It's not easy being Lush sometimes. I mean, you gotta be all sweetness and light for the press, when really all you wanna do is make music. *sigh*.
Sitting in a midtown hotel at noon after what has clearly been a trying couple of days, Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson, guitarists and vocalists of Lush, are not exactly upbeat on their lives as rock stars. Miki is sprawled on her publicist's bed (he's asleep on the floor), looking like she just rolled out of her own, and Emma keeps blowing her nose. Miki tells me an anecdote about a horrific photo shoot the day before with a ditsy stylist (Miki's cool accent turned "stupid" into "shtoopid") putting strange purple lace dresses and globs of dark eye makeup on her. Emma mentions a bunch of annoying interviews they've had with people who seemed like they were just there to meet the band (some even brought their friends). This being my first story about a band on a major label, I was sort of hoping to catch them in a better mood.
I resolved to commiserate with them in their gloom, and started
by talking about this weird meet 'n' greet dinner the band had at an
East Village Indian restaurant a couple nights before. It was full
of industry types as well as suckers like me unwilling to pass up
free Korma and Miki and Emma, thankfully, didn't seem to enjoy these
kind of things. "You're in a band and you want to play music and
write songs," Emma said, "but there's all this other stuff that you
feel you have to do and you don't really want to do it, but you feel
that you're pushed into it."
Miki echoed her sentiments, saying of the big-biz guys, "What
they've tried to do is make it a kind of organized thing, like 'Here
they are, here's the band: Everyone has to get on really well and
everyone has to walk away going "They're really nice." ' It's a sort
of forced situation that just really doesn't work."
I can relate to that, seeing as how I never even met them that
night because there were so many other people currying (whoops)
their favor and because it felt really odd to just walk up to a
total stranger while they were eating dinner. Anyway, Emma summed
this up nicely: "It's weird making people in bands be that corporate
because in a way you feel that we're standing against that, that's
why you want to be in a band."
That's pretty cool, I'm thinking. These guys were right to be weary of me.
No! No! Not another interview!
I have to confess that I still think of the gorgeous distortion melody of "Sweetness and Light," off 1991's compilation LP, Gala, when I hear the name Lush. I mention this only because I think it's true for other people and to be clear that Lovelife, their fifth album, really sounds nothing like that. It is a record of simpler and more deliberately structured songs that range in style from the punky pop of the edgy "Runaway" and the catchy "Ladykillers" (the first single) to full-on ballads like "Papasan" and "Olympia."
Miki and Emma, the two met at school at North London Polytechnic,
again share songwriting duties, each contributing a half-dozen
songs. Emma's "500," a splendid piece of bubblegum pop, is the
album's most lasting track. The movement away from the ethereal
sounds on Gala and '92's Spooky (both of which were produced by
Cocteau Twin Robin Guthrie, except for one of the compiled EPs on
Gala) continues on Lovelife, which is in essence a more mature and
more accessible album than anything Lush, which also includes
drummer Chris Acland and bassist Phil King, has done before.
As Miki explained this progression, "It's weird because I think
we actually did everything topsy-turvy, because the first album that
we made properly, which was Spooky, was such a studio album, no
amps, just loads of effects. A lot of people go the other way: they
sort of do what they sound like and then go into the studio
experimentation as they get into later albums. [On Lovelife], we
were trying to get back to the band's original sound."
In some ways, Lush's sound on each record, including their last
album, Split, produced by Mike Hedges has been a result of the whims
of the record's producer. Pete Bartlett, Lush's longtime soundman,
co-produced the latest album with the band (he also produced the
most recent Kitchens of Distinction effort), and they seem to have
found a fit with him.
"We've gotten to the point where we really want to just make the
record we want to make," Emma said, "Just go into the studio and be
comfortable with the person."
"Also, going into making this record," Miki concurred, "we did know how we wanted the songs to sound, it was just a matter of finding someone who could achieve that. We didn't want a producer who was gonna come on with a completely different sound."
And don't even get them started on corporate producers...
I sensed a feeling of the band having been burnt or misrepresented by past producers, who may have, it seems, given Lush a trademark sound they perhaps never fully intended. Nonetheless, the departure on Lovelife was no mistake; "We certainly didn't think we were gonna make another Spooky with this record," Miki explained, "I mean, we did want it to be much more clear and succinct." Noting the end of the shoegazer era, Emma said, "I think we'd come to the end of the line with all that effected sound. We just wanted to experiment in a different way with instruments and natural sounds."
Which brings us to another twist on the new album: the use of
horns and strings. Tracks like "Tralala" and "Ciao!" (which features
Pulp's Jarvis Cocker helping out on vocals) are accented by the
horns of ska guy Terry Edwards and violin and cello played by,
according to Miki, a woman named Audrey. When asked what prompted
this new approach, which is only evident on a couple of tracks, Miki
said, "It just fit with the songs. Even before we started recording,
Emma had written certain parts that she wanted for horns. We worked
with this woman, Audrey [Shield], and we never really write string
parts, so it was kind of like, 'Well, this song needs strings,' and
we just sort of left it to her." Simple enough, I suppose.
They didn't want to bother with America, but America bothered with them.
It was a bit awkward for me asking Miki and Emma about why they had changed their style when I sort of liked them better with all the feedback. I then realized that very few of the bands from that wave of British noise in the late 80s and early 90s have survived. Figuring I could engage them in that English tradition of band gossip, I asked the gals why that might be. "A lot of those bands really didn't bother coming to America," Miki explained. "There was a point where Ride was doing it, but they gave up on America as well. They just sort of thought, We can't be bothered." I recalled being frustrated by this fact because all these great bands were releasing incredible, innovative music that I had to pay dearly to listen to as imports, but then virtually none of them seemed to even consider coming Stateside. "Our whole approach has been a bit different than a lot of those bands," Miki insisted. "We always toured more for one. Others did three weeks in the U.K., two in Europe, and then maybe one or two shows in the U.S." Lush, on the other hand, toured for nearly two years following the release of Spooky, including a spot as the opening act on Lollapalooza, and a healthy tour with fellow 4AD artists Mojave 3 (featuring former members of Slowdive) and Scheer for Lovelife begins this month.
That discussion segued into talk of the money side of music. Miki
expressed a hearty disdain for the gobbling up of next big things
after the thing is way past over. "It's almost too common the way
bands are signed now," she commented. "The sort of money these
people are talking about, it's equivalent to offering us a million
dollars or something to sign when we had Gala." I wanted to know
what role dough plays in the life of Lush. "Well you don't sit there
thinking, Oh, is this mix going to be radio-friendly," Emma began,
"but obviously you do hope people like it and buy it. Some people
say, 'Oh, we're just doing this for ourselves,' but I don't think
anyone really means that." Have to agree there. Referring to the
charting of the band's first U.K. single off the new record, "Single
Girl," Miki said, "It's so much smaller. It's like being in the Top
20 in California."
Curious about the future of the band, considering how bummed these two seemed after a few days of press duties, I asked if there was an end in sight, and was hastily told "No." Emma mentioned how she loved the lack of a routine and Miki told me how much she was looking forward to getting back on the road. Perhaps I did just catch them on a bad day.