Bush - Nigel Pulsford on guitar, Dave Parsons on bass, Robin Goodridge on drums, and singer/guitarist Gavin Rossdale - have been around for 10 years. They're named for a London neighborhood, Shepherd's Bush, not America's presidential clan. It is Rossdale, of course, who people know best. Regularly showing up on magazines' sexiest men lists and on paparazzi pages with partner Gwen Stefani (of No Doubt), Rossdale is the tousle-haired frontman with the bashful smile and the moody good looks. The rest of the band might not be instantly recognizable, but they are, it turns out, terribly nice chaps.
A common misconception in Britain is that Bush live and work in America. They don't. Rather, they still live in London. "I admit we sound American," says Pulsford from behind a pair of dark glasses. The eldest member of the band (40), Pulsford has a staely demeanor. Bald head. Measured words. Bobbing around, he doesn't want to sit. "We started the band when the only sound coming out of England was a dull fart sound," he says. "We were never shoe-gazers, and we never liked shoe-gazing music. We started the band deliberately not to sound boring."
Bush is one of the biggest-selling British bands in the world - except in the U.K. Here they are known as the band who is big "over there." At home, they can go to restaurants and pubs unrecognized. They enjoy their anonymity. Reluctant stars, they have no desire to get their names in the newspapers. "I've never understood the hunger for fame," says Parsons, 37, the mild-mannered bass player whose boyish features bear a striking resemblance to those of actor Tim Robbins.
So why is Bush so successful in America? "It's the loud guitars," says Pulsford. While the U.K. music scene is dominated by club sounds (Basement Jaxx), music packaged for the pre-pubescent market (Geri Halliwell), and the dour guitar strummers (Travis), the American appetite for rock music never wanes. Bush's first album, 1994's Sixteen Stone, whent platinum in the U.S. Two years later, the follow-up, Razorblade Suitcase, debuted on the Billboard charts at number one. Their third release, The Science of Things, also went platinum. All told, they've sold more than 15 million records.
Back after two years with Golden State, the band returns to their roots even as they move forward. "On the last album, we experimented and used loops. With this one we went back to making rock. It's a naked record," says Rossdale. "We're good at playing together," says Parsons. "With Golden State, we went back to the four of us rehearsing each song until we got it right. Then we went straight into the studio to record."
Tagged "Nirvana Two" when they first appeared, Bush rapidly carved out a niche of their own. The subject of where they fit into the music scene is, however, a sensitive one. "Where does R.E.M. fit?" asks Pulsford, just as Rossdale appears through the back door. With perfect facial symmetry, long eyelashes, and secretive eyes, he is extremely pretty - feminine, almost. At 33, he is the baby of the band, and they only one who isn't a father. "We exist within our own space," he says with the confidence of someone assured of his position by the loyalty of rock fans. "It's a nice place to be."
Squinting in the sun, Goodridge takes a seatand folds his drummer's arms across his chest. He works out at the gym to keep fit. "At my age (35), you have to," he says. What does Goodridge have to say about Golden State? "It's a reflection of what we do best. We just went in and played. We didn't use much studio trickery, which makes for more atmosphere."
In other words, never mind the tricks, here come the raw basics. "In the 70s, it was all about punk and reggae," says Parsons. "The first band I went to see was the U.K. Subs," remembers Goodridge. "It was 1979. I was 14. I stood in the front row and thought 'This is what I want to do.' Then I saw the Clash. Now who the fuck wouldn't want to play 'London Calling' in front of 30,000 people?"
Then came the 80s - a big disappointment according to Goodridge, who, like the others, did his time in all sorts of fledgling bands before striking gold with Bush. In their view, it was the 90s that woke everybody up. "Finally there were bands like Soundgarden making rock music, music that didn't sound as though it was being made by big-haired, cock-sucking bands like KISS," says Goodridge, not a man to mince his words - or commit what could be considered blasphemy in the U.S. "Americans are always amazed. 'What, you didn't like KISS?' No. They were a fucking joke."
Bush takes their music as seriously as their politics. "If you've got the opportunity to speak your mind, then you should," says Rossdale. "Apathy adds to the floss of life." In the 70s, Rossdale's father, a doctor, gave medical aid to African National Congress supporters who came to England seeking political asylum, something his son is very proud of. Last year, Rossdale, who is half Jewish, recited a Hebrew prayer onstage in Austria in protest of that country's newly elected right-wing government. Greenpeace and PETA are two of the organizations invited to set up booths at Bush concerts.
It's time to go to the park for photos. Rossdale emerges from the stylist's headquarters in a high-collared, Yves Saint Laurent coat, his blond-streaked hair swept back from this face. Only a rock star could get away with work boots worn outside his pants and a white leather trench coat. The image is that of an angelic stormtrooper. A fleet of silver Mercedes with tinted windows is parked outside. Everyone piles in, including Rossdale's dog, Winston, a puli whose fur looks an awful lot like dreadlocks. I notice Winston's name tattooed on the underside of Rossdale's forearm. "We've been together for 11 years,' confirms Rossdale. Winston breathes heavily through his long hair.
When we arrive, the park is mostly deserted. Storm clouds patrol the sky. Still, it's nice to spend the time under an English sky, as the band is about to go on a world tour. "Playing live is the key to being in a rock band," says Goodridge. "It is instant gratification. You walk on stage, start up your first song, and the fucking place goes berserk." Rossdale is typically laconic. "It's a buzz," is all he'll say.
Later, Rossdale, Winston, and I venture toward their home in Primrose Hill, a leafy enclave where the neighbors include Jude Law and Sadie Frost. Stefani lives in Los Angeles, and that's where Rossdale went to write all the songs for the new record. "I rented an apartment in a mansion called the Paramour, rather like the hotel in The Shining," he says. He likes L.A., where he takes tennis lessons and cooks for Stefani and her sister. If London is home, is L.A. Rossdale's second home? "Gwen is my second home. I go where she is," he says without hesitation. The first to admit that his five-year relationship with Stefani has been turbulent, Rossdale nonetheless appears to have found domestic nirvana. He is proud of their strength. That Bush's new album is called Golden State - "a state of bliss, or higher plane" - cannot be entirely unconnected to this new chapter in his life. "Gwen has made my life much better," he says.
Tonight, Stefani is at the MTV Awards in New York, though she had been in London for the past six weeks. Last night she and Rossdale stayed in and watch TV. Stefani likes watching televised surgeries. Last night's program featured two men going under the knife to become women. Rossdale makes a face, saying, "I had to force myself to watch it." Does he write songs about his love for Stefani? He smiles reluctantly. "Some songs are patently about Gwen, although I tend to be a but more cryptic with my lyrics. Gwen's lyrics are much more revealing of what's going on in her life."
He gives Winston a stroke. "I guess what I try to do is make sense of the chaos of life," he says as we pull up outside a tall, terraced manse overlooking the park. Home at last. Winston scampers out. Rossdale pauses. "It's been buggin me. What does urbane mean?" he asks, not saying why. Civilized, courteous, smooth-mannered, I offer and watch him go. As a description of Rossdale, I couldn't have put it better myself.