The real reason Gavin Rossdale isn't heard from anymore

Before he was Gwen Stefani's husband or a coach on the U.K. edition of The Voice, Gavin Rossdale was simply the lead singer and main focal point of the rock band Bush, who sailed onto the best-selling song and album charts on the wave of the grunge era in the '90s, played sold-out concerts, and made videos that young fans loved to watch. Bush was unable to sustain its peak popularity, though, and broke up. Rossdale still kept a high public profile, thanks to his relationship with Stefani, the glamorous singer in the band No Doubt. They dated for years before tying the knot, attracting paparazzi and tabloid attention as her career blossomed and his withered.

The fact that the couple craved and demanded privacy to live their personal life together with their three children went largely unheeded, and when they split up, they were set upon by the same photographers and outlets that had helped build their public profile. The rumor mill was in overdrive and did not stop until their eventual divorce. Stefani continued her work on television, in music, and in fashion, but try as he might, Rossdale could not regain his A-list status. Here's what happened to Gavin Rossdale.

Bush was among the most popular bands of the '90s

Before they initially broke up in 2002, Bush released two multi-platinum albums, one platinum record, and one gold record, selling more than 10 million albums in the U.S. Their debut album, Sixteen Stone, came out in late 1994, smack-dab in the midst of the great alternative rock surge of the early and mid-'90s. It was a crowded field, but a very cool time — bands like Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Hole, Green Day, and Nine Inch Nails were on the radio (an unthinkable circumstance just five years before) and selling millions of records. Bush's singles "Everything Zen," "Comedown," "Glycerine," and "Machinehead" caught the ears of the flannel crowd, and wound up impacting the charts; the album itself sold 6 million copies.

Bush followed Sixteen Stone in 1996 with Razorblade Suitcase, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart and spawned four singles, including "Swallowed" and "Greedy Fly." The band toured extensively for a year to support the album, which sold 3 million copies. A remix album, Deconstructed, followed the next year and went gold. Bush's last hit album, The Science of Things, was released in 1999 and sold a million copies. When they disbanded in 2002, Bush was on a downward path in terms of record sales, but for a span of around five years, it was one of the most popular rock bands in the U.S. How did such a popular band go so wrong?

They were never critical darlings

Critics were scalding toward Bush. In a review of Razorblade Suitcase, Rolling Stone (which also named Bush among the Ten Worst Bands of the Nineties) called out the band's "strained attempts at artistic credibility, "derivative tendencies," and their "status as the Bon Jovi of grunge." Reviewing the same record, Entertainment Weekly declared, "There is no escaping the thought that somewhere, Kurt Cobain's ashes are turning in his urn." When Bush was making big records, they could ignore their critics; they had millions of people purchasing their wares and hundreds of thousands that would come out to see them play on their tours — who cared what writers said about them?

Critical support can, however, outlast the whims of the marketplace, of CD buyers who move on from one popular style of music to another. A band that falls out of popular favor can sometimes use their base of critical support to launch a second act somewhere down the line. Bush didn't have that support; additionally, their success was localized to the U.S. — one writer noted that, in 1995, they "played to a crowd of 60,000 in Washington DC. A month later they were in front of 150 people in a Birmingham [England] pub." The hits dried up for Bush, the poundings they took from critics didn't help, and they haven't yet gotten the kind of traction needed to stage a truly successful comeback.

​Bush lost momentum

Bush broke up in 2002, as Gavin Rossdale kept busy with solo projects, which was fine, until it wasn't. "I missed playing the shows [with Bush]," he told Face Culture. "I missed being in the power of the band. … I felt like a boxer with one arm tied behind my back." He put together a new lineup of Bush, recording and releasing 2011's The Sea of Memories, an album produced by Bob Rock, who had helmed Metallica's biggest hits. It debuted in the Top 20, but sales quickly sputtered, and it was off the chart three weeks later. Three years afterward, the band released Man on the Run, which had a one-week chart run; in 2017, they released Black-and-White Rainbows, which failed to chart altogether.

