Deep into lockdown, Bush frontman (and former coach on The Voice) Gavin Rossdale picks up the phone to talk to NME about the ever-changing landscape into which the grunge veterans are about to release their eighth album, ‘The Kingdom’. Not only is the very fabric of society being questioned (a prescient topic of the record), but Rossdale feels like the band are enjoying somewhat of a renaissance – able to reach thousands of new fans via Spotify, free of context or what critics think.
Bush got a lot of shit thrown at them in the ’90s (“Yes, mainly from the NME!” laughs Rossdale) when they sold over 20million records in the post-Nirvana era. They were massive in the States, but often viewed with suspicion by the media for cashing in on the grunge wave. “We really broke a lot of rules and pissed a lot of people off,” says Rossdale. “Steve Albini [legendary producer of ‘In Utero’] wrote an incredible piece about us for the reissue of ‘Razorblade Suitcase’ [Bush’s second album from 1996]. He said that one of the most annoying things about us to most people was the lack of anointing. I was looking for a champion. Every time I met a journalist I’d be like, ‘Are you the one?’ They’d always be like, ‘Nah mate – we’re gonna have a really great time, then I’m gonna drop a bomb on your house’.”
He continues: “Reviews only started to get really good once we stopped selling records. As soon as we weren’t selling millions, the reviews got better because they didn’t see it as so annoying that we were devilishly successful. It brought an equality to things. Such is life.
These things don’t seem to bother him so much now, and he’s just enjoying the ride. We gave Rossdale a call to talk about changing trends, looking for hope, hating the term “’90s band” and how he feels now about the “experiment” of appearing on The Voice.
How does it feel to be releasing a new album at a time like this?
“It’s weird because the record is called ‘The Kingdom’. I was so sick and tired of self righteous, judging people. They’re just annoying. I imagined this utopia of like-minded people where they can just be free to express themselves, be cool, be funny, be interesting. It’s a refuge. We’re moving from limbo into this next shape. We’re truly seeing the most heroic people we know. It’s not the douchebags on billionaire boats – it’s cashiers and people going to work. Everything is upside down. It’s bizarre that the world has fallen into this paradigm. We’re living in something more surreal than any movie you’ve ever seen.”
What’s the message of the record?
“Of all the records we’ve made, they all have elements of struggle, challenges and surmounting things. You go through different sounds and inspiration, but it’s said that songwriters write the same song over and over again – they’re different variations on one theme. I wonder if that’s my thing; believing in a better place to be. It’s weird how much it aligns with the zeitgeist.”
How do you balance the zeitgeist with being a ‘legacy’ rock act?
“It’s a strange one. On the one hand, rock music is dead. On the other hand, rock bands still play to a lot of people. Sonically, I wanted to do something really wide and deep. If you play guitar music, it’s so liberating to just play out riffs on big wide stages with very personal themes attached to them. Tuneless music is hard for me, so the alchemy of a melody with words that matter and the strength of each song what makes up the sound of the record.”
It does have a touch of the more widescreen elements of your 1999 album, ‘The Science Of Things’
“That record sounds like it was written on a detuned, monotone guitar – so it’s like ‘The Science Of Things’ after it worked out. Like a really strong version of that record that you shouldn’t fuck with.”
Are you not a fan of that album these days?
“It’s not like a sense of living with regret, it’s about being aware and self-critical. Every record is a snapshot of time. If I worked harder or was smarter, I’d have just repeated the first album [the multi-million-selling ‘Sixteen Stone’] in a different order for about four or five records and I’d be playing stadiums! ‘The Science Of Things’ was a record about being in London, being surrounded by Massive Attack, Blur and Primal Scream, and wanting to get a bit of London back in our sound. We’d made such straight-ahead rock records with ‘Sixteen Stone’ and ‘Razorblade Suitcase’.”
Do you regret not following that trajectory?
“I think it’s better to be under the radar in a way. It’s fun for people to discover the band. My dream would be for people to discover us through this record – then go through the looking glass at what we’ve done before. You’ve got to make records that just stand on their own, especially with bands who have been around forever. There’s nothing worse than getting the record of an established band and it seeming nothing in comparison to the reason you first fell in love with them. I’ve always seen the reality of us – not the context or the hyperbole. ”
So you enjoy being a band in the streaming era?
“I came in the other day and my kids were listening to ‘Back In Black’. I don’t even know how they found it. Then they played Meshugga, Juice WRLD and Billie Eilish – who is just unbelievably good. Music should be timeless. We’re often referred to as a ‘90s band, which is really annoying because everyone’s got to start somewhere. No one ever refers to Iggy Pop as a ‘70s artist. He’s just Iggy. At this present moment, days, weeks, months and time don’t seem to mean anything. Time just doesn’t matter. Watches are pointless. That’s incredible.”
What about appearing on The Voice – was that an attempt to reach a new audience?
“I loved it because I got really friendly with Tom Jones. That’s the greatest gift you can ever receive! I mean, I got to go to the Savoy Grill with Tom Jones. That completed my life. I loved spending 16 hours a day with Tom and Will.i.am. I came up with Will.i.am on Interscope Records with Jimmy Iovine. Jennifer Hudson was incredible too. The whole Voice thing was an interesting experience. I really wanted to take it seriously and focus on the singers. I’d never had a job like that before and I enjoyed the process. I didn’t do the second series because it was too much travel and I couldn’t make it work. I have to write songs for a living.”
Would you call it a happy experiment?
“I don’t think it worked as an ‘experiment’ for my career because it just confused people. All my rock fans were just like, ‘What the fuck is he doing?’ while everyone watching on TV was like, ‘Who is this guy?’ so I fell through the cracks. It didn’t do my career any good, but you take these opportunities to see what will happen.”
Did the exposure impact on your music?
“When I did ‘Black And White Rainbows’ [previous album, 2017] I was being seen so didn’t want to do something that was quite so heavy. I thought it would all go hand in hand but the dots didn’t connect. That’s life. Out of that I got to go on tour, then out of that I got a new manager, then out of that I made a new record. It’s like Liza Minnelli said: a career is just a series of comebacks. Some work and some don’t, but the important thing is to keep doing things.”
Bush release ‘The Kingdom’ on July 17.