Gavin Rossdale Isn’t Watching The Days Go By
The legendary frontman of Bush reflects on the wild ’90s, parenting today, and what it even means to release a “Greatest Hits” record.
There are many ways you know you’re getting older. Maybe you have kids and are watching them grow up so fast. Maybe it’s the little aches and pains that didn’t used to be there. And, maybe it’s seeing a vital, iconic band from your youth release not their first but their second greatest hits record. If the idea that Bush — the grunge band who dominated rock radio in the ’90s with songs like “Glycerine” or “Machinehead” — has reached Greatest Hits territory twice over has you ready to throw in the towel, Gavin Rossdale has a wake-up call for you. Bush may be a giant of the ’90s but they’re anything but a nostalgic relic.
“When people in 2023 come to me and say ‘You're the best band from the ’90s’ — I'm like, ‘Ah, no, don't! Don't do that to me!’ ” he tells Fatherly from a studio near his home in Los Angeles. “But, it's a compliment.”
Rossdale is clearly down with getting older because, in a sense, he’s more himself now than ever before. There’s a chill, pleasant mellowness to Rossdale’s demeanor as he chats with me on the couch. Soft-spoken and wry, Rossdale obviously looks older than he did in the “Glycerine” music video nearly 30 years ago. His clothes are certainly nicer; at least in the conventional sense. You’d never mistake him for one of those guys trying to dress the way they did in their twenties. There’s no grunge aesthetic here. His eyes have the same intensity they did in 1994 but in the music video for “Glycerine” they were piercing; now they’re observant. He’s clean-cut and sporting tattoos that would perhaps be “a little much” if they weren’t on a rock star — and Rossdale clearly is a rock star. There’s a nonchalance to his attitude — even as he poses for the camera, answering my back-to-back questions — that’s almost intimidating despite (or perhaps even because of) his casual friendly demeanor. Rossdale has done this many, many times before and he’ll do it again.
It’s hard to really explain to someone who wasn’t around in the 1990s just how huge Gavin Rossdale was. This world simply does not make rock-and-roll celebrities like this anymore. In the mid-1990s Rossdale was everywhere. He was on MTV. He was on the radio. You would see photos of him out on the town with Courtney Love, and later, of course, his now ex-wife Gwen Stefani. He was a rock god with the friends, parties, fashion sense, and good looks that come with the territory. You’d be forgiven for misremembering him burning out, dropping out, or self-immolating in ’90s rock god fashion. The thing is, he didn’t. It’s 2023 and Bush, still led by Gavin Rossdale, are recording their 10th original album — and releasing their second greatest hits album.
“A greatest hits album worried me because I thought it was like a swan song. Like, ‘Okay, now we're done.’ No, we don't wanna do that. We’ll keep going,” Rossdale says. “But, actually taking stock of everything that we've done over these 30 years has been an incredible eye-opening experience. I'm so busy running forward that it's been good to just appreciate what we’ve done and celebrate it. It’s not looking back like it's a farewell. Just think of it like a celebration.”
That celebration, Loaded: The Greatest Hits 1994-2023, is now on shelves and streaming, coming ahead of a U.S. tour and on the heels of a new song, “Nowhere to Go But Everywhere.” One listen to the album makes it clear what Rossdale means by “running forward.” Bush broke out in the States with their 1994 album Sixteen Stone two years after they first formed in England. Since then, they’ve recorded eight more albums; the most recent, The Art of Survival, came out last year, and Rossdale says they’re working on a tenth album for 2024. It’s a lot of music to consider when picking out just a few “Greatest Hits.”
“I was useless when it came to actually putting the greatest collection together. I was like, ‘I don't know!’” Rossdale admits with a chuckle. “But I said we should do it chronologically and do it with the songs that were the most successful. Keep it as factual as possible. So that's what we did. Of course, now that it's out I regret the four songs we didn’t include. There are four or five or six extra songs we could include on a deluxe edition, so I’m pushing for that.”
Bush making hit music hasn’t changed, but their sound has. While they ruled the radio with mid-tempo gunge in the ’90s, their later music has taken a harder turn, embracing aspects of metal and a heavier sound. The Greatest Hits, then, is a testament to both the group’s consistency and their evolution as musicians. Although the fashions, culture, and music of the ’90s are in vogue again, things are different in the ’20s. Bush sounds different, the role of rock music is different, and the concept of masculinity might even be different, as well. Rossdale’s life has changed considerably since the ’90s, too. Now, in addition to being a rock star, he’s also the parent of three young boys, whom he shares with Gwen Stefani.
“Parenthood,” Rossdale says. “It's a weird one because sometimes you put so much in and sometimes you dunno what you're getting out. Then, when I watch my kids interact with other people and they're charming or they're funny, they're polite, they're humble, or they act the right way — that’s the greatest feeling.”
