Magazine Archive

Home -> Magazines -> Issues -> Articles in this issue -> View

What Katy Did

Kate Bush

Article from International Musician & Recording World, October 1985

A new studio, a new LP. Tony Harkins isn't beating around the Bush

Two years ago Kate Bush disappeared from public view apparently destined for obscurity. Where has she been? What did Katy do?

"It looks too pretty to be good."

Kate Bush said that. At the time she was referring to a grand piano sitting elegantly within the confines and privacy of her own recording studio deep in the heart of Kent. Many people saw Kate herself in a similar light when she was launched on an unsuspecting public as long ago as 1978. Five albums later and she's still pretty, but has since proved she's good with it.

In a converted cottage, Kate Bush has gone 48 track. She doesn't live there, but with the amount of time she spends recording she might as well. Her and engineer/bass player/Linn programmer/boyfriend Del Palmer have been piecing together Hounds Of Love, her latest album, for almost two years. After mixing with no-one other than session musicians and engineers for such a long period, getting back onto the publicity treadmill is a bit of a struggle. The Daily Mail, Times and Terry Wogan all want a little piece of her, but today it's tech talk with IM&RW. As photographer 'Crazy' George pins her against the wall for another roll of echtochrome Kate smiles uncomfortably. Mind you, if you saw Crazy George you'd understand why...

Even though Kate now owns her own studio, it's on a home eight track that the spark of ideas is ignited.

"We live near to this studio but it's still a way, so it's good to have something to write on at home. Sometimes we bring the eight track in and transfer it onto the 24 track just to keep the original spark. All the tracks on this album are what were originally put down as demos turned into masters. It's a Soundcraft eight track and at first we used a lot of the outboard gear we've got here in the studio. I don't have a lot more at home now."

With the material from this album written and put into demo form at the same time, transferring the original recordings was a must.

"It's an old story really, but recreating the atmosphere of those demos is virtually impossible. I was determined this time to make that all part of the process. It effects the whole attitude towards recording because you've actually got the thing there, and you're just filling it in."

Using the equipment to help write the songs obviously creates a different type of song, and Hounds Of Love doesn't feature many songs you could just sing with a guitar.

"I think the songs are as much the production as anything really. All the songs that you like there's always those little licks in the back that you always sing in between the song because it's all part of it. Definitely people like Buddy Holly were well sussed about that, being really firm about wanting to produce it from the word go because it was all part of the song.

"A lot of the songs were based around just writing at the Fairlight, which was quite new for me. I suppose it's like the difference between writing on piano or guitar, except with the Fairlight there's so many different sounds that create the atmosphere that then you would work to."

For Kate, writing on the Fairlight involves picking a sound that suits her mood and working melodies around riffs and chords. A lot of the sounds she's using now are her own samples.

"I think the songs are as much the production as anything really"

"I've just invested in a Nagra — the analogue recording machine. The second side of the album has a theme running through it and there were lots of sound effects we had to get. Normally you know what you're going out to record before you go because you've got the song and you know you might, for example, need some 'sea' here. Trying to get a bit of sea is unbelievable. We got in sound effects albums but they're awful — so noisy, or it's the wrong kind of sea. I'd never really thought about the wrong and right kind of sea before, but as soon as you put it in context with the track you suddenly realise there's all different kinds of sea."

Obviously one of the main advantages of having your own studio is the fact that you can search for that right bit of sea without the clock ticking away reminding you of how much it's costing. This freedom to experiment is the most rewarding part of her new possession, which is one of the reasons the album took her the time it did.

"But also a lot of the initial time was settling into the studio... actually we had very few problems considering we were just coming straight into it to work on a professional basis."

Contrary to popular belief the studio was put together on a budget — so SSLs were out. On recommendation for quality and for price she went for a Soundcraft desk and recorder.

"We worked with that for the first two or three weeks and just felt that we could have had a machine that was better for what we wanted to do at that time. So we ended up getting a Studer and using the Soundcraft as a slave and getting a Q-Lock."

Rather than settle for a plate echo, Kate decided to get an assortment of "little black boxes".

"They're all good because they're all so different, but my favourite is the Quantec. It's got a kind of coldness and a sort of a true feeling of being in different places with some of the sounds. I also like their approach to it — it's actually a room simulator, where you can actually create the room size that you want, and the freeze facility is really useful. Putting it on voices really puts you in the environment, which is so important when you're trying to create a picture and a mood."

One thing that characterises Kate Bush recordings is the variety of vocal textures and styles. Is it the careful application of Eq and reverb, or the control of technique?

"I think it's a bit of both. My approach is that each song almost has its own personality in a way, and you have to approach each song according to its temperament. It's always the song that dictates what to do. If it's a very spacious song and its got something cold and sad then you go for that cold feel. It's just trying to make the mood as accurate as possible, and definitely the outboard gear is a very big part of that."

