“My world was just all about how to make music.” For Gavin Rossdale, the frontman of iconic rock band Bush, music has been his most definitive driving force. Since picking up rhythmic guitar at seventeen, he has become the face of one of the foremost well-known rock bands of our time. Still, he never forgets that what it took to make it there was essentially to be a fan first. “I remember those first few years of touring and playing clubs, just playing and playing, and just the excitement of being a part of a scene. That was really the mainstream sound at that point, to play rock. It was just nice to be part of that and in that world.”
That world first started in London, after a second band break-up forced Gavin to start thinking about the bigger picture. “I was just left with facing up to being a failed musician, not really broadening my horizons. Living in London and really dialed in socially, I felt like I should challenge myself.” That challenge sent him on a couch surfing trip through America, where for close to four months he stayed with various friends, hoping to see what life living there would be like. It was during his last squatting session that the husband of a friend heard Rossdale sing. It wasn’t long until Bush became the phenomenon we now know so well, a first time experience that Rossdale himself can’t help but look back on with equal shock and warmth. On October 21st, 2014, Bush will be releasing their sixth studio album, Man on the Run. Two singles from the album are now available for download at iTunes here. Meanwhile, you can find Bush’s newest music video for “The Only Way Out” from their forthcoming album below this interview.
Gavin has most recently made headlines for assisting his wife Gwen Stefani in coaching sessions on the television show The Voice. Check out our full Q&A with Gavin and and click here to pick up a copy of The Untitled Magazine‘s “Legendary” Issue 7, featuring his 6-page feature, or download the free “Legendary” Issue App on iTunes now!
Indira Cesarine: I would love to get the background story about why Bush split up and then decided to get back together? It’s pretty unusual for that to happen.
Gavin Rossdale: The thing is, we had the first incarnation. We had a really great run. I was always inspired by creative people who did their band and side projects. I always felt like it was a shine of creativity. In the rope of making a record and going on tour for two years, come the second year, you start to feel less creative. The music landscape is changing and I just wanted to do something to shake it up a little bit. I wanted to do a side project, which I did, and it is a band called Institute. What I thought would be a nine month side project — when you work with Jimmy Iovine — turned into a three year process. By the time I did that and the next record, the guys had just gotten used to being at home and not really traveling and not really working. I said ‘Let’s do a record!’ Then one of them just backed out and said, ‘I’ve been thinking about it and I just can’t do it. I don’t want to go back to that life.’ It’s an incredible sacrifice for anyone who makes music and travels. I think that I wanted to keep Bush intact and then basically checkmated into a solo career. I had a solo career out of default–by design of wanting to be the next Peter Gabriel. I couldn’t help but look in my house and get inspired by my wife [Gwen Stefani], who had a fantastic solo run. I was thinking, well, it’s possible, let’s try this. I picked myself up from the disappointment of it not being a Bush record and focused on it being a solo record. It all worked out, except for when I went out and played live. It was really confusing because my audience that had grown up with Bush would come to see me to hear more Bush. Then my new solo fans who had heard the ballad and heard the record would hear me and I’d be playing Institute. I guess I was a bit lost. I had two months of touring and smashing up the drum kits every night with this bizarre frustration. I was saying that I should’ve been in Bush. It was a challenging time. I was successful in one way–by having this huge record–but it felt like a façade. When I would go out in the real world and play, everyone would be like ‘What happened to the band? Where’s the band?’ like four times a day for years. It was so crushing. So to go and make Sea of Memories, it was about putting myself at peace by doing a Bush record. I didn’t really have any expectation of success attached to it–much like on my first record–it was about the legacy. My ambition was connected to a legacy and to a record that I liked. Not connected to cars and jets–stuff like that. I didn’t know that world. My world was just all about how to make music.
IC: It must’ve felt strange to be on stage without the band when you were doing your solo career.
GR: It was very strange. It was like wearing a weird-feeling suit. I didn’t feel at peace with myself about it. When the shows were great, which also happened, it was really fun, but there was a hollowness to it. I think that getting back together with the band again just felt like the right fit. I felt like I could be myself again–disconnected to any measure of success or record sales or anything. It just had to do with ‘where should you be?’ which is completely separate from being successful.
IC: In the very early days, you moved from England to L.A. Was there any particular reason why you wanted to be in the States and live in L.A. before you even started Bush?