A decade is a long time to be gone, particularly in popular music, where tastes change and artists fall in and out of favor very quickly. Nostalgia is a powerful force for commerce, but, for better or worse, Bush has not positioned itself as a nostalgia or "heritage" act — at least, not yet. To the band's credit, they continue to make music that hews to Rossdale's artistic vision, which is a forward-moving thing, and that's great for the band, but not necessarily for the fans who just want to hear "Glycerine" again and raise their lighters at a show. In ten years, bands become artifacts, not necessarily conduits to connect old audiences with new music.

Grunge is dead...

Then again, how many people still want to hear "Glycerine" again? Grunge, as one author bluntly put it, is dead, and very few of the bands that flew the flag for the Seattle-centric sound are still around. Even fewer maintain a very high profile, with the exception of Pearl Jam, and Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl's little band, Foo Fighters. There's actually very little rock music at the top of the charts these days — hip-hop and R&B artists like Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Beyonce, Post Malone, and the Weeknd rule; Imagine Dragons, Shinedown, and a smattering of other rock bands are the exceptions. Most millennials, if they're aware of grunge at all, are mostly aware of it in the abstract; it's a history lesson.

Is Bush included in that lesson? The band's place in the timeline of the genre is creaky, at best (which goes back to that lack of critical support). In his book Accidental Revolution: The Story of Grunge, Kyle Anderson put it bluntly: "Stone Temple Pilots and Bush will both be remembered mostly as wannabes, though their frontmen will be remembered as a guy who took a lot of drugs [STP's Scott Weiland] and Gwen Stefani's husband, respectively."

...so he has to tour with other post-grunge bands

So if Gavin Rossdale can't reach today's kids, perhaps he and Bush can reach their parents. Again. The only way that will happen in a big venue is if the band tours with other bands of the same vintage. This has become a ritual for many music acts, across all genres and age groups, every summer. To fill seats in amphitheaters (the quasi-outdoor venue format of choice for summer concertgoers), bands must, well, band together. In the summer of 2018, one venue in Jacksonville, Florida, had 25 different package tours on its schedule — everyone from Steely Dan with the Doobie Brothers, to 311 with the Offspring and Gym Class Heroes.

Since returning from their hiatus, Bush has embarked on several such tours, most recently with fellow grunge act Stone Temple Pilots and alternative rock royalty The Cult, on a 24-date trek of outdoor venues. The acts are approximately of the same stature commercially, so the headlining band rotates each show. Previously, Bush also toured in a package with Nickelback and Seether, and headlined their own tour with newer rock act Theory of a Deadman. The packages helped Bush get in front of large audiences and play to more fans than they could have on their own. What's more, in touring with Nickelback and Theory of a Deadman in particular, they were able to introduce themselves to those bands' fans.

His solo album went nowhere

By reanimating Bush, Gavin Rossdale might have the added bonus of being able to introduce his newer songs to more people than he was with his solo projects. Shortly after Bush broke up, he formed Institute with guitarist Chris Traynor, former Guns N' Roses drummer Josh Freese, and Rival Schools bassist Cache Tolman. The band released one album, 2005's Distort Yourself, which Rossdale produced with Helmet front man Page Hamilton. The album debut and peaked at No. 81, then fell off the album chart the following week.

In 2008, Rossdale released his first solo album, Wanderlust, with Traynor and Freese playing significant parts on the record. It was a departure from the work for which he was best known — less a guitar-forward record, and more of a classic singer/songwriter record, with modern flourishes. "I wanted to write a record without relying on heavy guitars," he told Rolling Stone. "I'm really proud of that record, but people were like, 'Oh, man, what happened to the f*cking guitars?'" The album peaked at No. 33 on the Billboard 200 album chart, but dropped to No. 116 the following week, and was off the chart three weeks after. One single from the record, the ballad "Love Remains the Same," did make the Top 40, which made things interesting when Rossdale toured behind the record. "Half the audience was waiting for me to be in Bush again," he noted, "and the other half was waiting for me to play the ballad."