"I think what's in vogue isn't really something that concerns me"

Drumming up that hill

Sometimes the vocals and related backing vocals play such a large part in the arrangement of the song that you'd imagine them to have been worked out on a keyboard.

"I very rarely do that. I think the only time I did that was on the third album where I put a piano part down and literally translated that into vocals. Otherwise it's at the writing process that I'll sing a line and I can hear here's an answer line that needs to do that. Otherwise when I make the demo, or in this case the initial master, you can hear this little hole saying 'Fill me up please' and I play the tape over and over until I've got a bit that's right."

When the melodies are written, the layering begins.

"If I want something distant and really thick then I'll probably layer it up a lot. Somethings I'll put four voices on and you think it should be much bigger, and until you get to about 10 you might not notice that much difference. There again, if you're using different voices it will thicken up much quicker — like using a slightly different tone or maybe some varispeed."

Although she prefers to do her vocals in the control room, noisy equipment and a good ambient sound in the main studio area keep her out. Now she's working with Del in a relaxed environment she's got the time and inclination to try as many takes as it needs.

"Normally with the lead vocal on average I put six tracks of voices down and I'd keep going until we had six tracks that were good enough to choose from. Some songs were very quick, and most of them were done in a day. It's more things like backing vocals and little bits that either we couldn't get the right sound or I couldn't get the right emotion.

"Depending on how the takes have gone I might start dissecting it. Emotionally, though, it's must better to do a take in one because you can get a natural build."

As you'd imagine from hearing her enormous vocal range, she did have vocal tuition as a child.

"I used to go to a guy for about half an hour a week and I used to sit and play with my songs that I'd written, and we'd do a couple of scales and breathing exercises. What he really did for me that was so important was to give me confidence about singing.

"Lyrics are the part of the process that I find incredibly tedious"

"I think my voice has changed a lot, and as you get older and work your voice the more it changes. I think mine is stronger now than it's ever been before."

But Kate's not merely a singer. As a pianist and songwriter the Fairlight was an obvious acquisition, and for the past few years she's been using it extensively. However, it doesn't often replace conventional instruments.

"There was one song, for example, that I wrote on the Fairlight playing string sound chords, and we demod it like that. But then I thought it would just be so much better with real strings, because you can't possibly beat them really. It would be a joke to even pretend you can.

"There was this other one where the song was written and I wanted these cello bits to come in so I wrote them on the Emulator. Then I got a cello player in because a good musician makes something of them."

Surprisingly Kate also still uses real drummers.

"I think what's in vogue isn't really something that concerns me. There is a drum machine on the album — a lot of the demos were originally written with drum machine and in a lot of cases a bit of the drum machine actually remains. It was more making things work that, and straight drums were right. I don't think I'm actually fond of the drum kit — I never have been. But the acoustics of real drums — toms and various ethnic drums — sound really good. The nearest we got to using an acoustic kit was just a bass drum and snare.

"The Linn was actually taking a lot of the weight on the tracks. Sometimes I'd get a drummer to replace the Linn in layers. It's different for every song — one he played a sort of ethnic drum all the way through but the bass drum and snare were off the Linn."

With the music and vocal patterns down, a finished lyric is the bit that comes next — the part that Kate has the most trouble with.

"That's the part of the process that I find incredibly tedious. It's horrific. Initially I find I get half of the lyrics, or maybe three quarters, and the rest aren't good enough. Sometimes it's a third and it really is tough. In a way it's even harder — if you've got half the lyrics because the second half has to work with the first half."

But an even a bigger problem than writing lyrics is recording a piano.

"Definitely the most difficult thing to record. It's really hard to get a good sound. The piano here is a Grotrian Steinveg, but really I like pianos that are a little bit old, though quite often they're not up to the kind of standards for professional recordings. This one's very new — it's a bit middy really and you have to work the Eq around it. It's good though because this room's quite live so we've used PZMs a lot of the time, and a close mike so we can use a combination of the two. Occasionally we'll add a bit of reverb at the mix stage.

"I was a bit concerned when I first saw this piano because it just looked too pretty to be good."

Which is where we started...


(The making of the single)

Running Up That Hill all started off on the Fairlight. I just found this sound that I thought was a brilliant sound for the riff, and I knew I wanted a military drone-like atmosphere that would surround it all. I asked Del to set a Linn pattern — I sung him the part — and he got that together, and we set that to play the pattern round and round and I worked out the vocal that would go over the top. The lyrics for the first verse came straight away. I stuck it down like that with the voice. Fairlight and drum machine on my home eight track.

