To the Reaching Out (Interviews) Table of Contents
(This originally appeared in Andy Marvick's The Garden.)
Kris Needs's third ZigZag interview (November 1985)
"Since time immemorial the great sea has fascinated mankind, even as he is plucked like a lifeless doll from its creaking shores..." (in BBC2 documentary voice)
Surf's up! My first experience of the mighty ocean was at the age of three on holiday. Toes, ankles, trunks slowly engulfed by a white-capped sway. Wet, wild and a bit scary. Where'd my toy boat go? Oopops-splosh-glub...Suddenly I was in a muffled blanket-world of bubbles. Panic! Couldn't shout or run away. Screaming heart on a helter-skelter into the black hole. Was I dying? Strong arms sent my first taste of mute nostril agony away, but it left a lasting impression of curious terror.
The awesome and ancient power of that great, grey beast has never been more effectively caught than in the deadly studio-hands of Kate Bush. Her new album, Hounds of Love (no cracks about ruff mixes), is a triumphant return. Side Two's seven-song suite, The Ninth Wave, cleaves the opposition, and marks Kate's finest achievement to date.
So this is what she was up to! Three years is a long time in fad-shallow Music Biz terms, but Kate still manages to stay out on her own, unsullied and unbowing, creating startlingly inventive gems on her own terms.
Three years since The Dreaming and our last mega-rabbit. We meet in a faceless hotel as Kate prepares for that evening's Whistle Test. And if, for some reason, you're expecting the smug piss-take species of KB feature, look to your lesser organs!
1985 saw Madonna slither to the top, thrusting every orifice, affair and affray up our nostrils. Meanwhile, Kate Bush was taking her time. After promoting The Dreaming in 1982, she moved out of London and took time off to recharge, see films and friends, sort out hher behind-the-scenes team, design and build her own recording studio, write new songs and record.
Kate admits she was wondering how she'd go down after three years away (and what penis thought up the one about a 20-stone Kate Bush? Sit down, man!). No problems. Running Up That Hill did just that up the chart. Then comes the mother-album, and it sails right over Madonna's head to number one first week.
Did you fall off your chair, Kate?
"Yeah, I was surprised, but it's such a good reward for all that time you spent. You just do the best you can, and if it doesn't work, then fair enough."
Yes, Kate is "sweet" and "nice" but genuinely pleased that like what she does; probably the least affected "star" I've ever met totally obsessed by her work, not what club she was seen in the night before. She's obsessed to the point of perfectionism, will labour lovingly for hours over one phrase. And in her own studio Kate didn't have to watch EMI's thousands tick by or dodge low-flying pizzas.
"It is frustrating for me to spend so much time over one thing. It does become tedious, but you know you have to do it. I never know how long those things are going to take. Once it takes over, it has a life of its own.
"The main thing for me has been evolving with the production. Now I don't have to compromise with other people, and that's brilliant because you can explore things. It can seem like what you're doing is mad. It's not until a few hours later that it seems like it could work. You need to be in control to get away with that stuff!
"That time I took off in '83 was reorganising everything. I've made some of the best decisions in the last two years. That's good, because I really did feel that what mattered was getting the work right. You do wonder sometimes about your intentions. When you come out into the world and they're all laying different things on you-- if you spend too long you can get shell-shocked and retreat, wondering who you are.
"I have to retreat and go back to the work, because that's what matters. Work just obsesses my life, and everyone around me is dragged into it. It's terrible, really. I don't go out much or socialize--I don't have time."
Kate Bush is not a recluse, she just never felt it necessary to drape her lingerie over the front pages. Madonna's brazen strategy is met with a quiet "I don't think that's me, really". Yet despite the lack of dirt and self-trumpeting, she can still steam in at number one.
"I think it's brilliant because it's the music that's done nothing to do with image and doing great publicity stunts. I've been quiet for a while and I don't feel an image can sustain that amount of time."
