Gavin Rossdale of Bush

by Greg Prato

On the "schizoid element" of his lyrics, and a famous line from "Everything Zen."

Oasis was supposed to lead the wave. Maybe Blur. Perhaps Portishead, Stone Roses, Manic Street Preachers, Pulp, Echobelly or Primal Scream. But the British band to break through in America was virtually unknown on their home turf.

Bush was more in line with the Pixies than Britpop. Gavin Rossdale, who spent much of 1991 in America, honed this sound with Bush, which had to rush release their debut album Sixteen Stone in 1994 after KROQ in Los Angeles put "Everything Zen" in hot rotation. They were off and running, with their first seven singles making the Top 10 of the Modern Rock chart alongside the likes of Green Day and Pearl Jam. Their second album, Razorblade Suitcase, went to #1 and even sold a few copies in their native UK.

Rossdale has always been the sole songwriter in the band, responsible for non-linear lyrics like these:

All police are paranoid
So am I, so's the future


Leaning on my conscience wall
Blood is like wine
Unconscious all the time


When we engaged him on this, he offered a surprisingly lucid explanation of his method, and deconstructed a line that we've been wondering about for quite while:

There's no sex in your violence

Bush broke apart in 2002 after four albums, but re-grouped in 2010. In between, Rossdale released a solo album, formed a band called Institue, and teamed up with Blue Man Group to create a song ("The Current") for the movie Terminator 3. Bush returned on the Zuma Rock label with three more albums, including Black And White Rainbows in 2017. In October, the group signed with BMG, which took the unusual step of re-releasing the album as a remastered edition with an additional song.
Greg Prato (Songfacts): What led to Black And White Rainbows being remastered and issued with bonus tracks?

Gavin Rossdale: Bizarrely, through the process, we signed a new record deal. And instead of letting Black And White Rainbows drift away and just working on a new record, they were adamant that they could get people to know the record more. So, they said, "Let's re-release it. Let's give it a proper worldwide release, and include a new song."

So, I came off tour in North America and went in the studio. I often go in to write songs literally the day I come back from tour, or the next day, because I feel so attuned to what I need, and I wanted to write a song that I felt was missing from the set. That's how "This Is War" was born. That was two months ago... maybe less.

Certain people in my band, there was a discussion of if we should start a new record or an EP, and keep moving forward. The label felt they had some good ground to make up, and felt positive there is another big song off the record: "Lost in You." So, they wanted to send this record out properly and start fresh.

But now it's exciting, because the record is catching fire and doing really well. It's an interesting time. You can never tell. It's just so maddening - show business, and making music. There's no way of knowing where you are, because things can change on a dime. And here we are now, on the cusp of a song that is hopefully going to impact the record and radio and people are going to hear about it. It's exciting, but it sure is confusing. It's not for the faint-hearted!

Songfacts: What was the lyrical inspiration behind "This Is War"?

Gavin: That was really based off of seeing the atrocities unfold at Charlottesville, and just considering what a disastrous mess we are in. So many people are so painfully lost and wrong and ignorant, and in a divided world. It was like, "How are we going to make this all work? This is non-stop madness, all the time."

It was weird, because I did some research, looking for the Top 50 anti-racist songs. Quite hard. It's not a replete genre. It's not something that is overflowing with songs. [We can help ya out with that Gavin. Here's a list.]

I found it really difficult as a songwriter because things that we can say in conversation that seem really logical and really insightful just don't sing well. It doesn't sing well to hatred and bigotry. If I talk about that to you in regular speech, I can make perfect sense, and it sounds logical. So, that was a big challenge: how to turn it into something personal. And a plea - a call to arms and the call for peace. A call to not fight, and to say, "Things have gotten so bad that it is a fight now. This is an untenable situation." I did find it a very difficult song to write, because every time I tried to get further into what I was trying to say, it sounded more and more wrong to sing. It was a bizarre dynamic.

Songfacts: How was it co-writing "Lost in You" with Dave Stewart?

Gavin: That was great. That was from a long time ago. That was from my solo record, and my manager just heard it and was like, "Oh my God, what's this song?" That was at a time when I did my solo record, where I collaborated with a lot of people - ironically. And Dave was one of them. It was the first song we did together, and it was a really quick process. He's very talented, so it was a lot of fun and very easy. We'd known each other for a long time, so it was just cool to write songs together.

It's weird, because I don't really write songs with other people. Ever. I was always confused as to who does what. I'm used to having pretty good sketches and pretty good ideas of all of the sections, and then being pretty open to everybody putting on parts and taking it wherever the song goes. I have a great band, so after I've done what my job is, I don't dictate much. We just put it through the funnel, and it comes out the other side, sounding like it does. So, nothing is dogmatic and, "This has to be that. You're just playing that." It's sort of like, "This is what I've done," and you can approve it, leave it, or do whatever. We just have our certain ways. But writing with Dave was fun.

Songfacts: Something I've found interesting with a lot of the rock bands that came up in the 1990s is your style of lyric writing. You hear it with you and with people like Kurt Cobain, Chris Cornell, and Scott Weiland: If you separated the lyrics apart from the song, they may not make sense, but when they were sung in the song, all sorts of images came to mind.

Gavin: There's always got to be something within there - threads of things. But I like that sort of Ginsberg-y, stream-of-consciousness approach to words, rather than, say, country songwriting where there are narratives and stories and places and names and descriptions. That's a specific approach, and I've never related to that because for me, it tied things down too much. I like broader stories. It doesn't always have to be time and place and descriptions.

