Lush used to be my favourite band - I owned all their releases, and my walls were plastered with Vaughan Olivier's luminous sleeve designs. Things change though, and with the release of their first real album 'Spooky', I thought Lush had less to offer than I'd first imagined. I was wrong, because when 'Split' arrived, I found myself a fan again. This was the record I expected them to make, not the half-baked effects-laden layer cake that Robin Gutherie brought out of the studio two years before. In Cocteau Twins, he makes a divine sound, but when he produces others it winds up as a lame compromise between the bands personality and Gutherie's fanatical, analytical production. I talked to Emma Anderson, half of the creative centre of Lush, shortly after Split's release.
Q: Are you at home now? I heard you were doing a promotional tour of the US.
E: Yeah, we did that about three weeks ago. We're going back on Saturday for a full tour.
Q: You don't sound very excited!
E: It'll be fine! This is our sixth time touring there, so it's not as exciting as the first one.
Q: Are you doing much more touring after the album?
E: After that, we're doing the Reading Festival, a European tour in September and then I don't know, maybe do Britain again, Japan and then maybe come out to Australia. I don't know yet. Australia was good last time.
Q: I've listened to Split a lot recently, and I was really pleased it came out so well. I thought it sounded a lot more like you than Spooky did.
E: Yes, a lot of people found it a bit difficult to get their heads around, because it was so Robin Gutherified, you know. His stamp was all over it and it wasn't made in a very sort of traditional way. We fell in with the way he wanted to work, and it came out sounding...well, it's what we wanted at the time and we knew we were going to get that when we went in with him. I think some people found the production took away from the actual songs, which I can understand...
Q: Sounds a bit same-y!
E: To listen to the whole thing at once, the production smoothes a lot of the dynamics out of the songs.
Q: I often put it on for one or two songs and then put it away
E: Yeah, I know what you mean.
Q: I heard stories about him making Chris play into pads and then sequencing it...you must have felt like laboratory animals at times.
E: Yes, we sort of knew he'd want to do that. Robin's not used to working with drum kits, he finds it a lot easier with the Cocteaus using drum machines. When it comes to mixing and stuff, putting delays on, he likes it to be all mathematically correct, so Chris was playing a Simmons kit into a sequencer, being quantised and corrected. He hated it, he really hated it. With Split we went back to the normal drum kit and amps, etc...
Q: How was it working with Mike Hedges?
E: It was good. When we found him and chatted to him, he said he wanted to do a co-production, which sounded good to us. We wanted to have a lot more input on this record, so he basically engineered it really. It was good because he disciplined us and had some good ideas here and there, but he didn't tell us what to play or whatever, know what I mean? Or "Why don't you try this, or try that" or whatever. He was basically a very very good engineer, which suited us fine and the recording went pretty well. We mixed it with Alan Moulder though. (Later, I found out the band were unhappy with Hedges attitude to mixing, which he wanted to do near home in France, and thought that the end result was pretty lifeless, souring what had been a good working relationship. Moulders ability to bring out the dynamics of Split was much closer to their original intent.).
E: We stripped it down a lot from Spooky, which has got so much effects. Robin put a whole lot of extra stuff on while he was mixing, because we didn't know what he was doing, said we'd leave it up to him. Whereas with this one we knew what was exactly going on the whole time, you know.
Q: I was curious about when you re-did 'Scarlet' on Gala, that sounds like Robin made up the whole track and just got you and Miki in to sing?
E: No, I mean, we played guitar on it! What we did with that was, Chris isn't on that track, he used a beatbox, one of those old-fashioned bossanova-y things, which makes the rhythm track, but the bass and guitars are us.
Q: Why did you call the album Split?
E: Miki thought of it, actually. The worst thing is always thinking of titles for records with some reason behind them, and she just came out with the word, which she thought was a good word, a hard word and since then we've sort of attached loads of meaning to it. Like the sleeve has a split cover and split background colour and a lot of the songs are about relationships that have split up and... Vaughan Olivier attached a sort of sexual meaning to it as well!
Q: From some of your other sleeves, he was never really shy about that doing that before!
E: Exactly...exactly! We're very lucky to have him, he's so brilliant!
Q: Were you an art major at some stage?
E: No, my degree was history, not the practice of art! (laughs). I can't draw to save my life, you know...
Q: Are you putting out anymore singles from the album?
