Twelve million Bush fans can’t be wrong. That’s how many records the British band have sold in the U.S. since they took over American alternative radio in 1994 with four hit songs, “Everything Zen,” “Comedown,” Machinehead” and “Glycerine,” all from their debut, Sixteen Stone.
Unfortunately, after that, Bush could do no right. In 1995, an A&R rep in England, asked about why the band were not signed to a record deal in the U.K., explained to British paper, The Guardian, “At the time, they were a good band, but far too polished.”
“Welcome to my life,” Gavin Rossdale says.
Maybe no other band has been so ostracized, so criticized because of what they had going for them — good alternative songs, hits no less, an exceptional live show, British charm and a looker for a lead singer who has seemingly few, if any, truly destructive character flaws. Bush was painted as the “boy band” of the alternative era — bubblegum grunge — and frontman, Gavin Rossdale, the genre’s Britney Spears, forever asking to be taken seriously, not to be hated for being beautiful.
But it is nearly eight years later and no longer a crime to sell your songs for use in car commercials or to even be happy and Bush — Rossdale, guitarist Nigel Pulsford, drummer Robin Goodridge and bassist Dave Parsons — are back with a new record Golden State, full of loud, crunchy guitars and classic alternative angst from the straight-up punk of “My Engine in With You” to the stop-start grunge heroics of “People That We Love.”
“People’s reactions have been like, scarily good,” Rossdale says of Golden State. “I’m not used to it. People seem to really like it, and that’s a nice feeling. But I’m like, ‘Really?'”
So how are you feeling now that the record’s finally done?
We’re excited. It’s not the best time to be bringing stuff out I’d imagine because inevitably I’m sure that America is gripped by what’s going on in Afghanistan. But, by the same token, it’s really good to continue, to not allow the terrorism to infiltrate our lives as much as possible. I feel proud of that. We’re setting off into a positive area and trying to get on with our lives.
With that in mind, you’ve changed the title of the first single [It was originally called “Speed Kills,” but changed to “People That We Love” — a lyric from the song’s chorus].
We just felt that it was an inappropriate collection of words at this point despite the fact that it’s got nothing to do with war and nothing to do with aggression — it was the speed of thought. But just the word “kills” didn’t seem the best word to use.
What sound were you trying to achieve on Golden State?
I think to be honest, a lot of it was thinking about what kind of stuff I wanted to do live. To write new songs, you’ve got to start knocking some songs off the set list, and so I just kind of thought about songs like that, really. So everything had to be quite strident and forceful because we were playing in a rehearsal room and it was horrible [laughs], so it had to be strong.
So how does thinking about performing actually influence the writing of a song?
It’s usually whether I stand up or sit down to write them. If I want to think about how to deal with an audience, how it works, I just think to one of the shows. I will play the drum machine loud enough and the guitar loud enough so I can sing full out, really free, not inhibited in any way. I used to write songs, like you know in a falsetto voice or something. So with this one I was like just singing it out.
One of the earliest articles on Bush in Rolling Stone was titled “Nirvanawannabes?” Do you finally feel free of the comparisons to your American contemporaries?
I hope so. I would be shocked if we still had a lot of hostility, because I think that we’ve shown that we’ve lasted the course. Now we move into a different time, bringing out a record and stuff, and I hope that that is the case. I mean you never know, so I wouldn’t bet my house on it, but at the same time you can only say someone’s s— for so long [laughs], before you have to recognize them for what they do. I just have faith. So I got over it now. I’ve got a great life. Things are good. I’m alive. I’m making things that I really care about. F— it, you know what I mean? What else can there be?
But were you able to be so even keeled about it then?
Well, no, it’s just bewildering, because I wasn’t equipped, and I didn’t realize what I’d done wrong, you know what I mean? It’s just so mean. It’s like, “Hold on. I just f—ing made a record, you f—ing wankers! I’m not a terrorist.” And so it did seem a little farfetched at the time, but so was our success. I guess everything came in large amounts.
What do you think it was exactly that really rankled the people who criticized you?
I think initially they didn’t give the band any credence because it was reported that I looked good. Every band was like that. I thought the Clash and the Sex Pistols look amazing. I thought Bob Marley was a beautiful man, you know what I mean? I thought that was an accepted part of music, I thought that was OK. For me, I got really in trouble for it and it was such a weird, weak thing to attack me about. It’s patently nothing to do with me, is it? You’re born how you look. Well most of the time [laughs].
Not to mention that you never quite shared the extreme dysfunction of your contemporaries. I don’t think that helped.
Well, but I mean it’s such a puerile point of view, that if Eddie [Vedder] walks in with a furrowed brow he’s that much deeper than everyone else. Because I’m just kind of, like, easy going, but I’m also not easy going.
Was it hard to move on? Did you feel paralyzed after Sixteen Stone, like nothing you did was going to be right?
