Bush’s Wait Problem

by Jenny Eliscu
August 6, 1999

Bush are finally ready to throw their fans a frickin’ bone

For the past three years, Bush fans have been pretty patient, waiting for a new record without complaining a peep. But when modern rock radio stations around the country saw their chance to play a new Bush song, they pounced with ravenous delight. Less than a day after the band’s brilliant Woodstock performance, DJs started playing bootlegged live recordings of “Chemicals Between Us” — one of five new songs the band had included in its set — and didn’t, well, desist until the band’s label intervened.

It was a glaring sign that Bush’s public was starving for something new from their favorite British rock band. But this week’s announcement that the legal, studio version of “Chemicals,” the first single from the band’s upcoming third album, The Science of Things, will hit radio on September 9 means that fans won’t go hungry much longer.

But for the band, November 2 is the date no doubt circled in red on its calendar: That’s the day The Science of Things will finally come out, after having been in dry-dock for more than two years. The long wait has been tough enough for Bush’s fans to endure, but was even more demoralizing for the band.

“It affects how you feel every day,” says frontman Gavin Rossdale. “Because we worked really hard on that: I really tried to push myself writing those songs and we really tried to make it a great record. So, of course, you’re coming through and then everyone’s like, ‘No, wait there. Sit there a minute.’ You feel a bit like a horse in a stable, with the barn door firmly locked shut.”

The delays were largely the result of the band’s highly publicized legal battle with its label, Trauma Records. The dispute was settled this spring and now the band speaks about it with a sense of humor and the acknowledgment that these sorts of predicaments are inevitable.

“It’s all about money,” says drummer Robin Goodridge, explaining what prompted the band to demand a contract re-negotiation. “[The label] makes loads of it when you first get signed. And the odds are stacked against you as an artist to be successful. So therefore they have this big pile of money that they’re gonna make, whatever happens. Now there comes a point when you say, ‘Hang on a minute, whatever investment you make in us, you know you’re gonna make tenfold back. So why is the equation still stacked entirely in your favor?’ We took a gamble and we kind of won because they weren’t making any money with anybody else. Then they had to come back and say ‘yeah, okay.’ We only wanted what was fair. We actually got more than what was fair if you actually think about it.”

And why shouldn’t they? Bush, after all, have sold nearly fifteen million records since they first surfaced in 1994 with their debut album, Sixteen Stone. But, for a band that has done so well commercially, Bush have often been looked down upon by both the British and American press. The former resented the band’s instant success in the States: “They think we got it really easy because we got to be big rock stars in America,” Goodridge says. At the same time, critics here accused Bush of ripping off Seattle’s grunge scene in general, and Nirvana, in particular.

“It wasn’t the Northwest,” says guitarist Nigel Pulsford, with a tone that is not so much indignant as instructive. “It was the bloody Pixies. Everyone says the Seattle thing, but the Pixies started the ball rolling. They had a number one album [in the U.K.] with Doolittle. In a sense, they were the first sort of signpost to guitar rock getting popular again. And not long after came Seattle, and along came us and everyone else.”

“Just about everyone else has fallen off, but we’re still here,” says Goodridge. “That’s one of the things we’ll be defensive about. There is an element of pride in the fact that I’m sure everybody thought we were gonna fall into the Candlebox f—in’ scenario.”

“We were ‘one-hit wonders,'” Pulsford interjects, “and then we were ‘two-hit wonders…”

“Now it’s ‘the difficult third album,'” Goodridge adds, getting agitated at the very idea of what the press might say in the coming months. “How many f—in’ albums can we be successful on before you just admit that we can actually do what we do and people like us? And that’s as defensive as I’m gonna go.”

Rossdale, meanwhile, isn’t too worried about how The Science of Things will be received. He says: “We’ve sold so many more squillions of records than I thought we would ever would sell, that to try to appropriate any opinion of how we should sound, you would drive yourself crazy.” Rossdale’s attitudes about his success are surprisingly grounded, considering that, as the band’s heartthrob frontman, he’s got his own mega-stardom to contend with, in addition to the pressures of being in a platinum-selling rock band. “It’s more the pressure of just being good,” he counters. “I don’t believe that my pressure is greater than someone working in a lower profile situation. It’s still their career, it’s still their future, it’s still what they believe in, it’s still what they’re trying to achieve. Basic survival premises.

C’mon Gavin, don’t you think that the pressures are a little greater when the whole world is watching? After all, the band’s last record debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top 200 chart. What if this record flops? “The only thing I think we can try to do is make a really good record and you do the press and get yourself around and get heard,” he says. “I dunno. Maybe we could have a fireworks display in Times Square and I could come sliding in on Elle MacPherson’s shoulders or something. That’d be a good idea.

“So I think the short-term plan will be to give the record The Science of Things the illumination it deserves. I accept that challenge — I love the challenge. I’m a competitive workaholic. Not a crazy workaholic, but I’m into it.”

“Crazy” might not be such an overstatement, though. When it came time to write the songs for a new record, the uber-perfectionist holed up in a studio in Ireland and demoed twenty-four complete songs, all by himself. “Once I had an idea for a song, it was like, might as well put a drum beat on there,” he explains. “[Then], might as well put a bass on there with a guitar and might as well put keyboards on there. And then double-track the vocals. And try another guitar there. It’s just my own desire to get better at making music. And to be better at music you have to jump in and do it.”

But even the fellow who’s proven he can write huge hit songs doubts himself now and again. “A couple of times I thought to myself, ‘What if I can’t write any more songs?’ Well, then I had good fun and I made a career out of it and I did better than I thought.

“But I managed to squeeze out another record and I think I’ve got most of another record,” Rossdale says. “So we’ll be around a little bit longer.”