Interviews with singer and songwriter Kate Bush are relatively rare, almost as rare as her concerts, which have been nearly non-existent since 1979. So it's news that Bush is now preparing to give her first real live shows in 35 years -- in London, in August and September. Outside of a few odd gigs over the decades, these will be her first since the beginning of her career.
I interviewed Bush in-person and one-on-one in December 1985 in a Manhattan hotel room. At the time, I was a staff writer/reporter for the New York bureau of Cash Box magazine. Because of several breaking news stories at the time, I ended up using only a fraction of my somewhat lengthy interview with her (for a video piece I wrote for the magazine, published on January 11, 1986).
Around 95 percent of the audiotaped Q&A has never been published outside of my own blog -- until now. Here's an edited transcript of my recorded interview with Bush:
Paul Iorio: Did you grow up in an urban environment?
Kate Bush: Yes, it was essentially urban. But at the same time, at the back, there was a lot of fields -- and they kept horses there. So though it was very urban, it was, especially from a child's point-of-view, kind of lots of countryside, with the horses and going off to play in the fields. A nice environment.
Iorio: And that's carried through on the ["Cloudbusting"] video. Why the gap between the last album ["The Dreaming"] and this one ["Hounds of Love"]?
Kate Bush: I wanted to reorganize my life, and I think it's the best decision I've made. For everything, really... We bought some equipment for a recording studio, which was definitely a big move... Very much inspired by my father, who was in charge of being the architect and putting all that together. And I wanted to take some time.
It was really 1978 when everything changed. I hadn't really had a proper break. And the way I work is rather intense, going from a rather isolated situation, working on an album for a long time and then out in to the world and then back again. I wanted to take some time of my own. We had just moved [from the city to the country] so I wanted to spend some time at the house. And I found a new dance teacher and found some new stimulus generally. So I felt ready to write a new album. I think actually the last album emotionally exhausted me, very demanding to write and work. And I think I just needed a break.
Iorio: You write about that emotional exhaustion on the second side [of "Hounds..."], with waves being almost an emotional metaphor for drowning.
Bush: It's very personal -- and we're sort of getting into psychiatry here! I'm sure there are all kinds of levels here like that. Actually my attitude in writing this album is a very positive one... I wanted the music to launch us all into the next era rather than be an emotional dark thing.
I think each album does have a different energy, otherwise you'd be doing the same thing again and not experimenting anew... Albums are such autobiographical material, not in the material but as an expression of what you're like at the time. And I was feeling kind about mankind and how nice people were rather than the demon side of things...
Iorio: Now that you've come out into the world and are doing appearances and interviews, has your view changed on mankind in general?
Bush: [Laughs] No, I still feel pretty positive, actually. It's really great for me that the album is being accepted...You would like people to enjoy it, but obviously you can't force them to. I feel very happy...
Iorio: In '78, you actually got your contract because of David Gilmour --
Iorio: And this was a period when a lot of punk bands were being signed. How did you ever get a contract?
Bush: When I was signed, that was before the punk thing even happened. Punk was happening at the time of my first single.. Yes, I agree it was completely different than what was happening with punk music but perhaps that's why it works...I think that music is something that surpasses trends, fashions; music is something much deeper...
Iorio: How about concept albums? What were some of your influences?
Bush: ....The only concept for me that I thought worked was [Pink Floyd's] "The Wall." I think the third side of that is just brilliant, the best thing Floyd has ever done. So good. I mean, "Comfortably Numb" is perhaps the classic Floyd song. And Roger Waters' production and the sense of him being in there I found really fascinating...I was surprised at how many people kept referring to [The Who's] "Tommy" and "The Wall." And, really, they are very different. And I wonder if it's because they're concepts that they get labeled together. Do you think?
Iorio: Well, let's see, I'm not as familiar with "The Wall" --
Bush: I'm not so familiar with "Tommy." [laughs]
Iorio: How about your lyrics. Have you published poetry?
Bush: No, only in our school magazine. [laughs]
Iorio: [Some of your new lyrics] sound like Elvis Costello. What do you think of him?
I wondered what had happened to him, actually. Because I think he was a very talented guy. And from what we saw in England, he was given a very hard time. I think he was very talented.
Iorio: You put that in the past tense.
Bush: Yes, I do, because I haven't heard anything he's done recently. That's why I said I wondered\ what's happened to him. I'm sure he is still very talented but I haven't heard any stuff....I think in some ways he was victim of the media truly giving him the kind of feedback that he needed but then expecting too much afterwards.
Iorio: Who do you like now? If you were home, who would you put on the turntable?
