Lust for Life
IT'S NOT THAT LONG AGO THAT LUSH WERE SADDLED WITH SUCH A REPUTATION THEY COULD SURELY NEVER LIVE UP TO THE GREAT THINGS EXPECTED OF THEM. BUT, WITH THE RELEASE OF THEIR 'MAD LOVE' EP, THEY'VE ACTUALLY TOPPED ALL THE TIPSTERS. STEVE SUTHERLAND APPLAUDS THE DAWNING OF POP'S NEW GOLDEN ERA.
"WE'RE THE MOST HATED BAND IN LONDON."
"We are. Geoff Travis at Rough Trade told us that. He said, 'D'You know you're the most hated band in London?"'
What on earth did you say to that?
"Well, there's not a lot you can say, is there? Because some people think we were made by the press, they can't wait to see us destroyed in print."
LUSH are in a rather nice restaurant in Dean Street, Soho. The restaurant specializes in vegetarian food which is just as well because Miki and Emma are vegetarians. I reckon the waiters are pretty cool considering Miki's red hair and her propensity to resort to the F word rather loudly after a glass or two of Australian white. Would that some others were as tolerant.
"Other bands hate us," says Emma. "They do. They see us putting out records on 4AD, they see us in the music papers, they see us on tour and they don't think we deserve to be there. They think we haven't paid our dues. They don't know we've already played the toilets, two or three years ago. And anyway, what does it matter?"
There are people, divs to a man who think Lush are a figment of Chris Roberts' very fertile imagination. It was Chris who, just over a year ago, happened upon Lush playing the Oval Cricketers and called them, among a multitude of other things, "a delta" and "irresistible". Inking his enthusiasm, he interviewed Lush for an MM feature and, despite the band's inexperience with a well turned anecdote or a witty bon mot, Lush suddenly found themselves under scrutiny. Other papers started printing the plaudits and the record companies sent their A&R men to see what all the fuss was about. One of these music business persons was Ivo Watts-Russel of 4AD. He caught the band at The Falcon and thought they stank although their support, The Pale Saints, impressed him with their autumnal psychedelia and he signed them instead.
"It was typical " says Emma. "I came in and they were brilliant. I thought, 'We can 't go on after that!'"
Lush played on regardless and Ivo checked them out again when they weren't so crap and again when they were really rather good. Unbeknown to him, the band had only recently rid themselves of a singer and, after unsuccessfully auditioning replacements, (the advert in MM classifieds ran something like, "Female vocalist wanted, into Blondie and Husker Du") Miki had been persuaded to take on the task. The first time she tried it in public she was so terrified she got well pissed beforehand and sang appallingly out of tune. Emma put a stop to the Dutch courage bit from then on and, by the time Ivo saw them being really rather good, they'd shed most of the material they'd outgrown.
"The old stuff was like a really bad version of the anorak scene," laughs Emma. "We were just becoming comfortable playing a new set."
Following his impeccable instinct, Ivo offered Lush the chance to record and they did "Scar", a six-track mini-LP, which was released in October 1989 and surprised everybody including the band by selling over 15,000 copies. Co-produced with John Fryer, "Scar" was given the tentative thumbs up by Simon Reynolds whose review reckoned that, although they showed hot flushes of promise, they didn't yet live up to their name. "Think 'Lush'," he wrote, "and you think of the voluptuous, virulent greens and angry purples of the first Throwing Muses album, the over-ripe hysteria of The Associates 'Sulk' . Lush come in paler, more translucent hues," by which I took him to mean that "Scar" sounded like a lot of good ideas not given the full treatment they deserved. Certainly "Scar" sounds precariously dry and occasionally hollow, an immature work from an immature band and this they readily admit to. But now they're about to release their second recording, a four track EP called "Mad Love", which fulfils all our expectations and, thanks to a sumptuous production by Cocteau Twin Robin Guthrie, sounds every bit as luxuriant as their name... It transpires that Guthrie was their choice of producer from way back when. Indeed, when the band first started in their present incarnation, Emma - who was working part time for Jeff Barnet, a freelance publicist responsible for New Order, Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses among others- sent him a tape to which he warmly responded. Their schedules couldn't coalesce for "Scar" but he found time to do "Mad Love" while the completion of the new Cocteaus' LP was halted by Elizabeth giving birth to their daughter, Lucy Belle. It's a beautiful, primitive record, and gave me a similar thrill to the Cocteau's "Head Over Heels" the first time I heard it. "Deluxe" is a giddy canter, like being at a fairground on acid, and, through Guthrie's searing velvet production, you can catch Miki singing, "Drink in your eyes/ Drink in your sighs/ Crossinq [this is verified wrong, the correct word is "Grass in"] my thighs/ My aching legs which cracks me up."
'I look at other women in bands and I get disappointed. There's hardly any women in bands writing. They sing and that's it" - Emma.
