I just felt it wasn't interesting enough, it was too ordinary. Although there were a couple of finished songs that nearly made it to the album but didn't. I just didn't feel they were strong enough. And the thing with The Ninth Wave, the second side, was I had the idea and wrote a first draught of it and, though I hadn't written all the material, it sounded like it would work. The hardest thing was making one song flow into the other one because creating dynamics in one song is very different from building it between seven songs. You have to sort of pace it very differently and yet hopefully you want it to keep interest and not have any boring bits. But then, by the second stage when things had already begun to be sort of sprinkled on the tracks, I realized there were certain songs that weren't working. The concept was very strong-minded and there were certain things that it certainly didn't want having done to it. So I had to totally re-think the thing and say like, 'Okay, look, this song has got to go.' So, although we'd been working on it, it was still in really quite an embryonic stage and had no part of where it was. So the song would go, but maybe it can be used some time in the future."
Does it sometimes happen, then, that you resurrect songs years later, like perhaps any of those hundreds you wrote as a teenager?
"Little bits. There was a little bit resurrected in Suspended in Gaffa on the last album. No, but this new album was, I think, all sort of contemporary, and little ideas that I'd put down on the Fairlight, which I'd thought might perhaps turn into something, then turned out perfect for a little bit in a song or whatever as the concept started taking more shape."
Do you generally record in the daytime or nighttime?
"Much more in the day with this album than the last. And I think that sort of goes with the energies, actually. The Dreaming was much more of a nighttime album, I'd normally do my vocals in the evening. But on this album I tended to do them in the afternoon when it was sunny because the atmosphere was right then, because the songs were quite uplifting."
There seems to be so much water-imagery on this album.
"Yes, well I think as soon as I decided to go for the concept, I sort of said, 'Oh, let's be brave and go for it,' then the energies, the synchronicities, or whatever you want to call them, started coming into play and nearly everyone I was working with was a water-sign! But I think, again, a lot of people have commented already on how the album seems to them very elemental--you know, full with the elements wind and rain. And I can't help but put quite a lot of that down to the fact that I moved out into the country. Instead of being boxed in by big houses, the visual stimulus coming in was that of fields and trees and seeing the elements doing their stuff."
Certain of the new songs, like And Dream of Sheep and Hello Earth, strike me rather like Hollywood show-tunes: they're rather cinematic.
"I think in a way they're, umm, probably the most visual songs I've written in that, when I was writing them, I had in mind what potentially might be done with them, visually, which isn't normally the sort of way you go about writing a song. So it'll be interesting if we can ever actually turn it into a film, which is what I'd like to do, and to see if it takes to it well." [This plan, to make a film of The Ninth Wave, was later abandoned.]
Do you think in your writing you've gradually departed further and further, structurally speaking, from the standard pop-song formula?
"I don't know! I suppose I have in some ways. But particularly rhythmically perhaps subconsciously I've moved more towards that. I mean the constant rhythm with fewer breaks is more in evidence on the new album: though the music is changing, the rhythm keeps on going, and in a way I think that actually makes it a little more commercial. But I think trying to tell the story musically is the biggest concern for me now, rather than...I mean, obviously the structure of the song is always important, but in a way the story tends to dictate that a little bit."
I suppose the songs on Side One are more to formula: verse, verse, chorus, etc.
But it's not just the case that Side One was just put together out of a lot of odds and sods?
"No, no, not at all!"
Del: "I would say that, in fact, probably over the course of time there's been more time and effort spent on some of the tracks on Side One."
Kate: "Recording, yes, but, compositionally, more on the second side, The Ninth Wave. The songs on Side One were written quite quickly."
It seems to me that perhaps Hounds of Love doesn't cohere so organically in terms of texture and emotion as did The Dreaming and that, rather than being such a masterpiece, it's a collection of several smaller masterpieces like Hello Earth, Jig of Life, and things like that.
Kate: "Well, I think the problem with Side Two, The Ninth Wave, is that it is an overall concept, and ideally I would have liked two sides of an album to develop it. But I wouldn't like to feel the album was just lots of little cameos that have been put together but rather that the album does flow. It's true, the first side is very much made up of separate songs. But it's so interesting what you say, because so many people have just the opposite reaction in that they found The Dreaming terribly difficult, I just don't think they could understand it. That's fascinating, extraordinary!"
Was that album not so successful in Britain, then, as the earlier ones?