GR: It was about my second band breaking up. I had been in two other bands before Bush. The second one broke up and I was just left with facing up to being a failed musician, not really broadening my horizons. Living in London, I was really dialed in socially. I felt like I should challenge myself. I came to America to see a friend and to just experience what it would be like to be around the United States. For three or four months I couch-surfed and stayed in peoples’ houses. The last person’s house I stayed at–Claudia Brightman–her husband heard the first song that I wrote when I came back to England. I met Nigel and he became my manager. I didn’t live here properly, I just stayed here improperly. I went back to England and only came back out to America when I signed a record deal. I’ve have actually lived in America since my first son was born and I still keep it half in London.
IC: Do you prefer L.A. or London?
GR: It’s great to have them both as they’re polar opposites. London is much like New York, which I also love. That whole city feeling and the elements of surprise and chance and bumping into people– social tangents happen all the time, it’s like a tree of life. I like that about it. When I came here to L.A., my manager was here, Irving, Lenny, Brian, all the people that manage me were here. My record label was here and my girlfriend was here. A lot of answers to a lot of questions that I needed were involved here. I still have people like my lawyer and my business manager over in England. I’m a bit torn between the two places but am much more firm here, I suppose, because of my kids.
IC: Do you remember the first time you performed? You’ve been performing for so long, can you think back to some of the moments that stood out?
GR: Completely. When I first came on tour here, people knew the album and the songs. I remember those first few years of touring and playing clubs, just playing and playing, and just the excitement of being a part of a scene. That was really the mainstream sound at that point, to play rock. It was just nice to be part of that and in that world. It was always so depressing to fail and fail, to go back and fail, and not get a deal. It would chip away at trying to get better at what you did. The luxury of freedom, to be on stage, to be wanted, and to turn up to park your car at the meter and be attacked… it blows your mind. I think that I’ve never lost that excitement of parking lots, and the volume of people that come watch you play – staying in touch with that and never taking that for granted. I have tons of memories all the way from when I began playing at clubs, arenas, and sheds. I love the excitement. I’m an adrenaline junkie in terms of playing music. Not bungee jumping – I’ve never done that and I don’t have the adrenaline for that. It’s the greatest thing in the world that I got to carve out a life and do what I love.
IC: How does it feel when you’re on stage and you perform songs from your early albums? Does it have the same meaning to you or does it feel different?
GR: When you think about music and lyrics and what they mean, they’re so personal. When you put them out into the world, everyone adopts them. You want and you hope that it applies to their lives and stuff like that. When I think about the words that I wrote at those times, I don’t try to hold onto the memory of why I wrote the song. I just let them flow and they can’t help but comment on my personal life because that’s the nature of the lyrics. If you connect with something, you find certain ways to be relevant no matter when. Another way of looking at it is when sometimes people don’t like playing their older songs, the hits. My feeling is that those are the songs that got me there, and why wouldn’t I play them? They’re joyous, even the depressing ones are sort of joyous; they’re cathartic to people. To see peoples’ reaction to them is what ignites you to dive into the whole world of emotion within them. We feed each other. It’s sort of a beautiful, cathartic relationship. I always think of it as how I’d like to see bands that I love. I want to hear the songs that I’m familiar with and get lost in, and I want them to play stuff that is a little bit surprising. To me, that is the tightrope of writing sets – how to do enough things that keeps you interesting, and how to do enough things that keep you satisfied.
IC: Do you have a favorite song that you’ve ever written or produced?
GR: Every single song off of the first record saved my life. Every song got my life to where I wanted it. The quietest record I had has songs that I’m kind of like ‘Oh, I’m sorry no one got to hear you.’ Right now I’m in the studio and I’m doing these new songs and that’s always really exciting. You can write songs and before the time you finish playing, it’s not the song you began with. I’ve been a real security guard for those songs to maintain what they’re intended to be, and that’s really enjoyable. I love playing “Comedown” a lot. That’s almost the finish line song. I know when I’m singing those songs that hopefully the show is going well and the audience is enjoying it and now I’ve got to focus on the next show. It’s a flag. You know when they do the flags at ten thousand meters? I love that flag! That flag rules!
IC: Who was your favorite artist to collaborate with over the years?