"Leaves Me Cold" is Miki's song - the others were all written by Emma - and it's a bit more heads down, no nonsense, like something the Mary Chain might do to the Banshees' first album if they underwent sex change operations. "Downer" should appeal to Robert Smith the vocal skimming across the surface of the sheet metal guitar like slate flicked across water, and "Thoghtforms" is pretty Cocteausish, a waltztime track of "Scar" redone simply because Guthrie wanted to do it. Miki's harsh cockney accent pegging it to the ground like a stake tether in a hot air balloon. When I first heard "Mad Love", it took me back. Not that the music's retrogressive - far from it. While I can tell where almost every note and lyric on The Stone Roses' LP came from, Lush, as Miki says, "exist in a vacuum" and there really are no deliberate bloodlines to trace to the past, no reputations to bask in by proxy. No, what took me back was the sudden realization that Lush are a pop group and the repercussions of what that means excited me. Just about a decade ago, pop was the thing to be into. Simple Minds "New Gold Dream ", Japan, ABC, The Associates, Human League, Depeche Mode (God help us), even Spandau Ballet and The Cocteau Twins would revolutionize pop and, by appearing on TV, on "Top Of The Pops", and being on the radio all the time, they would influence and change the things we listened to and, hence, the quality of our lives. Sadly those halcyon days were all too brief and, for one reason or another (ignorance on the bands' part, greed on the record companies') pop was abandoned by the intelligentsia and left to the likes of Stock Aitken and Waterman and the purveyors of Acid House to create Musak with which to bung up the charts and bore our lives rigid. All the smart kids were into rock by the late Eighties which I thought was a shame because, great as rock can be, it doesn't achieve anything much beyond pandering to its own peripheral audience. But already this year we're hearing great pop singles again - The Telescopes' "To Kill A Slow Girl Walking" EP could quite easily make it onto Radio l, Birdland are there, so are And Why Not? and, of course, there's The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays - groups who literally gate crashed the charts and embarrassed the programmers into giving them airtime simply because so many people who'd been to gigs bought their records. The first time in ages, it isn't the dickheads who are dictating what gets into the charts and, hence, onto TV and into our homes. It's the people, the fans who put the Roses where they are and it's the people who will put Lush there too.
Emma likes this idea a lot and revels in the notion of being on "Top Of The Pops" but Chris and Steve, drums and bass respectively, insist they're a rock group. Unfortunately, they can 't say what that means which reminds me somewhat of that bit in "Bad News" where Ade Edmondson has to tell Nigel Planer they're "heavy metal, heavy metal, heavy bloody metal" to keep him in the group.
At this point, Miki gets all animated about Simon Bates, the Radio 1 deejay who recently congratulated himself on being brave enough to play some "indie" music on his daytime show. She says he played "Fool's Gold", "Wrote For Luck", something by The Wedding Present and The Colorblind James Experience. "He thought he was being so radical," she laughs, "it was so ridiculous!"
Hell, I don't care what Lush say. I reckon it's hip to be pop again and I reckon Lush are it.
"MAD Love". That's tautology isn't it? Love's always a madness, surrendering yourself to somebody else leaving yourself vulnerable? "Oh, I dunno about that," says Miki. "Ivo phoned up and said, 'Look, we have to have a title in an hour' ! We did that with 'Scar' as well - sat in a pub for hours... And all the titles are so short, everything gets really reductive. It's like, 'What's one word that covers it?'." "I thought it was a bit of a heavy metal title actually," says Steve. "Like Led Zeppelin or something. " "Or that Bukowski thing, 'Crazy Love'," says Miki who did English at college and got a two-one. "It's actually off Andre Breton's 'L'Amour Fou'," says Emma. "I just stole it." "Well, it's better than The Pale Saints," says Miki. "'Barging Into The Presence Of God'! My fucking Christ!"
I CAN'T believe that nobody thought of using the name Lush before. Emma can't either. A friend suggested it to her and she thought it was brilliant although it has proved rather a bane since. When it comes to reviews, they've found the writers for some peculiar reason, seem (ahem) inspired by the name to commit some dreadful atrocities in the course of reportage. They've been called, "a tipsy growth ", "the sound of dreamscapes in blurred Technicolor", "a smoldering heaven", and "oscillating fountainfalls" among other things which, I'm sure you'll agree, does more to harm than help. So what are Lush? "I dunno really," says Miki. Fair enough.
LUSH, who haven't got a manager despite everyone telling them they should have, admit that they have just about enough songs for a 45 minute set which no matter what some social secs with a contract will tell you, is time to spare in achieving paradise. Lush also say there aren't likely to be that many more songs forthcoming in the near future. Emma, who's got three months to complete an arts course at college and who has to have an essay on new town planning in by tomorrow morning, says she feels under pressure sometimes and it's all too much. Miki, who writes the rest of the songs, has more time on her hands but she, too, says she won't, indeed can't, force it.
