by Steve Warden
December 1997, issue #21
Laguana Beach, California. As the glamorous singer for one of the hottest new rock acts of the decade, Gavin Rossdale of Bushx is the sort of red-hot celebrity you’d expect to be spending his down time in Los Angeles hanging around the Viper Room with Johnny Depp and Kate Moss or cavorting with scantily-clad models pool side at Chateau Marmont.
Instead, Rossdale has decamped to a spectacular, five-star oceanfront resort in Laguana Beach, a 90-minute drive south of LA where rich Republicans swim, surf and tool around in Cadillacs and big German sedans. Out of place, but virtually anonymous as a result, the reluctant rock star is attempting to catch his breath in between a whirlwind tour to hype the new Bush album Razorblade Suitcase, the anxiously awaited followup to the British bands 1994 multi-platinum Sixteen Stone, and a concert tour of New Zealand and Australia. The 27 (error, 29) year old Londoner is not only Bush’s photogenic frontman (the other band members are guitarist Nigel Pulsford, bassist Dave Parsons and drummer Robin Goodridge) but also its main creative force, solely responsible for the bands music and lyrics. As such, everybody wants a piece of him: media, industry and fans, especially girls.
Face it, the guy’s a star. He’s tall and handsome, if not dark, and, in fact, incredibly nice. So even if you’re no seduced by his looks, he’s capable of charming the pants off you. And if his charm and his looks don’t make an impression, then his music might. It certainly did with the six or seven million people who bought Sixteen Stone. The meteoric rise of Bush (or Bushx their silly moniker in Canada due to a conflict with the old, defunct band led by guitarist Domenic Troiano) was one of the biggest stories in music last year, with hits like ‘Everything Zen’, ‘Glycerine’ and ‘Machinehead’ dominating rock radio, and Rossdale’s gorgeous mug splashed on the front of several major magazines (including a contentious Rolling Stone cover, about which we’ll speak later).
It wasn’t all wine and roses. Critics carved up the band, dismissing them as British Nirvana wannabes. There were endless months of international touring, followed immediately by the writing and recording of the new album. No wonder Rossdale has retreated to the beach to recharge his batteries for a few days. But even here, in the midst of his mini-vacation, the lad’s hard at work: checking artwork for the album, consulting with his label on release details and enduring yet another visit from the nosy media. Still, Rossdale is gracious and well-mannered to a fault, if a little reticent, as we begin our noon-hour chat over Bloody Marys.
SW: Congratulations on getting this new album done.
GR: Thank you, I did make it just, by the skin of my teeth. I sometimes wonder how I managed to write those songs, but I’m happy. I mean, originally I was going to get two-and-a-half months to write. And then a five week tour turned into a three-and-a-half month tour, so it kind of made it a little bit tricky with writing.
SW: Well, it was supposed to come out next spring, right? And then it was pushed up. So why did that happen?
GR: We had the time booked with Steve Albini (producer of Razorblade Suitcase and acclaimed know-twiddler for Nirvana, the Pixies and the Breeders, among others). We did it in three weeks, and we came out, played it and everybody was like, let’s bring it out. And that was the problem, really. Everyone thought it was going to be early next year and we’d have time to do stuff and kick back. Instead, it’s just been like crazy, crazy, crazy.
SW: What effect did the rush have on the record, if any?
GR: Probably helped it… what, instead of having that two and a half months off? I probably would’ve been happier and easier-going. I mean, I just would’ve had more time to rest as opposed to being, you know, shattered. But, like anything, it’s the way it’s meant to be. I don’t sit here and think that I wish I had more time to craft this and that. I mean, I don’t see this as the last record I ever make. So it’s just the second record I’ve made.
SW: Is it true that people tried to dissuade you from using Steve Albini?
GR: Yeah, I think even my milkman told me not to use Steve Albini. I went to buy a paper the other morning, and the guy said to me. ‘You know, I really respect what you’re doing, but I can’t believe you’d bother to make a record with Steve Albini- you can’t hear the vocals.’ You just have to follow your heart, I wanted to do my first record with Albini. I’ve always wanted to do a record with him. I mean, I never thought I’d get the chance to, but it was the right decision. He was great with the band.
SW: How’d you get together with him?
GR: I called him up when I was in Chicago and went for a Thai lunch with him and his girlfriend, Heather. And I didn’t dare discuss any music stuff for the entire lunch. And then at the end of it, I said ‘Look, what’s so weird is that I’ve been catapulted into this position where I’m really fortunate, and I can pretty much have a good pick of rock producers and rock engineers, or whatever, that might wanna work with us, you know?’ And he was the first choice. And he seemed pretty happy to do that. I figured he’d want to spit in my face, but he didn’t, so…..
SW: Why’d you think that?
GR: Because he’s the king of the underground, and I guess we’re the kings of the undergrowth. No, I mean… people think he’s this indi terrorist who’s gonna come in and kill everybody or something. But, in fact he’s a very gracious punk.
SW: What did you want him to do, and what did he actually do when you got together?
GR: I wanted him to do what he’d done for the Breeders. I wanted him to make the band in the most revealing way. I wanted it to be as though… he’s the one who, to me, creates the most interesting textures and rock sounds, just very true. I mean, obviously he’s never going to make us sound like Jesus Lizard, much as I’d like… but the whole point of working with Steve is that he cannot construct a record for you. You know, I did three over dubs in, like, 20 songs. So you just play everything at that time.
SW: What do you get out of song writing personally?
GR: I feel justified, in my kind of Calvinist sense. You know, I feel that I’ve achieved something. I feel like I do stuff. I mean, that’s how I’ve always described myself, as being a songwriter. And when I write a song, I’m really happy ’cause I just feel like I’ve got loads of credit, and I can take a mental holiday.
SW: What was it like to see yourself in shirtless repose on the cover of Rolling Stone?
GR: Hideous. That photographer told me that picture was for the inside. And it was meant to be me sitting on my bed, drinking tea. And it turned into, like, a sort of fashion shoot on a bed. You know, I honestly didn’t care. I’m just really annoyed that I made them so much money, and I’m annoyed that they would choose that picture that would sell their magazine a lot more than… I dunno. I’d really like to see the figures at the end of the year. I don’t normally care about figures. But to make those yuppie wankers all that money and then not even have the kind of style and grace… you know, to put on the cover (under the photo) ‘Why doesn’t anyone take him seriously?’ It just negated the whole experience, which is kind of sad. But not that they would give a shit. I’m the only I know who could get on the cover of Rolling Stone and get slagged off. Ha ha. Perfect!
SW: It raises the whole question of exploiting your looks to sell records. Have you made your peace with that?
GR: I think that was definitely exploiting me to sell magazines. But the idea of using me to sell the band… I mean, I am the band. Yes, I agree that to have me shirtless sort of, you know, sucking my finger is definitely pretty sad. But those things you learn from. What can you do? I haven’t been in a porn video so it’s not quite that level of disgrace. That’s the wrong word – I wouldn’t judge anyone in porn video, I think they’re really cool, people in porn videos, but you know….
SW: Are you enjoying all this? I don’t mean this interview, necessarily, but this whole trip?
GR: Yes, I am. For me to make a record with Albini, having grown up listening to the Pixies, nothing could make me happier in the world, so that’s brilliant And yeah, I’m really bummed out about playing to sold-out crowds that know all my songs and are really into the band. So, again, I’m really lucky.