Bush | Behind The Lyrics

With a career spanning over three decades, English rock legends Bush are certainly no strangers to the tumultuous nature of a life in music. Long underappreciated and underestimated by the industry, since the release of their breakthrough debut album ‘Sixteen Stone’ in 1994, the four-piece have been forced to forge their own path.

Photo: Shervin Lainez

Pushing aside rock’s penchant for apathy and embracing vulnerability, the cornerstone of Bush’s achievements arguably comes in the form of their charismatic frontman, Gavin Rossdale. A songwriter with a distinct perspective on the human experience, his ability to document the intricacies of life in a way that goes beyond personal anecdotes has long set Bush apart from their peers.

Leading the band to achieve GRAMMY nominations, multi-Platinum status, 24 million records sold, and a staggering one billion streams, across nine studio albums their music has consistently captured life’s fleeting moments with an authenticity that has allowed listeners to find themselves within each melody – proving truly timeless.

As Bush celebrate their 30th anniversary with the release of their first-ever greatest hits collection, ‘Loaded: The Greatest Hits 1994-2023’, Gavin Rossdale guides Rock Sound through the origins and stories of ten of the band’s most iconic lyrics.

“We live in a wheel where everyone steals // But when we rise, it’s like strawberry fields”, ‘Glycerine’ – ‘Sixteen Stone’ (1994)

“This lyric essentially outlines how shitty the world is. Strawberry Fields is not only a place in Liverpool, but it’s been eulogised by The Beatles. That phrase sums up the balance of life. I still think that life is terrible, but there are also all these amazing things within it. Everyone is struggling with something, and you never know what somebody’s dealing with that day. I’m not a pessimist, I’m an optimist, but I’m surrounded by loss, bereavement, and people that break. Because of that, when I get all these wonderful times, I celebrate those.”

“Piss on self-esteem // Forward, busted knee // Sick head, blackened lungs // And I’m a simple, selfish son”, ‘Swallowed’ – ‘Razorblade Suitcase’ (1996)

“I have issues with self-esteem, as does anyone with a degree of sensitivity. I think it’s important to have some vulnerabilities, because otherwise you can become a brash fantasist who’s obnoxious to be around for more than a few minutes. This line is an interesting snapshot of the day I was having when I wrote it, and it must have been an uphill day. 

It’s about losing yourself and being swallowed, and it was written at an interesting time. Our band got massive, but no one really prepares you for that happening. It’s exhilarating, but also terrifying, and I have moments of imposter syndrome. Honestly though, I always thought when I got self-satisfied with my writing, that’d be the last song that I ever wrote. You’ve got to have a degree of vulnerability about your abilities, and you’re never going to write a song as great as Tom Waits wrote. You just have to keep pushing in that direction and keep being inspired by it.”

“I am poison crazy lush // Built these hands to lift me up // We are servants of our formulaic ways”, ‘Greedy Fly’ – ‘Razorblade Suitcase’ (1996)

“Every single human being – except Buddhist monks who have become enlightened – is doomed. We all have our morning tea, and we have all these formulaic ways that define our lives. I’ve spent my entire life leapfrogging from one craving to another, and it’s ridiculous. I have my coffee in such a specific way that it’s bordering on madness, but it fulfils this thing in my brain for ten minutes. ‘Poison crazy lush’ is also a nod to being the king of self-destruction. In fact, that’s a better line… I’ll note that down for when we follow in Taylor Swift’s footsteps and release ‘Razorblade Suitcase (Bush’s Version)’.”

“Tied to a wheel, my fingers got to feel // Bleeding through a tourniquet smile”, ‘Machinehead’ – ‘Sixteen Stone’ (1994)

“This line refers to some degree of torture. Alice In Chains have an album cover that shows a guy getting punched in the face, and this almost feels like the lyrical version of that. When I wrote these lines, I came from nothing, and I felt like an urchin who was going nowhere. At that point, we were so far from a record deal, so far from success, and so far from anyone giving a shit. It’s brilliantly naive the way you continue forging on when no one’s encouraging you and no one’s telling you that you have to do it. These lyrics were me using heavy imagery to explain what my life was like whilst I was trying to push a boulder up a mountain. No one cared about us, I had no money, and that makes these lines very pure. At that time, I was just dreaming of playing to a crowd of 500 people at Dingwalls.”

