A series of guttural hacking coughs explode down the phone line, and for a moment Kerrang! is convinced that we've inadvertently tapped into a cross line with 'The Fast Show's resident phlegm-juggler Bob Fleming. Then a rich, croaky laugh resonates in the ear-piece, and the frontman of Britain's biggest rock band sniggers: "At least I've got my health."
Contrary to what those painful-sounding noises emanating from his throat might suggest, Gavin Rossdale insists that he's in fine form today. The New Year is here and the lanky Londoner is excited about the prospects of a short break in the rugged countryside of, er, Afghanistan. But first there's the small matter of completing the mix on Bush's upcoming third album, The Science Of Things, to consider. After which, if all goes according to plan, 1999 will be the busiest year of Gavin Rossdale's life.
When Kerrang! last spoke to Bush's vocalist/guitarist in April, he was putting the finishing touches to the demo recordings which would constitute the first draft of The Science Of Things. Back then, Rossdale promised that the album would be "wicked".
"That was when I was talking to you from my garden in Ireland, wasn't it?" he recalls down the blower from London Westside Studio, where all day he's been selecting guitar sounds for various mixes. "It makes me so happy to think back to that time, because thank God I've made it through to this point without fucking up and falling over.
"This is the first interview I've done about the new record and talking to you makes it more real and more exciting," he enthuses. "It really is a spanking album."
Gavin Rossdale began writing The Science Of Things in January 1998. After the 200-plus-date Razorblade Suitcase tour wound up in Hawaii, his Bush bandmates--guitarist Nigel Pulsford, bassist Dave Parsons and drummer Robin Goodridge--headed off to Nashville, Paris and southern France respectively on well-earned holidays. Rossdale decamped to Skibbereen in County Cork. Eire to begin work on the follow-up to Bush's multi-platinum Sixteen Stone and Razorblade Suitcase albums (14 million sales worldwide and counting).
By April, 15 songs had been demoed with Irish engineer Barry Nolan and Rossdale was sufficiently pleased with his effort to allow himself a month's break "to see this nice, cute, funny person that I know".
That'll be Gwen Stefani, then? "Yeah, Gwen," he laughs. "It's rare that we both get a chunck of time off, so we thought we'd make the most of it. Anyway, you don't want to know about me and Gwen -ha-ha!" Git...
"Yeah, so after that the band got together in London and started rehearsing and fucking around with the songs, because they were just pretty clear sketches at that stage. I think now they sound like Bush... whatever that means."
More massive nervy guitars, whisper-scream rhythmic dynamism, and rasping, the-world-is-fucked-and-so-am-I vocals?
"Yeah, and everything's cool until I fuck it up with the voice," Rossdale deadpans.
"I hope there's stuff that throws people," he continues more soberly. "We don't want to keep making the same kind of record. That's why I liked the remix album (Deconstructed), because it was us being fucked around with and it was interesting to bleed a little machine into the mix. It'd be boring if we didn't fuck around a bit. We've definitely had some fun this time."
The recording of The Science Of Things began in the late August in Mayfair Studios, just around the corner from Gavin's St. John's Wood home in North-west London. The Kilburn-born local says this arrangement was "cool, because I got to walk home at night".
So you just popped in and out when you fancied adding the old riff or melody?
"No, we're not a bunch of cunts," he cackles. "We went in and got into it. I just wanted it to be... No, in fact I had no idea what I wanted it to be. I just thought I shouldn't think about it and let the band be what they are. I kept thinking I should have a masterplan, but it never appeared. But we've got a good spread of subjects and moods on there. You're going to love it."
After fulfilling a lifetime ambition by working with Yank noise guru Steve Albini on Razorblade Suitcase, Rossdale turned back to the Sixteen Stone production team of Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley to capture the magic of Bush's latest bunch of angsty anthems on tape. Rossdale is keen to stress, though, that the return of Langer and Winstanley isn't any slight on Albini's production skills.
"I wanted to reflect a live band on Razorblade Suitcase," he explains. "And working with Steve, you've got to get your shit together because that's how he records--live and without over-dubs. Sixteen Stone was very carefully put together and very well recorded, and we wanted that bigger, more produced feel this time.
"It's just easy with Clive and Alan," he adds, "because I don't have to say much to them, I just let them get on with it. They have no shame in saying no to things, so it adds a little taste control. I was thinking of other people, but I had lunch with Clive and had a lot of red wine and just thought, 'Fuck--why am I worrying?'. Most bands who perform live don't need much guidance in the studio anyway--you just need a producer for that top layer: that nice extra 10 or 15 per cent on top.
"I think we're getting better at being a rock band, actually," Rossdale chuckles. "I'm pretty pleased with some of it this time around." Some of it? "Well, your record should only be as good as your worst song," he reasons, "and I hope this is a record of good songs. There's nothing worse than a record which gets you really excited for the first two songs and then has f**k all else to listen to. I promise that's not the case with this record."
Bush have always been a people's band rather than a critics' band. While Sixteen Stone racked up its eight million sales, the arbiters of taste and cool threw 'Nirvana-lite' and 'one-hit-wonder' jibes at the quartet. These snide digs were only grudgingly put to bed when Razorblade Suitcase effortlessly maintained the West London band's multi-platinum profile and proved that their first album's success was no fluke.