GR: I really liked working with Apocalyptica, which was just recently. I sang in their single. A few years back I sang with the Blue Man Group, which was funny. I sang a song and was being super lazy about it. I was like, ‘Fuckin record it in a studio down the road from my house,’ totally setting it up so they would be like ‘No, we want you here in New York.’ I was setting the bar quite high and they were like ‘Okay!’ I was like ‘Shit!’ I did the song and it was great. All the three blue men were super particular. They knew what they wanted and they were shitting on me, on and on, until I eventually got it. It was cool and professional. Carlos Santana was great. I recorded a song with him and then performed it with him on the American Music Awards. It was just fun being with him and just collaborating. He was very inspiring because when we did the sound check at the American Music Awards, he said to me ‘Don’t give them everything.’ When he did the show, he was on fire. I hope I matched him. Compared to how he played during the day, it was like night and day! He was very inspiring, so I loved working with him.
GR: Oh my god, yeah! I know he had a long hiatus but the new Bowie record is an incredible record. Brilliant record. Like, a real creeper. Remember that phrase? When you’d be smoking a joint and be like, ‘Watch out, it’s a creeper!’ It’s like ten minutes later but you’re feeling it. That record was an incredible creeper. He’s so inspirational. Legends are really people who have spanned the test of time and are not swayed by the current zeitgeist. They just go through it. Neil Young is unbelievable. I just finished his biography, which was great. I like hanging out with him. He embodies someone who is kind of a maverick. Going by your own rules and doing your own thing and just powering through, really.
IC: Each person has so many inspirational people who speak to them. It’s different for everybody.
GR: Where I grew up was pretty rough and the musical climate was counterculture. All my friends had football matches and it was about soccer and drinking. Music was sort of my wallpaper; it wasn’t a thing for them. When my aunt gave me Ziggy Stardust records, it opened up a whole world of possibility, and a whole country that I didn’t even know existed. I listened to them carefully, because it wasn’t the type of record that you would share with your friends because mine weren’t really into that. I lived down the road from the record store, so I would go there and get singles. They were intrigued by a kid coming in, who was interested in music, so they would help me. They introduced me to The Doors – they loved The Doors. Dylan, Neil Young, Patti Smith — she is legendary too. Her book of poetry was one of the first books that I got. When I began writing lyrics and reading her stuff, she said you may want to read some Beat–Ginsberg, Kerouac and then fall in love with Bukowski, who was the opposite of that–he told it how it was. All of those things… that’s when I thought of a musical, lyrical background.
IC: Would you consider those artists as your inspiration for your music with Bush as well as your previous bands?
GR: Everything. I’ve never written a lyric without judging it against another lyric [by a legendary artist]. If I brought this in and they were like “You suck!”, “Are you making a point?”, “Have you got a point?”, “Is it coherent?”, “Is it going to change things?”, “Does it move you?”, “Is it surprising?”…
IC: You figuratively ask Bowie what he would think of the song?
GR: Yeah, figuratively. What I think is that I get lost in the lyrics. I sit down and read the lyrics to “Body” and I find a connection. Is it as cool or is it good? I don’t always pass the test myself. But absolutely, I think that in the light, you shine. People who inspire you put their light on it. Bob Marley is also legendary to me. His thing is different. I’m more like Patti Smith, I like the human dilemma. I didn’t grow up in St. Anne’s, I don’t have the same issues that ‘Buffalo Soldier’ is about. It’s not my world but I appreciate and love the music; I just can’t say that I know the impression. But I can read Patti Smith. And when she talks about Edie Sedgwick’s hair, and how she wouldn’t dance with her, it’s like, I have that emotion, I know that, I’ve been there–I can way relate to those. I bet that I spent my first few years writing to Bowie’s technique and that sort of train of thought thing that Ginsberg did.
IC: It’s great to hear how you were inspired by their work and relate to their work.
GR: Yeah, I’m really inspired by artists as well. I love artists.
IC: Which artists do you like?
GR: Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Jasper Johns.
IC: What do you like about Francis Bacon’s work?
GR: I like the way it reveals skin of human beings. The way that it’s done is a beautiful craft. So many artists are prepared to suffer for their art, but so few are prepared to learn how to draw. He had this ability to be so shocking and get right into the human psyche and all of our vulnerabilities and weaknesses. Yet, they’re presented in these fantastic frames with the richest colors, the richest reds, and terrific slabs of meat–it’s done with great technique. I love technique.
IC: You crossover a lot into film. I know that you’ve had a some very serious acting roles. How do you balance that with music?