“Silence is not the way // We need to talk about it // If heaven is on the way // We’ll wrap the world around it”, ‘Letting The Cables Sleep’ – ‘The Science Of Things’ (1999)

“This song is about my friend Shawn Mortensen, who at the time was living as HIV positive. At that time, it really was a death sentence. I think this is a terrible lyric, but what I was trying to say is that a problem shared is a problem halved. I walk around with so much inside of me and sometimes I’m unwilling or unable to talk about it. It ties you up in knots to hold things in, and I wanted to communicate that idea to Shawn.

I wrote this record whilst I was staying in Southern Ireland for four months, and my friends came up on the weekends. It was a very easy but very weird song to write, and I wrote it whilst Shawn was there. Weirdly, that same friend also directed the ‘Machinehead’ music video.” 

“The sadness is the emptiness // We’re shadows in the rain // She covered me in loneliness // Like flowers on a grave”, ‘Flowers On A Grave’ – ‘The Kingdom’ (2020)

“Sometimes I write a lyric, and I’m not quite sure why I wrote it. I’ve experienced a lot of loneliness in my life as someone who has gotten divorced, but at the time of writing these words I didn’t really understand why I wrote them. However, when this song came out, it provided so much comfort to people during the pandemic.

During that time, people were incredibly lonely. I’m quite stoic and wolf-like, so I didn’t mind it, but I had a friend who would call me weeping. He’s a really sociable person, and there’s nothing sadder than being lonely. We’re just shadows in the rain, and we’re insignificant specks of dust but loneliness affects us all. This song became an anthem for loneliness during a time where we didn’t see our friends, families, and co-workers for three years.”

“I bleach the sky every night // Loaded on wrong and further from right”, ‘Little Things’ – ‘Sixteen Stone’ (1994)

“This was written by someone who just really wished that their band had a record deal, before I’d even had a chance to consider anything further than that. These lyrics sound so desperate, and they sum up the dilemma I was in at that point in my life and career. I’d committed so much time to music with no sign of success, and so with every song I was just trying to be more and more honest. I love the beat poets, so my songwriting became very stream of consciousness focused and I was always trying to create arresting images with my lyrics. I was trying to be a songwriter, but no one cared. Coming from a position of a songwriter rather than a studied musician, I felt like I was always playing catch up.”

I’m on the highway // I’m walking across America // Sweat stain in my blue suede shoes // Race wars, Star Wars, planet wars, mind wars, ‘Bullet Holes’ – ‘The Kingdom’ (2020)

“I think that these are some of my better lyrics, more accomplished at least. When I sing them live it feels so devastating, and the emotion is really strong. I’m paraphrasing here, but Bob Dylan once said that the struggle for any lyricist is that no line is as good as the best line, and no verse is as good as the best verse. I think it says something when that sentiment is coming from a man who has written some of the ultimate verses, but it rings true. I was proud of this one though, and it’s a snapshot of America at the time. It feels like an adult lyric; it’s closer to Bowie than not.”

“Should I fly to Los Angeles // Find my asshole brother // Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow // Dave’s on sale again”, ‘Everything Zen’ – ‘Sixteen Stone’ (1994)

“Around that time, Suede were massive. They’re a brilliant band, and I was jealous. They did an interview with NME where David Bowie spoke to Brett Anderson about how impressed he was with them and how accomplished their compositions were. At the time I was writing ‘Everything Zen’ and feeling like Suede were winning because they were more successful than us. It’s stupidly bitter, but those lines came from me being jealous whilst sat reading NME.

I never had a brother, and that always felt like a weird gap in my life, but the idea of flying to Los Angeles felt like something that could save me. I was floundering whilst working on building sites and doing jobs to earn 50 pounds a day just so that I could live. It’s interesting to look back on those days.”

“The chemicals between us // The army of achievers”, ‘The Chemicals Between Us’ – ‘The Science of Things’ (1999)

“That song is about the tension of being with someone who’s more ambitious than you are, and all we have are the chemicals between us. I’m not one to get cocky but I was a way better songwriter than anyone gave me credit for, those lines are great! What’s funny about this song though is that each chorus has slightly different lyrics. When I’m on tour, I actually get excited when I nail songs like that because it’s awful when you realise that you’re singing different lyrics to everyone else in the room. I’m thinking, ‘Am I singing the right ones, or are you? Shit, I need to listen to the record again’.”

Loaded: The Greatest Hits 1994-2023' is out now. Bush will head out on a US tour this summer, get dates and ticket details here.

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