At the 9:30 Club, Washington DC
The following interview was conducted with
Lush's Chris Acland
and Phil King on 27 April, 1996, shortly after the U.S. release of
Lovelife. Highlight of the interview: Lush playing "Ladykillers" and
"Never-Never" just for me at soundcheck. but then Chris, Phil and I
had to deal with doing this while Mojave 3 were soundchecking, so
the tape is full of us talking into the microphone while they drone
in the background. anyway, on with the show ...
Fritz: so, how far along is this tour?
Phil: Almost halfway, 18 or 19 days.
F: How's the crowd reception been?
P: It's been a bit more muted than before, I think.
Chris: I think that's cos it's a 4ad tour.
P: I think they're a bit more laid back. in England we're getting a younger audience, and they tend to jump around a bit more, whereas here it tends to be a bit more relaxed, especially because of the alcohol-related limits, where you get over-18 or over-21 shows. last night we played in Philadelphia, and you could tell there were loads of fans there. they weren't jumping about, though.
C: They don't mosh or anything, but they were just like ... (stands, claps)
P: I know if I went to see a band, I'd be jumping around.
F: Do you think it's just the 4ad audience?
C: I don't know, really.
P: Maybe our audience has just grown up a bit since our last (U.S.) tour.
C: At home we've got a younger audience and more there's of them. we've got the radio hit. I don't really like that - we've been doing these radio shows, and everybody knows one song and they're not really big fans of the band, so you play the whole set, and then you play the song that everybody knows and they're like "yeah!"
P: Or then there's the other extreme where they'll mosh to anything. as long as it's in the top ten they'll mosh to it, regardless of what the song is. our audience is a bit in the middle, I think.
F: Well, I talked to you guys at Lollapalooza 2, and you thought that the problem would be that you'd play, and no one would know you, and they'd just stand there and stare. would you rather have everybody know just the one song or have them all just stand there?
C: I suppose it's a start if they do, but I really don't like it. in England, we've picked up a younger audience because of the two singles, these 15 year-old-girls, and they don't know about us - they think we're a new band.
P: That's the difference between here, where we play the older stuff, because people go crazy for "Sweetness and Light," whereas in England they know "Ladykillers" and "Single Girl."
F: Yeah, about the sound of this record - why does it sound so much different than Split? that was just 2 years ago.
P: I think a lot of people haven't even listened to the group in years, really, and suddenly heard the record and go "God, this sounds different that Spooky, which was 4 or 5 years ago, rather than Split, which they haven't heard.
C: You've got stuff like "Hypocrite" on Split, which isn't dissimilar to "Ladykillers -"
P: "Hypocrite" could have been on this album ...
C: But there's stuff on Lovelife, like "tra la la" and "last night," which are not dissimilar to something like "Never Never."
P: The reviews saying "Oh, Lush have transformed themselves" - these people haven't seen the band since we were called shoegazers in 91 or whatever.
F: Well, you guys didn't get much airplay with Split at all - do you think that's part of the problem? the last we heard of Lush was "For Love."
P: The management and record company expected Split, just on the back of Lollapalooza and that, to sell millions of records, and it just didn't happen, really. We didn't expect it to happen, but they did. We didn't get any radio play. in England, we got reasonable airplay, but it still didn't sell.
C: I think the thing was, it was Lush fans who got it, but we didn't pick up any new ones, do you know what I mean? so we were still doing 1,000 capacity places, and selling them out. so it wasn't depressing in that way, but it was still bad. It didn't sell that much - we couldn't even get fucking arrested. It didn't get played on the radio ... I don't know why it's changed. It don't know if we've changed or ... the last time we were around it was more of a grunge thing, with a lot of American bands getting played a lot.
P: We still play the songs live, and people really like them, even if they didn't buy the record.
F: But "Ladykillers" is getting a lot of play over here on MTV and the radio. why do you think that song is?
