Bush, Back To The Future

by Liisa Ladouceur
Watch Magazine
December 1999

Bush contemplated intelligent life on other planets, as well as on this one.

Gavin Rossdale believes in karma, It’s one of the reasons why he and his band Bush still play nice with those who have dissed them. Rather than retaliate for years of disrespect from North America critics, the singer continues to turn his chiseled cheek and offer himself up for interrogation and possible insult. And so, on the eve of Bush’s newest release, The Science of Things, Rossdale, bassist Dave Parsons and drummer Robin Goodridge are sitting pretty in the well-kept suite of a downtown Toronto hotel, ready to explain where they’ve been and where they’re at.

‘We’re all capable of being unfriendly,’ explains Rossdale. ‘But we have an innate respect for people. It seems so calculated to be a pissy rock star. You can throw up on people, tell them to get lost. Then they go away thinking, ‘Wow! That’s so deep and interesting. I wish I had such a weird life.’ But it’s so puerile. Our roots go deeper than that.’

Since the band’s emergence five years ago, Bush’s roots have been a hot issue. For some listeners, they’re about as deep as the Nirvana catalogue, as profound as Rossdale’s shiny locks. But the Brits who embraced America’s alternative rock sound will point out that they were ripping off The Pixies (and so was Kurt), and that pretty faces might get you a record deal and a few video spins, but can hardly account for four smash hits on a debut record. From ‘Everything’s Zen,’ the opening track on 1994’s Sixteen Stone, Bush has delivered one successful single after another: ‘Comedown,’ ‘Glycerine,’ ‘Swallowed,’ ‘Greedy Fly,’ ‘Mouth’ to name just a few.

Although the band members would rather not be compared to Depeche Mode (more on that later), the two groups have much in common. Both bands were much maligned by critics and audiences in their homeland for their mainstream take on an underground music style (DM for new wave, Bush for ‘grunge’). Both came to North America from across the pond and made it big with a string of Top 40 hits heavily injected with dark religious and sexual tones. Oh, and being good looking didn’t hurt either of them.

Now, Bush has more in common with Depeche Mode than ever. On its newest album, The Science of Things, the band has embraced the synthetic sounds once exclusively the property of new wavers. Before the disc’s release, there was much whispering of the band’s new ‘electronic’ sound, but Rossdale insists rock fans have no cause for concern.

‘People drew conclusions about the record before they heard it,’ he explains. รข’It’s not like we turned into Depeche Mode or something. It was a case of blending in the technology, not washing everything over with it. There are elements there but we haven’t lost our identity. I think bands have always made guitar records with drum machines, so it’s wrong to talk about it like it’s a new thing.’

The first single, ‘The Chemicals Between Us,’ boasts an impressive blend of organic guitar punch and digital drum programming, much like recent work from Smashing Pumpkins and R.E.M. But unlike those bands, which used a lot of sampled beats when their drummers left, Bush’s rhythm keeper was on-hand throughout the recording process.

‘I made a record in ’91 with a band called The Beautiful People,’ explains Goodridge. ‘It was all me drumming, looping and sampling myself, so I’ve been totally okay with the whole technology thing. There’s only so much sonic space in a song, and it gives more space for other instruments if you don’t use a proper drum kit. As long as I’m involved, it’s cool. If there was ever a time when Bush made a song and I wasn’t there, then my ego would kick in.’

As usual, The Science of Things started without Robin, Dave or guitarist Nigel Pulsford (absent for the interview due to family health emergency); songwriting solely the property of Gavin Rossdale. For this album, Rossdale retreated into the Irish countryside, surrounded himself with nothing but ocean and wrote more than 25 songs. The isolation brought out his feelings about his own relationships, the world around us and above us, and how we’ll deal with the century ahead.

