For at least a little while, Gavin Rossdale says his voice was actually an obstruction to his success, not the reason for it. The gravely-voiced front man of the U.K. group, Bush, says that when he and the band were on the rise in the late 80s and early 90s, there was a wave of music that didn’t quickly welcome in a rough, raw singer like Rossdale. At the time, Britpop was all the rage, with bands like Blur, Oasis and Suede topping the charts. But Rossdale was more into – and reflected – groups like Soundgarden, Soul Asylum and Jane’s Addiction. Rugged, ravaged bands with aggression built into their distorted chords. But, eventually, a harder version of rock took the world by storm. Suddenly, Bush was at the center of it. The band’s success continues today with the release of its 2020 album, The Kingdom, which hit number-one on the Billboard Hard Music Albums chart and is available in a deluxe format this week.
“It’s ironic,” Rossdale says. “But when you’re much younger and full of vigor, you don’t listen to people. You keep on doing what you’re doing in the face of adversity. For a long time my voice was my biggest impediment. Then from around ’92 or ’93, it became my trademark.”
Rossdale, who grew up near a record store and would spend his “pocket money” on punk albums, remembers the few vinyls his parents kept around and listened to in his childhood home, like Roberta Flack, ELO, Queen. When he finished with school, Rossdale says, he wanted to avoid working a traditional job. So, being in a band sounded good. It was a “hypothetical idea,” he says. He didn’t know where to start and, in that moment, the national scene wanted brighter, more singsong tracks. But when the mid-90s hit, Bush became globally popular, in North America, especially, thanks to its brash songs like “Glycerine” and “Machinehead.”
“At the time,” Rossdale says, “it felt like the least commercial decision possible.”
Bush’s latest album is an achievement. While Rossdale remains the lone member left from the group’s original lineup, the band hits just as hard and its front man is as believable and charismatic as ever. For a rock ‘n’ roll songwriter who has been making music at a high level for three decades, the 12 songs on The Kingdom are impressive. From the purging “Blood River” to the raucous “Send In The Clowns,” emotive “Undone” and blistering final track, “Falling Away.” There is real, guttural force connecting each song.
“I’m quite pissed off at everything,” Rossdale says. “Everything is on the line. The world is crumbling, the planet is dying, there’s war, pestilence, famine, racism, murder, robberies. Just lift your head up and there it is.”
It’s impossible to talk about the lead singer without talking about his former high-profile marriage to fellow music star, Gwen Stefani. Rossdale knows what it’s like to be in the bright spotlight. He knows the ins-and-outs of pop culture (and its often emphatic press coverage) and, these days, Rossdale doesn’t partake in it nearly as much as he may have years ago.
“My feet are firmly in the street of life,” he says. “I don’t live on some exalted island in the Caribbean hidden away with my significant other. That allows me to stay dealing with the same pile of issues that everybody else does.”
Regardless of what’s happening in his life or in the world, Rossdale says his focus remains on the work, first and foremost. It’s important to him, as an artist, to create top-quality material and to perform at a high level. And while it’s impossible to stay at the peak of the charts or on everyone’s mind at all times, Rossdale and Bush have done an excellent job at maintaining their output for fans.
“If my foot is not really on the gas,” Rossdale says, “then I deserve to crash and burn. But if I make a vital record that is powerful and strong and open and has a great emotional arc to it, then we stand a better chance of sticking around.”
These days, with a new, popular record in tow and a number of “drive-in” concerts planned to celebrate it, Rossdale and Bush are positioned for more good days and to further solidify their reputation as a band that wells up strong feelings in whomever is around to listen. When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, Rossdale found himself performing live on social media for fans. But now, there are new ways to get the music out. Still, though, that doesn’t mean it’s time to rest. Instead, it’s time to keep pushing.
“When you’re cooking in all these different areas and it’s working, it’s great,” Rossdale says. “But when you’re covered molasses, going nowhere, oh my god, it’s like I hate myself. It’s like, ‘What am I doing this for? I’m a fraud!’ But in the good moments, you feel these epiphanies. This rush of endorphins.”
Click HERE to pre-order The Kingdom (Deluxe).