To the old men down his local pub in Skibbereen, County Cork, he's just the polite and charming big English guy who joins them every night for a 'lock in', sipping Murphys and listening to the local fiddler players and guitarists whipping up a traditional music session. But the kids know better. Every couple of days, another gaggle of excited teens from the town will gather outside his garden gate and yell,"Hi,Gavin!-Sing 'Swallowed' for us."
Gavin Rossdale, vocalist/guitarist with Britain's most successful rock band Bush, waves at them and then disappears back into his beautiful rented house, where he will quietly begin picking out some new riffs on his guitar. There will be a big smile on his face. After years of struggle and anonymity, it's nice to know that people care.
"If some rock musician moved in up the road from me in Kilburn when I was a kid I'd have been well into it," Rossdale says, laughing down the phone from his temporary home in the Irish Republic.
"It's cool that people will get excited about bands rather than getting all worked up about the latest video game. It's that excitement that makes people join bands in the first place."
Gavin Rossdale couldn't be more laid-back today if he was unconscious. Having had a few months off, he's not really in that familiar interview groove; his speech is a little more hesitant and thoughtful than usual. He concedes that he's thinking about nothing else other than music at present.
He is chatting to Kerrang! on a mobile phone from his garden, whilst simultaneously flicking a football in the air(22 toe-taps is his current mid-conversation record) and smoking a fag. His constant canine companion Winston, the Hungarian Pouli immortalised on the cover of Bush's debut album Sixteen Stone, is snapping playfully around his heels, no doubt trying to impress the female dog lolling casually on the lawn beside him("I've got to let my boy bring his chicks around," Gavin chuckles). His mate David Yow from Chicago noisemongers The Jesus Lizard has just sent over a copy of their new album, Blue, and he can't wait to start listening to that properly. Next week, his girlfriend, Gwen Stefani from No Doubt, will be joining him in Ireland.
Life is especially sweet for Bush's frontman right now. Paticularly since he's just finished writing and demoing all the songs for his band's next album. But we'll come to that later...
This month, Bush release their first long-form video, 'Alleys and Motorways'. An 84-minute visual diary, it features behind-the-scenes footage of Bush at work, rest and play, in addition to collecting together all their promo videos to date.
Directed by Rossdale's award-winning mate Peter Martin, 'Alleys and Motorways' follows Bush from a packed club gig at The Monarch in London, through increasingly large U.S. tours, and up to a riotous launch party for their Razorblade Suitcase album at New York's Virgin Megastore and their triumphant appearance at last year's Reading Festival, in entertaining and fairly candid fashion. Rossdale, guitarist Nigel Pulsford, bassist Dave Parsons and drummer Robin Goodridge negotiate their way through countless inane interviews with the world's media and chat openly about their impressions of life in a hugely successful rock band.
"I've always documented our career," Rossdale explains, "shooting footage and taking photos everywhere we go. Otherwise, everything would be a haze. It's nice to give fans a little peak into our world. It's also been cool for us to watch the videos and look back over everything that's gone on over the last few years."
Most of the behind-the-scenes footage on 'Alleys and Motorways' was shot in 1997, the year in which Bush proved beyond doubt that the success of Sixteen Stone was no fluke. Their second album, Razorblade Suitcase sold two-and-a-half million copies in its first week of release in the U.S. and went straight into the Top Five in the U.K. The "Swallowed" single was a Top 10 hit here, and the subsequent U.K. tours in February and October of '97 were both sell-outs. For Gavin Rossdale, these tours were his personal highlights of last year.
"Touring is where you realise how much your music means to real people," he says. "Seeing the reaction of kids to the songs you've written makes all the critics' analysis irrelevant. Both the U.K. tours and the Reading Festival were brilliant for us as a band, and they were the most important things for me. Touring the U.S. and Europe is amazing too, of course. But when I play the U.K. I can totally relate to the fans and that buzz of excitement and anticipation, because it reminds me of all the nights I spent around London watching my favourite bands. Razorblade Suitcase proved that we were in this for the long haul," Gavin continues. "People always put down hit records by labelling bands 'One Hit Wonders', but no one could do that with us after that album. I still think record company could have done better in Britain. We could have got more airplay, for instance. Radio here plays so much shit and it's not as though our stuff sounds like Napalm Death; people aren't going to run away just because they hear an electric guitar. It's disgusting how many great bands are still ignored in favour of shite Euro-disco pap on Radio One. Still, it was brilliant when "Swallowed" went Top 10, because doing 'Top Of The Pops' means you've really arrived to most people."
One complaint you could make about 'Alleys and Motorways' is that it doesn't really give much insight into the personalities behind Bush. There are only glimpses of the human beings behind the poster boy media images. During a radio phone-in, Nigel Pulsford is asked to explain the difference between Sixteen Stone and Razorblade Suitcase; with his trademark sarcasm he replies,"The cover". Livdewire drummer Robin Goodridge threatens to disprove his 'Tinypenis' t-shirt by waking Nigel up with his dick some day. But for the most part you don't really learn much you didn't already know about the band. Gavin Rossdale is aware of this.