Nevertheless, it was quite a brave move for Kate to enter the Hounds party at London's Laserium on the arm of longtime boyfriend Del Palmer (who plays bass and arranged most of the exotic drum-machine patterns on the album).
Flashes flashed and hacks hacked, and next week the music papers took the piss. One victim was Brilliant's Youth, there to celebrate his bacon-bass contribution to The Big Sky's primal undertow. Legless on the free booze, he was easy prey for star-spotting gossipers, who snickered that he'd called Del a wally. The Brillo man was outraged ("I'll sue!").
For a rare moment Kate's hackles bucked: "It surprises me that people can put such an incredible amount of energy into such negative stuff. They can be so wicked. I got the impression that that was getting at several people at one go. Definitely a bitch-off. It was very upsetting for Del as well. He never even talked to the person who quoted him. You have to accept yourself as a target, but it's really upsetting when they get to people around you, because they don't deserve to get stick [sic].
"Del's never come out with me before.. People can be very rude-- but that singles out an area of this business that people should really start marching against. It's such a shame, because this business is very special, and so many people get hurt and abused.
"I do get a bit scared of exposure. That's the thing that frightens me--coming out of work and saying (cheesy grin) 'Here's the new album!' It's a bit frightening--how exposed you are suddenly everywhere, being on the side of a bus when it goes past...I hate that! You have to laugh at it to survive."
The second side of the album, The Ninth Wave, concerns a girl who's been in the water a long time staring death in its cold, watery eye. Past, present and future images mingle with her thoughts through seven songs which crash and flow in senses-gutting layers of voices and sounds. Morbid terror is split by an Irish gig, aching reflection ebbs into the haunting astral moan of spectral friars before unexpected rejuvenation. Shattering stuff.
So donning fetching, furry trunks and clinging to a slice of driftwood, I ask Kate how this massive concept originated.
"Last year we went to Ireland to do some recording in Dublin, and took a couple of weeks to out. It was brilliant, because I was writing lyrics, and we were right by the sea. A lot of the time that I was thinking about putting this album together, I was right there with the water.
"I love the sea. It's the energy that's so attractive--the fact that it's so huge. And war films, where people would come off the ship and be stuck in the water with no sense of where they were or of time, like sensory deprivation. It's got to be ultimately terrifying." The sleeve quotes a chunk of Lord Tennyson's poem, The Coming of Arthur. Was that the initial inspiration for the piece?
"No, actually it was the other way around. I wanted a title for the whole thing. I was looking through some books and found this quote. In his poem he's talking about the secrets of waves working in nine--like a complete cycle, with everything building up to the ninth wave and starting again. I've always liked using quotes for things."
Patti Needs--a New Yorker who recently heard Kate for the first time and totally melted--reckons The Jig of Life, a rousing-but-weird Irish whirl based on Greek rhythms discovered by Kate's delving brother Paddy, is the girl dying.
"I'm too close to it. Other people's interpretations are what it should be, but the Irish track is the future her coming back and saying, 'Don't die, because you're going to kill me, as well. Up till then everything's just so desperate. This person brings some kind of hope into the situation..."
I ask Kate if she had ever nearly drowned or had a nasty one in the drink.
"No, I've never really had any bad experiences in water."
The range of personae and emotions that Kate adopts on her albums is staggering. How much do you become what you're singing, Kate?
"It depends on how much research or knowledge I've got of a situation. It makes it more interesting to do if you've been really that inspired by a situation, and somehow want to do it justice. It's harder when there isn't a specific person to become, and you can't pin down the emotional quality. the most upsetting one to do on this album was 'Watching You Without Me'. That's such a sad thought..."
She looks wistfully into her tea. "I think all music is about emotions, trying to take people on a journey if you can...I can't tell. I just hope it's going to get people."
Sure gets me, Patti, Oscar the Rat, and even six-month-old Daniel Lee, who bellows along with Cloudbursting [sic], the new single. Which brings us neatly to the new video, a full-blown, seven-minute epic.
