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Interview: Emma Anderson (of Lush)

on June 29, 2012, 12:40am
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 Interview: Emma Anderson (of Lush)

In recent years, we’ve encountered plenty of artists that were brandished as shoegaze when they entered the scene, and later shifted towards a kind of pop that’s more awake than dreaming. Like everything else, it’s been done before. Lush entered the London scene in the late 80’s in that fashion, grabbing the attention of 4AD with their ethereal stylings, later finding themselves exploring a punchy pop-rock side. Although their Robin Guthrie-produced debut Spooky turned 20 this year (not to mention the fact that it’s one of the finest albums of the era), it was their third and final album, 1996’s Lovelife, that demanded a recent Dusting ‘Em Off treatment.

Emma Anderson, one half of the band’s guitar, vocal, and songwriting team, granted Consequence of Sound a rare interview to discuss Lovelife, set the record straight on “going Britpop,” reminisce about Lush and her other band Sing-Sing, and reveal why there hasn’t been a reunion tour.

I recently revisited Lovelife for our Dusting ‘Em Off feature, and I felt that it’s an album that never got the credit that it’s due.

Thank you. But then, all our of albums have been that way.

What were your inspirations and intentions when you went into the studio to record Lovelife?

The records we made before, we had these name producers, and it was “Lush produced by Robin Guthrie,” “Lush produced by Mike Hedges,” “Lush produced by Tim Friese-Greene.” Even though we liked those records a lot, some people said that the records we were making didn’t capture the energy that we had live, so there was a bit of a disparity between the two: the recorded Lush and the live Lush. I think we thought, “Well, let’s try and see if we can get that energy onto record.”

So, instead of getting a name producer, we used our sound man [Pete Bartlett] to record it. Well, he was the producer, and we did it quite quickly. Other records took a long time, but this was quite straightforward. We used two quite well-known mixers, Sean Slade and Paul Q. Kolderie, to mix Lovelife, but that was our main aim at the time, to try and get the live Lush recorded.

I think some of our influences had shifted. I think you can hear the beginnings of what Lovelife sounded like with “Hypocrite” and “Blackout”, songs like that. With Lovelife, it was more poppy, shorter songs, and more upbeat, sort of distorted guitars, vocals not buried so much as they had been. We were probably a bit influenced by what was going on at the time, as well, with Britpop. We didn’t think of it as Britpop, you know? We didn’t sit down and go, “Ooh, let’s make a Britpop album!”

My take is that the poppier side has always been there, and that Lovelife isn’t a dramatic stylistic shift like some in the media have indicated.

Exactly! “Hypocrite” was on Split, which had very direct lyrics, just a short pop song. Even on Spooky, there are lots of these short pop songs with pretty direct lyrics. You can even trace it back to the first records we made.

I definitely do not agree that one minute we were making ethereal, ambient tunes, and the next we were a sort of punky pop outfit. There’s definitely a line you can trace through everything we put out, really. The other thing I do remember at the time was we were kind of damned if we do, damned if we don’t. If Lovelife had been an album with five-minute sorts, like “Desire Lines” and “Never-Never”, then people would have been like, “No, get with the times…” You’ve just got to do what you want to do at the end of the day, and the hell with it.

We never had a master plan. When myself and Miki [Berenyi] used to write songs, we used to just go away and that’s what would come out. We never sat down and thought, “Let’s make an album that maybe sounds more Britpop,” or whatever. It was never like that. It was just what we listened to seeped into our songwriting. Even on Lovelife, songs like “[I’ve] Been Here [Before]”, “Papasan”, and “Last Night” are still more similar to the softer, ethereal stuff, I suppose.

At the time it was slightly frustrating, especially in America, I think, people wanted us to stay the same. In Britain, I think actually, the fact that we had gone a bit more pop…and also that we were getting more radio play in Britain, because what else was there on the radio? Blur, Oasis, Elastica, and Boo Radleys. We thought Lovelife fit in more with that sort of stuff. And then Radio One were playing it, and we got on the charts. I did think the British press went, “Oh, good for them. At last, they’re not the underdogs so much anymore.” But in America, I felt people were more disappointed, and they wanted the more sort of 4AD, ethereal stuff.

