"All the World's A Stage"
February 19, 2000
Written by Simon Young

For Bush life on the road means plush hotels, luxury tour buses, intimate massages and entertaining 2,000 people a night on their current European tour. And then there are the low points - like chronic loneliness, crippling boredom and the prospect of being attacked by nuters...

"This is not a good sign. Three days into our tour and I'm already bored stupid."

Bush bassist Dave Parsons cradles a lukewarm bottle of Evian, signs and stares blankly at his feet. In the windowless, candle-lit dressing room of The Choice, a newly-constructed 2,000-capacity venue in Tilburg, Holland, the tedium of touring already seems to have set in. And it's only just gone five in the afternoon.

Bush might be a multi million-selling rock band, but there's little in the way of debauchery here. As Parsons sips his water, frontman Gavin Rossdale picks at the nachos and salsa that make up the band's rider and guitarist Nigel Pulsford tends to his juicer, steadily introducing carrots and celery to its spinning blades.

Only drummer Robin Goodridge is involved in anything remotely frisky. The affable Londoner is being rubbed down by the band's on-tour masseur. Needless to say, even that's strictly above board.

For Bush, like almost every other band on the planet, life on the road revolved around nothing in particular. Aside from the hour or so they spend onstage, there's little to do except drink, smoke, soundcheck and possibly take in some of the local sights. Think about the time you spend sitting around in doctor's waiting rooms. Now imagine doing that day after day, for months on end, and you'd be close to the feeling most musicians get when they're staring down the wrong end of a tour itinerary.

And people wonder why bands go crazy...

As the candles dotted around the dressing room cast a flickering glow on the walls, Nigel Pulsford lies back on a sofa and lights the first of many Marlboro Lights, seemingly lost in thought. It turns out that the guitarist is missing his wife and newborn baby, Olivia.

"She's beautiful," he sighs of his daughter. "It'll make me miserable all the time I'm away."

His mood brightens when he reveals that he will utilise tomorrow's day off in Amsterdam to catch an early flight back to Britain to see his family. The financial buffer afforded by selling somewhere in the region of 10 million albums makes touring easier. At least you have the means to travel home when you feel like it.

"Yeah, but when we go to the States it's more difficult," he says, smiling ruefully. "It's a case of gritting my teeth and putting up with it. It's my job, though, and we love playing live. It's the only time we get to see our fans. The music isn't real until people have heard it in a live capacity. It's just a drag I can't be teleported home after the show."

There's an extravagant amount of alcohol scattered around the dressing room, but little of it has been touched. Like Dave Parsons, Robin Goodridge is content to nurse nothing stronger than a bottle of water.

"I never drink before shows, because I'm a shit drummer if I do," he explains. "But during tours, we've fallen into tequila and Jack Daniel's competitions. Sometimes we play the 'taking sleeping pills and trying to stay awake' game too. That's a Bush favourite. Nigel loses a lot. I have fond memories of him crawling along the floor of the bus and trying to climb into his bunk and not quite making it."

As show time approaches, the lethargy is lifted when someone slips Chicago sluggers The Jesus Lizard and Shellac onto the stereo. Through the darkness of the dressimg room, it's possible to make out Gavin strumming his chipped green Fender and singing along to their exquisite noise like a teenager in his bedroom. It seems like a good time to leave them to prepare for the show.

Two hours later, the atmosphere backstage has changed beyond recognition. The band are in a celebratory mood, chatting happily with friends and fans, and graciously accepting compliments on what everyone agrees was a blinding show. One memorable moment occured when the apparently fearless Rossdale decided to surf out over the front rows with his guitar still strapped on.

"Gigs like that are a rush," admits the frontman afterwards.

A wicked glint crosses his eyes. "Do you want to see something?"

Go on then.

Laughing, he starts pulling up his grey T-shirt. And as he turns round, he reveals two spectacular rows of thick, violet bruises running up each side of his spine and spilling onto his neck. It's not the kind of thing you'd expect to see on the back of Gavin Rossdale.

"They're the result of a technique called Indian Cupping," he reveals. "It's supposed to withdraw impurities from your body. This guy put suction cups on my back. It hurt like hell, and when it was all over it looked as though I'd been in a car accident."

By now, the dressing room is milling with people clutching items for the band to sign, including two lads who are too excited to introduce themselves.

"We won a competition on a Dutch radio station," they gush. "We love Bush and have seen them six times in Holland. They have signed all of our CDs. They're just really nice people."

The last dregs of Red Stripe are drained and attention turns to the short, overnight journey to Amsterdam. As the band and their entourage leave the venue and clamber aboard the gargantuan house on wheels that is the tour bus, there are squeals from the gaggle of female fans who have congregated outside the padloacked gates to get a whiff of Rossdale. Several minutes pass, wherein ragged pieces of paper and various CD sleeves are excitedly fed through the railings. Gavin chats to the girls, signing items and posing for photographs.

"Sometimes you wanna go and meet the fans," reflects Nigel in the relative sanctuary of the bus, "but sometimes you feel too tired and dread having to have the same conversation you've had every night for the last three months. Saying that, they usually only want to meet Gavin anyway."

