When British band Bush broke out into mainstream culture back in 1994 with their album Sixteen Stone, lead singer Gavin Rossdale turned more than a few heads. The raspy voiced frontman, featured on MTV and radio stations across America, was quickly deemed one of rock’s sexiest, most talented men. Bush quickly rose in popularity and developed a huge following of devoted fans.
Seven years and three studio albums later, Rossdale is still quite worthy of the status he has achieved. With a popular girlfriend in the industry, (Gwen Stefani of No Doubt), a strong interest in his own intellectual culmination, an awareness of the ups and downs of the music business and a genuine desire to reach out to his fans, Rossdale proves that not only does he know what’s going on, but that he’s got it going on.
Rossdale recently took time out of his schedule to chat with me about Gwen, nude bondage photos and Bush’s latest album Golden State—an album whose sounds return to the familiarity of the original that put them on the Billboard charts. By the end of the conversation, even after having just celebrated his 34th birthday, the very chill, easy going rocker proved that he is definitely in his prime.
UR: Since all of Bush’s previous albums have been recorded in London, why did you choose to record Golden State in the United States?
Rossdale: Just to get a different flavor. And the guys we were working with wanted to make one out there. And also, Gwen had been with me in London and I wanted to kinda split the time between London and L.A. when I’m not touring. So, I just wanted to be around Gwen. And my drummer’s girlfriend lives there. The three of us, including the producer, had girlfriends in L.A., so it was like, for that knightly love thing.
UR: Speaking of Gwen, does having a girlfriend who’s also a part of the music industry make the relationship easier because you both understand being busy?
Rossdale:Yeah, it does actually. A lot of the time, she totally understands. She came to New York; she stayed in New York the last few days just to hang out with me. It’s been really frustrating because I’ve had to work the whole time.
UR:Do you get to spend a lot of time together?
Rossdale: Yeah, yeah. The last year and a half we’ve been together all the time. So, yeah, most of the time we’re together. But now, when we’re touring, we’re not together. When we’re not touring and physically having to be away from our own places, we’re together.
UR: I’ve read that “Out of This World” is your favorite track from GS. Why is that?
Rossdale: Because I like the kind of dreamscape, atmospheric tracks the best—to write. They’re the most liquid and the most natural and I just happen to really love that song, “when we die, we go into the arms of those that remember us.” It’s poignant now, and strong. I love the beats on it and the sounds and the way I play guitar, and Dave’s bass. It’s kind of got everything I like in there.
UR: After the Sept.11th attacks, you changed GS’s cover art and the title of “Speed Kills.” Do you think musicians need to continue to be more sensitive in these difficult times or do you think things should go back to normal?
Rossdale: Well, I think this is an extraordinary event, or events, on that day. I’ve just actually changed, on “Head Full of Ghosts,” with that line that goes, “at my best when I’m terrorist inside.” Before the attacks, I’ve grown up with 30 years of IRA terrorism. We take Greenpeace with us on tour. I’ve supported PETA for a long time, so these people are ecoterrorists. Before Sept.11th, the word “terrorist,” while having grave connotations, also just meant freedom fighters in certain ways. They’re not people that you wouldn’t have in your house. They’re people who are heavily committed to saving the environment and put their own lives at risk, so they call themselves “ecoterrorists.” And I couldn’t put “eco” in there, so I just put “terrorist.” And it was a poetic license moment. Then after the attacks, it’s just…so vile and so anti-human and so despicable that I didn’t want to sing that line anymore, so I changed it yesterday to “maverick,” which is a better meaning, exactly what I meant. I think this track is coming out as a single in a few weeks and that will have “at my best when I’m maverick inside,” and the next print run of the album will have that as well on it. Because I just don’t want that and I don’t care what people think as to whether you should change art and all that nonsense. It’s just what I wanted to do. I wrote it, so I can change it.
UR: What’s the most outrageous thing a fan has ever done to get your attention?
Rossdale: Send nude bondage pictures of themselves would be reasonably at the top of the list. I think the nude photos sections I get, and I get nude fan mail. Along with the mail, I got an amazing Allen Ginsburg book yesterday. I got a fantastic book the day before. This one girl…The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, written by this Japanese, very famous writer. She said to me, came up to me and said, “I’ve read everything that you’ve recommended, and that you’ve talked about.” On the website, for instance, I list a lot of writers I really like. And she wanted to present me with something, to give me something back. So I loved that. I get the kind of raunchy, hot, naked fan mail—which I, to be honest, don’t mind at all. I’m very touched that people go to such efforts to tie themselves up and take pictures. And I really love it when…I was sitting in the bath the other night, drinking some wine and opened this letter from this woman who wrote saying, “Your words affect me and touch me so much. You can never understand what this band has done for me. I would like to give you something in return. I know it’s not very much, but please, here’s this book. Yours sincerely,” then her name. And it was just unconditional. Most of the time, people want you to write back to them, but it was unconditional. It was respectful. It was just about the work that I do and I loved her for it.