He's not in a celebrity marriage anymore

With Bush disbanded and his solo career not quite percolating, Gavin Rossdale was best known for a number of years as the husband of No Doubt singer, solo artist, and The Voice coach Gwen Stefani. The pair met and began dating in 1995, married in 2002, and divorced in 2015. Us Weekly reported the split "was a long time coming. … Everything was worked out months [before] so paperwork could be filed and the marriage could be ended quickly and easily." He told the magazine in a separate story, "We had 20 years together and that in itself is pretty incredible. There were a lot of positives, and with time they'll become more and more obvious."

The problem for Rossdale was that his celebrity profile for nearly the length of their marriage was based more in relation to Stefani's successes than his own. When it came time to pursue Institute, or his solo album, or bringing back Bush to record and tour, it was rare to see anything written about Rossdale that didn't include at least a mention of Stefani. Likewise, profiles written on Stefani would typically make mention of Rossdale. The relationship kept him at least close to the spotlight, but once the divorce was final, he no longer mattered much in that context.

He's trying to maintain a high profile

Bush's recent activity has provided Gavin Rossdale with the opportunity to get in front of cameras and get some press attention for himself and his band. Among the media outlets he visited in the wake of Bush's Black-and-White Rainbows album were ITV's This Morning program (where he discussed his breakup with Gwen Stefani and her ongoing influence on his music), Yahoo Music (where he talked about his childhood record collection and his friendship with David Bowie), Marshall Amplifiers' That's Not Metal web show (where he discussed songwriting and playing live), and Entertainment Tonight (where he talked about the aftermath of his divorce).

Bush's tour with Stone Temple Pilots and the Cult likewise raised his media profile, but this time for something other than his crumbled marriage. He had a memorable interview on Jonesy's Jukebox, a popular radio show on KLOS in Los Angeles; he was interviewed on CNBC about Spotify, streaming, and the state of the music industry; and he and Chris Traynor gave rather stunning two-man performances of Bush songs on both Paste magazine's Paste Studio NYC program and on a video for Rolling Stone. By all appearances, Rossdale is working toward musical and cultural relevance once again and is using the combined power of television, internet video, and musical performance to make it happen. Now if only fans would cooperate.

Grunge could come back

What's popular in music is often cyclical — sounds that go out of style come back around again years later, sometimes as part of a new style of music, sometimes on their own. In a time of cultural unrest and economic uncertainty, it may very well be an opportune moment for grunge music to once again give voice to the confusion and anger of young listeners, or to remind older listeners how visceral and cathartic the music was and could still be. There are new or newish artists primed and ready to pick up the flag and run with it. Idjit, from the U.K., has the doom-filled, down-tuned guitar churn of Alice in Chains; Recreator, from Australia, is quite Bush-like, with their quiet verses and big choruses; England's Milk Teeth cloak their hooks in distorted guitars — they would have lapped the field in 1994, had they been around then; Courtney Barnett has received much press for her singer/songwriter vibe, but her music is pure Throwing Muses-style college rock.

If some of these acts break out into the mainstream, it might give Gavin Rossdale and Bush an opportunity to return to the spotlight as grunge godfathers, a band that did not invent the genre, but which excelled at presenting it to a mass audience. And who knows? With the right song, they could wind up on top again themselves.

He could turn it around ... with a little help from his fans

Without fans and admirers, celebrities are literally just like everyone else. Gavin Rossdale seems to get that point, and has little problem connecting with those who have supported him since Bush first arrived in the mid-'90s. There are still people who will wait outside venues to get a glimpse of him, or perhaps an autograph, and he seems happy to oblige, as he did after a soundcheck at Jimmy Kimmel Live! Studios. These are fans who are more interested in his artistry than who he's dating, fans who press up to the front at Bush concerts, to have him, on a good night, wade out into their midst while performing. Sometimes, such things backfire, as when he invited fans onstage at a show, and things got a little out of hand. His heart was in a good place, though.

He also stays available online, maintaining a robust presence on social channels and interacting with his fans in the virtual realm. One example is his occasional #AskGavin Q&A sessions on Twitter, where he answers questions from "What's your favorite performance venue?" to "What's your favorite thing about touring?" to "What brand of coffee do you drink?" With these fans as a foundation, it is possible that Rossdale can again build his public profile and be recognized once more for his music and simply not as a tabloid fixture.