With her theatrical presentation and instantly recognizable voice, British musical innovator Kate Bush caught the world off guard with her 1978 debut “Wuthering Heights” — and she’s been surprising listeners ever since, balancing UK hit singles (“Babooshka,” “Running Up That Hill”) with critically acclaimed albums worldwide. Three and a half decades later, her influence can be detected in the work of younger acts like Antony and the Johnsons, Bat For Lashes, and Florence and the Machine, while her songs have been covered by Nada Surf, the Futureheads, Ra Ra Riot, Parenthetical Girls, and (gulp) Pat Benatar.
Bush has typically been uncompromising in achieving her artistic vision, and since her 1985 landmark The Hounds of Love she’s also been increasingly reluctant to play by the established rules of the music business. The intervals between her records have grown longer and longer. When they do arrive, the noted recluse grants very few interviews to discuss them. But 2011 brought a pair of surprises from Bush, both of the nicest kind. She issued not one, but two new records: Director’s Cut, which featured reworked recordings of selections from The Sensual World and The Red Shoes, and the concept album 50 Words For Snow. Better still, she agreed to speak with KEXP about them. For a lifetime fan such as myself, the opportunity to spend even a few minutes talking with Kate Bush was a dream come true.
This rare, exclusive interview will have an encore airing on Wednesday, February 29th at 9:00 PM PT on DJ El Toro’s show, and can be heard worldwide, streaming right here at KEXP.ORG:
You can also stream the unedited 30 minute interview in its entirety right here:
KEXP: Something that’s been integral to your esthetic as a creative artist, even before you started releasing records, has been movement and dance. How do you feel like that part of your esthetic informed what you did on 50 Words for Snow?
Kate Bush: Well, I’m not sure it really had much to do with at all, to be honest, Kurt. I mean, I think years ago it was a very important part of my world, because I studied dance and that’s kind of something that for a while went hand-in-hand with my music, I suppose. But that’s quite a while ago now, and I’m not sure that it really has much to do with this record. I guess what used to be an influence of dance has moved more into something a little bit more filmic, really. When I finish albums, I normally get a chance to make one or two visual pieces, and years ago it used to be something that was very centered around dance, because that was one of the worlds that I moved in. Now I really treat them much more like very, very short little films.
Do you think that that awareness of physicality and movement in the sense of moving the body has informed your sense of movement within music? Because this album is a little more still, and has a little more space, so I wonder if perhaps that knowledge that is stored in the body comes out in the music itself?
Oh, I don’t know, that’s a bit deep, isn’t it? I suppose with this album once I’d realized that it was very much a theme of snow, then immediately there was a sense of atmosphere that kicked in for me, which was actually more or less what you just said, a kind of stillness, and a sense of space, and that’s very much what I wanted to try and achieve with the feel for the whole album. I think also just having finished Directors Cut before I made this had a very big affect on how I moved into this album, because actually when I finished that I went straight into working on this, which is a very rare opportunity for me because normally when you finish an album you then go off into this kind of process where it is released, and then all the stuff that goes with that. Because Director’s Cut was finished quite some time before it was released, I actually could stay in the studio and then begin writing these new songs. I think in a lot of ways that previous album kind of set up the whole kind of feel for this one.
In the way that you had been scaling arrangements back, and the way you had gotten to explore what your voice does now a lot more?
Yes, now very much so. One of the big exercises with Director’s Cut was exactly like you say, to strip out the songs, and some of them I made longer so that the songs could breathe a bit more. I also got to work with Steve Gadd for the first time, and when I was working with him I was thinking, “My God, I just so want to work with him when I’m making a new record,” which, again, I’d hoped to do as soon as had finished Director’s Cut, which I was lucky enough to be able to do with this album.
What are the unique challenges of working with these sort of longer forms? All of the songs on 50 Words for Snow are, especially by pop standards, rather protracted.
Yes. Well, it’s very interesting, but when you’re then mixing the song it just becomes a bit more of a long drawn-out thing, because when you’re listing to the whole song, obviously the whole thing just goes on much longer.
I really enjoyed working in the longer format, and it was quite fun really. I mean, what I wanted to try and do was allow the stories to kind of unfold through the process of time, so that I could kind of go on a journey with the stories a little bit more, which, you know, is quite fun really — I mean, to do — to work with songs that are longer, it was quite fun.
Fun in the sense that you just get to explore that particular piece of territory for a lot longer, and go deeper, and articulate more?
Yes, yes, exactly that. It was an interesting thing to do, and working with the musicians, and seeing how the shape of the songs could develop was interesting, and actually this album was a lot of fun to make.
Oh, good! Well, I get the impression that most of them have been fun to make, so I would hope that they were fun to make. I wouldn’t want you to make them if you didn’t enjoy making them.