UR: Do you ever write back to fans?
Rossdale: Yeah, I do. Well, I go on my website and I go into the forum and I answer things on there. If people have done certain things or given me certain presents or gone to extraordinary lengths, I call them up and just shock them by thanking them. They never expect me to ring. I’ve had people make beautiful books or collages of pictures or certain things and I will ring them up and just freak them out, and be like, “Hey! Gavin here. Thanks for doing that.” They’re like, “Oh my God!” I do reply on my website to people.
UR: In one posting on your website, you cleared up a rumor about you and Smashing Pumpkins…Do you think it’s important for bands to answer questions about themselves before they get out of control?
Rossdale: Not always, not always. I mean, I think that people know too much about bands and too much about people these days. And people are so obsessed with knowing certain things about celebrities. Going back to when James Dean…when he was like the heartthrob of America and really interesting and very dedicated to his craft, or like the young Brando or something—it was lovely you didn’t know that much about them. Obviously we’re too young to experience it how it was, but there is a sense that people’s lives are just way too much laid out, not only to like who cares, but the important thing is the work you do. And It’s better for people to be slightly enigmatic. I think the whole thing about people knowing everything and nooks and crannies…it’s such a confessional that we live in. And there’s certain things that have gone on in my life that I will never confess to. I will never talk about out of respect for certain people that are still living, out of respect for my family, different hard times in my family, which is quite dysfunctional. I don’t know about all this stuff where people spill their beans and everyone’s got to find out about them and lay themselves bare. And I understand that it helps people to identify with them if they’ve gone through something terrible, but I wish there was a way that it could be done without having to display your guts. Being English, I think I don’t come from a confessional place. And it’s just a bit much for me, I think—to be enigmatic is good.
UR: Compared to the other albums, how pleased are you with the outcome of GS?
Rossdale: Really pleased. I feel it’s very cohesive, all together. On the last record, I felt like I was fighting everyone because I didn’t want to just make a rock record. I didn’t want to just…I wanted to challenge myself and challenge the band to give it a more modern sound. I didn’t want it to be so traditional and so that’s why I was very much the one leading the kind of charge of, “Well, let’s put some, bleed some beats in here and let’s give it a bit of London. So I just felt like it was me against the world a little bit because I felt a little bit alone in my efforts to have as modern a sound as possible. I wanted to pave some way. I felt the audience we had was large and that I wanted to open things up and make people go, “Yeah, I love the way they’ve done “Chemicals,” and then go check out Underworld or Primal Scream and just be into those bands. I think it was a tough one. I was a bit straddled, two worlds literally in that one where the traditional approach of pure band and then the kind of more approach like Depeche Mode from London. And there was a sense of…I don’t know, I felt like I was getting trouble because it only sold two million copies—people told me it was a stiff. Like, “Oh man, I thought that was a lot.” Look at PJ Harvey. What does she sell? And I love her. She’s amazing. She sells like 200,000 or something. People are so obsessed with sales and business; it’s terrible. [The] music business is terrible because it therefore makes it about the business and I just care about the music; I really do. I always see myself as not a flash in the pan. I thought we could have a career doing this so I knew that I could take risks, but maybe I went a bit close to the fire on the last one (laughs). Everyone was like, “Oh my God; we’re burning, we’re burning. Get us out. Make a rock record. Write a rock song; it’s fine.” I go, “OK try these.” “OK, we love these.” Everyone’s like, “Oh my God, Bush! They’re doing their first record…I’m like, “Hold on!” I only did like four tracks on the last record that were a bit more electronic based. There was fucking “English Fire” and “Prizefighter” and all these tracks that were really pure rock songs. I remember playing “English Fire” to Tom Morello and he’s like, “Man, this should be the fucking single. If I had anything to do with it, this would be a single.” It’s really hardcore, strange rock; I was really proud of that song. But it just…whatever, that’s the way it goes. People hear the singles and assume that’s the whole flavor of the record.