I Wanna Be Kate – The Songs of Kate Bush
September 22, 1998 saw the release of I Wanna Be Kate: The Songs of Kate Bush! The album became popular with Kate fans, many were impressed by the quality and sincerity of this project. More info at www.iwannabekate.com
L’Amour Looks Something Like You (The Aluminum Group)
The Sensual World (Susan Voelz)
Hounds Of Love (The Moviegoers)
The Man With The Child In His Eyes (Syd Straw)
There Goes A Tenner (The J Davis Trio)
The Saxophone Song (Nora O’Connor)
You’re The One (Justin Roberts)
Coffee Homeground (Mouse)
Jig Of Life (Catherine Smitko)
The Kick Inside (Victoria Storm)
Running Up That Hill (The Baltimores)
Home For Christmas (Diamond Jim Greene)
Suspended In Gaffa (My Scarlet Life)
Kashka From Baghdad/Babooshka (The Plunging Necklines)
Love And Anger (Trinkets Of Joy)
And Dream Of Sheep (Thomas Negovan)
Not This Time (Tom Dunning & Your Boyfriends)
Interview with Thomas Dunning
The following is a two part interview with Thomas Dunning, the executive producer of the forthcoming US tribute album to Kate, “I WANNA BE KATE: The Songs Of Kate Bush” This first part of the interview was conducted before the CD was released in 1998…
So Thomas, how did the idea for this project first come about? Was it to tie in with Kate’s 20th year releasing records?
The idea came one morning last June when I was listening to the b-sides from the “This Woman’s Work” collection. I realized that even though many people know some of the more popular songs by Kate, there are so many songs that are absolutely phenomenal in their composition and performance that I started thinking to myself “I want my friends to know about this music, its too beautiful not to share this.” The song in particular that started everything was “Not This Time”. I kept thinking I’ve got to get one of my friends to record this, its such a great song. Other songs by Kate like The Empty Bull Ring and The Saxophone Song were also a big part of the inspiration. Now, just about a week earlier a friend had asked me when I was going to pursue my music dream, and I honestly thought he was ridiculous. So while listening to these rare Kate Bush songs, and thinking about how I wanted to help get them some more attention, the idea came to make a Kate Bush tribute record. I mean, it seems way past time doesn’t it? As for Kate’s 20th year releasing records, no, that was purely coincidental.
Who are Brown Star records?
Brown Star Records is basically everyone who has worked on and contributed to this project, what we happily call the Brown Star Collective. Musicians and artists and friends who support the work and the idea of this tribute record. For example, I have a friend who helps with the business and financial end of things, and another friend who helps with editing text, and another friend who helps with design, because we all have different talents, skills and limitations. Brown Star is the label I created to put out this record, I didn’t want to make this great record and then let it sit forever waiting for distribution and/or a label to pick it up. That is of course the ideal though, but we’ll all do it ourselves if we have to. This has always been a “do-it-yourself” kind of project, and there is a high level of commitment from everybody.
What is your background in music?
Other than a failed attempt at guitar in elementary school, I was in school-based choral groups throughout high school and college. As well as a traumatic history in musical theater and dance! You know, back in the day… Now I host an event here in Chicago called “Hoot Night” at a venue called Schuba’s on a semi-monthly basis. This is an event where a theme is decided for the night and different musicians from around town perform 2 songs related to the chosen theme. Some of the more notable performers at the Hoot Nights have been Syd Straw, Robbie Fulks, The Texas Rubies, Verbow, The Aluminum Group, and various members of Poi Dog Pondering and The Waco Bros.
Tell me about the artists you have lined up….are they friends of yours?
Well, I like to think so, at least I tell everyone they’re my friends! I’m grateful to be connected to some of the most exciting and talented musicians and club owners in Chicago’s vibrant music scene. Most of the artists are people I’ve been fortunate enough to work with or people whose musical performances have really touched me. Many of them are close friends though, who just happen to be some of the most talented people I’m ever likely to meet, people like Nora O’Connor, The Moviegoers, and Catherine Smitko. Some of the other amazingly talented artists on the album include Susan Voelz, My Scarlet Life, and The Aluminum Group, all of whom are based in Chicago. Not surprisingly, we didn’t have to look beyond our own backyard to find artists eager to celebrate Kate’s work.