Well, they haven’t all be fun at all. I think what was nice was, again, because so much of –- well, I don’t quite know, but it’s almost like, you know, Director’s Cut just seemed to be what allowed me to rev-up to this album. So, I was already kind of ready to go with this one. It just seemed to come together really quite quickly, and there was a sort of flow that went with the process of making this album which, you know, it doesn’t always happen.
You were talking about filmic moments, and seeing things in a cinematic sense, and obviously I know film has been a big influence on your esthetic, and video has been a very big part of your career.
With Director’s Cut, we did a video for a song called “Deeper Understanding” which was very long. It was almost six-and-a-half minutes, so it was quite a lot of work to keep that going visually. I just thought with this album it would be interesting to take two or three songs, but just take a short piece from them and make three very different visuals for each one. If you go to my website you can see them there. They’re also on our YouTube channel as well.
Kate Bush: They’re really short; they’re both different kinds of animation. I’ve not really worked with animation like that before, and it was very interesting — very different. I hope you like them. I really like animation. I’m a big fan of it, and the fact that they’re all so different, I’ve learned something with each one, which, again, is something that’s really part of what I enjoy about making music, and making visuals, is it’s always a learning process.
Right. And I think for listeners and fans, I want to continue to grow with artists. So if you’re not growing and having fun, it’s not really that rewarding for me to keep following what you do.
I suppose I’ve not thought of it that way before. But, yeah, you want to sort-of change and evolve, really, through your life, don’t you? I think in a lot of ways none of us really change in essence, but I think, you know, I think I’ve changed a lot, and I think that’s how it should be. I think life is all about change, isn’t it?
Absolutely! “Deeper Understanding” got me thinking, you were very much at the forefront of using different types of instrumentation and taking advantage of technological advances in your music over the years. But then I feel like, again, the palette with the last two records, you have stripped down, you’ve circled back, they’re very human records, they’re very tactile records. Was that a conscious choice in terms of rather than trying to do lots, and lots of things, to do a few things to the fullest of your ability?
Well, I don’t know, really. With Director’s Cut, that was really one of the main things I wanted to do was take those songs from all those years ago and approach them as I would now, and one of the big parts of doing that was to stripe them out, and let the songs breathe, and just create much more space in the arrangements and production. I guess that’s kind of what felt right. I mean, I don’t know whether it’s to do with being an older artist now, or because that’s kind of what I’d done then, and I want to do something different now. It’s kind of what I wanted to do.
Right. And I suppose not really a reaction so much to what’s going on around you, since you’re not moving in the pop milieu as you once had to.
I guess so, but I think, you know, my albums certainly used to — apart from this one — take a long time to make. So even if had been aware of a current fashion it wouldn’t have been particularly useful for me, because probably by the time the album was finishing now it probably would have been, you know, out of fashion by then.
Have you always been relatively good about sustaining that certain sort of creative energy and concentration? Or, have there been albums where you felt like you did sort of lose the thread and maybe things got disjointed, and that’s reflected in the finished product?
Well, I think sometimes you can’t always control that. I think sometimes things just come in and get in the way. You know, life has a way of just doing what it wants, we don’t have control over that. But hopefully part of the craft, which hopefully there is a craft there, is to somehow piece that together and make it feel like it’s a cohesive piece when it’s finished and released. I’m sure so many creative projects must have had interruptions and obstacles that have had to be got rid of, and I guess part of the challenge is to try and make it feel wholesome.
I was listening to an interview you did around Director’s Cut about six months ago and you underscored something that I suspected was terribly important to you, which is your family life. How has becoming a mother influenced what you’re doing esthetically? I’m sure it influences time management, but has it influenced any other elements that you’ve noticed?
Yeah, I think so. I think that’s part of what has allowed me to change, again, as a person. And I love being a mother, and I think it’s probably had a big impact on my creative work, you know, especially going back a few years when my son was younger, it was very difficult for me to get the same amount of time to spend creatively, because I wanted to spend my time with him. I think that was a really positive thing for me, because it kind of shook things up creatively, and I had to try and find a way of working differently. And I think that’s always a good thing, to sort of be taken out of your comfort zone and just, you know, to change the way you approach things, it’s normally quite a healthy thing.
Well, and then I imagine you also had that wonderful sort of specific stimuli many of us talk about and think about getting in touch with our childlike sense of wonder when we’re creating the art. So I suppose actually having a fantastic specimen of that, you know, having [your son] Bertie all wide-eyed and discovering the world around him probably was a good source of inspiration for you.
Yeah, I think so. I mean, it’s something that I think is wonderful. I’m really happy being a mother, it’s just a great thing.
