"We're An American Band"
April 1996
Written by Mark Blackwell

Well, no actually Bush is a band from Britain, it's just that they aren't afraid to rock. Mark Blackwell converses with the lads both in London--where they're bucking the trends and doing okay--and in Los Angeles--where they're surfing the soundwaves of the States and fast becoming superstars.

The beloved British group which has a four-letter name that starts with "B" is all the rage this weekend in London, racking up two celebrated sellout nights at Wembley Stadium, tons of radio play, posters on every street corner, and magazine covers up the bloody arse. That band would be Blur. Their fellow countrymen Bush, on the other hand, have been relegated to one night in the more humble confines of the London Astoria. Sure, the show's a several-hundred-screaming strong sell-out, but the buzz on the street as far as the band goes is basically nil. It's hard to get away from Blur in London. It's hard to find Bush over here, even in some big record stores.

"The worst is Our Price," notes drummer Robin Goodridge, relaxing before Bush's London gig, the final stop of the band's most recent British club tour. "They're not carrying our record at all."

"No, they're not," murmurs soft-spoken frontman Gavin Rossdale, sipping a cup of chamomile tea. "But it's a Top 40 shop. Our Price is the lamest shop in the world to buy records. It's crap."

"But," continues Robin, looking on the bright side of things, "when a shop does carry our record, we always end up between William Burroughs and Kate Bush which is something I really like. We're in pretty good company as far as that goes."

The four young Bush men can't really complain about the performance of their weighty debut album Sixteen Stone, even though they did have to haul amps all the way across the Atlantic Ocean to get some proper attention. But that's mainly because their thick grungy blasting is about as far from what's happening in Britain these days as it is from the sound of their shelfmates, William Burroughs and Kate Bush.

"What's quite interesting," says Gavin, "is that we're still really an underground band over here and a big band in America. It's quite a nice balance, really. We get the whole spectrum at once."

"Here it's been more of a natural growth," guitarist Nigel Pulsford admits. "In the States we were thrust into the big arena rather quickly."

The British music press, famous for its avid weekly hyping and/or sniping of native bands both big and small, established a keen disinterest in Bush from the get go. Though they were eventually forced to note the fact that the band existed--as Bush was hitting seven-digit sales in the States--British publications continued to stretch the bulk of their column inches towards measuring more pressing matters, basically ranging from any mean thing said by a member of Oasis about a member of Blur to any mean thing said by a member of Blur about a member of Oasis. Bush just didn't fit in.

"I think that came about from our getting a record deal in America," says Gavin. "And, of course, our cardinal sin of doing rock music and then being successful at it, which are two things that don't really endear you to the media in England. But having just done a sellout tour all over England is a testament that we do have an effect here. Any town we play, we get from 500 to 1000 people and that can't be bad, you know. I mean, if I see (Blur's) fuckin' Damon Albarn's face again on a magazine..."

"We're stating to get a fanbase, too" says Robin, "And that really comes down to the fact that we're not crap."

"People power is what makes or breaks bands anyway," says bassist Dave Parsons. "The people that do like you will be much more loyal fans because they discovered you on their own rather than through some hype." As you've probably read, the four members of Bush met in the workplace, having landed gigs in London as house painters. They first got together as a team while painting a bridge and later began financing the band by diluting their allotted daily paint supply and selling the excess to buy guitar strings and gas. Actually, no, that's a lie--even though it says it right there in their official late '94 press bio, which has often been taken at face value.

"None of that was really true," quips Robin.

"Piss take," laughs Nigel.

"A couple of us did a bit of house decorating," smiles Gavin, who cites more standard friend-of-a-friend connections as the real genesis of the band. "There were elements of truth in the bio. We just wanted to dress it up a bit with humor. I wanted to say that we met as four painters on London Bridge, and that we decided to start a band. And they didn't want to do it, the legal department or something, so they just said we 'met as painters.' It plagued us all year."

"Lazy journalists," laughs Robin, who supposedly drove the band to and from gigs in his ice-cream truck. "They just copy from your bio."

Meanwhile, back in Los Angeles, Rob Kahane and Paul Palmer of Trauma Records were being told of this interesting band from London by some large trusted ears. A few months later Trauma signed Bush - and boldly left them alone. "The record company was great," says Gavin. "We were left alone to do the record we wanted." Bush's debut release Sixteen Stone was recorded pretty much live in a London studio with revered producers Clive Langer and Alan Winstanly (Elvis Costello, David Byrne). For their first video...

Oh wait... I'm copying from Bush's press bio. Back to the interview now...

"It was a massive leap of faith for us to make that record here," explains Gavin. "It was obvious to us at that time... when we were making the record Suede was allegedly the biggest band coming out of London. Here we were making a record that obviously wasn't part of the scene."

Hence the initial push in America, which included a rather heavy touring schedule.

"Most English bands do Chicago, LA, and New York, do some coke, and they think they've done a tour of America," says Gavin. "We've been on the road for so long. It's much better to be successful off of a realistic plan of getting our there rather than someone just writing, 'This is the best band....' Suede is the perfect example. They were called the best band out of England, got all this press, had the weight of the world on their shoulders, and in truth they didn't deliver."

What Bush delivered jived rather well with what several million Americans obviously wanted to receive. Which, of course, immediately led to something of a backlash from the type of people who pass judgment upon bands just because they're big--and perhaps sound similar to other bands that are big.

"I don't really care," says Nigel. "We're doing the second record with Steve Albini... so I think those people will come around if they want to and if they don't..."