GR: I just love doing it. One of my biggest inspirations is Tom Waits. He’s another one of my legends. I just love the idea of showing up and the process of acting. I love taking something off of a page and making it real. The way that an actor can move you with their stories and their inspirations. The way that writers of films get it so right that we just want to watch that movie again and get lost in those worlds. I guess I wanted to try that. It comes down to the adrenaline thing again: ‘rolling, action’ It just really appeals to my psyche to do that. I found it really interesting and challenging. When I work in music, I start with a blank screen, I start with nothing. I have to improve the silence. What’s so intriguing with acting is that you have to be very creative, but somebody gives you something tangible to work with. That’s when you manipulate things. I think I’ve done five or six movies. When you sit and work with someone, you take the script apart and view it with this gravity. You sort of have to build a back-story and it’s so much more than it seems. I just love that. I always stayed away from rom-coms, whether they wanted me or not.
Generally, I’ve been killed off in most movies that I’ve been in. If I don’t get killed then I’m still the bad guy. It’s some kind of weird overview. Somehow I’ve always felt that if I did something that was very pleasant, it would go against my music. I like that darkness. I go to meetings and I’m like ‘I want to be in a movie with mistakes.’ People make mistakes and it’s so life affirming to see other people make mistakes. That’s what I like about it. When I write songs, it’s the most beautiful aspect of my job. The greatest pleasure is meeting people who recount how great the words are, and how they felt connected to it. It’s no different from film. When people see someone they can relate to, it makes them feel less alone. People can identify with it, and it makes their life better, which is what art is for, to some degree. I like being part of that. The great thing about film is that you get to work with really amazing people. It’s fun watching amazing people at work. It’s really inspiring and makes you step your game up. I like the idea that we all push each other every day a little bit and we get better. I like those two things. I realize it’s a bit of a cliché. If I was a musician and a furniture maker, it would be cooler. But I went to drama school before I made it in music. I did a year-course in London for professional actors.
IC: There is definitely a similarity in some respects to performing on stage as a musician and performing as an actor in a film. I can see there’s a translation that would naturally come across between the two.
GR: That’s the work that goes into that. The way that you get to the point is gritty, interesting, and pretty challenging. I like that feeling. I’m always open to doing stuff.
IC: Can you tell us what projects that you have coming out this year that we should look out for?
GR: The main thing is the new Bush record. I want this to be one of the records of my career. I want it to be a defining record, because it’s such an incredible thing to realize that to some degree, we’re sort of pissing in the wind. It’s a fragmented world moving a thousand miles an hour. I have my lane of Bush followers, but I still feel like I could see a really good friend of mine and they’d say ‘What are you up to?’ I could be like ‘I’ve been on tour.’ We live in this strange world; there’s something I find really weird about it. It’s a bit masochistic: the knowledge that the chance of you being hurt is massively reduced to what it used to be. But in a sense it confronts you to do it for all of the reasons that are true, and pure, and you can’t help it. It’s an incredible thing. It’s not a means to an end. It is what it is. I just read a biography of Lucian Freud. And there were times in his career when, in the seventies, Lucian Freud was somewhat forgotten and seen as very passé and old fashioned. He just kept at it and did what he did well. People came around and said, ‘This guy is staying the same.’ That is why I don’t switch my music from rock music. I want to find a way for people to like it, and challenge myself in that way. Stay in the same place, because that makes me maintain something that arguably is in an acquired state. I just love the simplicity of doing what you believe in.
IC: The album that you have coming out, can you tell me a little about it?
GR: I was trying to consider the rock landscape. It has become a homogenized music, you know? I wasn’t really breaking through in any way, and I like rock music–I like what can we do. I was trying to make a Tom Waits meets Bush record, and use really old drums to get a certain sound. We used electronic sounds that sounded like they were made in a garage. Garage electronics are where I’m at. I like melody. It is paired down and not hiding behind anything, and we are making a very honest record. I’m looking at human nature and that’s the record that I wanted to make.
Watch Bush’s music video for “The Only Way Out” from their upcoming album Man on the Run, releasing October 21st, below:
For more from Gavin, make sure to pick up a copy of The Untitled Magazine‘s “Legendary” Issue 7 here!
Interview, Photography, and Styling by Indira Cesarine for The Untitled Magazine
Grooming by Pamela Neil @ Exclusive Artists Management
Photographed at Andaz West Hollywood
Gavin wears a shirt and jacket by Nicholas K.
Gavin wears Dior Homme.