Were they all Kate fans, did they choose the tracks themselves, or was this in some cases your decision?
What a great question. Many of the artists are well studied Kate fans. On the other hand, when everything started many of the artists said “we’d love to participate” but again, and quite honestly, some of them had limited knowledge of the multitude of choices available to them. Thus, one of the purposes of the project. We didn’t want to remake The Whole Story or Hounds of Love. I had hoped to stretch the artists to new understandings of Kate’s body of work, which I’m quite pleased to say I think we’ve done, and I’m sure that anybody who has ever played a Kate Bush song can tell you that they are all challenging pieces. At the end of the day, all the artists chose their own songs, but for many of the artists I would make a tape for them with about 4 or 5 suggested songs that I thought would be interesting for them to hear. We would discuss it and process why this one or why that one. A good example is what happened with The Plunging Necklines. I had an idea for a piece that I thought they would be brilliant on and so I asked them to try it out, it worked perfectly for them, then they went and built this amazing thing out of it. You will not believe what they’ve done. I think that the strongest influence on song selection had to do with the way a song emotionally resonated within a performer. We did choose to avoid certain tracks that have been recently covered by other people, such as the ones your Web page mentions; “This Woman’s Work” and “Why Should I Love You”. Both of which had considerable interest from some artists.
Do you have a full track listing yet?
No, at this time we have only a partial one. We do have 12 songs recorded and are hoping to have 16 tracks. We are waiting on the last 4 recordings to be delivered. Once everything is set I’ll let you know all the songs and who they were performed by.
Where have the recordings been taking place?
Everyone got to choose their own place to record. At first we thought we should do all the recording at one place, but the logistics of that would have been a nightmare. There are great studios here in Chicago, and many musicians have good working relationships with different studios. It’s actually been easier for everyone and more cost effective to let the artists create in a space they’re comfortable with. This also allowed for some independence in the recording process. So for many of the recordings, I was present, but some of the artists worked quite privately, not letting anyone hear their song until it was mixed and finished. This worked out for the best in every instance.
Have EMI Publishing given you their full support?
Ha ha, I hope so…no one has called telling me to scrap the last year of my life yet, so I’ll call that support. Someone at EMI is aware of the project, I know I left a voice mail for someone…but nothing is on paper with them yet.
Tell me about some of the arrangements you have lined up….
There is an orchestral arrangement of one of Kate’s most beloved songs being worked up right now. Its not finished so I want to wait on discussing it any further. Production wise I will say that we are very excited to have worked with Dave Trumfio on 3 tracks. He is from the band the Pulsars, but is most known for his role as a producer for the Waco Bros., Tsunami, the Mekons, Sally Timms, Jesus Lizard, Yum Yum, Barbara Manning, Number One Cup, the Coctails, Butterglory, the Aluminum Group, Stuart Moxham (from the Young Marble Giants) and most recently Billy Bragg and Wilco.
Any of the songs radically different from Kate’s versions?
Most are yes, 3 in particular stand out though; Home for Christmas, There Goes A Tenner, and Running Up That Hill. Home For Christmas is performed by legendary bluesman Diamond Jim Greene. He took the soft-shoe jazzy feel of the song and transformed it into an old time jook-joint blues number that is wondrously beyond description. From what I understand he plays an old 1920’s National Steel guitar. It’s purely delirious. You’re just gonna have to wait for There Goes A Tenner by the J Davis Trio, I’ve been calling it “There Goes A Tenner: Chicago Style at The End Of The Century”, and as for Running Up That Hill…well, that being such a sacred song to so many people, I think I want to wait a bit on that one and save it for part 2 of this interview, perhaps after the release. I will say though that the “Deal with God” takes on a whole new meaning…it’s awesome!
