Changing how an established musician is perceived by the public isn’t easy. Just ask Donny Osmond. “I had so much success as a very young recording artist and that image wouldn’t go away until many years later when I worked with Peter Gabriel,” Osmond said in a December interview.
John Mellencamp is one of the exceptions. After scoring a few unsubstantial hits as John Cougar, Mellencamp had an epiphany. “I never really worked on the lyrics to those early ones (hits),” Mellencamp told me in 2005. “When I finally did actually put some thought and feeling into the lyrics, everything changed.”
Apparently, the same thing is happening to Gavin Rossdale. The leader of the rock band Bush has gone from pop sensation, who was castigated in the ’90sfor appropriating the grunge formula, to a more thoughtful, arty songsmith. Quite a change for Rossdale, who wrote some of the most inscrutable lyrics of that era.
“Back during Bush’s early days, I was interested more about how lyrics sounded coming out of my mouth than I was about the actual words,” Rossdale said by phone from his Los Angeles home. “But now I am more interested in the words. I love what Patti Smith did as a songwriter. I love her lyrics.”
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It’s not just about the wordplay for Rossdale. The electro-rock cuts from Bush’s latest release, “Man on the Run,” are among his most melodic. Not only is “The Only Way Out” a beautiful love song, it has massive hooks and is in heavy rotation on satellite radio.
“I know I can write a song,” Rossdale said. “The songs were there for this album.”
And so were the A-list guests. Dave Stewart, Katy Perry and Shirley Manson of Garbage are just some of the talented folks who lent their skills to the cause.
“I’m a huge admirer of everyone that joined us,” Rossdale said. “I always think about what Dave Stewart did with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers with ‘Don’t Come Around Here No More.’ I love opening up and working with others.”
Bush, which also includes guitarist Chris Traynor, bassist Corey Britz and drummer Robin Goodridge, didn’t want to repeat itself with another predictable guitar-driven album.
“We wanted to do this guitar-electronic thing,” Rossdale said. “We wanted to merge a thick guitar sound with the electronic. We couldn’t go too far with the electronic because (producer) Nick (Raskulinecz) is a metal guy. He wanted us to keep it rocking but it was all about balance and melody. I have to have melody but I wanted to take that next step.”
Bush will showcase “Man on the Run” Wednesday at the Ritz in Raleigh, but count on the band to also play early hits like “Everything Zen,” “Comedown” and “Machinehead.”
“The fans still love those songs, so why not play them?” Rossdale said. “I look back at those songs and the early days fondly. Those were some of the best times ever for us.”
Rossdale has also made time lately to work with his wife, Gwen Stefani, on the NBC reality competition series “The Voice.”
“It really is great to be able to do something together,” Rossdale said. “She’s so much fun to watch since she’s so compassionate when it comes to the (fledgling) vocalists. She has great insight, and it’s fun watching how much people love her. It’s great being married to her and working with her on the show.”
Would Rossdale like to take it to another level and write a song with Stefani or is that like mixing church and state?
“I would like to collaborate with her in that capacity, but I think she likes things how they are now and I respect that,” Rossdale said. “We each have a good thing going on.”