"Well, I think it was a physical success. It got to number three in the album charts in England, it went straight in at number three and, for me, a top three album is a success. But everyone felt it was uncommercial and so different: 'Oh, what a lot of time you've spent in the studio, Kate!'; and there were no hit singles. And I think, because of that, everyone felt that it wasn't successful.
But in America, allowing of course that EMI didn't see fit to release your second and third albums until last year, it got a lot more attention and acclaim than anything you'd ever done.
"Yes, absolutely, the general reaction from the States was incredible. Several of the reviews, for instance. I've just never read reviews like them, they were just fantastic! The media in America reacted so differently from the media in Britain, it was just extraordinary. And it seems American reviewers take their writing more seriously as a creative form, more so than in this country. And some of those reviewers had really heard the music. I felt there was such a great sense of positivity and acceptance towards what I was doing on that last album, much more so from America than from anywhere else. Whereas all the earlier albums, which I'd have said were far more easily listenable and commercial, had no response from that country And that seemed to me completely contradictory to what I'd been told about the American market. You know, it's said that Americans are terribly conservative in their tastes and that they like things which fit easily on the radio. Yet, in fact, the response to the last album, like from the reviewers and that, has been incredible. They really did like it..."
Paddy: "Yeah, they really went into Kate's music. They take music seriously.
Kate: "They were ready to actually listen to it, not just to sit there and only hear it superficially."
Well, you must have realized by now there's a huge Kate Bush cult throughout the whole of America. But I find it a little sad to think how so many allusions in your lyrics are bout to get lost on American ears, things like the ravens in the Tower of London, the bit about the Sweeney, stuff like that which Americans won't understand the meaning of.
Kate: "Yeah, all kinds of things, very English things, that's very true. But I think there are as many American colloquialisms and allusions in the music coming from the States, words and ideas that we can only pick up on through the American T.V. programs we get. Steely Dan are a good example of something very American."
But perhaps, in having talked about what I consider to be the peculiarly British nature of your music, we've been touching on the reason why, despite the massive cult following, America--and especially the media--has been so slow in catching on to Kate Bush, because you do, I suppose, sound rather alien to their ears. (Kate finds this notion rather funny; she wiggles her forefingers above her head, exposing the fact that, in truth, she is an extraterrestrial creature equipped with antennae.)
"Do you think it's maybe all a bit complex for them?"
Well, complex, yes. But I mean unfamiliar. Your songs just aren't so easily sing-able, they're not very easily predictable, in the manner of most indigenous American music. I mean, once you've heard one verse and a chorus of an American song you've as good as heard the whole thing. And I think that's what so surprises me about the comparative success of The Dreaming in the States, as so much American pop music is incredibly trite, so much of it has to do with stupefaction rather than revelation. But, you know, in one or two of the American reviews of The Dreaming, your music has been described as "schizophrenic", and to tell you the truth, I feel I can well understand why people have said that. You know I'm a historian concerned with Freud and psychoanalysis. And it seems to me that, in a manner of speaking, your music represents a virtual compendium of psychopathology; I mean to say, it is alternatively hysterical, melancholic, psychotic, paranoid, obsessional, and so on. And yet, in your case, such traits obviously proceed out of strength, not out of weakness, they represent roles which you're assuming, or states which you're simulating, for the sake of a given song.
"Yes! Well, I think that's fabulous that you should say so. You see, while I'm maybe not scientifically interested like you, I am absolutely fascinated by the states that people throw and put on. And, you know, I think that that is the most fascinating thing there is to write about really, the way that people just distort things and the things they think and the things they do. And it's really fun for me if I can find an area of the personality that is slightly exaggerated or distorted and, if I feel I can identify with it enough, then try to cast a person as perfectly as I can in terms of that particular character trait, especially if I don't really show those kinds of things myself. Take anger for instance: it's really fun to write from the point of view of someone who's really angry, like in Get Out of My House on the last album. Because I very rarely show anger, although obviously I do sometimes feel it. And it was the same sort of thing with Waking the Witch on the new album. What fascinated me in doing that song was the idea of a witch-hunter hiding behind the priesthood, as a guise, and coming to get this woman who isn't a witch, but he wants to make her so. The girl closes her eyes to get away from it and goes to a church where it's safe and secure. You know, churches are supposed to be places of sanctuary and their doors are never shut, even perhaps for people being chased by the Devil; but the priest turns out to be the witch-hunter. I didn't really have any heavy experiences like those that the song is about. It's based very much on other people's imagery of Roman Catholicism which I've found fascinating--you know, the kind of oppression, even madness, it can create, I suppose, in some people. And it's much more that, really, than any personal experience of my own. My school was Roman Catholic, so there was a big emphasis on religion, but it wasn't incredibly strict, and I didn't really go to church an awful lot, so I don't think the experience of religion was as heavy for me as for a lot of people..."
