Back in the ‘90s when Bush were new on the scene, frontman Gavin Rossdale had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to tour with one of his idols, David Bowie, who he discovered at age 9 after his aunt gave him the life-changing Ziggy Stardust album. Now, as Bush prepare to embark on a co-headlining tour with fellow alt-rock heroes Live, Rossdale still remembers the sage advice Bowie gave him back in the day.
“He was just a great man. He just was not disappointing,” Rossdale tells Yahoo Entertainment. “I mean, even though I didn’t use some of the styles in certain times, there’s so many Bowie-esque moments in all my records, whether people know or care or realize or anything. So he’s always present. He was in his own stratosphere that made him fascinating and cultured and erudite and well-traveled and mindful and kind and funny, and I was just lucky enough at various times to experience his friendship. I enjoyed my time with him and being able to reach out to him and see him and talk to him, and so I was really sad when he died.
“He’s on my mind because he said to me, ‘Outlive your critics.’ I was really upset about something, about a review, and he said to me: ‘Outlive your critics.’”
The Britrock band had sold 6 million copies of their debut album, Sixteen Stone, and 3 million copies of their Steve Albini-recorded follow-up, Razorblade Suitcase — but the critical respect that they now enjoy eluded them at that time, and they were dogged by lazy Nirvana comparisons, which Rossdale describes as “an assault” and “a way to discredit the band.” (When asked when he noticed the critical tides start to turn, Rossdale jokes, “As soon as I stopped selling records! As soon as the world changed and no one bought records, I wasn’t beaten up for selling 50,000 copies of my records a week! .. I started getting glowing reviews.”) Rossdale was feeling down about an unfair 2-star review for Razorblade Suitcase in Rolling Stone, but the wise words from Bowie, who had experienced his own career ups and downs, raised Rossdale’s spirits.
“That was really good advice and also you know, you can’t get bogged down about stuff,” says Rossdale. “I mean, I definitely got beaten up, and you’ll get beaten up if you’re successful.” He adds with a grin that the Rolling Stone writer eventually apologized to him. “He said, ‘I felt bad for 20 years about that review I gave you.’ The consensus was to go right after us. It’s like you only get criticized if you’re doing stuff that is affecting people. … It’s unfortunate, but it kept me fit and lean.”
Fit and lean and still triumphantly rocking decades later, Rossdale has clearly fulfilled Bowie’s prophecies. But in his travels, he received equally profound advice from another one of his heroes, Tom Waits, that he also carries with him to this day.
“I only met [Waits] briefly, for about maybe 48 minutes,” Rossdale recalls. “I just interrogated him as to how he wrote, his process, everything. I wasn’t fanning on him, it was more just intrigued at his process. I needed to know his process. … He said the great line, ‘How you do anything is how you do everything.’ That’s like my life’s mantra. … It’s like you hold yourself to a really high standard, whatever you do.”
Rossdale continues to hold himself to a high standard. Although Bush’s upcoming tour is ostensibly a 25th-anniversary celebration of Sixteen Stone, he bristles at that retro wording. (“Yeah, I hate it. Sorry!”). He’s much rather gush about the music he’s listening to right now (Ex:Re, Kendrick Lamar, Team Sleep) or look ahead to the next “amazing and liberating” and “deep and wide and heavy-like-the-ocean” Bush album, which he’s currently recording in L.A. with film composer Tyler Bates. He says he considered a tour on which the band played all of Sixteen Stone front-to-back, but explains, “I’ve never liked when people do that, because that just felt like you build your own box. Why are you building a box? You’re like building a house with no door. I don’t like that. I like having big windows. I like the future. I like the moment. I’m happy with the past, and I’m going to play these songs because I lived them, but I’m going to sing them about tonight.”
However, Rossdale assures fans that they’ll hear the hits in the upcoming tour. “We have, like, 17 successful singles, so we generally try and play those. Because I don’t want to be ‘that guy’ playing the obscure deep cuts badly,” Rossdale chuckles. “I’m not like someone who complains about a hit song they’ve had. …. I once saw someone who I toured with who played one of their hits. … He introduced this song: ‘And this pays the rent.’ I was just like, ‘That’s so cynical and terrible.’ … I don’t feel that way.”
Still, while Rossdale describes his long career as “an incredible blessing,” when asked about the biggest change in the music business that he’s observed over the past 25 years, he offers an answer that would make Bowie and Waits — two artists that never rested on their laurels or indulged in nostalgia — very proud.
“How much better we are as a band,” he replies without missing a beat. “The great part is, I think I keep getting better. I like defying gravity and all the things that are restraining in this life, and I just think that it’s such a beautiful thing to think the opposite or do the opposite and be surprising. And that’s what I like to do.”
Take a record-shopping trip with Rossdale and learn about the artists that have inspired him, including David Bowie, the Sex Pistols, Bob Marley, and Rihanna:
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