"I wanted to make a really cool documentary," he admits, "kind of like that 'The Works' programme we did with the BBC, but there wasn't enough footage. This is more about compiling the promo videos for fans. We'll bring out an 18-certificate version of the truth behind Bush someday!"
Last year, Gavin famously told Kerrang! that Bush's remix album Deconstructed should have been titled 'No Big Deal'- then back-pedalled furiously a matter of weeks later.
"God, every time I'm in Kerrang! now it looks like I'm slagging off our own stuff," he groans. "I'm not really. It just would have been cool to do that other project..."
The best section of 'Alleys and Motorways' follows bush onstage and backstage at last year August's Reading Festival. In addition to seeing a ferocious live version of "Little Things" and hearing Marilyn Manson claim that "Gavin likes to perform fellatio on me--it seems that Gwen can't satisfy him enough so he needs a little taste of the Manson cock", we see Rossdale chatting to James Hetfield and later telling Stefani how cool the Metallica frontman is before noting:"The drummer(Lars Ulrich) was just the twat that he is."
"Lars keeps seeing Gwen everywhere now," Rossdale giggles, "and he's always asking her 'How's Gavin?'. That comment was meant to be a joke...but at the end of the day, Lars is a twat."
The Reading footage concludes with Gavin telling a journalist: "Next year we're going to make a record that will shock everyone and turn them on so much that they won't be able to function without it." Which brings us right up to date...
"You're going to love the new stuff, man," Gavin Rossdale enthuses. "I'm pretty excited about it because it's got everything I wanted, and I think it'll be another wicked album. The weird thing is, I haven't played it to the band yet--but I think they'll agree I've got a couple of good bits here and there. We'll probably have huge fights in the rehearsal room--but that's okay, some creative tension is good."
With his bandmates currently scattered to the four corners of the world--Nigel in Nashville, Dave flitting between London and Paris, Robin in France("With butlers," Gavin adds mischievously)--Rossdale felt that the seclusion and serenity of the Irish Republic would be the perfect place for him to work on the follow up to Razorblade Suitcase. He's convinced he made the right choice.
"You wouldn't believe how beautiful it is here," he sighs. "I'm surrounded by water and rural life. But don't worry, I haven't tried to become Wordsworth or Sean O'Casey, although the lyrics are a bit happier than in the past. Maybe I don't feel like such an underdog now, but I think it's more that I just don't give a fuck about other people's perceptions of me or the band anymore. I've written 15 songs and recorded them with an Irish engineer called Barry Nolan, and I'm so happy with them. In fact, after our album is released I'll hopefully put out these demos at some point; kind of like PJ Harvey did with her Four Track Demos album or Bruce Springsteen did on Nebraska, when the songs are just low-key, raw and direct."
So now you're downing pints of Murphys and listeing to traditional Irish music, can we expect a new Waterboys/Pogues direction to be unveiled on the album?
"Fuck off!" he cackles. "But I promise that the people who like us won't be disappointed. It's exactly what I wanted to do. I didn't sit around with my head full of coke unable to concentrate. I got on with it and I'm really happy I didn't fuck things up...There's still time for that, though, I suppose."
After Stefani has spent a week with him in Skibbereen("Things are going great between us," he gushed, "she's so cool..."), Gavin Rossdale will be returning to London to settle into that one million-pound house near St. John's Wood for the first time since he bought it three years ago. There, he will listen to the new Fugazi and Jesus Lizard albums. He's planning to hook up with David Yow when the Lizard play London's LA2 on April 23. He also hopes to watch his beloved Arsenal march towards the Premiership and FA Cup double. After that, Bush will begin rehearsals and pre-production for their third album.
"This time I want something a little more produced and big-sounding," Gavin reveals. "I would like to work with(Razorblade Suitcase producer/noisemaker general) Steve Albini again at some point, but not on this record. The last one was great because we were just off tour and didn't want to make a manicured record, and he's the best person in the world at capturing a band playing raw. But we have to keep trying out different things. Actually, while we're on that subject, I really did like Deconstructed, even if there was some confusion about that. i consider it our third album even though I didn't really do that much work on it. But our fourth album is really going to blow you away."
Before our interview commenced, we were given a quick reminder of just how far Gavin Rossdale and Bush have come since the days they'd hump their own gear to pubs like the Half Moon in Putney. Gavin's 'personal assistant', Bones,
calls us to apologise for the fact that Mr. Rossdale will be speaking with us later than originally scheduled. When he does call-two hours late-we feel it our duty to take the piss out of him for having a peronal assistant. "What can
I tell you?" Gavin Rossdale laughs. "You should see my chef..."