What do you think of the media’s treatment of Lovelife compared to Spooky and Split?

I think in this country it was quite well received. [They weren’t] rave reviews. NME Top of the Pops helped. We were getting more mainstream television programs and getting Radio One airplay and getting in the charts. It was a very different situation [from] what we had before with Spooky and Split, and even before that with Gala. We hadn’t done this sort of mainstream telly, so it was a different ballgame. In America, it wasn’t so different, I suppose, from when we’d been before. We finished a whole campaign with a tour in support of Gin Blossoms, which was pretty gruesome, actually, but I don’t really remember much about what the media said in America.

 Interview: Emma Anderson (of Lush)

I looked into it, but most of the reviews from those days haven’t made it online. What I found has been generally positive. I recall sensing a trace of contempt in the NME review, but then they gave the album a 7 out of 10, so it’s like a backhanded compliment.

I know the way they used to the scoring was the reviewer would write something, and the editor would change the marks sometimes. If the reviewer didn’t like an album, the editor would go, “We’re supposed to like this band,” so I think that used to happen. I can’t remember. It was generally received quite well here, definitely. It was a funny time. It was a very different ballgame, the promotion we did for Lovelife than the albums we’d done before. It was a lot more mainstream. Which was kind of nice, you know? It felt slightly like it was payback time now. We worked really hard, so it’s nice to have more attention now.

In America, it seemed a bit more same old same old, and touring, and radio festivals, and the Gin Blossoms tour. I feel like I can say things now since so much time has passed, but in America I always felt that Lush was this big hope that was going to break into the mainstream, but we never did. We did okay in America, but we never got into heavy rotation on MTV or wherever, and there was always this, “You gotta keep at it and at it, touring and touring,” and I personally got sick. It annoyed me, because I always felt we could have capitalized on what we were doing here with Lovelife, actually. I think we could have sold more records, because we only toured once here for that album, which was ridiculous, but we toured three times in America. We should have concentrated more here, but we didn’t, and went back to America, time and time again. I was not very happy with that at the time.

Do you think that shoegaze is a style in which an artist can stay rooted for a long period of time, while still evolving and challenging both themselves and the audience? I ask because I was thinking about My Bloody Valentine and all the drama that ensued following up Loveless, and recently there’s been a crop of artists that have been labeled as shoegaze and dream pop, but they’ve all made departures with noticeably deliberate intent.

It’s a difficult question, because I’m so out of touch now with a lot of stuff. I saw School of Seven Bells live a couple times. That was a few years ago now. So, the question was, “Do you think you can be a shoegaze/dream pop band forever?”

Or for a long time.

I suppose you can. At the end of the day, you do what you want to do. I don’t know. It would have been interesting to see if Lush had made another album, to see what that would have been like. I think if we had made another album, there always would have been elements of those…I don’t like these pigeonholes and names. Especially the term shoegazing, that was coined as a term of ridicule in this country, which I don’t think a lot of people realize in America.

Here in America it’s a way to get people excited about a band, if not a badge of honor.

Over here, I know the guy who thought it up, he was like, “Oh, these kids, they are all just staring at their shoes and swaying about.” It was used in the press to mock, a little bit. But in America, it was jumped on as this genre of music, but here shoegazing is sort of weak. It sounds a bit silly. I don’t know.

It’s really quite difficult to stay the same for a long, long time. I can’t imagine playing the same sort of music for 20 years. I’ve always sort of absorbed what’s around me, as well. To be honest, I probably don’t do that so much now. To each their own. If you want to stay shoegazey forever, fine, if not, then fine as well.

I just find the whole thing interesting, because, for example, M83’s first couple of albums evoked those sounds, and they turned further away from it with every subsequent release. There was never an audible, “They’ve sold out and jumped onto the trendy synthpop bandwagon” sentiment in the media.

My view is, if it’s a good record, it’s a good record, and actually, who cares?

I get slightly bored of this “Oh, they’ve changed.” Especially some journalists, and not just journalists, but fans as well, that do that sort of, “Oh, they’ve changed, and I don’t like that. They’re my band and I like them the way they were, and they’ve sold out, and they’re selling records.” I think if it’s a good record, then actually it doesn’t really matter. Good music is good music. If a band wants to change and adopt a different style, or different instruments because they really want to, then fine. And if it’s good, then even better.

