Friday, 3 May 2002

Gavin Rossdale

Interview by Will Hodgkinson
Friday May 3, 2002The Guardian

Lead singer of Bush, sometime boyfriend of Gwen Stefani and international resident of LA and London NW1, Gavin Rossdale has the kind of professional sheen that goes down well in the States, where his band play stadiums. He is polite, handsome, friendly to all, and has a rug-like dog that snarls at you if you approach it with too much caution. He also knows how to chat openly without actually giving too much away.

"There are two records that are particularly important to me," he says, holding his six-foot frame with the kind of confidence rarely seen outside of stadium-rock circles. "The first would be Handsworth Revolution by Steel Pulse, who were the first reggae band I heard. It's a consummate, brilliant, amazing record. The second is by two guys called David and David, who had an album called Boomtown. This is, like, dub country. They're American, and they did this one record before they broke up." Rossdale grew up listening to Germ Free Adolescence by teen punks X-Ray Spex, who were led by the colourful Poly Styrene, later a devotee of Hare Krishna.
"With X-Ray Spex it was all about the lyrics and the melody," he says. "They were singing about genetic engineering 30 years before Total Recall and The Terminator. She sang on the last record we did and she was brilliant - I rudely called her Poly but I know it's really Sag Gita or something."

Other records that informed Rossdale's adolescent mind included the first album by the Clash and Imitation of Christ by Psychedelic Furs. "That was the first stuff I liked - punk stuff and reggae - so that was my introduction to music and it had a deep impact on me. Punk now is seen as idiots on Carnaby Street from Milan shouting, 'Vive le punk,' which is a shame." The logical progression from those two styles, therefore, was PiL. "Metal Box was the first record I heard that sounded truly subversive," he says. "Jah Wobble was my king."

Then came the late-1980s indie period which provided a soundtrack to the life of many a white boy's life, as well as the initial inspiration for Bush. "Surfer Rosa by the Pixies was the American side of that time, and Isn't Anything by My Bloody Valentine was the English side. I really liked the Throwing Muses as well - I thought that 4AD [the record label] was this really wacky, strange world filled with interesting people, and out of that scene the Pixies were the most melodic. They had a great sense of humour. There was that line, 'Uriah hit the crapper' - I think he was talking about the death of certain elements of rock, but I'm probably wrong. But they were playful - they had a Dick Dale surfer sound, and there was an element of tongue-in-cheek. I loved the Pixies."

Two American segments of Rossdale's musical orange are Captain Beefheart and Tom Waits. "Beefheart is much funkier that you'd imagine - you have the difficult records like Trout Mask Replica, but on albums like Spotlight Kid you can hear the beginnings of all those bands like Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. He spawned Tom Waits, who he was always really angry with, but Tom Waits' Rain Dogs was the album that I listened to when lyrics were dominant for me - he still blows me away with these songs that are like miniature movies or Raymond Carver stories."

The best bands always come along and destroy what came before them, and in the early 1990s, the Stone Roses managed to change everything. "I remember watching that first video of I Wanna Be Adored, thinking, 'What is this?' That's almost the best praise you can give a band - to be fascinated and disorientated by them."

Both Nick Cave and Polly Harvey are also favourites. "Nick Cave had that smack-soaked, debauched history with The Birthday Party, but then he went on to make beautiful solo records like Your Funeral, My Trial and The Boatman's Call. I find them much more listenable than the Birthday Party, who I missed out on at the time. As for Polly Harvey, I like all her records, but Rid of Me is my favourite." Does he know her? "No. I've been in the same room as her, and heard about her through our producer Steve Albini. She probably thinks I'm scum."

Among the more recent releases Rossdale has been enjoying is Druqks by the Aphex Twin, and Agaetis Byrjun by Icelandic four-piece Sigur Ros. "I like Aphex because he's the laziest man in music. He DJs from a sofa. He sampled his mum and dad leaving a message on his answerphone. As for Sigur Ros, me and Gwen went to see them in the States. We sat there for two and a half hours in this theatre and this guy came on and played guitar with a bow. Two and a half hours in, it's less good. But they are amazing."

Special mention goes to Jeff Buckley's album Grace. "I discovered him at Reading one year. I was wandering around and heard his singing coming out of one of the tents. It was one of those biblical, ethereal moments of knowing that you have made a great discovery. Then he drowned drunk. What a waste."

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