So you're able to live those things out vacariously through your songs?
"Yes, and it can be really fun."
But then, does this ever backfire on you? Do the forces which yo unleash or the identities which you assume ever start gaining their own strength and begin taking you over?
"No, I don't think they ever take me over. While I don't believe there is very much of me personally in these characters, obviously there must be a bit, or I simply would not be able to come up with them. But I think hopefully I'll recognize that most of them would not be beneficial to me; and, as long as I can recognize that, then I don't think they'll take me over. But, you know, I'm by no means a perfect person..."
But you do allow them to take you over, to become you, for as long as you're actually writing or recording a song?
"I can feel very affected by them, but I don't think they actually take me over. I think I was very much affected by Breathing; and, when I was making the last album, I was very affected by Houdini. Because it was really sad trying to be Houdini's lady, because he had died and obviously he must have been amazingly special as a person, someone trying to escape not only throughout his life, but also in death."
And were there any such role-playings on the new album?
"Um...yes. I think Cloudbusting was quite like that. It must have been nearly ten years ago, when I used to go up to the Dance Center in London, that I went into Watkins' occult bookshop for a look, and there was this book and it said, A Book of Dreams, by Peter Reich. I'd never heard of his father, Wilhelm Reich, but I just thought it was going 'Hello, Hello,' so I just picked up the book and read it and couldn't believe that I'd just found this book on the shelf. I mean it was so inspirational, very magical, with that energy there. So when I wrote and recorded the song, although it was about nine years later, I was nevertheless psyched up by the book, the image of the boy's father being taken away and locked up by the government just for building a machine to try to make rain. It was such a beautiful book!"
Much of your music is very literate. Is reading a passion of yours? I'm curious, in fact, whether you're in tune with authors like Doris Lessing or Iris Murdoch; sometimes I describe Kate Bush to people as being a sort of Doris Lessing of rock.
"I'm sorry, Doris who? I'm sorry, but I don't know the author. But reading was once a very big passion. When I was about eight or nine, for about three years I got through dozens and dozens of books and was very much into reading, mostly fiction. But as soon as I began writing poems at school--basically, as soon as I started getting into writing songs--everything else seemed to go out the window. I'd sit down and read a book, and think how I could be writing a song rather than reading It's only really in the last few years, when I get the time to read a book, that I realize how incredible it is. During journeys by car, I've got into reading again. It's very good, I really, really enjoy it. There's nothing like reading a good book. The sense of involvement-- and, you know, you actually feel you're one of the people in the story. That sense of involvement, it's incredible, it's good. But I'm such a slow reader and, unless I'm on holiday, which is a very rare thing, I always feel that there's something better, more productive, that I could be doing. So I tend not to read, as I always feel guilty, and I think I should be doing other things."
Del: "I think that's just an excuse, I think you should make time to read."
And especially if songs like Cloudbusting come out of it.
Kate: "Yes, but I read that so long ago and it's just been waiting to come out for nine or ten years. The thing is, I had to wait till I was at the right point to write that song in such a way that I could do it proper justice."
If one knows a little about Houdini, one knows that, before he died, he promised he would send back from beyond the grave some signal of his continuing existence if it proved supernaturally possible to do so. And so you have beautifully incorporated that moment in your song when you have him finally speak to his lady from the spirity-world. I take it I've got the right interpretation, yes?
Well, are people clued in enough to pick up on all these sort of subtleties and allusions in your songs, generally, and to know what they mean? When you talk with people, by and large do they show a good understanding of the concepts?
"You know, I think that the majority of the people really do. Yes, I really think they do. Because, if they bother to listen, then after about three or four times they start putting the words or the ideas together. And I mean the one that really amazed me, we did a video of Breathing and the idea was being in this huge inflatable; and I was at this conference somewhere and there were all these women in their forties and fifties, real Monty Python sort of women, and they all came up and said (Kate affects a strong London accent, which requires merely an exaggeration of her normal accent): 'Oh, we loved your video!' And then one of them says: 'But listen, you must tell me, I had this, you know, this argument with my daughter; you were meant to be in a womb, weren't you? I mean, that is what it was meant to be wasn't it? A womb?' And I said yeah!"
You mean she got it, it was true?