As we begin our two hour trek to Amsterdam, the first of several "recreational" cigarettes are constructed and cans of lager are dished out. Gavin acts as DJ, spinning records by Shellac, Nick Cave and some ambient techno nonsense before resigning himself to the downstairs lounge to watch Steve Coogan's "The Man Who Thinks He's It" live video.

All this travelling and sense of upheaval must get to the band. Do they ever suffer from stress when they're on tour?

"Everyone has problems once in a while," concedes Robin. "But I try to keep in perspective what's bad about my life. The last tour we had in the US was tough, so I read a book about Stalingrad. A few hours' sleep on a plane then playing a gig is nothing compared to eating your comrades or freezing to death. That gives you a perspective if you ever want one."

Because you have to give everyhing to it, it can destroy every part of your life," sighs Gavin, having abandoned his viewing. "You become suspended from normality. You don't always have time to deal with people and relationships, and it makes things difficult. If you shut yourself away when you come home and don't see anyone, people get hurt."

What are the biggest pitfalls of touring?

"It's frustrating that you can't spend time with the people closest to you," he says quietly, brow wrinkling as he speaks. "What's weird is that I love the pain of being away. It suits me, it's so perverse."

Does being away on tour for lengthy periods ever cause you to question your sanity?

"You get this weird paranoia that you'll end up dying in one of these strange hotels and no one will know where you are," laughs Nigel. "It's not a difficult life, but it can be a long slog and you get worn out by drinking too much. You tend to over compensate by trying to enjoy yourself too much. It just makes it tougher on yourself. It's like the Depeche Mode tour where Dave Gahan nearly died. They said the touring was easy, it was the partying that nearly finished him off."

"We're quite well behaved," smiles Gavin, reaching for another beer and a spliff.

After what seems like an eternity, we finally arrive in Amsterdam. Bleary-eyed and worse for wear, the band stumble off the bus and check in to their plush hotel. Robin, Nigel and Dave make a bee-line for their rooms, leaving Gavin to settle into one of the comfy sofas in the hotel bar. In slow and measured tones, the frontman begins to dissect the effects of life on the road.

"I become numb," he laughs. "No, I concentrate on the shows. It's a balancing act between travelling and playing. It's the travelling and the leaving that gets to you. I'd prefer to stay in the one place, to tell the truth. You have to be careful about complaining about it because there's really nothing to complain about. Everything has its price. You have a brilliant life and end up having intense experiences the entire time. It's intense when it's brilliant and it's intense when it's bad."

Do you feel you're inside a bubble when you tour, with people looking after your day-to-day arrangements?

"It's no fucking big deal, really," he shrugs. "I don't need babysitting. But sometimes it's nice to have a support netowrk. There's so many pieces of your life that need to be tied together. You end up being ferried around, and you just have to accept that someone is making arrangements for you."

Does this help or hinder your creative side?

"It does allow a side to come forward to concentrate on music, and enjoy the luxury of playing to different crowds in different cities every night. It's not all doom and gloom."

Have you ever wished you could walk away from the band?

"Yeah, of course. I think it's a bit like... no," he hesitates. "At times I've got depressed. I've weirded-out and wondered how I'd carry on, because a tour is a very emotional place to be. On one hand, you're exposed to more emotion that you could imagine when you're playing, and then there's a point when you're alone. It does get to you."

Do you prefer being alone?

"Yeah, but it's fine when people want to hang out or talk about lyrics," he shrugs. "But you get the nutters coming up wanting to have a pop at you. Some crazy person whose girlfriend likes you. I've had a few instances where someone is lairy."

What's the scariest thing that's happened to you?

"Someone attacked me in Studio 54 in Manhattan this New Year's Eve. This guy - I don't know if he was pissed - punched me in the chest saying, "Happy New Year'. I don't like people touching me let alone punching me. Bone (Gavin's minder) dissolved it like hot water on sugar."

It's gone four in the morning, and the hotel barman is buzzing around us like a wasp in a bow-tie. It's time to wrap this up. One last question, then. If stress and potential personal risk is an integral part of touring life, what makes you want to do it night after night?

"It's brilliant when you do a great show. You're kinda sad when you have to leave it behind. Like a girlriend when you go on tour." He smirks. "But let's just leave the girlfriend question out."

Nine hours later, the band - minus Nigel Pulsford - look alarmingly fresh-faced when we meet for lunch at a cosy, Italian resaurant. It helps that Robin and Gavin have just returned from jogging around the canals that criss-cross Amsterdam.

"Running is a really good way of burning off some of the excess lethargy you can feel on tour," smiles Robin. "No destroying hotel rooms for us. It's impolite. The only inanimate object that has felt our wrath was a stereo in America. Nobody could work out how it operated. So me and Dave did a series of flying kung-fu kicks to knock it out of the flight case it was bolted into. It was very satisfying."

After a bowl of salad and a cappuccino, Gavin sits back in his chair and smiles like a cat who has been appointed managing director of a large cream factory.

"It's an unbelievable, insane life," he ponders. "In a good way. Sometimes it can feel like the best thing that you could hope to do with your life. When it all synchronises - a great show, great people to hang out with. It justifies it. If you didn't have those feelings, why do it?"