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Gavin Rossdale and Ed Kowalczyk on Getting Past '90s Angst and Their Dream '90s Festival

Bush and Live at The Roxy on March 12, 2019.
Maria Jose Govea for Live Nation

Bush and Live at The Roxy on March 12, 2019. 

It's a Tuesday night in L.A. and it feels just like 1995. The Sunset Strip is once again electric as fans pack the iconic Roxy to see Bush and Live, who are returning to where each played their first L.A. show to celebrate their upcoming joint tour, The Altimate Tour.

Each band is celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the albums that made them '90s alt-rock superstars -- Bush's Sixteen Stone and Live's Throwing Copper. And as Bush frontman Gavin Rossdale and Live lead singer Ed Kowalczyk explained when Billboard sat down with the two of them at the Hollywood offices of Live Nation the following day, they love the idea of touring together because it keeps things fresh for each band after decades of touring.

Below, Rossdale and Kowalczyk discuss how being a parent has changed both of them 25 years later, as well as the celebrities each introduced their kids to in order to earn cool points, and their own, very eclectic dream '90s festival.

How have these songs changed for you, and how do they pertain to your lives in 2019?

Gavin Rossdale: You've got to think about it like this: if you put out a song and someone over there hears it, they hear it and it washes over them, into them, through them, within them and they want to see how they can connect to it, what resonates for them. So that lyric is gonna mean something to them. And I don't think it's any different for me. I don't want to speak for Ed, but it's probably gonna be similar.

How could you go out last night and be holier, "What did I write 'Glycerine' about? What was that?" You'd be disingenuous in the moment. So for me when I'm singing, "I don't wanna come back down from this cloud," I mean this cloud tonight in 2019. It'd be really difficult to be so acrobatic and gymnast-like to sort of stretch back in time and hold on to this meaning when meanings change for everyone all the time through a day. So I feel really to be present is the best way through that. And that'll make you sound genuine. You can't sound disingenuous or disconnected because you're really in the moment.

Ed Kowalczyk: When "Lightning Crashes" came out -- I was 23 when I wrote that song, of course with no kids. It's about a birth. So I sing that from the perspective of being at four births now. And fans have said to me, "I really loved the song when it came out, but now, I've had kids, and it means a whole different thing to me." Which is really amazing, 'cause the song has been around for 25 years and it's morphing into this thing as it grows with people, and people are still interested in it. It's pretty cool to hear that.

When you becomes a parent, your perspective changes and the things that matter to you change. Has that influenced both of you?

Rossdale: One thing about being a parent -- we were talking about this earlier -- they make you want to suck less. I was just thinking, I didn't want them to be at a party, one of my songs comes on, and they go, "Ooh, turn it off." I want them to be proud of me. I want them to be proud, I don't want them to be wishy-washy about my ability.

Kowalczyk: My 16-year-old, she's got such an incredible musical intelligence -- I'm trying to impress her. I want to make sure she likes it. I'm like, "Hey, what do you think about this?" Cause she's got such great taste. Now I've got another critic in the house, trying to win her over.

But I am sure you have both found -- 'cause I have spoken about this with artists from Perry Farrell to Patti Smith -- you're never cool to your kids. But you can score cool points with who you know. So what was your coolest moment each introducing them to someone else?

Kowalczyk: I was really cool. I got to bring my oldest, the 16-year-old, to Lollapalooza when we played, and I was super-cool until Halsey walked by. It is fun. I agree with what Gavin said: I think [as] they get more conscious of lyrics and stuff like that, I want to inspire them, so they become a source of inspiration in that way. 

Rossdale:  The coolest single moment for that, 100 percent -- I was holding my then six-year-old at the time, and he was obsessed with Elf. You know with kids you can watch a movie 300 times. So Elf was a really big movie in our house. We were down at Indian Wells Tennis Garden, and I saw Will Ferrell. I know him a tiny bit, to say hello. I walked past and said, "Hey, how are you doing?" And my little boy, I was holding him -- I could feel him, he was leaning back -- he just couldn't handle it, seeing Elf in this moment. But he didn't do anything about it.

What would be your dream '94 anniversary tour?

Rossdale: Soundgarden, [doing] Superunknown, and Portishead. If I was going to curate my show, that's it.

Kowalczyk: Wasn't Beck's Mellow Gold in '94?

You look at all the musicians we've lost from that time -- and all artists go through their demons at some point -- but is there a relief to have made it through to the point of being happy, having kids?

Kowalczyk: I think it's pretty evident of '90s rock and roll, there's so much angst and passion. We were watching our videos today, and the aesthetic was so brooding, and we were asking these perennial deep questions. And I think it's safe to say we gave away most of our fucks in the '90s, and now we can chill a little bit. I still love the music and engage it real physically onstage. When we look back on these videos it's like growl, snarl, grrr, and it's awesome. But I hesitate to say I've mellowed with age, 'cause that's the wrong word. But I'm definitely having more fun.

Rossdale: First off, the tragic deaths we've encountered highlight the degree of mental health issues. Obviously it's a very emotive job to be in. So anyone who's doing music is probably likely to be quite sensitive, quite vulnerable. But I think there's a whole notion and concept of suicide and mental health that continually needs to be investigated further and more help should be given because you see that across a stretch of people that do die. We have 70,000 opioid deaths in America [in 2017] and you have 20 servicemen a day killing themselves. There's all this craziness going on and it forces us to look into everything.

For me personally, I am now at the point in my life where I'm as unstable as I ever was. There's a knowledge factor, but I'm a single person who just broke up with someone, I have kids.  I'm completely destabilized -- it's perfect for my job.

Kowalczyk: Exactly: "Man, things are falling apart -- the music's great though!"

What is the one song of the other's you'd like to do?

Kowalczyk: "Comedown." The melody is so uplifting to me. They've got anthems and they connect. That's my favorite.

Rossdale: "I Alone," that's my favorite.

Do you remember the first show you played together?

Kowalczyk: I think it was a KROQ Acoustic Xmas show we were playing, or there watching.

Rossdale: That was a great time. For me, I'd really come from nowhere and had never expected to do anything. So I was like a kid in a candy shop that anyone was doing stuff and checking out the band. I never felt competitive. I've always been of the mindset that someone can enjoy two records.

So inevitably when we play shows on stage, there is the competitiveness of you want to have a blinding show. But I love always having packed tours and great bands. And I always try to take great bands with us. We did the tour with Stone Temple Pilots in South America with them, and now going out with Live, it's really great fun to know that you're giving people a whole evening of music they're gonna live.

Who would be your dream acts to join on the '90s festival or cruise?

Kowalczyk: If we're going early '90s I would say Dinosaur Jr.

Rossdale: Tricky.

Kowalczyk: PJ Harvey.

Rossdale: Oh yeah. I'd say the Jesus Lizard, because Dave Yow is still one of my favorite frontmen ever and one of the most solid bands ever. Actually Duane [Denison] and Max [McNeilly] just sent me a track to work on. It's like a nine-minute opus. I'm like, "What am I gonna do with this? It's so complex." I love it.

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