In many ways, the '90s have thus far been a period of reflection; a time to look back over how far rock music has come since the Beatles floated down the Thames in their *Yellow Submarine*.
We've seen the resurrection of psychedelic wah-wah and soaring '60s harmonies. Disco electrobeats have found their way back into the pop lexicon, and acid-washed guitars and sedated vocals have become catchphrases for a generation whose only record of Woodscock comes from reruns of *Family Ties*. But now the "Tragical History Tour" is nearing completion, and it's time to usher in the new wave of sonic mindbenders.
by: Jon Wiederhorn
As much as any band today, Lush are carriers of the new pop consciousness. They're bold, velvety, and decidedly now. There's a marked contrast between Lush the music and Lush the musicians. Lush songs are spiritual and reverent-- gospel music for the Nintendo generation. Yet the band members are impulsive and uninhibited, prone to irreverent, hedonistic activity. Like the time they decided to drop acid in the streets of Japan.
"We went into this club and it was basically filled with heroin addicts, the lowlife of Tokyo." recalls drummer Chris Acland. "We were all tripping so bad. It was like being stuck in the middle of Blade Runner. We didn't speak the language, and we were running through oceans of neon completely helpless."
Incidents like this have hardened the band's pearly white skin. Today, Lush can take an awful lot. They can take in large amounts of alcohol. They can take being compared to a dozen bands with which they have little in common. They can even take the departure of longtime member Steve Rippon. One thing they can't take, however, is a compliment.
Having just been praised for her mellifluous singing voice, vocalist Miki Berenyi blurts, "Oh, leave it out! I can't sing my way out of a paper bag. I can't stay in tune. My voice is complete shit! The only thing me singing proves is that absolutely anyone can sing."
Lush could all too easily bask in their own achievements. Yet, they prefer to cheerfully denigrate themselves. "A lot of our sound is due to the fact that we can't really play. Chris is the only one of us who has been in a band before. People think it's quite unique and unusual that we have these girly vocals and this powerful drum sound, but it's not something we have any control over. That's just the way Chris plays drums, " laughs Berenyi.
"It's the same with the guitars she continues. "Me and Emma (Anderson) couldn't sing for toffee, so we had to turn the guitars up really loud to bury the vocals a bit. The way we sing is because we haven't got powerful vocals. See, it's all accidental, really."
Accident or not, Lush have stumbled upon a winning formula. The band weave chiming, oscillating rhythms into sweeping forlorn soundscapes. Their shimmering guitars driving drums, and sweet, lullaby-vocals create a swirling, swimming dichotomy of sound. By contrasting the ethereal with the earthy, the lovely with the licentious, Lush attain a sort of breathtaking sensuality.
"Sensual? I don't know. If you say so." shrugs Berenyi.
"I think it is.. Definitely." argues drummer Chris Acland.
"Why, Chris." beams Berenyi. "do you often put on Lush when you're making love?"
"Fuck off. I put on Discharge."
"Oh, lovely." she chortles, "There's a nice visual association there."
Chris: "Sensual. Sensual. We are sensual. We just ooze sex!"'
Miki: "Chris, have you been spreading your seed again?"
Chris: "All through the streets of London, I have."
Miki: "Ah, yes. Truthfully, we are sex. None of us have any children, though. thank god."
Chris: "At least none that we're aware of, anyway."
Such exchanges are typical. There's a wonderful chemistry between Berenyi and Acland. Years ago, they used to dare. They're still best friends. And as with all of Lush careers are secondary to friendship. That's one reason they were so distressed when bassist Steve Rippon announced he was leaving after the completion of Lush's second album, Spooky. Rippon, a shy, reticent lad who looks more like an English teacher than a rock star, decided he couldn't handle being away from his girlfriend for an extended length of time. So he decided to quit the band and move away to Ireland with her.
"We were all really upset because he's been with us from the beginning." says Miki, changing her tone from carefree to mildly serious. "Steve joined the band basically because he's a really good bloke. Not because he was a particularly good bass player or anything. Compatibility is a lot more important to us than actual playing ability."
How many bassists did the band audition to replace Rippon? One-- Phil King an editorial assistant at NME music magazine and former bassist for the bands Felt and C.C. Rider. Why did Lush hire him? Because some friends told them King was a really good guy, and a pretty good musician. There's nothing like sound judgment, and this is nothing like it. "Well, we didn't want to go through the grief of auditioning loads of people. Auditions are such crap. They're just so embarrassing. We've had bad experiences with them in the past," says Berenyi.
The experiences she's referring to occurred in October of 1988. less than a year into the band's career. After the departure of former vocalist Meriel Barham (now with Pale Saints). "It was so awful. We auditioned like 30 people and it was a complete nightmare. Either they couldn't sing at all, or else they were really strange. So many singers want to be huge stars and they have such massive egos. We couldn't stand any of them. In the end we thought, 'What the fuck are we going to do? That's when everybody decided I would have to sing."
This type of unprofessionalism has driven Lush's career. Their scope is narrow, their goals simple. After releasing last year's Gala LP, a collection of their three previous British EPs, the band's only ambition was to record a full album. Now, they've done that. But instead of setting more lofty, ambitious goals, they choose to enjoy what they've already accomplished without letting if get to their heads.
"Have a good time all the time. That's my philosophy in life" intones Acland, stealing a line from Spinal Tap.
