Maybe there will come a day when Gavin Rossdale’s name can exist in a story without the mention of ex-wife Gwen Stefani. But maybe not yet. Not when it’s hard to escape the fact that Bush’s new album “Black and White Rainbows” bleeds with the aftermath of his very public split from the No Doubt singer. The intro soliloquy “Mad Love,” the heart-grazing ballad “The Edge of Love” and the torrid wrangler “Nurse” were written in the nearly two-year period since the couple split, leading many to inevitably ask if this is his own “Return of Saturn”-style breakup album.
When: 8 p.m., May 15
Where: Riviera Theatre, 4746 N. Racine
“Everything I’ve ever written has been personal, since the days of [debut album] ‘Sixteen Stone,’” Rossdale says during a recent phone call from his home in L.A., just days before Bush heads out on a tour that brings them to the Riviera Theatre May 15. Rossdale sounds sprite and upbeat, ready to tackle all the questions he’s already heard ad nauseum but also pretty ready to move on. Rather than marking the end of a major chapter, he refers to “Black and White Rainbows” as the start of a new one.
“It’s a very pure thing to write a song and somehow manage your emotions, but I don’t like when things are so pessimistic,” he says. “I wanted this to be a balanced record and somewhat positive, too.”
One of the silver linings that comes through is that his love affair with music, at least, is as strong as the when he started the post-grunge band with his mates in London 25 years ago. Bush’s ties to alternative rock and Brit post-punk remain intact on the new album, though there’s an invitation for more digitized sounds and a strong pop pulse that reverberates on standout songs like “Water” and “Dystopia,” which admittedly came out of a desire to please his three young boys, Kingston, Zuma and Apollo.
“I didn’t want a record that would alienate my kids,” he says, taking cues from their musical preferences. “We’d go to school every morning and they’d want to play all kinds of hip-hop music, and it informed a lot of the melodies that I found important.”
On “Rainbows,” Rossdale took the reigns, choosing to write, record and produce it himself with contributions from Bush’s instrumental backbone—guitarist Chris Traynor, bassist Corey Britz and drummer Robin Goodridge (the only other original founding member of Bush still in the band)—and with the experience gained from the “wonderful collaborations” he’s had with producers over the years.
One of them was Chicago-based recording engineer Steve Albini, who worked with Bush on their seminal sophomore album “Razorblade Suitcase” in 1996, the same decade he oversaw efforts by Nirvana, the Pixies and much of the alt rock regime.
Those sessions were “massively influential” for Bush, says Rossdale. “[The Pixies’] ‘Surfer Rosa’ was the single most important record of my youth, so I was so happy to work with him. …We had been touring for two years on ‘Sixteen Stone’ [the debut that produced massive hits ‘Glycerine,’ ‘Comedown,’ and ‘Machinehead’], and I wanted somebody to capture what we were intrinsically were. He pushed us in so many ways.”
Albini shares in the mutual appreciation, praising the band in a letter that was part of the liner notes for the remastered “Razorblade Suitcase” release last year.
“I have worked in the studio with bands from the smallest to the largest, from those with no expectations to those with the grandest ambitions, and I am confident in ascribing genuine motives to Bush as I am of any band I’ve encountered,” Alibini writes, commending Bush’s elbow grease that allowed them to break into the American marketplace and find success through grassroots efforts early on.
It’s an integrity Rossdale tries to maintain, he says, by staying current—and involved. “I’m still so in love with music, listening to everything and paying attention.” That includes a commitment to inviting emerging bands on tour (including Chicago’s The Kickback on the latest dates), as well as a newfound mentorship role on the U.K. edition of singing competition “The Voice.”
“The best part about teaching people is that you deconstruct your own process and when you put it back together you can make sure you are following your own advice,” Rossdale admits, quick to also gush over the lessons learned from fellow judge Jennifer Hudson. “I love her so much. She just makes me want to be a better man. …And when she sings I kind of want to hand my microphone back.”
In the months to come, Rossdale will take on other new projects, launching his debut clothing line, called Sea of Sound, and continuing to film episodes of his new lifestyle cooking show where he invites people like Tom Jones (and the general public) in for quite candid chats. “When I was going through all that personal stuff and thinking about my life and what people knew of me, I felt a real disconnect,” he says. “I figured why not do this to further show people who I really am.”
Selena Fragassi is a local freelance writer.