The Bush front person reflects on his group’s early success, “the audacity of youth,” and the band’s eighth album, ‘The Kingdom’
“To make a record that is powerful and wide and deep and dark and broody and humane and full of humanity, that’s what I really care about,” says Gavin Rossdale, calling from his home in Los Angeles, talking about brand new album from Bush, The Kingdom.
“It’s a record of defiance and individuality and standing up and taking the power back. That’s why I think it’s resonated,” Rossdale says of the positive reception that The Kingdom has received.
Rossdale certainly knows what it’s like to be defiant. While Bush has been enormously successful, selling more than 10 million albums in the U.S. alone, they were also frequently derided at the start of their career in the 90s for being grunge rock “also rans.” But Bush have outlasted and outsold many of the acts that once overshadowed them.
Watch the video for the first single from The Kingdom, “Flowers On a Grave”
Rossdale says that his band’s early challenges never once caused him to consider quitting. “I never thought about doing anything else,” he says, crediting this determination to “the audacity of youth. Youth is not wasted on the young because the young are prepared to defy people in positions of power. And that’s what I did, I defied everyone.”
Rossdale’s belief in Bush was vindicated when the band’s 1994 debut album, Sixteen Stone, spawned three major hit singles: “Little Things,” “Comedown,” and “Glycerine.” Their 1996 follow-up, Razorblade Suitcase, led to an American Music Award for “Best Alternative Group” in 1998 (and that same year, they were nominated for a Grammy award for “Best Hard Rock Performance” for their song “Swallowed”). With The Kingdom, they’ve released eight successful studio albums.
With such considerable success under his belt, Rossdale is able to take a more objective look at that early criticism. “When I first began, and I was trying to get a record deal in England, my voice was always blamed as the weak link. I’d just begun singing — I was a baby! So inevitably there was a lot of room for growth, and maybe I was terrible. But it’s really ironic that the very thing which inhibited me in the first place became my trademark. So in a way, I found a way to maximize what began as my weakest quality,” he says. And indeed, his raspy voice is Bush’s most instantly identifiable trait.
“Comedown” was Bush’s first American Top 40 hit, off their six-time platinum
debut smash Sixteen Stone
Rossdale credits the singer Grace Jones with inspiring him to turn a potential negative into a positive. “She said on [her] Slave to the Rhythm record, ‘Use your faults, use your defects, and you’re going to be a star!’” he laughs and adds, “I also like that quote David Byrne has, which is, ‘The better the singer, the less I believe them.’ There’s something to be said for that.”
Overcoming those early hurdles, Rossdale says, makes him appreciate Bush’s success even more now. “I’m so lucky, because I had no fall back and I just got nothing but rejection and so much disappointment for so long.”
Rossdale says his experiences also taught him the importance of working hard at his craft, which is something he takes very seriously to this day. “I still find it mysterious and enigmatic and annoying and exhilarating,” he says of songwriting. “Being in love with music and being in love with performing, and having a really nice heavy dose of insecurity, I’m still trying to learn and understand. If you look at The Beatles or Bob Dylan, you go, ‘Hmmm, I haven’t really written a great song yet.’”
For The Kingdom, as with Bush’s previous albums, Rossdale serves as the main writer, putting together the “bones” of a song before inviting his bandmates to join him in the studio to finalize the material. The current lineup – lead guitarist Chris Traynor, bassist Corey Britz, and drummer Nik Hughes – “is a like-minded collective of individuals who work hard to avoid having regular jobs!” Rossdale says with a laugh. “I’ve had the same batch of people around me for a long time, and no one cares what everyone’s individual job is. People just care what the collective job is.
“They come in, and the idea is that we collaborate and make it better. That’s how I’ve always done it. The main thing is to have the artistic drive and focus to create a framework for us to work with, and then having the openness to collaborate.”
Rossdale says he has no trouble inviting others into his creative process. “These guys are incredible musicians. I’d be an idiot to not let them loose on everything that I do,” he says. “Being precious and being possessive is the enemy of free-flowing ideas and creative thinking.”
That said, Rossdale remains firmly in control of Bush’s overall musical vision. “I’m not going to be walked over and be like, ‘No, no, this ukulele is way better!’ It’s not. So you’ve got to reserve the right to have an opinion, but you just do it with grace and being open.”
As for what specifically inspired Rossdale’s writing on The Kingdom, he says, “It was really born out of two different areas in my life. Two terrible people that I was dealing with. They would just drive me crazy with their self-righteous judgement. And all I was thinking about was, ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing to be able to escape, or to live in a world or a time when these douchebags didn’t exist and we could all live in this free-minded culture where like-minded individuals could congregate free of judgment.”
Still, Rossdale is quick to clarify, “It’s not like it’s angry. It’s a record of defiance and individuality and standing up and taking the power back. It’s just how I was feeling – and how I feel at the moment.” In that way, then, The Kingdom seems to be bringing Rossdale full circle, back to the same kind of determination he first displayed when he was starting out in the music business.
Now, Rossdale says, he’s “really loving my life. I’m really enjoying my family [he’s the father of three sons] and making music. They’re the two cornerstones of my whole existence.” Now, as he releases The Kingdom, Rossdale hopes that he can bring some of that same contentment to others. “If it’s of comfort or enjoyment to ten people, it’s already won.”