by Liz Evans
The band that time forgot have escaped from
the rent-a-ligger wilderness. You wrote them off, but Lush have
returned as the perfect pop outfit. And they look divine, darling...
Trussed up in feathers and sequins in a West London studio, scarlet-dressed frontwoman Miki Berenyi is aiming a champagne bottle at the eye of a camera. Balanced precariously atop glittering silver heels, guitarist Emma Anderson is more worried about breaking her ankle than toasting a healthy chart position with Brut. But there's no chance of drinking anything stronger than a cup of tea this morning because later Lush are due to record their second Top Of The Pops appearance this year. Even with two top thirty hits under their belts in as many months Lush aren't popping any corks in private.
You'd be forgiven for expecting Miki and Emma to be triumphantly swaggering and staggering about with as much splendour and glee as all this razzle dazzle glamour suggests. After all, aren't Lush the band famous for doing nothing other than turning up at other people's parties because their own all stopped dead eons ago? Haven't they provided little more than gossip column inches for the last three or four years with their cider slamming, public snogging and manic dance floor antics? Perceived as perennial attention-seekers, shouldn't they be feeling thoroughly vindicated by this final recognition of their musical prowess?
'Everyone's expecting us to go 'Ooh brilliant! We've made it!' But they don't remember that we have sold records before' says Emma sitting next to Miki in a Camden pub some twelve hours earlier. 'In 1992 'Spooky' went to number seven, and all of our singles have made the top 50. What really annoys me is this attitude that we were shit before, that we were all shoey, ethereal, floaty vocal bollocks. People have such short memories.'
When Lush started, they were anything but ethereal. Outgoing, witty and bright, Miki is what you might call a life enthusiast, while Emma's manner is quieter, although not necessarily more reserved. But, like everyone, they have their dark sides. Each grew up feeling pig-ugly, insecure and alienated. An only child, Emma was a chubby adolescent whose mother wanted her to take domestic science courses and get married, while Miki was deserted by both parents at the age of 11, and left to live with her insane Hungarian grandmother. Meeting at Queens College, a posh London girl's school, they both felt completely ostracized by their rich, snotty classmates, and found solace in music. They ended up hanging out at small, smelly London venues, watching dodgy goth and anarcho punk bands, before acquiring guitars and knocking out their own material, Short stints with forgettably raucous bands ensued, before Miki met bassist Steve Rippon (later replaced by Phil King) and drummer Chris Acland at the Polytechnic of North London. Lush was finally, and painlessly, born.
'Coming from a scene where every audience member was in a band, it just seemed quite easy to get up on stage in a student bar and play. People said we were punk rock for starting our career without any showcase gigs!' laughs Miki.
Despite their shambolic live sets, the music press caught on, and 4AD offered them a record deal. Their first three EPs were jangly, swirling affairs, but Cocteau Twin Robin Guthrie's otherworldly production of 1992's 'Spooky' swamped the album in a hazy, golden mire. Lush returned in 1994 with 'Split', an album that positively sparkled with pristine pop songs. With their bright, brash image, catchy melodies and party animal attitude, Lush were arguably the forerunners of Britpop bands like Sleeper, Echobelly and Menswear, yet they didn't manage to shake off the shoegazer fallout, and they dropped out of sync with the times. 'Split' plummeted in Britain, and Lush were deemed to be failures, has-beens, no-hopers. Miki and Emma, who'd put their hearts and souls into what they considered to be their finest moment, slipped into despair.
'I was really depressed after 'Split',' admits Miki, staring into her pint, 'Really depressed. I couldn't think about anything, except 'What the fuck do I do now?' When it came to writing 'Lovelife' I was just sitting around going, 'Well I don't know how to write a better album, I really don't.' Everything I came up with wasn't better than what I'd done before, so it obviously wouldn't be 'good' enough. I ended up thinking, 'Well maybe I'm just really shit at this.''
Self belief was restored when Lush eventually sacked their manager. Howard Gough had told them 'Split' was the best album in the whole world ever, until it failed to sell half a million copies, whereupon he declared it to be crap, and told them they should be writing songs like Blur, The Cranberries and Pearl jam. With 4AD's Ivo Watts-Russell away setting up a new American camp, Gough convinced Miki and Emma that they were completely washed up, but on replacing him with Peter Felstead who takes care of the Boo Radleys, they realized that things were never that bad. America still wanted them, 4AD still wanted them. And, most importantly, as a band they were still in one piece. 'At one point I thought Chris was going to leave,' admits Miki, 'And I thought the band was going to fall apart. Me and Emma would have carried on 'cos we have our songwriting, but Phil and Chris are out of control. They don't know what the fuck's going on until we say, 'Right, here are the songs.''