Bush: I listen to very little music, particularly contemporary. If I listen to it, it's going to be my own music, some arrangement or something. I spend so much time listening that the way I relax is by watching things, a comedy, that's my way to wind down.
Iorio: What comedy?
Bush: I don't know if you have it here [in the US]: "The Young Ones."
Bush: Really good stuff. "Fawlty Towers," you must have that don't you here?
Iorio: No, we don't.
Bush: Oh, no! You don't know what you're missing! You know John Cleese.
Iorio: Oh, yeah!
Bush: He did this whole sit-com that was about someone called Basil Fawlty, one of the funniest things. I'm so surprised you don't have that here. You don't know what you're missing, you poor people. It's brilliant stuff. [Monty] Python is great, but this has made John Cleese beyond Python. Whenever John Cleese appears, they consider him Basil Fawlty.
Iorio: What are your favorite [films]?
Bush: "Don't Look Now"...I think is one of the best films ever made...You have so many things you don't understand, but by the end of the film, one of those has been tied up neatly. I really love Hitchcock; I think he was a complete genius, to me one of the best directors. Such a sense of how to put things
together. I really like Terry Gilliam's work. Do you remember "Time Bandits"?
Iorio: That was a big one...
Bush: He's made three films, one before that, and one, actually, "Brazil," that, as far as I know, wasn't released here [in the U.S.], which is crazy, because it's such a good film and was released everywhere else. Neil Jordan. Have you heard of his stuff? [I nod.] He did a very interesting film called "Angel." He's Irish and his work has a great sense of the Irish culture, the whole rural sense of Ireland. And I love Kurosawa's films. And comedy films. "Young Frankenstein." It's funny but it's also an incredibly beautiful film, it's so well done. I think [Mel Brooks] was one of the first people, too, to play with black and white, when color was what everyone was using. Beautiful. Gene Wilder is so funny.
Iorio: How about Woody Allen?
Bush: I really like Woody Allen, but there are a lot of his films I haven't seen. My favorite one is "Play It Again, Sam." I thought that was so funny. But there's a lot I haven't seen.
Iorio: You mentioned Irish cinema. How about Irish music? You have Irish [music] on the second side of the ["Hounds of Love"] LP. How did you get into Irish folk?
Bush: I think it's probably the biggest influence musically that I've ever had. My mother's Irish. And when I was very young, both my brothers were very into traditional music, English and Irish. They were always playing music, so I was always brought up with it. And they were playing instruments. And I think when you're a kid, you're very open to all things musical...It's only in the last couple of albums that I've been able to express my influences in Irish music through my work.
It's funny when you write a song -- it's easy for me now -- but there's almost a second stage where you take control of the song. You start writing it, and if you're not careful, it just finishes itself and it might not be what you wanted. It's very strange, it takes over itself. It has its own life.
I've just never really been able to write something where I could present the Irish music in a very obvious way. And I think the second side of the album, it was a perfect vehicle to involve the Irish musicians I worked with on the last album in a more involved way, to use them to create that atmosphere...
Iorio: What songs have you written that wrote themselves?
Bush: That's a difficult question.
Iorio: Some must have taken some time. Others probably took off automatically.
Bush: Oooo. Yes, that's right. A lot of songs are like -- wolllaahhh! And that's it. And other songs -- it's like stages. It maybe takes three or four days to get the song structurally together. But then I could spend a couple weeks finishing off the lyrics. Each song is so different...It has its own personality. Some are really grumpy. Some are really quite easy. It's extraordinary. You can put some things on a track, and it will just reject them, it just won't work. And you can put them on another track, and it works really well.
[Bush offers me an Irish cigarette.] Do you want one of those?
Iorio: Oh, I was dying for you to ask! [I read from the pack:] "Cigarettes can seriously damage your health." So in Britain you have the same warnings?
Bush: You have them here, too, don't you?
Iorio: We have modified ones. There are rotating warnings. They have, like, "[Cigarettes] can cause complicated pregnancy." Another says, "Quitting now can seriously increase your chances of having a normal life." They have rotating warnings. But yours are standardized ones?
Bush: Absolutely. They're on every packet. That's an interesting idea, actually: putting different [warnings]....Maybe you'll listen to one of them! [laughs]
Iorio: The headline: Kate Bush -- Candid on Cigarettes"!
Bush: [laughs] Oh, God.
Iorio: Suppose this becomes a number one hit in America. What's the first thing you're going to do?
Bush: Buy an SSL. Get back to the studio!...An SSL is the best mixing console you can get. I'd get one of those. And change the room a but and get some more equipment in.
paul iorio interviews kate bush, dec. '85...