What was the most difficult part of the project to co-ordinate?
Financially I was in no place to put together a project like this. I’m a regular worker who struggles like most people just to get the rent paid. Amazingly, once I talked to some people about what my vision was, the money was found. We don’t have a huge budget, but enough to get it done…I hope. I’m very grateful to the people who believed in me enough to provide the financial resources. As soon as that happened, things started moving and it became a serious project. Other than that, there have been peaks and valleys all the way through, more peaks than valleys fortunately. For example one of the earliest and most exciting participants had to step out. My friends in the ska-punk band The Blue Meanies (Thick Records) were slated to take a crack at Ran Tan Waltz or Sat In Your Lap. Anyone who knows the Blue Meanies knows what an exciting combination that would be. But alas, timing, touring and other changes within the band prevented this from becoming a reality. It was mostly sad on a personal level for me, as they’re like family, and they gave me so much support, guidance and inspiration from the get-go. They did things like introduce me to their manager and offer me access to the people at their record label, so I was able to ask the whole array of questions I had as a first-time producer. Props to them for being just the best ska band in the world! Perhaps they’ll record something of Kate’s in the future and put it out themselves…We can hope.
And the most fun part?
Making those tapes of Kate songs for people was great fun, knowing that you were about to turn someone onto great songs like L’Amour Looks Something Like You or I’m Still Waiting, which they may never have heard, was really exciting. That, along with going to see the artists on the CD play their Kate Bush song live during a show for the first time. I clearly remember The Moviegoers playing an acoustic version of Hounds of Love at a show and just being moved to tears. Then 2 weeks later I got to hear them do their electric version at another show and I was just out of my mind! There was another time when Nora O’Connor performed at a club, and for the first time in public she played her Kate song, you could’ve heard a pin drop, it was simply gorgeous. I must also say that being in the studio is a complete mind-blowing experience. Talk about fun? What a rush! I can’t wait to get back in there and do some more work.
When do you see the release coming out?
We are hoping for a late spring release. Everything takes longer than you expect though, doesn’t it? I’ve been advised to say summer ’98, then if its in the spring it will be considered early, and if we fall behind and go into the summer, no one will know the difference. Except anyone reading this interview. Working independently really allows you flexibility with your creative schedule, which I like.
Any special launch events in mind?
What we’d like to do is have the CD release party follow in the tradition of one of the Hoot Nights. Have the artists come up and play 2 Kate Bush songs, the one they played on the album, and another one which isn’t on the CD. There are many options for us. Perhaps we won’t be able to get everyone there in one night, so we might have to have 2 or 3 record release parties with 3 performers each doing 5 songs; alternating with 2 of Kate’s and 3 of their own. Who knows how it will turn out. But if your coming to Chicago, please stop by won’t you? We’ve gotten support from 3 of the most popular rock clubs in town; Lounge Ax, Schuba’s and the Metro. There are people on staff at all of these venues who are really great and very excited for the whole project.
How do you think it will be available to people? Mail order? Retail outlets?
Although we do have some interest from distributors, distribution hasn’t been worked out yet. We’re still working on formulating our sales pitch to different distributors. Nothing is concrete, so I will say that at least at the beginning mail order is still definitely an option at this time. How about I let you know when I find out and then perhaps you can tack that information onto the bottom of this interview as an addendum of sorts? I also hope to contact some of the fanzines and provide them with ordering information when I have it.
Just out of interest, what are your favourite Kate Bush tracks?
That’s an easy question. I had what was called my list of the magnificent seven, which has recently been changed to the great eight. The intense emotion and spirit in these songs absolutely devastate me, and they seem to have a sense of drama and majesty to them which I find very appealing. These include (in NO particular order): Not This Time, The Infant Kiss, Night Of The Swallow, Under The Ivy, Houdini, Lily, Jig Of Life, You Want Alchemy. Honourable mentions include Passing Through Air, The Saxophone Song, Ne T’En Fui Pas, I’m Still Waiting, December Will Be Magic Again, Hounds Of Love, Deeper Understanding, Warm and Soothing, The Morning Fog, The Kick Inside, The Empty Bull Ring, Suspended In Gaffa, oh God I could go on and on…but we all have our favorites don’t we?