It's just a tool. It's a decision and approach you can take. I like things that sort of float more, and have more schizoid elements to them. At the same time, I feel like I have over the years changed and done different things. More cohesive things, because I was always aware of that. But I just like things that are a little more jagged and fit in together.

I don't, for instance, do that thing that some people have done where you have a very obscure title that doesn't appear in the song at all. You know that game? I don't do that. That's really kind of out there. Like Tool.

If you took something like At The Drive-In, and Cedric's [lead singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala] approach to lyrics, that is like, holy mackerel! What is going on? And that's in every song. But somehow, when he sings it, it has a cohesion. But that is on another level of like, "What the hell is that about?" Whereas I was a soft-core version of that, where there are threads. But I also like the idea that for all of us, our thoughts are scattered and our attention is short and things bounce around - so that's part of it. That's what I feel is an integral part of it.

Songfacts: What did you mean in the line, "There's no sex in your violence," from "Everything Zen"?

Gavin: One band that really inspired me at the time - and always, forever - was Jane's Addiction. I had seen a show of theirs, and they have that line "sex is violent" [from the song "Ted, Just Admit It..."]. I thought about that line, and it always struck me as a powerful lyric.

I was thinking about that, and I was thinking about where I was living and where I had grown up, and some of the more violent aspects of that life and of those kids. I really hated that violence growing up. I was a little bit lost and didn't know where I was going, what I was doing, and I was committed to music, with no chance of having any success. I had been struggling for years. And that line, "sex and violence," that is a common thread through art. I just decided to put it in the context of, "There's no sex in your violence." It's sort of a personal belief, a personal mantra.

Songfacts: What was the lyrical inspiration behind the song "Little Things"?

Gavin: The lyrical inspiration was the simple realization of that whole thing about don't be letting the details get you down. I was always feeling encumbered by life and overtaken by life and dwarfed by life, and my feelings and my paranoias and my worries were larger than anything else. So, there was always that pain to try to keep all of those worries at bay.

That's just a song about paranoia for the future and paranoia of life. I think it has something to do with trying to be strong in the face of adversity.

Songfacts: What about "Greedy Fly"?

Gavin: I remember saying at the time that it was my version of "Help!" That was when we just had the most massive success. It's a very destabilizing feeling to go from zero to something, and be torn from life as you know it. It's a beautiful thing because you're being successful and you have these massive crowds, but it's destabilizing. That song was written right after the wave of all that success, and that disconnect from my life as I knew it. My fear of, Would my life stay this way?

There's the, "Do you feel the way you hate, do you hate the way you feel?" It was just that thing of committing a private moment to a song, a private moment about needing some perspective, needing some time.

I remember talking to someone in New York who was a doctor. I came from Japan, and I hadn't slept. I had been messed up with the jet lag. I wasn't sleeping, I was doing press, and we were playing. And it's that classic thing of I started feeling overwhelmed and having panic attacks about my life, which seems ridiculous now because I would love that success again! [Laughs] And I remember the doctor talking to me, and he said, "I sing in a jazz band on Wednesday nights. I'll trade lives with you anytime you'd like." And I was like, Oh... I actually feel way better now!

It's an introverted, naval-gazing moment, set to rock music.

Songfacts: You've mentioned the Pixies as an influence. Which one of their songs really drew you in?

Gavin: "Where Is My Mind?", "Debaser," "U-Mass," "There Goes My Gun"... it goes on and on. Surfer Rosa and Doolittle are my two favorite records. I just love the sound of the band. I love the balance with Kim Deal. I love her voice. I just love the songs, I love the lyrics, I love the nihilism, and I love the tunefulness. They had all the elements that I love. They still do. They're still working hard - they're going on tour with Weezer next year. I mean, they're doing it. They got back together 10 or 12 years ago and just never stopped.

November 22, 2017
For more Bush, visit
Photo (1): Josh Telles
Further reading: that time Rolling Stone posed Rossdale shirtless for their 1996 cover story

More Songwriter Interviews

Comments: 5

  • Shawn from MarylandSixteen Stone was great release. I have never liked Bush's song writing style. But the power chords and riffs are what drew me in.
    Because the lyrics don't make much sense, I've always thought they were heroin induced. I've always assumed there was no elevated meaning or unifying thread. Just take whatever you will from each random line.
  • Deborah from Hampshire, UkI enjoyed reading this, Gavin deserved so much more in the UK he was in the right place at the right time, but didn't get the air time, which he will admit himself, he absolutely did the right thing - he cracked America - I relate to a lot of what he say's - lyrics sometimes baffle me, BUT he gets it every time, voice, music, his fans - the best in the world- he's one of the nicest people you would ever want to meet - which reflects in everything he relates to.
  • Kristin Sullivan from Virginia This is a great interview. Love hearing any tidbits of information as to how Gavin writes and sings such amazing lyrics. Absolute genius!!
  • Miguel Uribe from Mission Hills, CaGreat interview, great insight. I loved to read Gavin talk about the Pixies. I read it and I find it awesome that the passion and how he described what he loves about the band and their music is exactly how I feel about his songwriting and BUSH music.
  • Patricia Marklew from ???????? Uk Don't know about there being no narrative in his songs. To me there's a definite narrative in 'Nurse' from B&WR
see more comments

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