C: The video (for "Ladykillers") has helped. it's actually a good video.
P: Yeah, it came out alright. Warner Brothers told us they wanted to go with an American director on this one, and we were like "okay," and we're really pleased with it. It was one of the best videos we've done.
C: It was quite expensive, but it looks good. we've done videos before, and the director will come in and say "right, we'll do this and that ..."
P: ... with no concept ...
C: And then you spend a day doing it, you see the final results and it's like, "God, that's shit." but this bloke, actually, dunno, had it right. It looks good. It's quite cool. it's quite hard, and it's quite dark, and it's not the typical MTV video.
F: Like "champagne supernova?"
C: Exactly. and the the song's a bit ... it's really quite a catchy song, and it sounds good on the radio. I can see why people picked up on that song.
F: A lot of people here say that it sounds like Elastica. not because you particularly sound like them, but it's just that sort of song. does that bother you?
P: Back home, nobody says it sounds like Elastica. they say it all sounds like sleeper or Echobelly.
F: But over here, no one knows who they are ...
C: It's annoying, in a way, because we've been going so much longer. I mean, they're good friends of ours, and they're a really good band, but Elastica's not the most original band in the world, are they?
P: Well, ...
C: I think it's a bit ... we've been at it for a long time, and we've been writing songs in that vein for a long time. I just think the production and the basic tune are so different, it's like ... you're bound to get defensive about it.
F: The production change - was that a conscious decision?
C: We used our live sound engineer on the album. We needed someone we could get on with. We wanted to get it to sound ...
P: We were halfway there on Split, and when it came time to get Split remixed, especially the drums, it was pathetic. a lot of people came to shows and told us how great, how dynamic we sounded live, how it was so different than on the record.
F: Yeah, a big difference, I think, is that you can hear the bass on the new record.
C: It used to get lost.
P: [producer] Alan Moulder did a good job - he saved Split, really, because it sounded so flat, but it still sounded so tinny.
C: I think the drums sounded flat and all that, but what we had hadn't been finished, and it really was sort of rough.
F: What about the vocals - bringing them up must help with the radio airplay.
P: I think it definitely helped. I think Miki's more comfortable with singing now. but look at "Hyprocite" - the vocals on Split were up there as well.
P: Miki got frustrated in the past when people used to run around thinking the songs were about flowers and running around when they weren't at all.
F: The songwriting has changed a bit, though - I think it has more of a rock feel to it. The guitars are tighter, there's less echo, it's not all 12-strings ...
P: The structure of the songs hasn't changed. Before, it was all going through the mixing desk. This time, it wasn't about effects, it's more about using different guitars, just traditional music. Using Marshall amps in the studio.
C: It just seemed right for the songs. There's less effects and stuff ... well, again, there's stuff, but ... with Pete [Bartlett] it was more like doing stuff live, that approach.
P: It's strange working with a producer - someone comes in who you don't really know, and you have to trust them with your songs and your sound. With Pete, we've known him for years, and it's much easier to work with him. It was a lot easier for to make suggestions to us, and we were less defensive about it.
C: People probably thought the Lush sound was spooky, and that was what we were after, which wasn't really they case - it was the sound on that record. Mike Hedges was doing something which he thought was it, but it was halfway between what we were then and what we are now.
P: It's quite an 80s sound. his influences were Siouxsie and the Banshees and the Sugarcubes.
C: Yeah, in the end, Mike ended up being the only person we could get to do it. We found someone, but it probably wasn't the right choice.
P: it was a problem with our management, because they kept saying "are the songs being written? good. oh, don't worry about the producer, we'll sort that later," and of course by the time we were ready, everyone we wanted either didn't want to work with us or couldn't give us 9 months time to do it.
F: Some songs, though, like "Ciao!" wouldn't have fit into the last album. how did that song come about, especially with Jarvis singing on it?
