Guitar World
January 1997
"Bush: The Cutting Egde"
Written by Alan di Perna

As people, the members of Bush are very English. They talk English, they act English, and their conversation is peppered with references to English bands generally unknown in the States. But as a band, they sound so American grunge. And as a consequence, they're huge in America, but relatively minor in England. Bush's debut album, Sixteen Stone, is seven times platinum and still riding high, but only 50,000 copies have been purchased in England. The question is, did they plan the whole thing out by carefully tailoring their sound to American tastes?

If singer/rhythm guitarist Gavin Rossdale seems a little defensive on this topic, it can be understood. Repeatedly being labeled a crass Nirvana clone over the past few years has left him a little touchy. He's also highly sensitive. So Rossdale seems especially pleased to be doing a guitar interview--raring to talk string gauges, gain stages, and other workmanlike, unglamorous stuff relevant to his increasing guitar presence in Bush.

"When we first began, I was mainly superfluous on guitar," Rossdale says. "Now I've got more of a guitar role. I've been allowed into the fold, so to speak. Nigel has been very kind. Most gracious."

"And patient," adds lead guitarist Nigel Pulsford. Facing the challenge of recording a second album, head-on, Bush decided to charge straight into the studio and bang out a spontaneous, unlabored sophomore offering--played raw, with the same ensemble furor as the band's live set. They call the result Razorblade Suitcase, and only ask that you forget geography, looks or anything else and just judge the thing on its own musical merits.

GUITAR WORLD: People make much of Bush's sonic resemblance to Nirvana, but I hear a songwriting influence as well.

GAVIN ROSSDALE: Well, it's very limited. I would say it's only on one track particularly off Sixteen Stone, which would be "Little Things." Because you've got one chord progression and a kind of different rhythm in the chorus, which is the same effect you get with Nirvana. But I mean, if you listen to "Smells like Teen Spirit" and then listen to [Fugazi's {sic, The Pixies}] "Debaser" [sings riff], it's the same thing.

NIGEL PULSFORD: Everyone sounds like someone else. Actually, we listened to Boston instead. [laughs]

GR: A slight scratch below the surface and you might find something completely different in our music. I don't hear much Nirvana in many of the songs on Sixteen Stone: "Body," "Comedown," "Machinehead," "Everything Zen", I've never heard a Nirvana record with slide guitar on it. But let me know if there is one. It's weird the way people worship the god of Nirvana. With Kurt Cobain's death and all of that, Nirvana became this huge institution. People all respect that and don't want anyone to come anywhere near it or sound like that. Like, "Don't even touch that! Don't even look at that!" Nirvana were a really exciting band. And if there's an element of that excitement in our music, that's fine. They were a guitar band as well. So if you're a guitar band and you don't sing in a really high voice, it's kind of like, "Oops!" There are a million Nirvana sound-alike bands. I mean, if we really wanted to sound like Nirvana, we could get a lot closer. It's fareasier to duplicate that than to try and do something original. The Smashing Pumpkins had this same thing. Gish [Caroline, 1991] came out and it sounded like Jane's Addiction. That first track, "I Am One," sounded like a cross between Guns N' Roses' "Paradise City" and Jane's Addiction. Without a doubt. Suddenly, Siamese Dream [Virgin, 1993] becomes this de rigueur record and they're launched as Smashing Pumpkins. Now there's this Mellon Collie, and it sounds like...

NP: Elton John.

GR: Well, Elton John at the beginning--horrible piano. But it sounds like they want to be some sort of a hi-fi coffee-table rock band now. It's quite heavy metal, some of it? I think it's horrible.

NP: It sounds like Judas Priest.

GR: Which you can hear on the record. I've only heard it once. I bought it and then gave it to someone. I thought it would be really good.

GW: Well, Billy Corgan makes no bones about liking all that

NP: Crap?

GR: And he doesn't make any bones about putting it on his record, either. You can hear that he likes heavy metal. I don't even know what Black Sabbath sounds like. I went from punk to reggae to some hip hop and indie stuff like the Fall. They were the original alternative band, to my mind. There was kind of a big gap for me in the Eighties. For a long time, there wasn't any band I really gave a shit about, though I did like Throwing Muses and the Pixies.

GW: Did you feel alienated from the mainstream of British pop throughout the mid-Eighties?

GR: Fuck, yeah. There were some very good independents in the early Eighties, though. Like My Bloody Valentine, a band that I connected with and really liked. But I was weird. I would get a record that I'd be really into, but I wouldn't give a shit who made it or what other records they had out. Other people are so thorough about completing their collection of a certain artist. Nigel is. But I just had a few records I liked, and I'd play them a lot. I didn't even try, necessarily, to go and see those bands that much. I don't even know the names of the people in the bands. Like I know who Kevin Shields [of My Bloody Valentine] is. But if you put me in front of him, I wouldn't recognize him. Even though I think he's brilliant.

GW: Why did you choose Steve Albini to produce your new record?