I agree. I’ve just been trying to discern why the consensus is that it’s more okay now than it was back then.

Maybe because back then, the sort of indie ethos… I don’t know, I might be talking rubbish here, but it was slightly more embedded in peoples’ minds. Selling out and jumping on bandwagons. I think now it’s a bit more fluid.

My theory is that pop is no longer considered such a dirty word.

I agree about that as well.

 Interview: Emma Anderson (of Lush)

During the Lovelife era, was Lush pushed more as a product rather than promoted as artists? Some of the promotional shots and videos of the time seemed to be selling an image first, while music was secondary.

I felt at the time like a bit of product. Not so much as a brand, but I felt depersonalized. I’m not really sure why that was. Lots of makeup and more stylized than previously. You get kind of carried along on this circus. You go to America, and go over just to do a press trip. You do a photo session and a stylist turns up, and makeup artists, and, “Ooh, I didn’t know there was going to be a stylist. And I can’t fit into the clothes anyway, because they’re for skinny models, so I can’t get them over my bum.” Which works for me, because I don’t want to wear them anyway. You’re flown in to do a video in LA for 72 hours, and you fly back, and it’s all a bit whirlwind. I think the “Ladykillers” video was quite good. We did a video for “500” here, which was really good, and then we did one in America, which was awful. Have you seen that?

I have. I’ve seen them all.

Oh, it was awful. We were like, “Why can’t we use the British one?”

“No no no, they wouldn’t understand the Fiat 500.” What a crock. “Single Girl” wasn’t a radio track, so we didn’t do a video for that in America, and that was quite good, actually. I think some good videos and photos came out of that time. And actually, the sleeve of that album is completely off the wall.(Laughs) It’s a black guy holding a Lush logo, you know? You certainly couldn’t say that was sort of, “Oh my God, we’re just putting the band on the cover now.” So I think we held onto that sort of 4AD quirkiness.

At the end of the day, we were on a major label in America. Warner Bros., they have a certain way of treating the artists. They want them to sell records, and you become part of the machine. You try to pull it back sometimes, and sometimes it runs away with you. I’m sure most bands say that. I refuse to believe every “indie” band has absolute control over every single thing they do. You’re too busy to pay attention. Yeah, there were some things we look back on and go, “I wish we hadn’t done that.” Like the “500” video. There were a couple television programs in this country which were quite cringe-worthy.

Which ones were those?

There was one called All Rise for Julian Clary. He’s not really on TV anymore, it was very camp. It was very funny, very camp, very sort of setting people up. Some girl who seemed only about 12 years old, her mum had thrown out all her NMEs that she collected, but she seemed too young to have NME. Anyway, she chucked them all out, and she’d written to Julian Clary. We’d appeared with this whole stack of back issues to give to this girl, and we were literally on the screen for about 30 seconds. And we’d been sitting around for about five hours to do this program, and it was just embarrassing.

And there was another one called The Pajama Party, which was this late night program that me and Miki appeared on. Very cheap late night program. Ugh, awful! We don’t have those sort of programs anymore.

The industry still takes artists and pushes them as fashion statements or status symbols, even “indie” ones. There’s been a lot of controversy about Lana Del Rey and how everything from her image to her sound has been fabricated to create a new mainstream-friendly indie sensation.

I’ve heard it’s not her real name, but there’s been loads of people going back to when rock and roll began that don’t use their real name, so I don’t got a problem with that. I haven’t heard the album, actually. I don’t really read that much about artists anymore. I just want to hear the music. I don’t want to be corrupted by reviews or opinions. I really like that “Video Games” track of hers, and I am interested in hearing the album. I know she was on the cover of Vogue, which, blimey, that’s quite a new artist to be on the cover. I don’t know about American Vogue, but British Vogue, that could not do much good in the long run, actually, because it’s a bit too much too soon, I thought. Good luck to her.

There’s been a lot of resentment and backlash, but the album performed well on the charts.

I mean, I’ve heard good things about her album, so I’ll reserve judgment until I’ve heard the record. I don’t really want to hear about all the other stuff so much.

Looking back at the Lush discography, what are you the most proud of?

