The great pretender; Interview: Gavin Rossdale

The lead singer of Bush: too coiffed for a rock star, too popular for a rebel ... too old for his date of birth?

It's Easy to determine the most interesting things about an interviewee: they're the things that his publicist asks you not to write about. Gavin Rossdale's publicist asked me not to write about two things.

In America, Rossdale is known as that British guy who sells millions of records. In Britain, up until now, he's been known as that British guy who sells millions of records in America. In 1995, his band played to a crowd of 60,000 in Washington DC. A month later they were in front of 150 people in a Birmingham pub. In America, Rolling Stone magazine boosted its circulation with a cover photo of Rossdale, smouldering and topless, reclining on rumpled bed sheets. In Britain, the Mail on Sunday magazine's piece about him was flagged by a cover photo of the Gallagher brothers, and the line: "The Band That Cracked America (and it's not this lot)". Rossdale, singer/songwriter/guitarist/sex symbol of Bush, is a prophet without honour in his own land - and not much profit either. The group's debut album, Sixteen Stone, has sold a more-than-respectable 50,000 copies here, but in the rest of the world it has sold seven million.

That's the first thing.

The reason that Bush do so well in America is that they sound like Nirvana. Whether or not it's calculated - Rossdale says not, of course - the fragmentary lyrics, the aching groan, the punk rock guitars and the sudden, Pixies- influenced dynamic switches are all Seattle trademarks. Except that they don't quite convince. They don't have the passion or the power. They don't have the ... grunginess. As for Rossdale himself, the elfin figure hunched on the chaise-longue in front of me looks like a fashion magazine's idea of a grunge star. Okay, there's a brown zip-up cardigan over a white T- shirt, but where are the rips and holes? The fading black jeans are okay, but I'm not sure about those teddy-boy creepers. And he is too handsome, too fine-featured, his streaked brown hair too carefully styled. To quote the man who discovered Bush, Rossdale has "a look which [is] very favourable for marketing and selling records".

That's the second thing.

These points have been dealt with in many articles already, points out the publicist. But no one has asked what the band are about. So, in the opulent lounge of a Central London hotel suite, that's what I ask Gavin Rossdale. What are Bush about? Do they have an aim? A theme? Rossdale laughs, showing perfect teeth. "The only theme I can think of is ... like ... like ... trying to find a way through it all." He pauses more than he talks, his low voice only slightly more than a mumble. "We want people to identify with our confusion. Confusion about how you feel, where you're going, what your part is ... and stuff. That's why I couldn't understand the hugeness of Blur. Their stuff was always sort of contrived. It wasn't really about where they were at, or what they thought about stuff."

Were Damon Albarn here, I conjecture, he would probably consider that Rossdale's way of describing his music was quite pretentious. Rossdale disagrees. "Pretentious is from pretend, right? That's where it comes from. My point is that it's pretentious to be writing about stuff you're not involved in. Damon wants to be the Alan Ayckbourn of the music world. Something like that. What I was trying to do was move away from that, and not be steeped in deceit and contrivance."

This is the crux of the Bush problem, the reason that they are whipping boys for critics on both side of the Atlantic. Rossdale believes he is the real McCoy, because he doesn't make "wacky ironic English music". American audiences agree. But he is open to the very same accusations which have driven Albarn to turn his back on music-hall vignettes: that he is an over-privileged young man, stealing someone else's voice to cash in on suffering he doesn't understand. We don't want second-hand grunge from a middle-class doctor's son who went to Westminster College, thank you very much. "It was a pretty weird thing to go from a nobby school like that into the rock world, where that could be the biggest stigma you could ever imagine," acknowledges Rossdale.

When I tell him that I have two friends who were in his class at Westminster, he responds instantly: "Ask them if I was hated at school." I reply that I've already asked them, and that they said he wasn't. "Not in the last bit," he admits. "In the first three years I was totally hated. I was the most unpopular boy that's ever been at that school."

The other area on which memories differ is that of his age. One press release says he was born in 1969, another says 1967. However, my friends are aged 311/2. When was Rossdale born? "Sixty-seven," he says.

"So that makes you ... 29?"

"Twenty-nine. But you can call me what you like. You can call me 35 if you like."

"It's just that ... if your classmates are 31 ..."

"Yeah, I could have been a year ahead for my age. I could be 29, I could be 30."

"Yes, but how old are you?"

"I've just told you." He grins. "I think they're lying. I think they're trying to be older."

It's not a very satisfying experience, interviewing Rossdale. He is a relentless fidget, scribbling on a paper napkin with a pencil, fiddling with a box of matches, rarely making eye contact. He rambles vaguely and cagily: a symptom, perhaps, of his reported long-term devotion to marijuana. I ask one question about his clothes, and a minute later he is telling me about the time his mother was mugged.

Still, the elusiveness is hardly surprising, given that he has suffered so much hostile press. Rossdale puts this down to journalists' frustration that he had taken off "without their permission". With the release of Sixteen Stone's follow-up, Razorblade Suitcase (which is now in the UK top 10), he thinks attitudes are changing. "It's easier now, with a new record to talk about. But maybe not," he laughs. He traces a headline in the air: "'Androgynous wanker, no one ever liked him.'" Perversely, this is wishful thinking. It would help to validate his songs if someone confirmed that he was an outcast, hated and scarred because he dared to be different. Whereas, to me he seemed nice, suspicious, vain, remarkably unaffected by his success, possessed of an enviable head of hair, but overall a very ordinary man - who happens to have sold nine million records.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
The Queen and the letter sent to Charlie
Arts and Entertainment
Eurovision Song Contest 2015
EurovisionGoogle marks the 2015 show
Two lesbians hold hands at a gay pride parade.
peopleIrish journalist shares moving story on day of referendum
Arts and Entertainment
<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
booksKathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
Liz Kendall played a key role in the introduction of the smoking ban
newsLiz Kendall: profile
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

    £40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

    Guru Careers: Software Developer

    £35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

    Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

    £25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

    Day In a Page

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?