Christ knows how the band's detractors will react when they hear that with The Science Of Things, Gavin Rossdale has crafted that most heinous punk rock anathema--a concept album.
"It's not exactly a conecpt album," he cackles. "But there is a loose continuity and certain elements run through the songs.
"Obviously, we're going into a new century and I'm just wondering how much we've fucked up through the advance of technology," he elucidates. "Whether we've been destroying as much as we've been creating. The title is a reflection of that, because at the minute life seems sort of like Charles Darwin on speed."
Gavin describes The Science Of Things as a "mixture of socially conscious songs, plus lifestyle songs and the usual self-obsessed dissection of my own problems".
And your problems at present are what exactly, Mr. Good Looking Millionaire Rock Star With Gorgeous Millionaire Rock Star Girlfriend? "Oh, fuck off!" he laughs. "They're just the same universal human problems. You know, emotional traumas and feelings of not belonging, that sort of thing.
"When you write a song you deal with your feelings. You know, 'you hurt me... blah-blah-blah... you fucked me over... blah-blah-blah... I fucked you over... blah-blah-blah... At least I'm fucking someone else now... blah-blah-blah'. Then you refeel it all over again when you record the songs. And when you're mixing them, like we are now, you go back through it all and it's funny--like, 'Wow! I was in one shitty mood that day'."
"I can't help being completely self-obsessed when it comes to the subject matter of songs--most people are unless they're Van Morrison os someone with a poetic sensibility. But this time around, I've kind of tried putting a spotlight on things outside my own life.
"We've got one song called 'Ban The Bomb' which is an anti-self-obsession song, a protest song really," he continues. "Apart from some of Asian Dub Foundation's stuff, I haven't heard any protest songs recently so I just wanted to do one. In the '60s, with Bob Dylan and all the folk rock stuff, it seemed that everyone was standing up against shit. But now everyone seems so segregated. There could be more unity, because there are still wars and problems everywhere."
But isn't the '90s the decade of political apathy? All that tree-hugging, hippy-dippy, 'Save The Patchouli' shit is as anachronistic as leg-warmers, white dog shit and Texan chocolate bars in Generation X's cynical, 'South Park'-worshipping world...
"I know," responds Rossdale, "but then we're never tried to be a 'fashionable' band. We've another song on the album called 'The Disease Of The Dancing Cats', which is about pollution and orangutans."
Yeah, very droll...
"I swear, I'm not taking the piss!" he maintains. "It's our big statement song, and it's going to be massive. I wouldn't lie to you. Well, I would, but I'm not right now..."
Other titles set for inclusion on The Science Of Things include 'Altered States', 'Jesus Online' ("A millennium lifestyle song"), 'Warm Machine' ("Either a song about humanity saving ourselves, or about a mini-cab --that warm machine that ferries you to and fro on a night out"), and 'Dead Meat' ("A song about Dorothy Stratten, who was a "Playboy" Playmate killed by her husband: it's a revenge song written from her point of view").
"I'm more excited this time," Rossdale insist. "The Razorblade Suitcase album was deliberately done on the run, because I wrote it in 10 days and recorded it a couple of months without stopping.
"This album has had a completely different build-up, and I've had time to get excited as we watched things really come together. "Come on, you know I'm into this. I can't fucking wait to get back out there again."
Having been in one another's faces for the past six months, you might think that the members of Bush would be sick of the sight of each other by now. But Gavin insists that the quartet hung out a lot over the Yuletide period - "making time for social turkey". All four musicians know that 1999 is shaping up to be another hectic, energy-sapping year.
"That's why I want to have a bit of time off at the beginning of this year," Rossdale sights. "Because once the album comes out it'll go mad... At least, we hope it'll go mad. There's always time to fuck it all up."
And as we hurtle towards the new millennium, Gavin Rossdale has a bit of self-improvement in mind. "I've actually made New Year's resolutions this year," he promises. "I'm going to stop doing everything for a month--no drinking, no smoking, no... hanging. And then I'll see how it goes. "I'm also going to try to stop being less of myself in certain areas where I'm not being good," he adds cryptically. "I'm planning a re-fit in certain areas, just smoothing out a few rough edges." Er, right, fair enough.
And presumably you've got your every waking moment mapped out for 1999 already? "No, we were just complaining about that actually," he laughs. "I asked my manager to draw us up a schedule and he said, "I'll write it and then you'll say you don't want to do this or that. Like I'm not willing to give my all for rock 'n' roll!
"We plan to be in people's faces all year. We'll be doing a couple of UK tours, playing a few festivals, whatever we can.
"You'll be sick of the sight of us by the time the millennium rolls around."
Bush's '99: The next 12 months at a glance...
- A new Bush single will emerge early in the spring. The band are still debating which track from The Science Of Things this will be.
- The Science Of Things itself is scheduled to appear in the spring--either March or April.
- Bush hope to start their world tour in support of The Science Of Things in the UK, after which they're expecting to embark on a lengthly US trek.
- Gavin Rossdale also promises that UK fans will get the opportunity to see Bush at a couple of major festivals this summer.