Wuthering Heights terrified me as a child. But in the 80s Kate Bush was mysterious and alluring, and as I got older I started to become fascinated with artists who were producers of sound as well as poets. Kate’s indifference to fame has always given me something to hold on to in a treacherous industry.
Her disappearance from pop culture for 12 years – between her albums The Red Shoes in 1993 and Aerial in 2005 – fascinated the world because there was this feeling of audacity in that: how could a pop star just choose to just walk away? But I knew, being a huge Kate Bush fan, that there were two major personal life events that had happened to her: she’d chosen to become a mum and she’d lost her own mother.
When Kate came back with her album Aerial she addressed grief in so many ways – not just the loss of her mother but the kind of grief I’ve addressed turning 50 as well: grief at how time can take things from us in slow ways.
The seventh song on the album, A Coral Room, really spoke to me when I heard it. In 100 years’ time someone will study that song and say: “She’s Keats, she’s incredible.” There are so many layers of metaphor in the song. She paints this picture of a sleepy seaside town with fishermen’s nets draped over tiny boats, almost like a spider web. And then she takes a step backward and describes that spider web as being the fabric of time itself. She eventually opens up about the loss of her mother, but it’s in such a gentle way; there’s such a reverence to the way she sings these two words – “my mother”. She then sings about this one object – a brown jug – that her mother kept in a room full of treasures, and gave her mother so much joy, that she would sing to it: “Little brown jug don’t I love thee.”
There’s this piano riff that sounds like time slowing down, and Kate describes the jug falling and breaking. The first time I heard it my heart ripped out of my chest because I realised this was her mother falling ill, or leaving this plane. Then she brings back this metaphor about the spider, and now it’s something terrifying because a little spider crawls out of the broken jug. And I think about that association we have when life leaves something and insects move in. I’m reminded of when I was a little boy in Queensland, I had an ancient pet cockatoo named Bobo who used to swear like a trooper and had no feathers. He died in the middle of the night and I remember finding him fallen, and cockroaches and ants had already come in and started the process of decomposition.
It just speaks to me about how precious time is, and how precious the tiny moments are that we have with each other. I think so much about my own mother who I’m very close to – she lives in Brisbane and I live in Los Angeles – and I see my own life in A Coral Room’s cinematic vignettes.
A Coral Room is one of many songs on Aerial where Kate really looks at motherhood – both her relationship to her own mother and her experience of having her child, Bertie, and how that changed her. It profoundly touches me.
In the 11-year break I had between albums –2011’s Secret Codes and Battleships and 2022’s Homosexual – my self-esteem took such a hit because my identity was so wrapped up in my vocation. But I really needed to have a decade or more of experiences of life – or maybe just find friends who weren’t on the payroll. In that time I got to have this incredible parenting experience – I became a godfather to the daughter of one of my best friends who I met while studying at an improv school in LA. One day a week, for the first three years of her life, I got to co-parent. That human experience really helped me heal a lot of childhood stuff.
When I started in Savage Garden I had this gaping hole in me which was the huge trauma of my own childhood. I really was escaping, and it was wonderful because I got to become someone else, but I was never comfortable with fame and attention. Having hits was an amazing accident that’s given me an incredible life. But I’m not really made for that. Offstage I feel very fragile. I’m a sensitive person. So Kate Bush’s career has been a real roadmap for me in terms of having hiatuses. She made me realise that I can do things my way and the right people will wait and be patient.
There’s something about Kate Bush that’s very Gaia, very Mother Earth. She has an inviting, inclusive energy and she embodies everything that it means to be feminine in a way that is incredibly empowering. And she proves it’s possible to do everything on your own terms without ever compromising.