Fatherly sat down with Rossdale to discuss Bush’s greatest hits, the ways 2023 is — and isn’t — reminiscent of the ’90s, why he loves Taylor Swift, and exactly how raising kids has contributed to a shift in his rock sound.
The ’90s are having a cultural resurgence of sorts right now. Do things feel familiar to you? Or how has the culture changed?
Well, things have definitely changed. When people are giving a nod to a decade, to a style, to an approach — it doesn't have to be so brazen. Certain thrift store pieces have always looked good, and you could have always called them a bit of the ’90s. It's semantics in a way, ’cause vintage hasn't gone away and that's what grunge clothing was based on. It was based on not having enough money to go to buy expensive clothes. You go to the thrift store, right?
But I think it's just exciting when new generations discover the music of those decades. There's so much great music in the ’90s. It's been great to hear it out and about.
Clearly, there’s still a big audience for grunge — as evidenced by your continued success — but I think it’s fair to say that the genre didn’t leave a massive, lasting footprint or influence coming out of the ’90s. There wasn’t a clear successor to Bush or Nirvana, in other words. Why might that be?
Grunge had a kinda punky DIY feel to it. So, where does that go? How can that progress? In my own journey, when it comes to guitar, for instance, I find myself in a much more heavy metal world of detuned guitars. So when you consider bands like Deftones or Korn, it's more like that. I'm seeing bands that are pretty exciting now. They've kind of taken bits of everyone and it's become the metal core world. Bands like Bad Omens and I Prevail, to me, are the lineage of grunge, because it's the spirit.
The metal thing feels the most exciting because when it's super heavy, it's too heavy for most people outside of that world.
When we did the Kingdom record in 2020, people were saying “Bush is back on fire!” and were really excited about it. The last album was a depressing, post-divorce record — I'm allowed that. This is an interview with Fatherly, after all — but after that emotion, I wanted to be strong. The power that I found was not in rediscovering grunge, but in who was controlling crowds at that moment, which was more like new metal. My challenge is to make rock music that's exciting, but I have to be aware of those bands that are really brilliant, like Faith No More and Lincoln Park. The metal thing feels the most exciting because when it's super heavy, it's too heavy for most people outside of that world. But the music and the melodic shifts of those bands and those sensations are a natural evolution of grunge, just more sophisticated.
Your most famous song is easily “Glycerine.” Does this bug you today? You once said that the song was “bigger than anything you were doing” at the time. Do you still feel that way?
Well, it’s an incredible honor to have a song that has been played 200 million times. [Laughs.] It blows me away. People like those mellow songs. I had so many dudes through the years come and tell me that “Glycerine” was what woke them up to being open to hearing slower songs. It got them out of the mosh pit, stopping bashing into each other and maybe being nicer to their girlfriends. You know how some people do that thing where they disown their hits? I just feel grateful to ’em.
Do you see Bush's DNA or lineage, specifically, in today's music? In rock — or maybe even elsewhere in genres one might not have expected?
I did a podcast the other day with Corey Taylor from Slipknot. We did it together with Bert Kreischer, and he asked Corey what song he wished he'd written. And he says “Greedy Fly” by Bush. I was so blown away by that. I never overindulgently think about someone liking us and how great that is. So, when I do hear someone, especially someone who I respect and who's phenomenal themselves, it's a high compliment.
If you create a long body of work, people get your sensibility. People might sort of digest things that are important to them. You can’t necessarily pick them out, but it’s in there for them. There are no Bush-influenced bands that sound particularly blatant to me. I get it said to me more often than I hear it, to be honest.
What do you think is the state of the modern rockstar? Who would you say is the biggest rockstar today? Could it be someone like Taylor Swift, or does she not track as a “rock star” to you?
Well, she is a phenomenon. I just adore her. What she's achieved ever since that sort of incident when Kanye took her microphone — I instantly fell in protective love with her and always loved her since then. It certainly didn't affect her career in the long run. She’s probably the most major star. Between her and Billie Eilish, they're sort of the most exciting for me to watch what they do musically.
In terms of big rock stars? I mean… Mick Jagger. He’s playing stadiums and he's just brought on new records. Maybe I have to give the nod to him. It’s incredible. Just the idea that he's 80 years old, still making records, and going to work every day? He was in Barbados doing that. You'd think he'd slide off and have a nap under a gazebo, but he's rocking it. I love him for that.
Do you think that modern concert audiences and listeners expect different things from rock stars now than they did in the ’90s?