E: We might put out 'Lovelife' at some point, if anything.
Q: Was that written about London?
Q: What about 'The Childcatcher'? Will that appear anywhere?
E: That will be on 'Lovelife' if we put that out, remixed from the 'Select' version. We'll find two other things to put on it as well.
Q: Will you get your photo on the back this time?
E: (Laughs). Well, you see I got the bum end of the deal, really, because I'm on the vinyl of the album, yeah, and you see not many people are going to have that, especially around the world 'cause they don't make the vinyl in some countries. Most people have just got the three CD's and I don't get a look in. Maybe I'll have to demand that I get on the 'Lovelife' thing...
Q: Won't everyone else want to be on the vinyl?
E: Yeah, well they can have that. I don't care (laughs).
Q: Did anything ever come of your plans to work with Ministry?
E: No there never was any plan. People made that up. I don't know where they came from. We became very good friends with them on Lollapalooza, but then people said "Oh, they're going to go in the studio', but it was never going to happen, you know. We just messed around on stage, it was great!
Q: Was that tour a real party atmosphere?
E: Yeah, it was really good fun!
Q: America seems to have taken you to their hearts!
E: Yeah, we do quite nicely there...we do alright.
Q: They seem to be manically enthusiastic over there.
E: Well, in America you get some very strange, obsessive fans.
Q: Anything scary ever happen, or do people just turn up and tell you what you said in interviews four years ago?
E: Well they do that and they draw these weird pictures of skulls and things and they think you're going to really like it. And send you letters with oh...just weird, really really manic. I don't give out my home address of course, just get them to send it to 4AD.
Q: Does that get fed by the press? You must be really sick of the run you guys have had, hyped then jumped on.
E: I think we've managed to do all right, considering how many bands have fallen by the wayside, you know. I just think we're not a fashionable band in England at the moment. Everything is so dictated by fashion here and it's not that easy to go against it. One thing we have managed to do with this record is to say 'right, we're Lush and this is our music, like it or lump it.' We're not going to try and fall in with the latest fashion and I think that's worked.
Q: They just want some new sensation?
E: Exactly. They just get some bands and say 'This is the future of rock and roll, this band' and then they're everywhere. Mind you, we had that sort of five years ago. We had so much press, and then they get bored...I think we've done well to keep going.
Q: How about Alphabet Soup (a puerile punk-pop fanzine made by Emma and Miki at school)? Would that have found major dirt on Lush?
E: Well, I'm really quite surprised that no-ones ever printed any of that anywhere and very grateful too!
Q: An easy target?
E: God yes, it was just lavatory teenage humour and it's never seen the light of day, thank God (laughs).
Q: Did you regret the 'notorious' body-paint photo shoot for the NME?
E: No not really! A lot of people thought we were naked, but we weren't. We had our bras on, we weren't even topless. It was fun at the time.
Q: Are you happy to take a back seat in Lush?
E: Well, it pisses me off sometimes to read 'Miki and her band' or something like that, but we do try and present ourselves as a band.
Q: You're really the major songwriter though, aren't you?
E: Well, I suppose I've written most of the music anyway. You know, it's only the media that want to do that. I don't particularly like the lime light that much though. If people hassle us, they're going to hassle Miki, know what I mean? (laughs). I prefer the shadows a bit...
Q: She's got the attitude to handle it?
E: Well, she likes the attention a lot of the time. That's her personality.
Q: You wouldn't dye your hair that colour if you didn't.
E: Well, you know, I had my hair that sort of colour when I was sixteen, it was really stupid. Hers was black though.
Q: Do you like recording or playing live more?
E: Well, I like both. Recording's good because you can try things out and rectify things, and it's quite laid back really. Live, you have the feedback from the audience, someone appreciating it there and then.
Q: Live stuff can always be a bit of a disaster...
E: Oh god yeah. Like my guitar processor just starts screaming. I've had to leave the stage...we played in New York a few weeks ago when the PA cut out twice during the set!
Q: Not during 'Blackout'?
E: No, not during 'Blackout' (laughs). We didn't know and kept playing!
Q: Was 'Laura' about a particular singer?
E: Yeah, a singer song-writer called Laura Nyro, American, from the late 60's and early 70's and I thought 'Why don't you write a song about her?' Maybe I should send her a copy, she's still going, I think.
Q: I was told 'Etheriel' was about Meriel Barham, is that true?