"Yeah, she got it! And she said: 'There you are, didn't I tell you it was a womb.' And I thought yeah, that's fantastic! I mean, I wouldn't have even expected her to sit and watch it..."
But Kate, I'd like to pick an argument with you. I must confess, I find it difficult to watch your performances, I think for a few reasons. It seems to me so much of your music flows right out from essence, so to speak, whereas all the acting, all the theatrics, by their very nature they're something artificial and contrived. Also, because there's often a more or less flagrant sexual element to your performance, the viewer is automatically thrust into the position of being a voyeur, and being a voyeur is not necessarily everyone's cup of tea. You know what I mean?
"Wow, yeah, that's h-e-a-v-y. But I have only ever consciously projected the sexual element in a couple of characters, and if that's present for you in every performance, well, that is worrying for me, as it's not intentional and I'm not aware of it."
Well, be that as it may, I know just how seriously you've taken the art of performance, how you studied under Lindsay Kemp and all that. And I'm also aware how much effort and skill it takes; to act like that is not something just anybody could get up and do. Now I'm not sure to what extent my own perception is idiosyncratic, I mean to say, I do know people who love your performances. But, myself, I wonder-- and here's where I'm trying to pick the argument-- if all these theatrics might not detract from your potential for being taken seriously as a musician, especially in America.
"It's a big problem. Because I don't think I've been completely happy with any visual performance that I've done except for Army Dreamers and perhaps Running Up That Hill. But they were videos which took a lot of time and work and control. Except for one I did recently of Running Up That Hill for a British TV show, where I look a bit like Richard III, there are no TV performances I've done where I think I've ever even got close to pulling it off. So, apart from those few things, but also the videos of Wuthering Heights and bits of Breathing, I don't think I've accomplished what I really wanted visually. Usually the problems are lack of time or money. We always have a lot of challenging ideas but then end up compromising somewhere or other in order to meet deadlines or budgets. But occasionally things do come together well. If anything, though, I think my performances help audiences understand the music better, especially the lyrical aspect, and the tour of Europe definitely caused a change in attitude both among the public and the media. Many people began to take me seriously as a musician for the first time. The audiences could see me there singing and dancing, leading the band and in control of the whole act. And that's quite different from the kind of controlled, far-away image that one gets through the media..."
But in these performances, Kate--and really they are what I wanted to talk about, not your videos--there are only a couple of songs which you yourself perform on the piano, usually one or two of the more gentle and intimate ones like The Man With the Child in His Eyes. Yet someone like me, at any rate, would like to see you as a performer, as a serious musician, singing at the piano and leading the band, which I know you could do very well if you wanted to. I told you earlier how the first time I saw Kate Bush was early on, around 1978, when you did two or three numbers in that manner on a TV show, and it was then that I recognized in an instant, that this young kid was an exceptional artist who had to be taken very seriously, I mean musically. Am I right in thinking that one of the reasons you've never toured in the States is because you suppose you need this big show with all the people involved and all the expensive props? Do you not feel--and I suppose this is really what my argument comes down to--that you could come to America just with your band and play more or less straightforwardly?
"No, no, I would feel that that was such a cop-out. I don't think I'd be able to feel that I had any effort or sense of challenge left in me. I don't really feel that happy doing something, in a way, unless I've really pushed myself to the limit. And, you know, it's like when we do videos and things, I don't really feel right unless we're all filthy and exhausted by the end of the day. Otherwise it doesn't feel like you've put enough effort into it. When you hear an album you listen to the music; but when you go and see a show, you're going there to see that person or the band come alive, and hopefully give you everything that they've got, so that you can really have a good evening and enjoy the music within the concept of a show. And I think, if I was just going to stand up there, then, you know, what are the audience getting apart from seeing me just standing there that they can't get on an album? On the albums, they get much better arrangements, much better vocals which are in tune, all that sort of thing..."
Except that there are of course artists who can give a straightforward performance yet who do it in such a way that they invest it with something quite special in terms of musical spontaneity and so on...
"You see, I don't think I want to be up there on the stage being me. I don't think I'm that interesting for people to see. I think what I want to do is to be up there actually being the person that is there in the song. I think that is much more interesting for people and it is much more of a challenge for me. If I can be the character in the song, then suddenly there's all this strength and energy in me which perhaps I wouldn't normally have, whereas if it was just me, I don't think I could walk on the stage with confidence. It's very hard for me to be me on a stage, I just stand there and twiddle my fingers."