Much like Marilyn Mason’s Mechanical Animals, The Science of Things contemplates man’s future and place in the present. On tracks like ‘Space Travel’ (featuring backing vocals by Gavin’s sweetie, No Doubt singer Gwen Stefani), themes of science fiction and alienation are prominent, but unlike Manson, Bush hasn’t turned the state of humanity into a self-glorifying, self-fulfilling prophecy. There’s a refreshing dose of socio-political commentary on songs like ‘The Disease of the Dancing Cats,’ and when Rossdale tackles the less popular subject of drugs, he’s talking about the powers of pharmaceutical industry.

‘I don’t think people make protest songs anymore,’ says Rossdale, ‘I know Rage Against the Machine do politicize songs, but generally bands don’t. But we are all victims of chemical companies these days. We have to be looking at whether or not they’re advancing medicine as fast as they should be. Drugs make a lot of money for the richest corporations in the world if people use them instead of being cured. Think of the money that’s made sustaining AIDS. There’s a theory that progress has been halted for finical reasons. I mean, they can’t even cure athlete’s foot, because they want you to keep buying the spray.’

Rossdale speaks passionately about the AIDS issue, most notably on the poignant rack ‘Letting the Cables Sleep.’ The quiet, string-enhanced number is one of the album’s most stirring moments, and one of the most important for the band.

‘A really close friend of mine discovered that he was HIV-positive, and he didn’t tell any of us for about six months,’ says Rossdale, his soft voice getting softer. ‘he lived with the shame and the stigma of it, as terrified as you could possibly feel about anything. When I found out, I felt so bad because I should have been there for him. So I wrote this song about silence. He’s given me permission to talk about it, because to me the best part of that song it that I can destigmatize it. It’s not a disease of the unclean, it’s a disease that can happen to anyone. Certainly, I’ve been there, and I think every kind of person has been in a situation where they could have been infected. Nobody is perfect, and if you think you could never be exposed to it, you’re lying to yourself. he was just really, really unfortunate. So that’s what the song is about, but it’s mostly about the need for communication.’

Communication is The Science of Things central theme. Bush stresses that all technological advances in the world, from new music gear to modern medicine, won’t help us if we can’t talk to each other. ‘Technology speeds up communication,’ says Rossdale. ‘But it doesn’t necessarily provide answers.’

Ironically, this examination of out prospects comes at the height of discussion about new millennium. Bush never intended The Science of Things to coincide with the year 2000 (record company politics and a lawsuit delayed the disc for months), but Parsons says it’s no big deal either way. Whether the new year excites or scares you, there’s always another one.

‘You can’t get away from the future,’ he says,’It’s always there.’

Just like Bush.

The Science of Bush

On its new album, Bush explores the science of things, including heavenly themes of space travel and astronomy. Watch asked Gavin Rossdale, Robin Goodridge and Dave Parsons about their own experiences with science.

Did you like science in school?

Robin:I always liked Biology. Physics I was supposed to be good at but I hated it. So much of education is based on your teacher. My Physics teacher was the most absolutely dull human being that one could possibly have to spend two hours a day with. I am more inspired by human beings than by subjects, so I excelled at English because my teacher was an absolute genius, and completely failed at Physics, even though I was good s at it.

David: I used to love science in school. I was always interested in the way things work, especially Chemistry.

Gavin: I was a bit intimidated by it, I didn’t understand science too well. But I did have a period where I sort of enjoyed it. And I have a brilliant Physics teacher, who died in a really violent manner. It was really sad. I was never very good at it, but I think it’s because I started off on the wrong foot. I was too embarrassed and sat in the back but I should have spoken up and explained that I didn’t understand it.

On ’40 Miles from the Sun’ you say ‘I’ll confront the stars tonight.’ Do you believe in astrology?

Gavin:I love it when it’s done properly. I’m not a fan of it unless people really know what they’re talking about. I have a really open mind about all these things. Anything is possible. That’s the reference in that song. The only problem I have with it is that it doesn’t give advice, it just explains things.

Robin:I don’t like people who go through four different birth signs trying to tell you yours until they get it right. Then they say that explains everything about you.

David: The problem I have with it is that you only read the bits that you think apply to you, not the parts in between that you think you’re not. You dismiss those. Like, there’s one paragraph for millions of people.