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Bush’s Gavin Rossdale on Charlottesville-Inspired ‘This Is War': ‘It Just Takes a Cultural Mindset’ to Effect Change

Zuma Rock Records
Zuma Rock Records

Bush are back on the airwaves with “This Is War,” a song recently added to the expanded remastered edition of the group’s Black and White Rainbows album that is rooted in one of the hot button stories of the year. Frontman Gavin Rossdale was moved to write the track after watching the horrific events in Charlottesville that erupted earlier this year when a white supremacist protest turned violent and resulted in the loss of life.

“This Is War” is not so much as a call to arms, but a call for humanity, as Rossdale has described it. We had a chance to speak with the singer about the inspiration behind the song, the response he’s received and what it means to have a platform to spread a socially conscious message. Rossdale also opens up about the personal nature of “Alien Language,” a second new track on the Black and White Rainbows expanded edition, and he discusses his recent participation in the Linkin Park memorial show for Chester Bennington in Los Angeles. Check out the chat below.

Congratulations. Another great song you guys have put out here. “This is War.” Can you talk about the inspiration for the song and where it came from?

The inspiration for the song came from seeing all of the footage of Charlottesville, the events unfolding in Charlottesville, the chaos there and the level of hatred. I think it was a newscast or something being discussed, but, “This is war.” This is the war between good and evil. This is the war between progress and regression. And how can there be a situation where people can take anything to do with Nazis and think that something good came of that? It just makes no sense to a right-minded person. So I was actually on my way to the studio, I just came off the tour. I’d done some playing of the record. For me, I just needed a rock song. I went in to write the song I’d wanted to play on tour that I hadn’t been playing on tour. And that’s how “This Is War” was born really.

Originally it was just going to be … I didn’t know if it was to start a new record with it. I didn’t know if it was going to be an EP. And then the way that things happened, they [the label] were of the mindset that the record could do with some support. It hadn’t sort of come out in the media sense, but a lot of people hadn’t known about it. Neither of the two singles really happened. And so they’d felt they were confident they wanted to attach this to Black & White Rainbows. Ultimately it’s like nothing really matters. We put records out, you just put songs out really. And then the album is like if people like your band they can find where it fits and everything. But generally speaking, people go track by track. So I didn’t get too caught up in it.

But certainly, people around me, the band and stuff, wanted it to be part of a new record. And this leads to Black & White Rainbows. It wouldn’t have meant that the track would have come out this quickly [had we waited for a new album]. It seemed like a really natural process. That song was only written a couple of months ago. Charlottesville, when was that?

This summer.

Yeah. So it’s a brand new song. That’s it really. It’s a really hard song to write. Because it’s not a call to arms, it’s a call to say, “Hey, this is out of control.” Normally I think of these people or these situations having more of a covert side to them. And this was alarmingly brazen and people were proud of these views they had and proud of that perspective. And that’s what I think was most shocking to me. That’s what I found most shocking.

Charlottesville may have inspired this but quite a bit has happened since then, both good and bad. What are your thoughts on where things stand in the few months since?

It’s just more chaos really. There’s a lot more chaos and I think that what it does is it throws off a lot of people saying, “What is happening?” A lot of people are alarmed and a lot of people are rising up against this culture of division and hatred. And a lot of people wanted change. So I’m hoping that people are seeing that change is not born through ignorance and divisive behavior and blaming. That unity comes about through thought and dialogue and ways to connect when you have differences.

We’ve seen throughout troubling times that music seems to reach out and connect with people when certain other messages may not. As a musician how vital is it to use that platform to address social issues if you have that ability to do so?

I think it’s a treacherous road because it’s very, very hard to do. But I think it’s possible and it’s an incredible tool and a way to bring attention to certain subjects. Whether it’s Charlottesville with “This Is War” or “People At War” on the record with the refugees. I mean, there’s a situation for instance. That song that has radio play. It was for the United Nations and it hasn’t really connected and when people do connect to it, they seem really moved about it.