Well, we’ll all be really looking forward to hearing the fruits of your hard work, thanks for talking to us!
It’s been my pleasure Seán, and its been my absolute privilege to help create this tribute to one of the world’s most fascinating and inspiring artists. Thanks for your interest. I do hope you like it…
What exactly was your role during the recording sessions on this album?
As the executive producer I had the task of coordinating many aspects of the project, but not all of them. First, I had to find out how to make a CD like this, as I’ve never attempted anything this massive before. Everyone I talked to had great suggestions for me. It’s one of the things I love about the Chicago music scene. Nobody withheld information to prevent me from moving forward. People actually wanted to help out and see this record get made. They got excited about the project, and that was very helpful. After planning, talking to musicians, and convincing myself that this could really happen, I had to secure the funds and find the artists who would perform. The artists took care of everything regarding their recording sessions. Occasionally I helped to schedule a studio, an engineer, or additional studio musicians.
You’ve said that you provided the artists with additional information…
In an attempt to maximize cohesion between my vision as the producer, Kate’s historical work, and the artists performance, I spent some time down-loading text from Gaffaweb to give to each artist. I tried to provide them with the information that was available there. For example, the section in Gaffaweb that covers “In Kate’s own words…,” was invaluable, and everyone got little print-outs of anything I could find that Kate said about the songs they were performing. Although I had input, the performers were given full reign over their songs. It was their interpretations, not mine, that were important, and I think you’ll hear that on the CD. I acted as a consultant during the pre-recording and recording process and was present for many of the recording sessions. When I was present, it was not as the producer of individual tracks (with the exception of “Not This Time” and “Jig Of Life,” which I co-produced), but merely to give support and to offer clarification or input on phrasings and lyrics. We realized that there are two different groups of people who will listen to this CD: die-hard Kate Bush fans and people who don’t know Kate at all but will be introduced to her through this work. We wanted to make sure that all our bases were covered. I offered the perspective of tradition and loyalty to Kate’s work, but still encouraged the artists to approach these songs as if they were their own–as if they wrote them. Basically all arrangements and other performance details were left to the individual performers.
Do you have the stats on how many musicians in all have contributed to the CD?
The making of I WANNA BE KATE has taken the combined efforts of 13 studios, 19 engineers, and 71 musicians. It’s also important to note that many of the artists and engineers worked on more than one track.
Of all the vocalists, who sounds most like Kate in your opinion?
One of the things that was cool is that no one even attempted to sound like Kate; I’m glad, too. That would have been a bit pathetic wouldn’t it? The CD is a tribute to Kate and her songs, not her vocal skills and stylings. However, there are certainly moments where you can hear Kate’s influence in the delivery of a vocal line. Interestingly enough, most of the songs on the album are sung by men. Julie Schreiber and Christy Cameron Smith from My Scarlet Life as well as Victoria Storm, are all sopranos with beautiful voices-so there are some immediate connections there, but that’s about it.
Do you think this album is in a limited edition run, or will more be produced to meet demand?
It comes down to supply and demand. If there is a demand, we will produce more. I’m sure that after the first pressing, we’ll have a better idea of what’s ahead of us. I would like people to be able to have access to it for a while. Compilation tribute albums are not the biggest sellers. I don’t think in the beginning that I realized or truly understood that there is a marketing aspect to selling an album. Many artists have this problem: “I just want to make my art.” My history outside of music is in social work, I don’t know a lot about the business world so I’ve relied on my friends to help me. Thank God for the business-minded among us! What I’ve learned is that budgeting for promotion and marketing is just as important as budgeting for recording and manufacturing.