I think I’m most fond of Spooky. Gala to me was not an album, it was an album that was put together for America and Japan, but here it was a mini-album, an EP, and a single, and some tracks from another record, so I don’t count that. So, album? Spooky I’ve got the fondest memories of, even though it was quite difficult to make. I like [that] it has kind of a bubble gum pop thing; it’s very artificial sounding. And again, people go, “You don’t sound anything like this when you play live,” but actually, I didn’t really care about that at the time. I still don’t. I still listen to Spooky. It’s got its flaws, definitely, but there’s something about that album I like. Artificiality and saccharine.

I’m sure it’s a dreaded topic, but it’s one I have to cover. I know All Tomorrow’s Parties expressed interest in a series of shows and later rescinded, but I’ve gathered that there was still a reunion tour in the cards, with murmurs of appearances at festivals like Coachella.

We looked into it. There was nothing booked at all. There were no contracts. Coachella did not like Lush, I can tell you that now, so that is why we’ve never been on Coachella. They don’t like the band. We found that out after the third agent we had on-board. We had three agents on board looking into us performing. It just didn’t make sense to do it, financially, because we’ve all got kids now and jobs. The last time we looked into it…no, actually the second to last time, I was in a very high pressure job where I would have had to just take my holidays and weekends, and I just can’t do this.

This would have to pay so much money that I would be able to leave the job, basically. We did look into it, though, I’m not going to keep that secret. We have looked into it on more than one occasion, and unfortunately, the offers from promoters were just not good enough to justify doing it. If we were sitting here living on thousands of pounds worth of royalties, or we’d all won the lottery, then yes, we could do it for a laugh, or the enjoyment factor. But when you’ve got jobs and children, it has to be worth it. And the rehearsing itself, after not playing these songs for God knows how many years would take quite a long time to get up to speed.

Yes. Pulp was holed up in a studio rehearsing for at least six months for their reunion tour.

They could probably afford to do it. Jarvis [Cocker] certainly can, I don’t know about the others so much. We work, so it just didn’t make sense, unfortunately. It would have been a nice idea.

We were getting offered shows in New York, London, and LA, but they were pretty low offers, actually. Back in the day, we had tour support from the record company, so this time we would have had to lay our own money for the rehearsals and equipment, so no, it just didn’t make sense financially. I don’t want to sound like, “Oh, we only do it for the money.” Yes, we would have liked to, and I don’t know if you’re going to believe this, but none of us have ever made a cent from touring live. Ever. Never made a cent in our own personal pockets from playing a show. So, there you go. We thought maybe now we can make some from playing live, but…[laughs]

So, if someone actually put a high enough offer to make taking off work, rehearsing, and traveling economically feasible, is it still something you would be interested in doing?

It would have to be quite a large amount of money. It would have to be a serious amount of money. Yes, probably, because at the moment, actually, I’m not working now. Phil [King] is in The Jesus and Mary Chain, so he’s busy. Miki has got a very responsible job. She’s a production editor for a magazine, so it would be the most tricky for her, actually. It wouldn’t be very easy for me, but I’m not in that high pressure job, so it would have to be a serious amount of money. It’s a lot of work, as well, rehearsing the songs.

A lot of work and a lot of expenses.

Yeah, touring is expensive.

Checking a bag on a flight is painful enough. I can’t imagine going across the world with a load of gear.

Well, if you go to America, you don’t take all your amps, just your guitars, but it’s still a fair amount of equipment. Crew, and hotels, and work permits, and tour managers ain’t cheap. It’s a big, big undertaking. I don’t think a lot of people actually realize what an undertaking it is. It’s not like it’s, “Oh, let’s just strum our guitars, get on a plane, and plug-in.” It’s quite a big operation. You can do it cheaper than we used to do it, to a certain extent, but you want some degree of comfort.

We did sort of investigate performing, and actually, people came to us as well. Not promoters, but an agent got in touch, and a tour manager got in touch, but they both looked into it, and came back, “Oh, I’m actually quite surprised the offers are not as great as I thought they were going to be, so never mind.” I thought that, maybe forget America, and just do it in Britain and Europe at the festivals. You can fly to Barcelona in three or four hours, or wherever, and come home the next morning, but it just didn’t really add up. The stress factor is quite a big part of it, actually.