The advantage I have with “This Is War” is that it’s a song that’s on the radio. It’s really connecting with people and so there’s an incredible power in that. Music speaks so much louder than many politicians, for example, because there’s an element of – there’s no distrust. I don’t come from the perspective of I hope someone votes for me or pay for me or do anything. This is music, this thought-provoking music and people take it in their own mind. People shouldn’t need me to tell them that Charlottesville was a horrific scene. All you have to do is look at it, these are horrific people. It’s mad ignorance in a time where we need to connect. So that was the most powerful thing and the most I can do is write a song about it. I’m doing these interviews and discussing it with you but there’s only a certain reach that has. But when you write a song, it umbrellas out into the whole world.

I know you just came off tour, plus the song has been out for a little bit now and people have had a chance to reach out to you on social media. Has this sparked more of a discussion and have you started hearing from people about the song?

I’m getting a lot of support about the song on social media and people realizing that discussion needs to take place and dialog needs to happen. Certain views that are full of hate and bigotry just have no place in modern discourse and a way to make things better. This moment, of course, the predominant thing we’re seeing in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting is gun control. With Charlottesville, white supremacy. And of course the other huge hot topic is the abuse of power with all these different men who find themselves in a lot of trouble with their past behavior. They seem to be the big topics that are dominating everything. Ultimately it’s looking for a better world, right? Looking for protection for women. It’s looking for protection for innocent victims of war, which are refuges. And with this whole mad white supremacist, neo-nazi thing is looking out for people of minorities and people of different religions. They were chanting against the Jews, for instance. I’m half Jewish. It’s just like, trying to move the discourse away from seeing that as having any relevance in the topics of conversations. Terrorism is rife and it’s time when the country and the west for better sense of the word needs to find a common ground. That’s what you hope for. And of course seeing support on social media and people relating to that, but it just takes a cultural mindset.

You also mentioned Black & White Rainbows and the fact that we’ve got the expanded remastered edition out there. While “This Is War” is out there, there’s also a new song in the set, “Alien Language.” Care to talk about that one as well?

That was a song written during the sessions and when I came to release the record I was trying to not have two – I know it sounds weird, but I was trying to remove it, take it away from the personal and my sort of divorce troubles. [There was] too much perspective so I just kept away and then … it’s a really powerful song, I really loved it. It was nice to be able to give that song some air. It’s like any song that has anything to it — it’s good to get it out here.

Most people who have any kind of relationship have moments where just words don’t mean a thing. It’s not the words, it’s the tone. So I thought that was a real universal thing and concept for most relationships that are in any difficulties. Let’s face it, most relationships have difficult moments. That’s the nature of them. So, it’s a very simple song and I like simple songs. Shared emotion. You find the song, you find words come along and you realize it makes sense to everyone because everyone’s experiencing that. It’s not an isolated emotion.

I had a chance to catch you last month at the Chester Bennington/Linkin Park tribute concert singing “Leave Out All the Rest.” What did it mean to you to be a part of that event? Obviously he meant so much to so many people.

It was incredible and incredibly sad. It was those two things mixed all in one. As a father I just feel so terrible for his children. His family, his wife and I think of Chris Cornell with this subject, it’s connected. The most powerful element is the effect on the children and the family, and the wife. So that I find really, really sad and then you come into this situation where you have this honor of playing, singing a song and trying to not mess it up.

It’s such a poignant song and it’s an ode to suicide. Singing that song and not messing it up, I was just so nervous and I just really really just couldn’t even function the previous week. I just had job to do and I wanted to honor his memory and honor the song and the band and that’s what I did. I tried to get the song right. I was a very small part of a massive night and my job was to find a way do it right and honor Chester. Weirdly, that goes hand in hand – I didn’t honor Chris on that specific night, but it was hard to not have Chris far from my mind.

Our thanks to Bush’s Gavin Rossdale for the interview. You can find “This Is War” and “Alien Language” on the newly expanded edition of ‘Black and White Rainbows,’ which is available via Amazon, iTunes and GooglePlay. While their 2017 touring is complete, Bush will be back in 2018. Stay up to date with the group via their website.

Bush, “This Is War”

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