You mention an orchestral arrangement on one track, can you tell us a bit more about that?
The track is “And Dream Of Sheep.” It’s one of those songs that just begs to be played by an orchestra. Thomas Negovan, formerly of a band called Three Years Ghost, has done absolutely gorgeous things with this song. He added a bit of instrumental music to the beginning of the song to set up the landscape; you feel the tension of being in the cold water at night, the waves washing over you, the rise and fall of panic and acceptance and the “What’s that, is that a ship?” thoughts our character is pondering and hoping for. By the time he starts singing, you are completely in another place. Kate’s music has always been deeply rooted in theatricality and classicism, and Thomas’ similar approach to music is the perfect balance: this song is a soundtrack, and Thomas is portraying the character. Given the wide array of performances on this album, I felt this was definitely an important aspect of Kate’s world to have on the CD. This track was recorded live and on analogue tape so its sound is very warm and real.
Susan Voelz is a violinist, am I correct? Does she play this instrument on her track, The Sensual World?
This track has several violin parts, along with viola too. I wasn’t there for these sessions, but Susan would call me and leave me these great phone messages saying, “We added another violin track and it sounds really lush!” I guess there might be like 6 violin tracks, maybe more. It’s really beautiful-absolutely mesmerizing. A favorite part for me is when the violist sings this powerful coloratura soprano over everything way in the background…oh god, its just so great. The whole song is quite sexual and very emotional. I was blown away when I finally got to hear it.
Syd Straw seems to have an increasingly high profile these days, was she particularly hard to track down?
Syd was one of the first to say she would do a song for the record, but just before recording started in December she became very busy for about 3 months. We would talk on the phone and she would assure me that it would happen, but she was out of town as everything was getting wrapped up. I was a bit worried that it wouldn’t be possible to get the song recorded, but I decided that if she was committed to it, then I would wait as long as I needed to. It’s a huge gift when Syd Straw agrees to sing on your record. She is an amazing talent and has performed on more than 50 albums. Syd has worked with many talented artists including Ry Cooder, Michael Stipe (REM), Rickie Lee Jones, John Doe (X), Daniel Lanois, Roger Eno, Don Was, Marshall Crenshaw, They Might Be Giants, Peter Blegvad, Peter Holsapple, Wilco, Anton Fier (Golden Palominos), Chris Stamey and Richard Thompson. You wait for people like Syd Straw, and of course, I’m glad I did.
Were there any conflicts over two artists wanting to record the same track?!!
No, thank goodness. I should note that Chicago’s ‘house’ music scene is legendary. More than one person wanted to do “Cloudbusting” from Hounds Of Love, and I think that had more to do with wanting to “out-mix” the Utah Saints and their use of Kate as a sample in the club hit “Something Good,” than it did with Kate’s original track. Also, I did have to veto some songs because one album of origin would start to get too much attention and I didn’t want that. Actually there was one group with whom I had only begun to discuss the possibility of participating in the CD. They wanted to do a song that I just didn’t think I wanted to use, so I told them to try this song or that song…I think they broke up before they even figured out what they were going to do.
A “big name” Kate tribute album will probably be something to surface much later in her career, have you heard many other similar tribute albums featuring fresher talent like this?
I have to say that one of the inspirations for this project came from an album I heard about that was made in Austin, Texas. I’m a huge Prince fan,and a man named John Riedie made a Prince tribute record featuring all Austin based musicians called “Do Me Baby! Austin Does Prince.” It wasn’t available in Chicago, but I read about it somewhere and called a friend in Austin who found it for me and had it shipped up. I’ve also seen an indie-rock REM tribute album which is out of print. I think its called Year of the Pig and I would love to get a copy of that recording.
Which of the musicians seemed to you to be the most knowledgeable of Kate’s recording career?