"Then we started work on the drone. We froze a three or four note chord from the Fairlight into the Quantec. Already it was quite there, so the next stage we transferred the eight track to the 24 track and we kept the original Fairlight; I added new Fairlight playing the same part because the problem was the sample was actually very noisy. It was called a harp, but it wasn't one. Eventually, although the Linn pattern was used for a long time, we actually ended up putting it down again over more tracks.

"Then we got Stuart (Elliott, drummer) in, and because the Linn pattern was so full in itself it was just a matter of him sticking a snare down. The original Linn pattern had a snare down, but it's not very good and needed bolstering up. We needed something at the end so he put down some very dramatic fills that were a combination of three different sounds, including something on the Fairlight.

"Then I put the backing vocals down, which apart from the weird ones at the end were done at demo stage, but we re-did them. Paddy (Bush, brother) came in and put down some balalaika on the choruses to give them sort of push, Del put some bass down that was very much in there with the toms to emphasise that rhythmic feel, then it just needed something at the end. I put some freak-out voices over it all and all it needed was a guitar to finally build it."


A slave to 48 track

Thanks to Del Palmer for the following on the studio...

"Well, we've got a half rack of Keepex 2's, which are just noise gates and useful for drums and things, keeps the outside noise down and for drums you can get the great gated sound. Then we've got two compressors, two high dynamic noise filters and two low dynamic noise filters from Scamp, though we only used them for gating things in the mix that were pretty noisy.

"We've got two mono Urei limiters that were useful for voices, and a stereo version of the same one. There's a Drawmer compressor, Drawmer noise gate, great for compressing pianos, drums, anything like that. Finally, over here there's a Nakamichi cassette deck.

"We've got two AMS reverbs, one with the latest software update and one with the original one, because we like things like the non-lin sounds in the original one. The new one's got some very nice echoes and things that we use for piano.

"We have a Quantec that's gone off for repairs that we use exclusively on the voices. It has a nice icey kind of echo. We've also got a pair of AMS digital reverbs, one with 3½ seconds delay with de-glitch that we use mainly for keying stuff — locking things in. We use the other one for delay effect. What we were doing was, if we wanted to replace a bass drum with a sample to use as a trigger so that when you put it round the right way you could delay the backwards delay that was now forwards exactly in time and use the one AMS to trigger the one with the sound in it.

"Then we've got two A&D compressor/expanders that we use only for drums, and they're very good. They give you a sort of SSL gated drum sound. We use HH amps — they're easy to get the spares for — and we use Yamahas for foldback. We drive our AMSs from an Amcron and they were the only speakers we used on the whole album. We blew two pairs in the process but we did everything on them, including the recording. We found the room wasn't quite suitable for large speakers, and most people are using small speakers in their home anyway. If it sounds good on those it'll sound good on most people's stereos. The sound off the album is very much like the sound we had in here, which is very pleasing.

"The desk is a Soundcraft 2400 series. It's a great desk for the money, but in our situation with the sort of work Kate does the tolerances are not quite as good as the SSL. Her stuff has a lot of spaces and you do get a bit of added noise with this. But for the amount of money you pay it's probably the best desk you can get. Hopefully we'll change it soon for an SSL. The mastering machine is a Studer and we use the Soundcraft as a slave with a Q Lock 310.

"We've also got a Lexicon 224 — the basic original one — and again we got that because we like the sounds. We hired in some stereo graphics and parametrics for mixing because the Eq on this desk has a very narrow bandwidth so if you want to remove a specific frequency it's very difficult. That was very much the choice of Brian Tench, the engineer who we mixed with.

"That's just about it really."

More with this artist

More from related artists

Previous Article in this issue

Curiouser and Curiouser

Next article in this issue

MDB Window Recorder

Publisher: International Musician & Recording World - Cover Publications Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.

The current copyright owner/s of this content may differ from the originally published copyright notice.
More details on copyright ownership...


International Musician - Oct 1985

Donated by: Mike Gorman, Neill Jongman

Scanned by: Mike Gorman

Interview by Tony Horkins

Previous article in this issue:

> Curiouser and Curiouser

Next article in this issue:

> MDB Window Recorder

Help Support The Things You Love

mu:zines is the result of thousands of hours of effort, and will require many thousands more going forward to reach our goals of getting all this content online.

If you value this resource, you can support this project - it really helps!

Donations for December 2023
Issues donated this month: 0

New issues that have been donated or scanned for us this month.

Funds donated this month: £22.00

All donations and support are gratefully appreciated - thank you.

Magazines Needed - Can You Help?

Do you have any of these magazine issues?

> See all issues we need

If so, and you can donate, lend or scan them to help complete our archive, please get in touch via the Contribute page - thanks!

Please Contribute to mu:zines by supplying magazines, scanning or donating funds. Thanks!

Monetary donations go towards site running costs, and the occasional coffee for me if there's anything left over!

Small Print

Terms of usePrivacy