Gavin Rossdale: Records that changed my life
Bush frontman, Gavin Rossdale, on the records that influenced his life and music…
Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols by Sex Pistols
It’s the perfect record from the most perfect band. It started a revolution, changed culture and spoke to me as a young boy at the time, it was the biggest crossroads of my life. It was around the same time that the Sex Pistols went on the TV, swearing on the Bill Grundy show. We’d just come out of the Seventies and I’d never known a revolution like it. I used to put egg white in my hair on Friday nights to make it spiky (even though it turned to dandruff when it dried), and my sister knew a load of punks so I was always the kid that would be hanging out with them. We used to hang out in squats and try to be as cool as ice.
There isn’t a record or song that I’ve written without listening to the Sex Pistols just to make sure that I wasn’t being too annoying. It’s like a litmus test of “what would he have done?” What would Johnny have done? I love Public Image, I’ve read all his books, he’s a culturally amazing figure, he’s an icon to me. If I’m feeling too precious or sensitive or sad, I play “Bodies” and then I’m like, Shut up, man up.
There’s a vitality and vibrancy to him that I really love and it manifests itself in me in different ways; it’s not like a blueprint, it’s just an overall aesthetic. There’s an air of mystique, mystery around the Sex Pistols and I just feel really connected to them, the Englishness of it, the fashion side.
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars by David Bowie
That record was given to me by my aunt when I was 13 or 14, and that was a gateway—probably my second most important record. It opened up a whole world where I could be weird. It just opened up my mind. I didn’t know what to make of it, it was such breadth of imagination.
My parents were playing Roberta Flack, Queen and Stevie Wonder records but that was basically about it, that was the music. I didn’t have the hot-house environment that people have today; I didn’t get Mozart in the womb, and I grew up on a record store on Finchley Road which was my whole schooling in music. And one day my aunt bought this record for me, and I just fell in love. I couldn’t believe the imagination. I realise now that I didn’t understand it, I just wanted to be immersed in it, it was a nice pillow to lie on.
Desire by Bob Dylan
When I was getting into punk singles and going into the record store to buy them, the guys who worked there would be like, “Look, that’s cool, but you should also try this and that”. They introduced me to The Doors, Neil Young, to Bob Dylan. They also gave me Desire by Bob Dylan which I loved. It’s half with Emmylou Harris and half with Ronee Blakley. I just love that Stephane Grappelli-inspired violin and all that mystical travelling.
"I was a kid from North London listening to a song about romance in Durango—it just seemed like another universe"
With Bowie, he had that other-worldliness, where you didn’t know what was happening. But Dylan would just tell these stories which really connected with me. I would play it over and over, you wouldn’t have many records back then, and I’d put it on my little record player, get to the end and then skrrt right back to the beginning. I was a kid from North London listening to a song about romance in Durango—it just seemed like another universe. It’s just seeped into my DNA.
The way that Bob Dylan writes is just magical and masterful and so whenever I read a book of his lyrics I’m always disheartened, like, “Oh my God, I haven’t even begun! I haven’t said anything! I haven’t said one thing!” So, of course, that’s always been my foundation, the records from these people.
Surfer Rosa by The Pixies
I discovered Pixies when I was learning how to sing and didn’t really have a voice yet. I found them through [the record label] 4AD which I loved. I mean, Throwing Muses, Cocteau Twins… I just loved those album covers and I was like, “Wow, what is this?”
These records were always about me as a human being and me as a music listener, I was never arrogant enough to think that I could make music. They were modes of enjoyment, immersion. But then I decided I didn’t want a job, and if I could just write words and sing a tune and get a few of my mates to play chords to it, maybe I could make a living out of it. I could avoid all work and do something interesting, meet girls and live in a castle and I’d be fine.
And when I heard Surfer Rosa, I was like, “Oh my God, it is possible, you can do rock music!” Because I didn’t connect to hair metal which was popular at the time, and I couldn’t sing like Steven Tyler of Aerosmith and all those kind of rock bands, I couldn’t connect to it at all. So when I heard The Pixies, I was like, “That is it”, that was a lightbulb. So they provided me with the A-Z map, they were my knowledge. Just brilliant music and brilliant lyrics, quiet, loud and aggressive.
"People don't record their vocals loud enough"
And then there was the artwork. It was genius! I still think Surfer Rosa is the single greatest artwork of all time, that gold flamenco dancer. And what I miss about those days—and I’m not a Luddite, I’m not mad at anyone about it—is getting a new record and getting the lyrics right away and simultaneously listening and reading the lyrics to the songs I liked. People don’t record their vocals loud enough and it really annoys me when you can’t hear someone’s voice. Then you find out some beautiful lyrics and then you’re like, “Why didn’t they f*****g turn the vocals up already?”
Rid of Me by PJ Harvey
This record came out when I was a fledgeling artist and it was just such a gift. I first heard of PJ Harvey when she played at Finsbury Park. She was in a three-piece, and it was just the most magical, ethereal music—this earthy blues with incredible singing, incredible words and I just fell in love with her on every level possible.
The first time I had money to buy a real guitar, I even went as far as going to Vintage and Rare, and getting a Jazzmaster because I saw her playing that in the park and was inspired by her. So I ended up buying this guitar that was owned by Joe Walsh, it was a purple Jazzmaster and I’ve played it ever since, it’s in my bedroom upstairs, a beautiful guitar.
She made Rid of Me with Steve Albini and I was so inspired by it that I made [Bush album] Razorblade Suitcase with him, it spawned me working with him. Her aesthetic has always been on my mind: elusive but with a really good weathervane kind of quality. And she continues to be really amazing: two Mercury prizes which is pretty impressive and well deserved She’s a really strong female voice: singular, elevated and elevating, insightful and just so talented and masterful at songwriting and playing. She’s so measured and self-assured and such an inspiring artist, I love her.
BUSH's new album, The Kingdom is due for release July 17 via BMG
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