Bush Works Out its Formula

on The Science of Things
by Bob Gulla

Maligned by the press, the members of London’s Bush have in their brief but mercurial existence defied the odds and become rock superstars after just two albums. Despite negative reviews that often compared the band to then-DOA Nirvana, Bush’s stunning debut, Sixteen Stone, and the ultra-heavy, Steve Albini-produced Razorblade Suitcase went on to sell in the multi-millions, reaching a mega-audience thirsty for post-grunge, melodic hard rock.

Led by dashing singer, guitarist, and songwriter Gavin Rossdale, Bush has stormed to the forefront of modern rock, touring relentlessly, performing rigorously, and fighting fearlessly for the music in which it believes.

The band’s new album, The Science of Things — gritty, heavy, sexy, and intense –brings out the best in a band that will continue to see great success. Jump aboard as Rossdale take us on a journey through what it means to be Bush and the making of The Science of Things.

CDNOW: Where are you at right now in terms of preparing for the new record?

Gavin Rossdale: We’re taking care of a lot of business, gearing up for everything. It’s exciting because last time with Razorblade Suitcase there was a sense that it was commercially suicide, that it wasn’t going to have the same impact commercially as the first record. And we were happy with that, and we’d compensate for it with more touring.

This time the record is way more accessible, while at the same time harder than any record we’ve made. Of course, it’s way more accessible than all those testosterone bands you hear so much of..

How did Bush end up headlining Woodstock?

When we first agreed to do Woodstock it was to support the record, and it was in the plans. But business wasn’t resolved, and the record got delayed. But no English band had ever headlined there, and thanks to Aerosmith taking a vacation, we felt it would be this great, crazy thing.

We had just recorded 17 new songs, but the timing wasn’t right to play them. Our marketing men were tearing their hair out, canceling their beach house rentals and all that. “It’s not gonna work!” But there was a buzz about it, and it ended up working out really well. Our marketing guys can get their rentals back now.

“It’s all been so unfair. I only ever wanted to be a sexy rock band, but I was crucified for that.”

A review of the show said that you were the night’s only romantic personality.

Great! I wanna be that catalyst. I like that. It’s so much more a part of what we do. Normally, when we play we’re reasonably hard; we like it loud and play it feedbacky. But I like pop, too, and melody, and at Woodstock we were sort of lightweight compared to all the others.

I love all that romantic sexuality and craziness. I like it when the mood gets really fragile and really naked and really silent, then gets equally hard and wild. I love that dynamic. I wonder why all those hardcore bands don’t get quieter once in a while.

What was that experience like, playing to such a massive crowd?

I didn’t watch any bands or look at the crowd before we played. So when I walked straight onto the stage it was such a trip seeing all these people. I was really nervous; you’d have to be a freak not to be nervous. I get nervous playing to 250 people, let alone 250,000. Plus, we didn’t know what to expect. We hadn’t played songs that people didn’t know for five years. Plus, I was pretty beaten up from last night.

How do you get beaten up?

I felt I had to be in the crowd to really connect, so I incurred a few war wounds at a New York show, got a little bit thrashed. It’s good to play hurt; it gives you an edge.

How do you feel you’re progressing as a player?

I’m really a budding musician. I never learned music. Most of what I’ve learned has come from looking over [bandmate] Nigel [Pulsford]’s shoulder. He sees I’m creeping a little into his playing so he doesn’t let me watch him too much anymore. Music is such a mystery to me still that I’m always trying to find ways of exploring. I don’t see myself as a formulaic writer. I don’t have steps, or a drawer full of formulas. I just take little voyages, and I find things out. I start to appreciate feelings and feel and connections.

My technique requires severe polish. I try to get feelings across. I let the feeling drive a song as opposed to specifics. I still have a wicked paranoia: I don’t want to control my music. It’s a beast and shouldn’t be held back.

I heard that you needed help as a songwriter and player when you first started. Is that true?

Absolutely. I felt impotent. I had to rely on other people. I felt powerless because I had to find someone to work with. The first song I ever wrote alone was “Come Down.”

When I met Nigel, “Come Down” was the first song I showed to him. But, after collaborating with me for a while, he said one day, “It’s much better for you to bring songs in.” I think because he was bored working with me and wanted more free time. That was the greatest thing he ever said to me. Now I haven’t written with anyone since, and I don’t want to. I hate being dependent on other people.

What were the circumstances behind your writing for the new album?

I actually rented an old hunting lodge in West Cork, Ireland, to write. I wanted to be isolated. I had a chef, and people came and stayed for a few days at a time.

I worked every day in a little demo studio overlooking this beautiful lake. I’d write for five or 10 days, bring in a local engineer to make sure I patched everything in. I went out once or twice a week to the pub, walked with my dog for a couple of hours. You could walk in any direction for hours.

If I stayed at home in London, I’d have been going out, catching up on things, partying. So I stayed in Ireland for a full four months.

That sounds pretty poetic.

There were days and days of storms, heavy winds, crashing seas, and my dog would sit there with his nose in the air sniffing for a hare. It was so primal and magical.

What’s the hardest thing for Bush at this point in the band’s career?

The hardest thing for me is often the scope of our success and the large size of our audiences. We play to lots of people and sell lots of records, but there’s a feeling out there that the more you become part of the popular culture the less people listen to your music. Can’t they just listen to it properly?

You were really criticized for being a sound-alike, and I know that hurt you

I’ve never been allowed to talk about Kurt [Cobain] because of all the criticisms we’ve gotten, but I’m gonna tell you now because I know you’ll understand. It’s all been so unfair. I only ever wanted to be a sexy rock band, but I was crucified for that. There has to be a backlash against everything remotely in the same area as Nirvana, and we took the brunt of it.

But if you go check any bin-ends in the record store, and you’ll find more Nirvana clones than you’d ever believe. But wouldn’t it be great to hear what [Kurt] would be doing now? So many pure songwriters, great classic genius songwriters, get taken from us so early.