C: That was a novelty song. I said to Miki, 'I'll write a duet.' I wanted to write one like Nancy Sinatra or ruby Hazelwood. it's like a fucking country song; it's totally sort of tongue-in-cheek. it wasn't written with Jarvis in mind, but it just happened that in the end, I didn't want to sing on it and we'd have to get someone else. Jarvis was asked to do it. we thought he'd be too big, too busy, too successful to do it, and he did it. It's just a stupid, kitschy song. it wouldn't have fit in anywhere else. well, it's not that it wouldn't have fit in, but we never 've done anything like this before.
F: Have you heard from longtime fans? How do they feel about the way you sound now?
C: I'm sure there're people who like "Desire Lines" and "Never Never" and all the the epics with all the guitar effects. I'm sure we'll lose fans who'll go on to something else. Well, I don't think you actually lose fans, people just move on to other things and decide they don't like what we're doing or whatever, but I'd like to think there are a lot of people who are happy that we've sort of moved on. In England, I mean, we really have a new group of fans ...
P: In England, we lost a lot of fans with Split, and then we picked up a lot of younger fans with this album.
F: Well, it used to be ... you know, you guys were out there on 4AD ...
P: shoegazers and all that ...
F: Right, and now people say "oh Lush, they're britpop!"
C: It doesn't mean a fucking thing. it's a bit of an insult. I won't lose sleep over it. Britpop is anything from Blur to Oasis to Elastica to the Boo Radleys. there are a lot of great fucking English bands in England. I suppose there are a lot of bad new bands, which always happens when you get some sort of a movement, but the only thing these bands have in common is that they're English. In a couple years, it won't be anything. It'll be something else, a whole new lot of bands against the world.
C: We've always lived through movements, whatever they were. We've never been very successful, but we've always survived.
P: We've always ridden on the cusp of the wave.
C: I don't think it's a big deal. It doesn't matter. But I'm happy with the way everything turned out. This was going to be a year that was very important, just to see what was going to happen in the future. It was the end of a record contract, so we had to do well.
P: But way things went, even before the record came out, was very positive. Recording this time was pretty effortless, and the last two times were disastrous. We got new management in who were much more positive ...
C: and 4AD were really good. This time ... I mean, we really don't do things in England in a pop context.
P: We're always the underachievers.
C: This time we wanted to get in the charts, and we wanted to obviously sell more records than we did with Split, which sold half as many as Spooky. So they did all their marketing strategies.
P: If we hadn't gotten in the charts, we'd have been really depressed.
C: This would have been a really depressing tour.
C: I dunno.
P: (to Chris) this has?
C: Would have been.
P: Oh. would have been, yeah.
C: When things are going well, you feel quite ... I mean, we would have come to America and done the same thing as what we're doing now. I think we tend to come to America and go, "at least do alright in America." we do so well in England, so it's like, you still have to go back there. It's sort of a cop out, but we've done well there so we're happy to leave in that way, and we know we're going to go back and do more. So it's a nice feeling to do well here.
F: It must be, because I know people who thought you guys didn't exist for a while.
P: What, during Split? I know people in England who didn't even know we had it out. There was no promotion on it, and it came out at such a dead time.
F: Do you have any plans to build on this for your next album?
P: We're doing the b-sides with Pete now. When it comes to the next record, we learned so much doing this one that when it comes time for the next record, it will be a much better album.
C: I still think we could do a much better album. This one isn't great. I think it's good, but we could certainly do much more adventurous work. We always start off saying we could put these weird sounds in and all that ...
P: That's the best part of doing b-sides: You can be more adventurous, and take more risks.
C: I don't know. I think it's still ...
F: What's your biggest problem with it?
C: I don't know ... I guess you know ... I'd say about 2/3 of it I really like, and the other third ... I'd like to do an album where every song was a brilliant, and you just heard it and you couldn't follow it, but I don't suppose anyone really does.
P: Especially now with CDs, where albums are longer 50-60 minutes long, and you have to get them perfect.