I just wanna give everyone a great show. I certainly think that it's a more positive world and a more inclusive world. But, I come from London, it's like the most permissive liberal society imaginable. So our shows are always really inclusive. It’s not as if certain minorities are now safer at our shows, because I would hope they were always safe at our shows. And I never understood the whole mosh pit thing. I thought it was really annoying for everyone else there.
What have you learned about what it means to be a man? How has that idea changed from the ’90s to now?
I'm sure it was always the same. I don't think you have to solely be the protector and provider because I think that mothers are more than capable of that as well. But it's essentially to be part of the team. I find that's why I'm in the kitchen at 6:00 a.m. letting the meat come to room temperature that I'm gonna cook for the kids' lunch, putting the rice on, getting the dog's medicine ready — and then gonna wake my kids up and do it gently. Those values of having your word and being a strong parent — it feels manly.
Bush, Gavin Rossdale standing in the crowd with his guitar, Rock Werchter Festival, Werchter, Belgium, 29 June 2002. (Photo by Gie Knaeps/Getty Images)
BETHLEHEM - FEBRUARY 2: Gavin Rossdale of the band Bush performs at Stabler Arena on February 2, 1996, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Lisa Lake/Getty Images)
Those values of having your word and being a strong parent — it feels manly.
Now that I’ve asked you a lot of questions about the ’90s — which, to be fair to myself, I’m doing partially because a lot of Fatherly’s readership is people who were growing up or were young adults in the ’90s and now have young kids — does part of you bristle at the assumption that ’90s were your heyday? Your discography extends to today, and you’re still releasing hits.
It's a double-edged thing because that's where we began. But, no one says, “Here comes ’80s U2.” How come they don't get it? We have had hits throughout each decade. What a high-class problem to have, though. Moaning because somebody knew you as a flagship of a decade? That's okay.
Ideally, you want to be an artist who lives in the present and is trying to write good songs today and tomorrow. I see thousands of people at our shows. We have millions of streams of our singles that are out now. What's difficult — and what we can never get back — is being young, being on MTV, and being the kings of the radio, when there was no other culture. Rock radio and alternative radio ruled the culture, ruled the zeitgeist. Pop radio was still massive, but it felt like happening-people were listening to alternative radio stations. Now that that’s changed, I can’t compete in the same way as “Glycerin” getting 200 million plays, but I’m still going to get 30 or 40 million. It’s still a lot of people, but I’m not Drake or any of those pop stars who can do that in a way. I feel I’m a working musician now and it could be way worse, so I gotta stay grateful. We've been really lucky to maintain a presence on the radio because we had that footprint since we began. People tend to like the familiarity on radio, and radio stations like it when listeners don't stop listening. Having my dumb voice on there feels familiar enough so they're not gonna switch. I think that's how it goes, so we're still part of that.
What's incredible is that we have multi-generational fans. We have sons and daughters of people who grew up with us. So that's wild. The new music, which is a little bit heavier, has brought up a whole new audience of people. We have a real mixing of ages and persuasions and that's so healthy.
What makes a successful co-parent? What are some of the challenges and how do you navigate them?
It really is about putting the children first. That's how it works really. I can run my kids autonomously, which is good. When they come around me they know the drills. What’s interesting for them, and what I think is best for my kids, is that they get the chance to see two opposing ways of life — diametrically opposed systems. They get to make their minds up by the time they leave. Because we, as parents, overrate our input. They're gonna become who they are. That's why kids are all different. People say, “Can you believe how different our kids are?” Yeah, of course, 'cause that's how it works. I've always said to my kids that that's the benefit. They get two opposing views and they can take and glean what they want and what they believe in. And, they don't have to believe either of us.
As a professional musician, do you have to deal with your kids bristling at the music you made? Are they fans? Or do they want nothing to do with Dad’s music? Or their mom’s music, for that matter?
Well, you'll have to ask elsewhere for that second question. I don't know. But, it's funny, because when I first started having kids with Gwen, people would ask “Have you written any songs about the kids to change your songwriting?” I have a daughter, Daisy, who is fully grown up, and it’s the same thing with her and my three boys: I just don't wanna suck. I think it's probably one of the big reasons why I went super heavy with music. There are many reasons, but “Sorry, my dad's made another loud record” is just much funnier than “This is my dad's irreverent record; here's his mid-tempo acoustic ballad that no one cares about.” I just don't wanna suck for them. I want 'em to be proud of me.
I just don't wanna suck for them. I want 'em to be proud of me.
Well, but to press the question: Do they like it?
I think so. Yeah, I think so. But I've been around musicians who, whenever someone walks in the dressing room, they’re like “Do you like the show? How's the show?” I'm always like, “Don't ask. If they love it, they're gonna tell you.” I've never asked anyone how the show is, but I'm dying to ask my kids. I haven’t, but I think that they do.
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