The gargantuan success of Bush’s 1994 debut album, Sixteen Stone, served as a palpable shift in the way rock music sounded. Though the word “grunge” was a term frequently used to encapsulate a decade full of a darker and more turbulent aesthetic, Sixteen Stone managed to exemplify this. Fresh-faced frontman Gavin Rossdale flexed both his songwriting and musical prowess in a somber yet intriguing manner.
Radio hits like “Little Things” and “Glycerine” made the British musician a bonafide star; his work over the last 30 years cemented this status. Bush’s most recent album, The Art of Survival, released last October, was labeled by critics as their most sonically intense project to date. However, it can be more accurately described as a natural progression of an artist who continues to grow by his own volition. Rossdale sat down with Paste to talk about The Art of Survival, why he regrets doing a solo project and how he’s able to stay so damn calm no matter what life throws at him.
Paste: When you look back to the very beginning and the success of Sixteen Stone, it really transcended both UK and U.S. rock audiences. Can you describe the mindset you had when you made the record and how it foreshadowed a career that would last for three decades?
Gavin Rossdale: It was an amazing thing because I was convinced I was never gonna—I was really used to not being successful in any way. I was like ‘I guess this is how it is.’ It just seemed to be a bit uphill trying to make a record so when I got the opportunity to sign to a label as I did in America, it was the reversal of what the Pixies had done…signing to 4AD in England from Boston. I was just inspired to do that. I was thrilled and even then, the record got the distribution even though we [initially] lost it.
So I thought ‘if I die tomorrow I’ve now made a record—fuck everyone I did it.’ But I didn’t know there was 30 years of stuff to follow. I didn’t realize that—I was just thinking so basically. Just thinking from one footstep to the next. I made my album and I was really proud of it—it was the opposite of what was going on in England, but it was exciting and I really liked the vibe of it. I could perform it well in the pubs in Camden but I wasn’t smart enough to see any further potential to it.
Paste: Something I found interesting about the press release for The Art of Survival is you stating: “Instead of being mournful or self-piteous, this is about the success stories of humanity’s survival against the odds…We’ve all obviously suffered in varying degrees…Everyone is being tested all of the time, but we find a way.” What are you most proud of surviving?
Rossdale: Divorce. Divorce and death they say are the worst two things. So that was tricky mainly because when you have children involved I think it’s a private situation and you don’t talk about it. So I was kind of mute about it all and I’m pleased and proud of that because I think—it was very tempting to not be quiet. So just kind of trying to come through a really undignified divorce with some dignity and just trying to be a great dad.
Having my attention just about my kids and their happiness and their welfare. That’s really what I’m most excited about. I’m worried they’re kind of a bit softer because I do too much for them now, and they need to have that independence. And sometimes having the best intentions towards them can take away their independence. My greatest achievement is—outside of music—to have kids who are funny and polite and sweet, good people, you know?
Paste: I fell down the research rabbit hole before talking to you and thought it was interesting that a lot of the reviews for your latest record kept saying how caustic it is—though you’ve made heavy songs before. How does it feel when people refer to The Art of Survival as your most abrasive album to date?
Rossdale: I love the super heavy of [The Art of Survival] and then me singing over the top, much more like I’ve always done. Trying to find the melody where I can has always been really essential. So in a way, I find like I’m kind of a hybrid. I just tried to set myself a task [to] make music heavier, but still I love melodies. I don’t like atonal singing, I don’t like atonal changes or sort of odd changes. But nobody wants to actually physically sound abrasive [laughs].
The thing I’ve gotten so used to with music is it’s so personal. You do these things and everybody has an opinion about how it is and what it constitutes, what they like, what they don’t like. You’re sort of in trouble when you’ve got the one track that everyone agrees on and then ignore the rest. With us, people have different favorites and I always took that as a sign that we’ve got it right.
Paste: You released Golden State in 2001, with the group disbanding for a decade shortly after. In that period, you found love, you had babies, you had this burgeoning acting career. You seemed like you were free from the pressures to create as Bush.
Rossdale: Well, no—I missed [Bush] and I was trying to get it back together the whole time. I made the mistake of trying to make a side project record [Institute] on Interscope. Side projects are for when you’re on 4AD or Rough Trade—you got for three weeks, you make a record, you know what I mean? I did it on a massive label so they pushed me to make it a massive record—and I’m really proud of that record. Then I offered to come back to do Bush, and the band wasn’t ready to go back to work. So basically I had all these songs and was like, ‘fuck it, I’ll do a solo record.’ But then I’d regretted doing that because when I was in the solo world I just wanted to be in the band world.
Paste: And it can be difficult for fans to embrace a Gavin record as opposed to a Bush record.
Rossdale: Every time I played a show, people would be like ‘where’s the band?’ There are very few people who should do solo records. When people want me to sing, they want me to sing Bush. ‘Love Remains The Same’ was the big song off of [Wanderlust], but it just was confusing. I did a two-month tour as a solo artist and I just hated it. I was like…smashing all the equipment and throwing the drum kit around. I was having a crisis-a career crisis.
The truth was I just wanted to be in a rock band and tour with my friends. That’s why I had to leave at Interscope…because I don’t think they would’ve wanted me to stay as a band. [Interscope co-founder Jimmy Iovine] said something along the lines of ‘bands are dead—unless you’re in U2 you’re dead.’
Paste: Out of all of the interviews you’ve done, all the shows and appearances, you’ve always seemed so serene and calm all the time. Even during the Woodstock 99 documentary, the organizers explained that they brought out Bush after Korn’s violent and chaotic set to calm the crowd—and it worked. How do you stay so unbothered?
Rossdale: I like being in the eye of the storm because when you’re there, it’s calm. It’s on the outs of the peripheries where it’s sort of the most chaotic. I think in my history, in my growing up, I was a peacemaker. You know, like calm and sort of—I grew up in a little bit of an aggressive, volatile household where everyone was a bit upset. When my parents got divorced, it leveled out and I lived with my dad.
Kids in contentious homes just want everyone to want peace. I’m really good in a crisis, I don’t panic. I’m really mellow, but when I’m on stage I’m much more kind of lively and built up and going for it. People don’t expect that, ‘cause I talk a bit quiet and people never hear me, but I sing loud. That dichotomy is cool to have.
Paste: As you embark on yet another Bush tour, have you given any thought on what you want your musical legacy to be?
Rossdale: That question is so revisionist and honestly I don’t ever want to think about that cause I wanna keep going. The legacy that I’ve always wanted—I’ll put it a different way. When I had kids, so many interviewers [asked] ‘do you write songs about or for your kids?’ I was like, ‘No, but what they do is they inspire me—all four of my kids.’ I talked to my daughter this morning and she goes ‘Dad, the record is so amazing.’
I feel shitty going on tour again, leaving the boys, you know, it’s a horrible feeling. But she told me ‘You got to go out and play the record.’ That is the biggest inspiration to me: the people closest to me—my kids—like what I do. My legacy is also just the enduring quality of songs that remain. How many bands have we seen come and go? If [an artist] ever sort of begins to sign off or take it too easy, maybe that’s when they’re kind of dropping off. I don’t wanna drop off. When I stop, I wanna stop on my own.
Watch Bush perform three songs live at the Paste Studio in New York on April 5, 2018:
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