F: Do you feel pressured to write enough songs for the albums?
P: I think the only pressure is writing enough good songs for the b-sides, especially in England. you have all these different formats. You've got to have seven extra songs for each single.
C: I think it's always difficult to know what to use. I think we ended up with about 20 songs - what to leave on the album and what to leave off. It's easier for someone else to decide. But there isn't really a pressure. There was less pressure this time. all the songs were written before we started going "which one's going to be the single?" "what's going to be the radio track?" before, it's always been "well, ..."
P: The first single, "Single Girl," we all thought was just a b-side.
C: Sometimes it's down to how you play it. That song is sort of effortless to play.
F: At first, that song sort of reminded me of Sleeper.
P: In England, you say that and you'd get people going, "hmmmm."
C: That's okay, though.
F: It's not always a bad thing to be compared to Sleeper.
C: I don't mind Sleeper, though. But the English press is building up this thing about whether we hate them or not, but they're really nice people.
P: We did Top of the Pops, and Louise Werner was introducing it, and she was on the side singing "Ladykillers."
F: What are your plans right now?
P: We finish this tour on the 17th of May, and then we have a week-and-a-half off, and come back and do radio promo shows for about two weeks - we're playing one here with a lot of other bands - and then we're back to England for the summer festivals. Then I don't know - we might come back here to open for some band.
C: It's depressing, really.
P: Yeah, it was. There was talk of us opening for the Stone Temple Pilots, but he's gone to rehab or something.
C: I don't think you should say that - it's libel.
F: But he has, so it's alright.
F: One more thing: you said that ... do you think that American fans are less fickle than British fans?
C: Yeah, definitely. it's less sort of fashion-based. The people in control of the radio and the TV are controlled by people who know they've got power and don't have to worry.
P: Yeah, in England you've got one big radio station.
C: So once they say,. "yeah, britpop!" ...
P: In England you've also got the weekly music press, so they've always got to have something new, and once you're no longer new, they're a bit begrudging with success. Here, it's such a slow process. "Ladykillers" has been on the radio and it's just getting added to more stations and to MTV now, whereas in England it'll be on the charts the first week and then drop out.
C: In England, it's so easy. you just get your radio play. Here, you could probably tour for two years and sell millions of copies, but you just have to do so much graft. Bands like the toadies have sold a million copies, but they've been on the road for a year and a half. I'm just like "you're fucking mad!"
P: I do think it's good that you have to do that sort of stuff - you can see the difference when you get over here. because in England, it won't work. You have to get the radio play. You have to get promotion in the papers.
F: Yeah, I know Melody Maker puts Oasis on the cover almost every week ...
P: Exactly. They put anybody on the cover they think it's going to sell papers.
C: I know it's been a bit embarrassing for the NME, since they sort of back Blur more than they do Oasis.
F: Any final words?
C: Final words? Hmmm. We refused to play the 9:30 Club last time we were here because it was such a fucking ...
F: With the rats running around?
C: Yeah, exactly. It has that reputation. So we played here, it was the worst sound we've ever had - like a cavern or something. What was it? the radio something?
F: The Radio Music Hall.
C: Yeah, but this is very nice. It has a great sound.
P: It sounded very good on stage.
F: Okay, last question. you guys don't seem to get very much press. everyone seems to focus on Miki and Emma.
C: I wonder why that is? Don't you think that's just what happens in life?
P: It's what happens in any group. I think it's because they're the songwriters.
C: It's not such a problem, you know. We always feel a bit weird when, say, you come to do an interview and it's only me and Phil so you're like "oh, fuck" and get all disappointed. Naw, it's the way the bands all run. I think it's because they write the song and it's got nothing to do with them being female.
P: I think it could be much worse. You could have a sleeper situation where all the photos and stories are just Louise. with us, it's predominately group shots. occasionally it's just Miki or Emma, but usually not. But we've started writing now, so all that could change.