Gavin Rossdale: “‘Who am I?’ All I wanted to tweet back was ‘Who are you?’”
The laid-back Voice coach tells Frances Taylor about the "life-changing" show, his love of Tom Jones, his band's new album - and his profile in his home country...
He’s sold over 10 million albums worldwide, been nominated for a Grammy, was at the forefront of US rock music during the 1990s and was half of one of the most talked about couples in America.
Yet every Saturday night for the past month, Twitter has been buzzing with just one question.
Who is Gavin Rossdale?
“All I wanted to tweet back was ‘Who are you? Who is anyone?’,” explains the Bush frontman, in an exclusive interview with RadioTimes.com. “We all are nobody, so I just was in the club. Why was I guilty? I just made records and I wasn’t [pretending to be] in a band that had the kind of prestige of Radiohead.”
It's his latest gig, as a coach on ITV's Saturday night talent show The Voice, that's been responsible for that question yet the relative anonymity of the 51-year-old and his band in his native UK is something more than one journalist has picked up on when writing about the multi-platinum selling Bush, who were once one of the most commercially successful groups in the US.
“’Oh, sorry you never made it in England, but you made it in America’… It’s been written about me for 20 years. Every time I’ve ever read anything about me, that’s all it is,” explains Rossdale, as I become acutely aware of adding myself to that list.
“I’m not trying to be Justin Timberlake,” he continues. “So why am I being criticised because I’m not on Radio 1, who don’t want to play my records? It’s not my fault. When did I ever make a statement that I should be known and that I had made this concerted effort to be a pop star that everyone knew. I never was that guy. But I’m still making the records – and come to my shows: they’re packed.”
Despite how it may look in black and white, Rossdale is not embittered by this line of questioning; he’s not even mildly irritated. He takes it all with endearingly self-deprecating humour and says he felt “inured” to the fact that social media was being lit up by people desperate to know who the man in the ‘rockers' chair’ was.
“‘He’s not dead! Apparently he’s in a band and they’ve got a record out!’” he recalls, with a glint. “I was like ‘Send your cousin my album and let’s get one more fan!’”
Rossdale fronting his ban Bush
It’s not particularly surprising that many viewers, especially younger fans of The Voice UK, aren’t too sure who he is. Rossdale admits that Bush haven’t played a gig in the UK for five years – despite “begging to” – simply because they were never a huge success over here.
“It would be so expensive just to come over here,” he notes, adding that the US-based band's last visit was to play three nights at small north London venue The Garage. Surely it must be fun to do such small venues?, he was once asked.
“'Well, not really. I want to play the Roundhouse… but OK’. I didn’t have any choice, I was a working musician.
“I was really grateful to have four healthy children and have an ability to go work and play – albeit not at the level that I was. But that’s showbiz. Is it Liza Minelli who said that a career is just a series of comebacks?”
If that’s the case, then Rossdale is currently in the middle of his biggest comeback yet. He signed up as a coach (not judge) for the fifth series of The Voice UK alongside Sir Tom Jones, Jennifer Hudson and will.i.am and has seen his profile, and that of his band, rise and rise in his home country ever since. Even Justin Timberlake can only cram a few thousand fans into a gig – The Voice is watched by 5 million.
“Clearly The Voice has wedged open a life to me that had never existed and I’m very grateful to them for that because it does seem to elevate and change people’s lives,” says Rossdale, referencing the other coaches who've appeared in the numerous international incarnations of the show. “The only person who’s on it that it doesn’t touch the sides was Tom Jones… because he’s Tom Jones, so we’re just lucky to have him.”
In that case, what does he think of the BBC’s decision to unceremoniously drop Sir Tom from the coaching line-up last year, before the show moved to ITV?
All Rossdale will say on the matter is “You know, people make mistakes.” But it’s clear that he looks up to the veteran hitmaker. “I’m just learning so much from him,” he enthuses. “I think he feels very paternal towards me, like I’m a chip off the block. I’m not anywhere near his status but I simply just sing for a living, I gave my life to music, and he relates to that and respects that. He’s probably one of the greatest people I’ve ever met.”
Rossdale and Tom Jones consider the merits of an act on The Voice
Rossdale is “loving every minute” of being on The Voice UK, and would certainly want to come back for another series if he was asked.
“Unfortunately like all the best things in life it’s not really up to me,” he says. “So I don’t know. I think they’re happy with me… but it’s not my decision. If they asked me, then yeah I’d love it. I’ve found it really enjoyable.”
When he was initially asked to do the show though, he reveals it “seemed like a prank”.
“Because I’m English, and I never think anything good is going to happen to me,” he laughs. “I mean, for all my non-success in England, I can’t stop all my blood being English and all my aptitude and all my outlooks being English.”
Despite that inescapable Englishness, he exudes optimism throughout our conversation – exacerbated no doubt by the fact that the previous night he had some “amazing news” from a good friend in America who successfully came through a heart operation.
“You’re going to get the benefit of my happiness now,” he notes at the beginning of our conversation. But his upbeat attitude doesn’t feel transient. With a fresh start in a new job (he describes The Voice UK as “truly a life-changer”) and a new album – Black and White Rainbows – manifesting themselves at the same time, there are plenty of reasons to be cheerful. And although there’s currently only one UK tour date for Bush in the diary at the moment (in London's Shepherds Bush, the place that inspired their name) Rossdale promises more later in the year.
With the new album, he says he was acutely aware of not making a break-up record after his “pretty public divorce” last year.
Rossdale and No Doubt’s Gwen Stefani – also a judge on The Voice in the US – split in 2016 after 13 years of marriage. The couple have three children together, while Rossdale was also revealed to be the father of model and Strictly Come Dancing star Daisy Lowe when a paternity test in 2004 confirmed that his former goddaughter was actually his biological daughter.
Rossdale in 2011 with then wife Gwen Stefani
“After what I went through, people make those break-up records and I wanted to make a euphoric, socially-conscious record that has wide-ranging subjects going from the plight of the refugees to the fact we’re destroying the planet to the lack of inter-connectedness,” he explains.
“Because I’m the father of so many children, I want to leave the world in a better place in my tiny miniscule way. I’m a piece of dust on the earth, but as an artist it’s imperative that we do something of value and not only just moan about ourselves.
“Before The Voice I was still going to make a record and I was still going to go on tour,” he notes. “It’s just that you and I weren’t going to speak about it.”
Thanks to The Voice, I won't be the only one.
Bush release their new album Black and White Rainbows on Caroline International on 10th March. They play Shepherds Bush Empire on 14th March. Gavin Rossdale is currently a judge on The Voice UK.
The Voice continues on ITV on Saturday 11th February at 8pm