It took courage and stupidity to rise up to it. It’s kind of daunting and I don’t know, certainly, in the current scheme of how music is. Music is more full of s— than ever. So I’d like to be part of the solution to culture and music, as opposed to anything that was trying to in some way discredit music. A lot of these acts that you see now aren’t any good — they’re just not good for music. So I just want to make music that encourages people to listen to other music, you know? Or music to inspire, to change people, to move people.
And now you’re one of the few alternative bands left. Was there any pressure in that position making Golden State?
No because we’ve always been forced to exist in the air. We’ve never been critically embraced. But I’ve always felt that in true outsider style — which is kind of ironic because of the style of music — that we just exist on our own plane and with our fans. I don’t know about that stuff. I definitely don’t feel like a spokesperson for all the people that left.
Listening to the lyrics on the album ,there’s still a sense of angst but it’s external now, not internal. Has your perspective changed a bit?
I think so. I mean, I think that’s just a natural order of things. For a while you self-obsess and navel gaze about something, and then you find different ways to get through it, and records are just slices of life. Lyrically, the people I think are amazing are Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. So I just write about what I’m thinking about.
So is there anything you wanted to say with this record. A theme?
The unifying thing is how precious we are. Which is doubly ironic given the situation that we have with the war going on. You know we all live around chaos. I’m obsessed about this idea about chaos because I think the chaos exists naturally around us and probably should be embraced. But the other side of it is how so many times, when you’re looking for a solution, it’s right there in front of you. And the idea of Golden State is this place which is some kind of a level playing field in a pursuit of good things.
Have you found that?
I think I’m on the way. I don’t think you ever find everything like that. I think it’s like a really noble attempt. I think at certain points I feel like I really fulfilled it really well and other times I feel not like that. And that’s what’s amazing about life. You can drink wine and if you can’t enjoy the hangover or try to learn from the hangover, you shouldn’t drink it. And there are things to find in that space, things to find in the negative equity of things.
There are a lot of “she”s throughout the lyrics, like you’re saying, the world’s a mess but you and I will be all right.
Of course, of course I base my life as much around Gwen [girlfriend and No Doubt singer Stefani] as I do myself. I think of us in the same light so inevitably there’d be that.
And Gwen pretty much lays things on the line in her lyrics, doesn’t she?
She certainly does. She certainly f—ing does, I’m like, “Can’t you f—ing like, put a bit of poetry around that? I don’t f—ing know — does it have to be that?” But that’s her thing. Her new record is amazing. You’re gonna love it.
So what do you during your downtime?
Go to galleries, go to clubs, go see gigs. Go see my friends, hang out, stare at Gwen. Normal stuff.
Do you still play soccer?
No, not so much because it was getting a bit hectic. Too much contact and I’m quite an aggressive player [laughs]. I’ve been away too much. I stopped playing for my team and getting into other stuff.
So having an American girlfriend are you into any American sports now, like baseball?
Well, I really have been enjoying a little bit of ice hockey and the Lakers. I went to see them a few times. I don’t know if I support them, but I went to see them a few times and it’s a great game, basketball. I love it.
Has Gwen turned you on to anything particularly American you never thought you’d like?
Velveeta. She just knows about it. And I go, “Wow, this is crazy. There’s not even a cow in sight!” [laughs]
Were you into American music as a kid?
Weirdly enough, I guess seeing Soul Asylum when they were really good in a small club — it was full-on I’d never seen anything like it. And the Chili Peppers when Hillel [Slovak] was playing with them. I just saw those shows when I was really young and I was like, “F— it all!” So obvious that the Americans bands are so much wilder as performers. I mean, images of Iggy Pop — it’s like so many great performers came out from America. But I liked a lot of reggae stuff and some of the London bands like Steel Pulse. I’m just like the b—— son of music.
Did you always know you wanted to be a musician?
No, I didn’t know what I wanted to be. I just didn’t want to compromise in stuff and just felt very clear in the fact that I just wanted to figure stuff out myself. I was probably a little bit difficult. I was very introverted and very withdrawn. Except when I played football — I was not introverted whatsoever.
What position did you play?
I was center in midfield. Believe me, I loved it so much. I was even quite useful at certain points in my life.
It must have been terrible to give that up.
Well you know, you realized you can’t do everything. It’s unfortunate, that’s the way it goes . . . I didn’t know if I was going to be world class so I didn’t pursue it.
Did you have the same doubts in music?
Yeah, of course. But I got a lot out of it, just enjoyed it a lot, did it for love.
In “Head Full of Ghosts” there’s the lyric, “Be sure that what you dream of won’t come to hunt you out.”
Well that’s the way, isn’t it? That’s the thing about blessings and curses how they kind of go together. If you spend a lot of time obsessing about something sometimes the obsession becomes more vital than the actual fact that you wanted it.
So are you glad with the way things turned out? Or is it still hard to adjust to the rock star life?
No [laughs]. I’m really at home now.