It’s so disheartening to hear about Coachella, because my friends and I had our hopes set on that being the one, because now that it’s two weekends, there’s more money to offer.

The last person we had looking into it, a good agent, came back to us and said, “Nope, they’re not interested in Lush,” and that’s the end of it. I wish somebody had said that before, that they didn’t like the band. The people who had been looking into it before were like, “Oh, no, just not this year. They love the band.” For whatever reason, they’re not keen about the band. At least we know now.

 Interview: Emma Anderson (of Lush)

It’s been a few years since Sing-Sing disbanded. What are your favorite memories of Sing-Sing?

Sing-Sing was difficult. We went through about four record labels on that first album. I think both albums are good, actually, but our first album (2001’s The Joy of Sing-Sing), I listened to it the other day and went, “This is a really good record.” We had a dreadful experience in America. We had this tour manager who was basically stealing money from us and spending it on himself, and drugs, and flying around the country. I look back now and I laugh, because it’s ridiculous. We were playing gigs to three people; we shouldn’t have gone on tour. We weren’t big enough. Should have done a show in LA and a show in New York and SXSW. We shouldn’t have been in, I don’t know, Seattle, or wherever.

I look back at Sing-Sing as a lot of fun, but a lot of work, especially the second album (2005’s Sing-Sing and I). We were doing everything ourselves: the label, the manufacturing, and all, which is kind of good fun, but it was frustrating, because I would have liked the record to be more well-known, and we just didn’t have the money to make [that happen]. I mean, thank God for the internet, because it was all done in email, and YouTube, and wherever, so thank God for that. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have managed to have done it. I’m really glad I did it, and we made some really good records, but ultimately there was just no money there, so we couldn’t promote it properly.

I’m pretty proud of Sing-Sing. I think we did some really good stuff, and we had some good people in our band. Gigs were fun. It was different from Lush, because it was more of a hobby. Lush I actually made a living from. Sing-Sing I did in addition to the day job. We all did day jobs as well. It was sort of sideline. Playing gigs to three people is disheartening.

Three people? Ouch. Once I worked at an event, and the fire marshal wouldn’t allow the organizers to open the gates on time, and the first band started playing as scheduled while everyone was still in queue.

That’s a slightly sort of Spinal Tap situation, isn’t it?

What was your most Spinal Tap moment with Lush?

This is really easy to answer, actually. It was the Weenie Roast we did promoting Lovelife in ’96. The Weenie Roast is that KROQ festival. We were going on after The Fugees, who were actually number one at the time, so I don’t know why we were going on after. They must have done the bill months before. Middle of the day, bright sunshine, and The Fugees were really late in turning up, and it had one of those revolving stages where one act is playing, and on the other side the other act is getting set up so they can just turn the stage around immediately, and there would be hardly any waiting time in between.

So, anyway, The Fugees were really late. They turned up, but the organizers said, “Because you’re so late, you can only do three songs.” So they did their three songs, but they carried on and started playing “Killing Me Softly”, and the organizers were so annoyed that they actually turned the stage around while they were playing, and we were on the other side, and we got to start playing as soon as we get around. My guitar processing is broken, as well, so there’s no effects, so I’m really panicking. We got around, and we start playing “Ladykillers”, and the crowd was throwing their fingers up. Just imagine being in the crowd and The Fugees turning around, and Lush is on the other side, like, “Hi!” I can laugh now, but it was ridiculous.

Are there any collaborations in the works?

No. I haven’t really done any. Miki’s done collaborations, but I haven’t. I have written some songs, and I had the idea of maybe writing for other people, but that hasn’t really gone anywhere as of yet. It might not come to anything, or it might. I don’t know. It’s all very new and recent, but I haven’t really collaborated with anyone musically.

Do you all still stay in touch?

We do, yes. Not like every day, probably not even every week. We still meet up, go around to each other for dinner. Miki had a party a few weeks ago for her boyfriend’s birthday. She has a party for him every year, and Phil comes over for dinner now and then. Me and Miki still have the same school friends. When I met Miki, we were 14, and we still have the same friends. We all go out together sometimes. It’s nice, but we’ve all got obviously busy lives with kids, and work, and the rest of it. We’re still friends; we’ve had a lot of shared history.

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