But Kate, it seems to me that all those in the States who've taken Kate Bush so deeply to heart and who are feeling deprived not to have had a chance to see her perform, what they love perhaps more than anything is precisely that so much of your music is so deeply personal. The personae you assume are fun, but it is the real Kate Bush whom your fans love more than anyone else. Could you not come to the States to perform and simply be yourself?
"Well, that is great if you think people would like that, but I cannot help but feel it is very important to give people something visually special. That was what made me feel there was something special when I saw Lindsay Kemp all those years ago. He opened up a whole new world for me that I had not really thought about before, the fact that he was doing something so incredible without even saying anything! It really affected me emotionally, like when I was younger and used to listen to records and the way they affected me was incredible and I used to think, if I could ever do that one day to other people through music, that would be great. I think in a way Lindsay had a similar influence on me; what he was doing was so exciting and powerful, I thought to myself, if you could possibly create music and have it accompanied by such strong visuals, then it would just have to be good; and really interesting. And I don't think, by any means, that the tour which we did some years ago was perfect, there were a lot of things that were experimental, and we didn't know if they were going to work, but I think we did explore new territory, visually speaking, and the reaction was so positive--I mean, I think that probably opened up more people to listening to my stuff than the records themselves ever did. Partly, I think, because people didn't expect me to be quite like that and they all enjoyed it. And I see that as a very positive, rather than a negative, thing. Had they not enjoyed it, then that would be a different thing and perhaps I would not feel so inclined to want to do it again. But I have had an extraordinary amount of encouragement from people not just on the musical side but also on the visual side, maybe even more so! And I do feel that, when eventually I get the time and money to do another show, I hope we will continue working along those lines of combining music with dance and with theatre and it would be even better and much more interesting than the last time. I think that is a very untouched area in rock music, and it has great potential."
Del: "Yeah, anyone can set up their gear and sit down at a piano and sing for an hour. But not everybody can put on a whole integrated show. And as soon as we got our little band together years ago, right from the word go it was theatrics and show. We were only playing little pubs on tiny little stages like at The Rose of Lee, but we had a whole light show, we used dry ice, and all that. What you are saying is that Kate's fans in America would love it even if she just came over and set up and played. But think how much more they would love it if she was there with a whole show."
Well, are there any plans yet for a return to the stage?
Kate: "No, I have got some projects that I want to try and get done before I can get on to a live project. There is promotion to be done on the album, which I hope to get done as quickly as possible. I have got a couple of videos to do for the singles, which are demanding, so I am trying to put as much work into them as possible, and then get into the visual thing on The Ninth Wave. And then I can maybe think about live work and the next album."
To go back on stage, would you actually have to get together some Irish musicians--perhaps even Planxty themselves!--to execute things like Night of the Swallow and Jig of Life?
"Oh, Planxty, wouldn't that be great! That would be fabulous. It would be incredibly difficult to do songs like that without Irish musicians. But I don't know, it would all depend on boring things like money; it would be terribly expensive to take a band like that on tour with you. Jig of Life would be very very different without a ceilidh band, though it could be interesting. But I am hoping the film project that I would like to do would get around that, as originally The Ninth Wave was written very much as a story, and ideally I would like to make a film of that, and then that whole side of the album with Jig of Life would be very much covered, I feel. And so maybe for a show I would be doing the other new numbers and a selection of numbers off the third and fourth albums, because those would be more suited to live performance."
But are you primed to follow up the North American end of things if things take off there?
"Yes, I mean, I'll go over there. Obviously if things were happening out there, then I would come out there."
Well, I really think things could change for you very profoundly in the autumn [of 1985].
"They are going to! I think everything is going to be different by October or so, yes. Things are really starting to happen and change, already, things are very positive in the record company with this album. But if I can avoid it, I do not want to get caught up in a long drawn-out promotion thing that would keep me away from the creative side of things. Because the longer I work on promotion, then in a way th harder it is for me to get back to doing what I really like doing-- recording. We do work in a very isolated way, you know, most of the time it is just three of us in the control-room: the engineer, Del, and myself, say. And then suddenly to go out into the world to do promotion is quite a culture-shock. There are really a lot of people out there, and to walk into a room with perhaps a few hundred people in it and they are all looking at you, it is a very different world! And it is all a bit unreal, it tends to get a bit scary sometimes."
Well, then, will you promise us that you won't keep us waiting another three years for the next album?
"I would never like to break a promise. But I would like to say that the next one should be a lot quicker."
[Note: As of October 26, 1988--more than three years since the date of this interview--Kate had not released the follow-up to Hounds of Love. Current estimates for release center on the spring of 1989.]
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