"Fuck off," laughs Berenyi. "I suppose a lot of people like to see musicians as some sort of tortured artists who want to go and change the world with their souls and music, or whatever. But we're just not like that. We just like to write songs, and have fun."
Perhaps it's this devil-may-care attitude that's earned Lush so many admirers. Over the past year, their Nothing Natural EP has been highly praised in both NME and Melody Maker. And at the moment, Lush are one of the biggest club draws in England. Spooky could well boost the band to arena status. Do Lush enjoy seeing their faces on the covers of most every British magazine? Chris: "I don't really."
Miki: "You do! You bloody love it."
Chris: "I do not. You do. You think you're gorgeous."
Miki: "Well I am."
Chris: "Oh, yes. That large strawberry nose."
Miki: "You've got a big nose as well. "
Chris: "Well, maybe. Especially when it's blown up in magazine photos. You know, it's really weird seeing your picture staring back at. you from the bookstore shelf."
Lush are perfectly willing to accept mega-stardom if it comes their way. They'll even have a good time with it. It's just not a goal in itself. "The ambition of wanting to be the biggest band in the world is so fucking stupid. It's like, what are you going to do when you're the biggest band in the world? You might as well split up The whole rock-and-roll attitude really annoys me. Everyone strives to show how great they play their instruments. First there was like a ten-minute guitar solo. and then a ten-minute drum solo. I can't bear that. You know? It's like, brilliant, you're a really good drummer. So what. There's no point in just fucking showing off." says Berenyi.
Lush are too humble, too down to earth to show off. As a result, some critics have called the band jaded and apathetic. There are even those who argue Lush don't take their craft seriously. "Sure. Some people think rock and roll is all about arrogance and ambition. But there's no point in faking it. We take things seriously, bur not that seriously. I really like what we do, but I could never sit there and go, 'We are what music is about. We are the best band.' All that sort of shit."
The band's new album. Spooky. is a forum of snowy, galactic guitar pop, which flows without reworking familiar hooklines. Yet the record is considerably less energetic than their past offerings. The songs arc slower and far more melancholy. It's as if the band have given up struggle in order to bathe in lazy. pensive moonbeams.
"I think maybe we're just drawn to those son of sad sounds. I actually tried to write a really up-tempo song, and it still sounded fucking miserable. That's what happens when you're bought up in the fucking 1980's in damp, dreary London." Berenyi says.
With lyrics like. "Sometimes I think if I sit by the phone it may ring." (from "Monochrome") Spooky is a pretty introspective display of teen frustration and unrequited love. "You can be so much more eloquent about stuff that pisses you off that you can about really good things. I can't express happiness in lyrics. Happiness is something that you do, and sadness is something that you think about for ages and try to get rid of in writing or painting, or whatever," Berenyi says.
Lush were born on a dark, winter day in 1988, in a college dorm at North London Polytechnic where all four members attended. But their origins date back almost a decade before, when Berenyi and Anderson met in primary school. Soon they became close friends. "Emma introduced me to getting drunk on cider." Laughs Berenyi. "I used to go to her house and her dad was a caretaker of this gentlemen's club. He used to get free cider. 1 just thought it was apple juice. I didn't realize it was alcoholic. Every time I left Emma's house. I'd be absolutely pissed out of my mind.
"I remember one time, we had cider and then decided to go down to the train station. Emma put on her mother's mink coat and her father's shootings hat, and we just ran outside and started throwing things in the street." recalls Berenyi.
The two discovered music between their drunken misadventures. Soon, their mutual interest became an obsession. "If you're a fucking thirteen-year-old girl, either you're pretty and you get lots of boys after you. or you look like a piece of shit and no one's interested. We both looked like pieces of shit. So while the rest of the class was going off to boy's schools and seducing various middle-class young men, we were off seeing any band that was playing. We vowed to form our own band someday."
And indeed they did. One of the group's earliest memories places Lush at the kitchen table in Anderson's college dorm rehearsing a song called "He's A Bastard."
"It was such a big accomplishment for us then to just play a whole song. To have an actual baseline and guitars and drums and vocals, and throw them all together really fast, and try to stay in time. Which we couldn't." says Acland.
By the end of 1988, Lush had several songs written and a few booked gigs. But success was still a long way off. "We couldn't play. We were so fucking awful. We once had a whole crowd walk out halfway through our first song. I don't know how we even had the nerve to go up on-stage," says Berenyi. "We were all so nervous and scared." adds Acland. "We just rushed through our songs as fast as possible trying to gel it over with. We used to look at the floor so we didn't have to see the crowd."
Over the past couple of years, Lush have been compared alongside many ethereal British bands. Comparisons to the Cocteau Twins and My Bloody Valentine are credible enough. Cocteau member Robin Guthrie produced Spooky and infused it with a silky sheen. And My Bloody Valentine's early harrowing guitar heaven served as an influence, for many of today's noisy pop bands. "I can see how we might be compared to the Val's. but I don't think they were a major inspiration for our music." says Acland.
"There are a lot of lazy comparisons at the moment." he continues. "Basically, we've been compared to any bands that have girl singers including the Darling, Buds. Primitives, and Throwing Muses, for fuck's sake. The release of Spooky should straighten out the mind of anyone who's lumped Lush in with retro rockers like Ride, Moose, and Blur, let alone the Cocteau Twins and My Bloody Valentine. The album may well also bring Lush the attention to propel them from press darlings into bonafide rock stars. Perhaps that would be enough to convince Berenyi that Lush are far from useless. The '90's are looking more promising every minute.