With titles like “Etheriel,” “Thougtfulness” and “Baby Talk,” when I bought Lush’s Scar EP a couple of years ago, I thought they might be more than a touch precious and a lot like the Cocteau Twins, the icons of the British 4AD label.
I was wrong.
Lush are the label’s answer to the postpunk, post-janglepop indie wooze rock boom. Firm believers in the My Bloody Valentine creed of “more guitars, thicker,” Lush walk the line between being a quaint, ethereal pop band and being, as drummer Chris Acland puts it, “a rock band…no make that a punk band” with oceanic walls of guitar and two incredible female voices.
Those voices, Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson, started Lush when, according to Berenyi, “the London music scene was at one of its all-time lows. The in thing was to be in a band where you couldn’t play and didn’t actually write songs. It was all sort of terrible, really. We sort of looked at it and said, ‘Oh, we can do that.’
“That was what gave us the guts to do it because everything else was shit anyway. Except that the minute we finally decided to do it, that all sort of died.”
Undaunted, Berenyi and Anderson met Acland and Steve Rippon, who “couldn’t play bass at first, but we liked him.” With Acland in the band, “it was like, oh well, we’ve got a drummer; we better learn to play guitar.”
After a series of “questionable” live shows, Lush caught the ear of 4AD head Ivo Watts-Russell. Their first EP, Scar, was definitely the most unexpected 4AD debut since the Pixies’ Come On Pilgrim. The EP was six even doses of three-minute open chord otherworldliness. The British music weeklies had a collective orgasm, blabbering accolades like “superb sensual overload” and “sculpting ice statues out of silence.”
The follow-up, Mad Love, was produced by Robin Guthrie of the Cocteau Twins, with his influence being very apparent. Guthrie honed down the band’s rougher edges, focused on Berenyi and Anderson’s wonderful harmonies and left an indelible stamp on their guitar sound.
“We worked quite well with him. It helps that he’s into the band and that he likes what we’re doing,” says Acland.
“He’s in tune with what we wanted,” agrees Berenyi. “When we first started we knew nothing about the studio. We required someone who was virtually psychic.”
Properly pleased with Guthrie’s work on Mad Love, Lush called on him when it came to production on their first full-length album, Spooky.
An intensely beautiful album, Spooky captures all the elements of Lush: from the rollicking thrashpop of “Superblast” and “Laura” to the woozy presence of “Ocean” and “Untogether.” Altogether a perfectly incredible record, the always fickle British press, of course, hated it. Accusing it of being “precious” and “samey” gives credence to Berenyi’s claim that “they’re not interested in actual music. It wasn’t the fact that they loved our music – we made good copy.
“If you’re going to listen to an album and not give it a chance then it is all going to sound the same, because it’s the same band. It’s a coherent thing. It’s not like we’re going to have a waltz-time song and a hip hop track and maybe a bit of a heavy metal number.”
“It’s our record,” says Acland. “We do exactly what we want. It’s not like we’re going to take a poll from all the music journals to find our next producer.”
Lumped by the British press into the nonscene of English guitar bands such as Curve, Slowdive and Chapterhouse is one thing, but their treatment by the American press, though less abusive, has been equally condescending, such as Spin‘s labeling of Lush as “Ethereal Girls” in a recent article. Now, at last check, Lush also included some “Ethereal Boys.”
“I think now that Phil (King, bass, formerly of a slew of indie bands) joined, it’s predominantly girls,” laughs Chris. “I do get pissed when people pick up on it and use it in a crass, patronizing ‘way or see me and Phil as being in the band to promote Miki and Emma’s music.”
“It kind of ghettoizes you a girl band,” says Berenyi. “Nobody says, ‘Oh God, not another band with boys in it.’ There’s a real sexism in this whole.Ethereal Girl thing. It’s a load of shit, really.”
First appeared March 28, 1992 in Creative Loafing – Atlanta.