Without question that would be Eddie Carlson. He is a Swedish-American bass player who I worked very closely with during the making of the CD. He tells a great story of how when he was 13 he saw the original airing of Kate’s appearance on Saturday Night Live. He knew things about Kate that I didn’t, and vice-versa. As a seasoned musician he knew her music from a compositional perspective that I lacked. Sometimes when I felt like no one understood my passion or my insane meticulous attention to detail, I would call Eddie, who knew exactly why “…any other lyric in the song could be changed but NOT THAT ONE.” That really makes me laugh now (I must admit I got a bit crazy at times). He showed me Kate’s Live at Hammersmith video, Kate’s Saturday Night Live appearance, and he played me “You Want Alchemy” on a 7-inch 45, the first time I ever heard it, which has since become one of my all-time favorite Kate Bush songs. He is a very busy musician playing for several bands in Chicago but he always found time to help me out whenever I needed an ear (or a bass) while we were making the CD. I’m very grateful for the many friendships I made during this whole experience.
You seem to be quite happy with the artwork…..
I am thrilled with the design of the CD. The images, textures and colors all work beautifully. Coco Sallee has done an amazing job, and I can’t believe that we were fortunate enough to have her work with us. She came up with the most incredible packaging. I’m delighted with it. I think its really eye-catching, very funny, and full of innuendo. It’s elegant, with just a wee bit of camp thrown in-think of Sinead O’Connor’s video for “You Do Something To Me,” it makes me feel good in that same way.
In terms of studio time, which track took the most work to get right?
Mine!!!! (Big laugh.) At least it seemed like that to me because I’m not the musician that the other performers are. But really everybody put in so much time to turn in a great recording that there is no way to measure which one song took the most time. I know that the Baltimores put weeks in on getting the different sounds they wanted for “Running Up That Hill,” and “Jig Of Life,” by Catherine Smitko took a long time in the studio. Nineteen people worked on that song. We spent a whole session recording the drums alone. Now that I think about it, we were a bit mad! But it was truly worth it; it really kicks.
What sort of things were the musicians saying about Kate during the recordings?
Personally, I was worried that I would get sick of listening to Kate songs, but I would come home from working with a song all day and still put Kate on when I got in. Or I would have these really strong emotional reactions during the recording sessions, just from hearing the music and Victoria Storm would always say “Its her writing, its her damn writing. Its so good that it just goes inside of you and stirs stuff up.” Some people told me that they knew every song from The Kick Inside on piano because they grew up with those songs and learned them all as part of their piano homework. Probably the most interesting Kate story came from Syd Straw who actually met Kate way back in the 80’s at a party at David Gilmour’s house. She told Kate she thought if they sang together they would sound like angels in heat. Well that never happened, but Syd did go on to use that phrase as a lyric in one of her songs. So there is this neat little piece of Kate related trivia there for anyone who wants it.
You include a total of 17 tracks on the CD….is it hard to come up with a final running order, taking into account the diverse range of styles on the CD?
It was hard. I really had to remove myself from the emotional ties I had with the performers so I could focus on the sonic patch-quilt I was trying to put together. The final running order is based on how I think the songs worked next to each other-bottom line. Some of these were easier to place than others. I love every song on the CD and it was hard to put some up ahead of others, I wanted every song to be the first track, you know that sort of thing.
At this time you seem to be looking at an August or September release date, I take it the tribute concerts will take place soon after the release?
Wow, “tribute concerts” sounds really big, much bigger than I think we are capable of. I think the word ‘concert’ means different things to different people. In Chicago, a ‘concert’ is something held at Wembly or Soldier’s Field. Anything smaller than an arena is just a show. There won’t be any tribute concerts/shows officially. There will probably be two shows here in Chicago in local rock clubs where people will play a couple of Kate Bush songs along with some of their own songs. The CD release party is most likely the biggest event we’ll have around this. The official release date for the CD to be in-stores hasn’t been confirmed yet. We’ll have something set up around that time though. Perhaps near the beginning of September.
You have a busy month or so ahead….best of luck!
Thanks again Sean! I really appreciate you letting the visitors to your website have a chance to follow the progress of the CD here. See you soon!