'I did go through a phase where I thought, 'Well, I'm not really doing anything with my life,'' confirms Chris later, 'It was almost like I was waiting for someone else to do it for me, because me and Phil don't write the songs. It makes you feel a bit useless. I didn't want to carry on living like a student, either. When you start heading towards 30, you want to get out of that, because it's so easy to drift. It's quite an undignified existence, being in a band, really. After a while you begin to feel like a bit of a fake. And it ties you to London. Really, I'd like to make loads of cash and buy a big country house.'
'There was a point before 'Split' came out when I thought I was going to leave too, actually,' confesses Phil, who previously passed through seven failed bands, 'But I didn't really think about what else I'd do. Last year I spent a few weeks working at a music paper doing the gig listings for a bit of extra cash, and I just thought, God, having a nine to five job again would he hell'
Dreams of country life and clerical nightmares have all since been laid to rest. Miki and Emma steeled themselves, went back to the drawing board, overcame their confidence crises and came up with 'Lovelife', an album full of infectious pop betters and softer, sweeter, but equally memorable tunes. In February 'Single Girl' broke the band's long silence and stormed into the charts at number 21, with its follow-up, 'Ladykillers', whizzing in at number 22 in March. Contrary to popular opinion, these songs do not mean that Miki and Emma have become vicious man-hating harpies, nor do they chart the deterioration of Miki's five- year relationship with John Best, of top Britpop publicists, Savage and Best.
'I do have a real problem writing songs about stuff that I'm right in the middle of actually,' explains Miki, 'John used to get pissed off that I never wrote any songs about him, but I used to say, 'Well you know all the songs I write about people are really horrible!' I remember reading this interview with Elvis Costello, and he was saying that he couldn't remember who half his songs were about, and that that was the trouble with being an adulterer and a songwriter. I completely empathize with that, because you don't want to hurt the people around you. But I do think some people wanted to believe I'd written about John because he's in the music business, and he's successful, and they wanted ammunition against him.'
The same applies to Emma, who split with her long-term boyfriend over a year ago. Submerged among the more general references are at least a few which deal specifically with him.
'Single Girl' wasn't autobiographical, but 'Here Before' is about a few people, and how when they split up with me they got a new girlfriend and they wouldn't even talk to me. I'm only friendly with one ex because of that.
'I mean, one of my boyfriends went out with someone for seven years before me, and he said to me, 'Don't worry, I won't see her.' I told him he ought to. Seven years is such a big part of your life. But I think he wanted us both to be jealous. He'd even tell me she couldn't look in the music papers in case I was in them!'
'That behaviour is completely alien to me,' spits Miki, 'If I went out with someone who told me I couldn't speak to John, I'd just say tough shit, it's none of your fucking business!
With such a long and chequered history, maybe it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise after all that Lush are somewhat disenchanted with their new-found success. They're pleased with it, but not impressed by it. There's been too much water under the bridge for them simply to blot out the past in a flurry of television appearances and Radio One playlists.
'I still feel cheated by what happened to us, especially over 'Split',' says Emma, 'And I think the rigging thing has got a lot to do with it. People would see us out and they couldn't equate us with our floaty little songs. If Mazzy Star write a floaty song that's OK, because they have that mystique about them.'
'We're expected to sound like Serious Drinking or something,' continues Miki. 'It's weird because when we're out, we meet all these people and they're quite glad to see us, then they write about our music and say we're just a load of wasters.
I mean, at the end of the day I go to these parties because they're fun. I go along and have a laugh and I see people I know and like, and these are the people I end up talking to. I'm not desperate to have a conversation with Michael Hutchence! I do think a lot of people are jealous actually, because they want that to be their social life. The thing is, that isn't our whole social life, most of those people aren't real friends of mine'
Gossip columnists take note. But if you don't see much of Lush this year, it won't be because they're sitting at home. After a massive 25-date UK tour, America is beckoning for the band that time forgot. This time round, instead of crashing other people's parties, they'll no doubt be throwing a few of their own.