"I was putting a lot of thought into the video things even before we started recording the album. I wanted to find the right people to work with. That was the only time I got off to plan things. So I did things like find a fantastic new dance teacher called Dianne Gray. We did the choreography together for the last single. All this is very relevant to what we're doing now. The problem is, I'm still trying to work on creative things like videos and twelve-inches and things, but you have to let people know commercially, as well. Everything's gone so well, but it really is little me on the end, trying to keep up with it all."
Cloudbursting [aarrgh] is stately and string-driven, a sad story which Kate got from a book.
"I picked up this book nine years ago in a bookshop I used to go into and look around in. There was this book staring at me, so I pulled it off the shelf. I've never done that before. It was A Book of Dreams by Peter Reich. It was incredible. It's through his eyes as a young boy, and his life with his father, who was everything to him. The book has an incredible sense of intimacy and magic. Do you know about Wilhelm Reich?"
"He was quite a well-respected psycho-analyst, and he had a machine, according to his son, that could make it rain. They'd go out together and point the machine at the sky and make it rain. the book was so sad, because the whole thing is through the child's eye about his father. But it's been written, fairly obviously, by a sad adult who, I think, had a great deal of trouble coping with his father going--he was arrested by the F.D.A., and put in prison, and he died shortly after that. The loss to his son must have been incredible. His father always warned him that this would probably happen, but his life revolved around everything his father did.
"I rang up the guy and sent him a copy of the song. I thought it'd be really rude not to do that before it came out. He liked it, which is great, because I was really worried. I don't know what I would have done if he hadn't liked it."
Ever able to spring a stunner, Kate appears in the video as the little boy (in short wig). Towering over her as Dad is none other than Donald Sutherland, the tragic father in Don't Look Now, one of Kate's favourite films, among many others. Kate asked him to appear, he said yes, and turns in an eccentric tour de force as the mad prof parent--a perfect foil for Kate's wide-eyed innocence. they hoist the huge old rain-machine up the hill, but before it can work, Dad's arrested, leaving Kate at the controls. Does she do it? I hope you get to see it.
"I think it's the most interesting thing we've tried yet. I wanted to create a short film that told the story and looked like a feature film. There was so much to be said in the story that we had to extend the track. I hope people understand the story and get the sense of emotion from it. It certainly inspired me originally to write the song from the book. It's the film of the song of the book!
"What's nice about these last two videos is that I really feel I've worked with people who are receptive to my ideas, and we actually work together. It was frustrating on some of the other videos, because I felt I was going further away from what I should have been going towards. But you spend so much time and money on these videos, and they'll probably only show two minutes!"
A logical step would be a full-scale movie, yes?
"It's a choice between two things I'd like to do next as a major project. Either a tour...But what I'd really like to do is put The Ninth Wave into film. That would easily be as time-consuming as a tour. I just don't know if I'd be able to get it off the ground. It's all talk and it might never happen." [In the end, she did neither. Instead, after completing several more single recordings, releasing a compilation album and making three more videos--all of them self-directed--she began work on her sixth album.]
Kate Bush can inspire strange reactions in people I mentioned our coming interview to one Jeffrey Lee Pierce of this parish and he exploded into a stream of likely questions. Thought I'd try "What's your favourite skeleton?" (?) [Needs's own parentheses.]
Kate is tickled: "That's fantastic! What an incredible question!' she gurgles, before admitting that her research is too limited in that field for a proper answer. But she does let on that she likes badgers, rabbits and horses when they've got their "clothes" on, and can' resist the sight of an ostrich running at 90 miles per hour.
More titanically, it transpires that she's a big fan of the mighty wartime English comedian Will Hay (wahoo!) and is fascinated by the cruel side of some comedians (Benny Hill dumping his lunch on the old bloke's pate while chortling at the fat lady, etc?).
Pondering hurling a sausage roll at the Editor, I skuttle away, bathed in a warm glow. Later it rains (I want one!)
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