E: Yes, it is. She used to be in the band, yeah, and she was going out with a guy called Ethan. She wasn't really into the band that much and she was a lot more into Ethan...every time we wanted to do something she was like, 'I can't do that because Ethan's sick, or Ethan's something! Ethan's broken a fingernail so I can't rehearse today' So in the end we thought, well, this isn't going to work out and Miki wrote a song about it. We blended the two names together, Ethan and Meriel.
Q: Then she turned up singing for the Pale Saints!
E: Well, Miki actually got her that job, they were looking for another guitarist. Meriel didn't ever feel comfortable just singing, she wanted to play guitar in Lush as well. It worked out better for her there.
Q: Does it feel weird to write something personal about you and then have Miki sing it?
E: No, it doesn't really. that's always the way we've done it. A lot of people do ask me about this. You know, there's quite a lot of bands where that's actually happened, where someone writes the whole song and someone else does it. I think a song exists on its own, you know, in its own right.
Q: Do you keep your lyrics a bit distant?
E: Well, you write it and it becomes an item on it's own, whoever sings it or plays it. I think we have an understanding...and I sing her backing vocals on her songs, which are sort of personal, singing 'I this' and 'I that', you know.
Q: Have you ever taken any lead vocals yourself?
E: Well, there was a song called 'Astronaut' (on 'For Love' single) where I did. Also on 'Invisible Man'. I sing a bit of lead as well, just the first verse bits. once we played a gig in LA where Miki lost her voice halfway through the set and I had to start singing the songs! (Laughs hysterically). That was really scary, especially since I didn;t know the lyrics properly, to some of hers. I was going 'aaeeearrreeelaaa...' through some parts!
Q: Is writing easy for you?
E: When we were writing for Spooky, that was really difficult. I just completely blocked. In three months I think I wrote one song, which was 'Monochrome'. When we wrote for the last album, it was easier. We managed to write sixteen songs in five months, which is pretty good for us. Some people write very easily, like Blur are already demoing their next record, but then we write the whole song. It's not just like jamming out an idea with the band. We write the bass and the lyrics and the backing vocals on four tracks at home. When we do rehearse, parts change and everyone has an input, but they're more or less fully written.
Q: Has anything sounded great on four track and then not made it with the whole band?
E: It's funny actually, because Miki's ones are really really perfect, mixed well and sound good, but my ones tend to sound terrible. I quite like that because when we do it in the studio and it sounds great, but sometimes Miki says 'Oh, it's not as nice as the four track'. you should have heard 'Desire Lines' on my four track, it was terrible. As long as the others can learn their parts, that's all I care about.
Q: Must have sounded really different with the strings on the album, whose idea was that?
E: Well, Ivo suggested it when we played the demos. He loves strings and it was quite obvious that it really suited some of the songs. It was good because Mike Hedges had worked with strings a lot in the past and he had the idea of bringing in two arrangers for different songs.
Q: Was it exciting to hear those parts added?
E: Well, it was actually quite weird because they take the song away and write the part on keyboards. They bring a tape back and you sit there and it's like 'My god!'. I think 'Desire Lines' especially was really weird. There were quite dissonant notes and you ask, well, is this all right? It sounds terrible...but after I heard it a few times I thought this is really good. It is weird when someone adds things to something you write and it changes the mood of it.
Q: Is that a bit like the band, starting out casually and then waking up to realise that you were actually doing rather well?
E: Yeah, we've always taken things as they come. There were never any huge ambitions. It was, 'All right, we've got six songs now, let's play a gig!'. It was never like we wanted to be signed by so and so or make this much money or be all over the press. We've always been quite humble about it, making sure we're all enjoying it and still friends. No ego problems, I think when bands get too ambitious it can backfire.
Q: Everyone has a different idea of where to go.
E: Exactly. Everyone's got a different idea of success as well. People say 'Well, you never got that big, you were never in the charts', and I think 'Yeah, but we've kept going and made good records'. All these bands get dropped by their labels or break up -we've kept a good level of interest, we're not going to get dropped because 4AD are very supportive and it's a nice situation. Major labels are so obsessed with things like hits, you know. People and bands have one big hit, then on the next album they're completely forgotten...Hang on, someone's scraping my windows outside...'
Q: Maybe it's an obsessive American fan?
E: God, trying to get in...(laughs nervously!).