"I can't see us ever being like The Sugarcubes," says Emma. "I can't see us coming off a world tour and having to go straight in and record an album. I'd just say, 'No, we can't do it'." So what do Lush want out of all this? "A bit of money," says Chris. "Yeah," laughs Miki, "a fair wage. I don't think we have any specific ambitions at the moment. It's just taking one thing at a time. I mean, we don't get a moment to take a long view of anything. This record hasn't even bloody come out yet and it's, 'When are you going to write the next album?'".
I'm told The Pale Saints have insisted their "Comforts Of Madness" album be advertised in the Leeds United programme and I wonder if Chris and Miki, who go out together to see Spurs play every Saturday, are entertaining the notion of advertising Lush at White Hart.
"Too expensive," sighs Chris but he says they fully intend to send copies of "Mad Love" to the Tottenham lads in the hope that - swoon - Garv Lineker might come and see them play. Earlier, at the photo session, Chris showed me his copy of "Spur", the Tottenham fanzine in which, apparently, Simon Raymode of the Cocteaus - a Spurs fan through and through - recently had a letter published complaining about the quality of meat pies on sale at the ground. Chris also handed me a letter from Simon which asks me not to give Chris and Miki too much of a hard time about the mighty Southampton's recent 3-1 FA Cup victory over Spurs at White Hart Lane. "We all suffered badly", he wrote and Chris admits that if there's one person in the world he'd hate to see on Lush's guestlist it's Matthew Le Tissier, the Saint's winger who destroyed the Spurs. Tonight he says, while Emma's studying, he and Miki will cuddle down to watch a stack of Spurs videos they've borrowed from Simon and Miki tells me how she really got hacked off recently by a bloke from NME who assumed that she only went to football because it was a trendy thing to do. I only mention Le Tissier . . . oh . . . a dozen or so times and we don't actually end up fighting or anything.
WE'RE discussing who else Lush would like on their guest list - "Meatloaf", "My mum", "Jodie Foster" when Miki, whose mother's Japanese and father's Hungarian, takes a drag on her Silk Cut and says: "It must be a crap week if we're on the cover of Melody Maker." This is not what we want to hear. Emma pauses spooning up her cream and caramel dessert and says: "I dunno . . . if Birdland can be on the cover, we can". Now that's more like it! Miki laughs. "Are they still doing that thing? Y'know, jumping up and down all together. " They are. "It's ages since I've seen them but, when they were doing that, it just seemed so... forced. They made me think of Freddie And The Dreamers or something. I mean, if you want to see people jumping up and down, you'd be better off seeing Snuff . . . or Silverfish who don't seem so rehearsed."
Emma wants to know who else was up for the cover this week and correctly guesses Lloyd Cole. "Was he?" says Miki. "Why didn't he get it then?" the waiter joins in. Miki says she saw Cole on "Juke Box Jury" trying to be all meaningful and that and coming over like a twat and I very cleverly liken his malaise to that of our old pal Terence Trent D'Arby, another lightweight constantly floored by his own elevated self esteem and, like Cole, a faker stewing in his own self-consciousness. Now Lush may be many things but they're never self-conscious. Indeed, they would have us believe that much of what they do arrives, as it were, subconsciously. Rather than sitting down, thinking about a subject, then writing a song about it, Emma says she sometimes has to race home from the tube to scribble down a tune before she forgets it but the words always come last, not an afterthought but often an abstract suggested by the music. A Lush lyric, they claim, is female rather than feminist which is rare enough in itself considering the number of women involved in pop or rock who either play along to the male fantasy or try to duke it out with the boys. There's Throwing Muses, Kate Bush, Bjork before she went wacko, some country music, Siouxsie sometimes, a couple of singer-songwriters... and Lush.
"I don't often think of myself specifically as a woman in a group,' says Emma, "but sometimes, yeah, I look at other women in bands and I am disappointed. There's hardly any women in bands writing. They sing and that's it." They're models really, aren't they?
Which reminds me - someone was saying Lush had been offered a deal to be involved with The Gap, a clothing chain that wanted the group to model for them. Apparently world famous photographer Annie Liebowitz had seen their picture somewhere and wanted them to join such luminaries as Liverpool footballer John Barnes and Monty Python's Eric Idle as role models for the Nineties. Sadly, the arrangement fizzled out and they're just telling me about another disappointment, a recently recorded Peel session going badly wrong when they were hurried by the unsympathetic BBC engineers, when the waiter arrives to enquire whether Miki enjoyed her dessert. "Like angel's breath," she tells him. I'm afraid I can't top that so I'm damned if I'll try.
"Mad Love " is released on February 26 and Lush tour Britain from March 1, playing London Subterania on March 14.