Emma Anderson & Miki Berenyi
by Chris Gill
Why would a band call itself Lush? Because their music is luxuriously laden with layers of dreamy angelic melodies, or are they simply a pack of boisterous, drunken louts who make loud, rude noises? Their latest album, Split, suggests that both explanations may be true. Split shares moments of hypnotic, resplendent pleasure-punk and hard, lardy angst-pop. "We've always had the two extremes," says Emma Anderson, who shares guitar and vocal duties with Miki Berenyi. "We've gone back to that really, but it wasn't a conscious decision."
Split, easily the British dream-pop band's most varied, cocksure, and commercial effort, follows Spooky by two-and-a-half years. During that time the band toured heavily and spent several months working on demos prior to going into the studio. Berenyi notes that the biggest difference between Split and Spooky is that the band opted to use amps and microphones instead of recording everything through effects processors. "The two approaches are completely opposite," she explains. "Every single sound on Spooky had an effect on it. On Split we wanted a live sound. That was partly because when we made Spooky we weren't a particularly good live band. After Spooky we went on tour for a whole year and actually got reasonably good at playing live. So many people said, 'You sound so different than you do on your record--it's so much more powerful.' We thought it might be nice to record an album that actually sounds like us, not like how our producer decides we should sound."
Berenyi, with her dayglo locks, exotic looks, and lead vox, is the focal point of Lush's luster. Her playful yet assertive demeanor is enhanced by her seeming disregard for equipment names and model numbers. "Didn't use a phaser this time," she laughs. "I've got a Mesa Boogie, a little combo thing. Then a variety of pedals--over-drive, distortion, chorus, digital delay." Guitars? "I used to use a Rickenbacker, but I think I'll get rid of it. The strings are too close together. I used a Gibson ES-335 12-string, an Epiphone 12-string, which is almost identical to the Gibson, and Firebirds--the cheaper version. The expensive one goes in one direction, and the cheaper one goes in the other direction."
Anderson soberly lists her gear affections. "I've got a Fender Telecaster Thinline, a Fender Strat--a Hendrix reissue--and a '59 Jazzmaster that I bought in L.A. It used to belong to someone who played in a gospel band. My other guitar is an SG with a Melody Maker neck. When I bought it they said that it was something that had been put together by someone, and it wasn't worth much money. Then I found out afterwards that Gibson had actually made some like that. It was my first guitar. I've got a Mesa Boogie Studio preamp with a 395 power amp and two 1x12 speaker cabinets in a stereo setup. I used to use a Roland GP-16, but it broke down all the time, so I bought an Alesis Quadraverb, though I haven't sat down with the manual and worked it all out yet. I also use an overdrive pedal and a DigiTech Whammy Pedal."
"I'm the rhythm guitarist and Emma's the lead guitarist," states Berenyi. "Most of our songs are not massive bursts of guitar solos. But if there is a ten-second solo in there, Emma will be the one playing it."
"I still wouldn't call myself a lead guitarist in the traditional sense of the word," protests Anderson, who first took lessons at 16 in college. "I never thought, 'Hey, I'm going to be Jimi Hendrix when I grow up.' I never aspired to be a technically brilliant player. I think that helps you develop your own style." Anderson became Lush's lead guitarist by default. In an early version of Lush, Berenyi and Anderson shared equal guitar roles, but after the band's original vocalist quit Miki concentrated on singing, and Emma took over most of the guitar responsibilities.
Anderson explains that the songs she writes are also the result of happenstance. "I just get a tune in my head, and I build it up. I do it when I'm washing up or doing something really stupid. Miki can sit down with a guitar and write a song. I can't." Many of Anderson's ideas come to her in her sleep, fitting for a band whose music is tagged "dream pop." When she awakens, she sings the melodies into a tape recorder. She later builds the songs, figuring out vocal harmonies, writing both guitar parts and a bass line, and formulating ideas about the drum pattern.
Berenyi's songs usually start with the lyrics, which she compares to contemplations scribbled in a diary. "We write about stuff that's personal, that's happened to us. I use the word 'contemplative,' but that sounds dull. The songs are generally about relationships, but not necessarily boyfriend/girlfriend ones. That's an easy category to put things in. As soon as you write about a relationship, a lot of people assume that it's got to be about a man, or a partner. They're actually about friends or parents, people we know, or moments, things that have happened."
Anderson and Berenyi hope that it won't take another two-and-a-half years before Lush's next album is completed. "We're going to tour for six months and then get started on the next record," comments Anderson. "We've become a much better band. Everything has started to jell. We just want to keep the momentum going."