GR: We've always liked his work. I mostly know him from the Pixies and Breeders, and I later got into Big Black. I really enjoyed that. His recent band, Shellac, I really liked. But it started off with the Pixies' Surfer Rosa [4AD, 1988]. So I just called Steve up when I was in Chicago. I went to lunch with him and his girlfriend, Heather. We had a really nice time and chatted about everything, really, for an hour. At the end, I just sort of mentioned that we were in this weird situation where we could obviously have a choice of good people to work with. And that he was our first choice. With the history he's had, he was the one we thought was best at recording bands, sonically and career-wise.

GW: Did you choose to work with him to get that "American sound"?

GR: [with great sarcasm] No, I think we had it already. The thing about Steve is he only records real bands. You can't fake it. You get in the studio and he records you. The reason we worked with him is we felt he was the one who could best record rock bands--but not in that hideous kind of Mutt Lange [Def Leppard, AC/DC] way that I hate.

GW: Did the term "sophomore jinx" come up at any point?

GR: That's why we decided to just go in the studio and do it straight away, without thinking too much about it. Within two and a half weeks of coming off the road from touring behind Sixteen Stone, we were in the studio. With a second album--especially when the first one has done well--people begin to be governed by fear. So they spend a year writing the record, nine months recording it and four months mixing it. Two years later, when nobody remembers the band anymore, their record comes out. We tried to do just the opposite. We charged right into the studio without allowing ourselves to get precious about the situation. Our record company was more scared than we were.

GW:Do you guys share many musical tastes?

NP: That's how we got together. I was quite surprised. A friend of ours suggested that we work together.

GR: You'd be hard put to find any difference in our tastes. That is, apart from Big Star, who Nigel really likes. I really want to like Big Star, because everybody says how seminal they are. But it's the rhythm section whose musical tastes I wouldn't step over a towel steeped in urine to listen to. I can't really work my way through Soundgarden, that lot. A bit turgid, that, a fuckin' horrible heavy rock band. That's the only problem I have with the whole alternative thing. A lot of these bands are so influenced by Judas Priest or Black Sabbath or all these horrible heavy rock bands that were always fuckin' awful. And so a lot of them are just heavy rock bands with checked shirts on. Like Soundgarden. I mean, Chris Cornell is obviously an amazing singer. He's probably got the best rock voice you can have, technically. And occasionally he writes these fantastic Beatles-y songs, like "Black Hole Sun" and "Pretty Noose."

GW: But that's sort of what the Seattle revolution was about: metalheads coming out of the closet.

GR: Everyone says "the Seattle sound," but that's such a generalization. The idea that Nirvana, Mudhoney, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden have similar sounds is ridiculous. If you know anything about music, you can hear the difference. Obviously, Mudhoney are closer to Nirvana, and Soundgarden are on their own. They're kind of heavy rock, today's Black Sabbath. Pearl Jam are now, I don't know. They're at their best when they play to their strengths-when Eddie Vedder is singing those lovely kind of pop ballad songs like "Want" and "Black"--the ones he tries to get away from now. I don't necessarily like the sound of their records so much--that really thin snare and really sibilant, clean overhead stuff. That [producer] "Brendan O'Brien Special" sound is not really to my taste. It's perfectly viable, many people like it, but it's just not my taste.

GW: I know you're friendly with Courtney Love. Did she teach you anything about dealing with media attention?

GR: Yeah. A lot. She basically always has been, and still is, really helpful to me. I've been really good friends with her for, I guess, about a year and a half. There was a kind of furor [in the media] because I was friendly with her. Then it all died down and everyone forgot that. I'd already been friendly with her for eight months before anyone noticed. I just never went anywhere public with her. Now all the press attention has died down, and she's still my friend.

GW: Were you at all prepared for the mass teen hysteria that Bush generated in America?

GR: No. I don't think anything can prepare you for that kind of noise. The sound of all that squealing flesh. On the last tour of America, we played all the arenas and we had, like, the biggest rig. A two thousand-ton rig. And we still couldn't hear the music because there would be these screams.

NP: You would feel like you were going deaf. And it wasn't because we were too loud on stage. It was because of that wall of screaming when we came on. Your ears would just close down. Quite amazing.

GW: What's it like, being the object of all that teenage girl adoration, Gavin?

GRI like it. The only time I ever get offended by it is when they say something like, "Oh, you have such pretty hair." That pisses me off. My favorite ones are those who have some connection with a lyric or the music. But just to be affected by a photograph is somehow less endearing or warming. Then it's less fun. What's great is when you get someone who says, "You really got me through a hard time. Something was really going wrong in my life; my dad used to beat me up all the time. The only time I would get away was to go into my room and play your record." Or someone saying, "Your lyric is the first lyric I ever really listened to." A 17-year-old boy saying that. That kind of stuff. When you're nudging your way in culturally, that's kind of fun. But to be a pin-up just for pin-up's sake undermines all the work we put into this.

GW: So, Nigel, are you content to leave that kind of adoration to Gavin?

NP: Oh yeah. I don't really even think about it. But we all get some of that, you know. It just seems absurd. But that's life, I guess.

GR: Well, it's not real life. But it's our life.