There is this thread that has gone through your work, you know, from the title track of The Kick Inside, through “Infant Kiss,” through the title track of The Sensual World, you’ve always been very good about articulating sensuality, and articulating desire. And I realize that you’re doing it through characters, but to what do you attribute this relative ease with being able to discuss sensuality — something that most people either are not comfortable discussing, or discuss in the most crass and vulgar terms?
What a question! Oh, I don’t know. I suppose I think there are so many natural connections with creative work, and sex, and sensuality. They just seem to go hand-in-hand, don’t they? So maybe it’s just kind of part of that process.
I know you don’t like to look back on the past too much, or rather, I don’t know whether you like to or not. I know that you don’t — that said, in retrospect, do you feel like my personal favorite album in your cannon, The Dreaming, got a fair shake upon release?
Well, that’s great. Is that your favorite album?
It is my favorite. That is sort of — yeah, that’s ground zero for Kate Bush and me. That is the first one that I waited for it to come out, and it came out, and I lived with it for months, and months, and months, and I continue to take it apart like a puzzle. So, yes, that’s my favorite.
Oh! Oh, well, thank you! That was a really important album for me, because it was really the first time I took hold of the whole production, and really did what I wanted to do for the first time. And I think it was very experimental which, again, I really wanted it to be. It’s interesting, because at the time I think people didn’t really quite know how to respond to it. A lot of people just thought it was really weird, and for me, that was a huge compliment. I thought it was really cool being weird.
But it’s interesting, too, because although it did well, it was perceived as not doing well. I suppose the sort of general comment that went around at the time was that it was considered to not be a commercial album. But actually it charted very well here.
But, I guess, making a commercial album was never really something that was terribly important to me, and having received a little bit of a sort of unsure reception at the time, it’s so interesting how many people over the last — oh, I don’t know, I suppose six or seven years, or so — have said that that’s their favorite album.
So it’s interesting, isn’t it, that at the time it didn’t really seem to get a very warm reception.
One of the things I’m really enjoying about 50 Words for Snow, is the fact that there are lots of other voices on it. You have, you know, Stephen Fry, and Elton John, and Bertie is on it again, and Andy Fairweather Low. Was that a conscious choice, and if so, what motivated that desire to have so many other voices besides yourself on there?
Well, you know, I hadn’t kind of thought of that initially, it’s just the sort of way it came about. I really liked the fact that it’s, you know, got this sort of sense of — well, for want of a better word, the sort of community. You know, it’s not just my voice all the time, there’s a lot of other people who are also very present. And I loved the idea of actually starting the album with someone else’s voice. But I don’t really know how that happened, it just sort of did. Sometimes it’s to do with wanting to get a certain texture or feel to the music, and then, of course, you know, when I wrote Snowed In at Wheeler Street, and it was obvious it was going to be a duet, then obviously, well, the first person I thought of was Elton John. But as soon as you’ve got a duet then there’s someone else there, and I don’t know, it’s just the way the album came about, really, that it just seemed to involve much more vocal guests, particularly.
The first time I heard and saw you was a complete “ah-ha” moment; it was very late at night, the Kenny Everett Video Show was syndicated in America on late night television, and I saw “Wuthering Heights,” and it just took the top of my head off. It just opened me up to all these possibilities, and it was a wonderful, like I said, sort of “ah-ha” moment.
Can you think of a time in your life where you had a comparable reaction to seeing or hearing another artist?
Ooh, well, yeah. I mean, I think quite a few times, really. Well, I think the first time I heard “Starman” by David Bowie, I thought, “What is that? I love that! Who is that?” So, yeah, I mean, I think those moments are really important, I mean, whether it’s a song, or a film you see, or somehow there’s suddenly a connection with something that you actually just really like. And I guess, you know, maybe it’s just because I’m getting older, but that’s something that I find happens less and less. Or maybe because, you know, there’s just so much more stuff everywhere, like, you know, in your face all the time, isn’t it? You know, there’s music everywhere.
There’s images everywhere. This bombardment of stuff. I mean, obviously, a lot of it is very pleasant, but to actually connect with something that you just really, really like it’s just such a great thing, isn’t it?
It makes you feel a little less alone. It makes you feel like, you know, you do belong here. Other people are articulating these thoughts, these feelings, or finding new ways to articulate them. So, yeah, you’re not alone.
Yeah, and I think also sometimes just the wonder of something that somebody has thought of, just human-beings can just have such brilliant ideas, or just do something that is like, “God, that’s just so great!” So many talented people and so many different walks of life, and you just see someone do something that’s extraordinary and it’s just, I don’t know, it kind of just makes you think the human race, you know, can be wonderful. It’s not just this incredibly destructive, aggressive force, you know, you can actually see people do these really wonderful things.