"The sad thing about music," says Dave, "is that sometimes it's more about fashion and what's fashionable rather than what's good to listen to."

One of the main criticisms of Bush is that their sound is a little too consciously calculated for the fruitful market known as "grunge," and it would be difficult to say that Bush's music does not fit like a glove so far as this category goes. But then again it would also be difficult to say "rubber baby buggy bumpers" three times really fast. In other words, who cares? And, as the Stone Temple Pilots can attest, names will never hurt you.

"It's just rock music," theorizes Nigel, "but the tree of rock... is a... bushy tree."

"A lot of the time," says Gavin, "the criticism is... 'unfair' is such a weedy word, but a lot of the time it is unfair, because it's not really being critical of the music. When it's sort of a blanket like, 'Fuck, they're always on MTV!' then that's nonsense. Because it's really our of our control. I know that criticism exists and that we're kind of a fuckin'... 'phenomenon' sounds too big a word, but it is a bit mad that this English band comes over and just sticks a note right into the heart of the... obviously mainstream, because when you get into the millions it is mainstream. It's a shame though, because those people you're talking about, we probably all share the same indie records and grew up listening to the same bands."

The first word young Gavin Rossdale ever said was "cookie." He didn't speak until he was four. These facts are perhaps irrelevant at this point in the story, but maybe they have something to do with Gavin's taking time to figure out what he wants, asking for it, and then getting it. Or maybe that's stretching things a little.

"Between the ages of 8 and 9 I spent nearly a year of my life in and out of hospital with ear problems," Gavin says, sitting next to a friend's pool and gazing out over the Hollywood Hills. It's a few weeks after the London show, and tonight Bush has just finished rocking the Universal Amphitheater, headlining a giant two-night KROQ festival featuring the likes of Sonic Youth, Porno for Pyros, and Alanis Morrisette. "So it's kind of weird that I would become a musician. I had lots of problems. I wouldn't drink anything for while, so I'd get dehydrated. I didn't speak for a really long time. My sister used to speak for me. She would just be like, 'He wants this,' or 'He wants that,' you know."

The lyrics of at least eight of the twelve songs on Sixteen Stone get around to directly mentioning wants or needs in one way or another, basically aiming towards the idea of simply getting on with things and making life better.

"I just like the idea of motion," says Gavin. "Not static. Not treading water. I don't want to be like 'life sucks' the whole time, but the darker side of things is a mine of possibilities. But the future's good. I'm not saying, 'This is how we should be.' It's just a case of hoping things will be okay. Motion is good. Going somewhere."

As a kid, Gavin wasn't quite sure where he was headed.

"I left school at 17--I hate being institutionalized--and I didn't know what I was gonna do. I didn't really dream of being a 'rock star.' Where I grew up and the people that I was around... anyone that was creative was like a 'poof,' you know. I grew up in a really rough area, so I was a bit weird. I had to like David Bowie in secret, and then I became a 'punk.' I just enjoyed music... Sex Pistols, X Ray Spex, Penetration... and when I was, like, 18, wondering what I was gonna do, I realized that I'd been doing was leaning towards actually doing music myself."

And what happened to the folks who thought the creative guys were "poofs?"

"In fact, the guy who mainly said that is in prison now for murdering an 80-year-old woman. That's a guy I knew growing up. He was the kind of guy that picked fights with everyone. Not with us, but with everyone else. He was a herion addict. I won't say his name because two of his brothers are drug dealers now. Fuckin' heavy. The other one's an armed robber. That particular lot I was hanging out with was quite violent... and then I started going out and meeting people who were a bit more like-minded. I never like that safety-in-numbers thing. I hated that gang mentality and the courage that comes from having loads of friends with you."

Somewhere along the path of locating "like-minded" people, not criminals and not bridge painters, he met his bandmates in Bush.

"All that really happened is we made this record and instinctively everything has gone on from there. There was no great plan of world domination. I just thought we'd get a chance to make a record and people could check it out. For me, there's a great number of American bands like Slint, Fugazi, Shellac, The Jesus Lizard, you know, Chavez, who've made amazing records... they don't necessarily sell millions, but they make great records. That's what I figured we'd do--make the first record, make a few waves. I didn't think that one year later I'd be doing what I'm doing."

And Bush's next record will surely be better than the first, simply because they've gotten a couple of years of serious seasoning and touring under their belt. Even the stuff from Sixteen Stone sounds better these days.

"The songs hold up better live," admits Gavin, "cause we've moved on a bit and we've gotten better at what we do."

And the future?

"The whole tradition of bands is built on the fact that they kind of self-destruct prematurely. The best ones always do. So in the hope that we're a good band... who knows how long we have. I love playing with these guys. So many bands go on the road and they're shit the next record because they fuckin' hate each other. They can't bear the way someone fuckin' puts salt on his chips, you know. And that's bollocks. We've kept it together. It's good to feel something as one. It's really like having a family.

"God that really sounds like shit," Gavin chuckles, blowing a puff of smooth smoke towards Hollywood. "You can strike that quote... But, you know... for fuck's sake, it's music. I think there's plenty of conflict and pain and doubt and anger and energy and love and sex and death and everything in the music. We're just gonna keep going on instinct..."

And try not to take it too seriously, try to maintain a sense of humor, try to remain grounded...

"Yeah," says Gavin. "We try to. There are way too many earnest musicians that sort of lose it..."

He smiles and grandly tosses his head back.

"...but the helicopter's here... so, uh, I've gotta split."