Bush's Technically Better Half
When they think about Bush, most people don't immediately conjure images of shaven-haired guitarist Nigel Pulsford. Yet he's an integral component of the band's sound. While frontman Gavin Rossdale is the architect who constructs the framework of almost all the band's material, Pulsford is like the interior designer who shades and colors the songs to give them character and dynamics. But Pulsford's also a fine songsmith on his own, as he recently proved with his first solo album Heavenly Toast on the Paradise Road.
As interesting as the record is -- a combination of experimental pop, classic rock and even jazz -- Pulsford isn't about to abandon ship and take the full-time solo plunge. But by keeping his feet rooted in the mainstream soil of Bush, Pulsford can expand his musical horizons with his solo project. Likewise, he can borrow some of the innovative techniques from his own record, and apply them sparingly to Bush's ever-expanding sonic palate. A few weeks before the release of Bush's new record, The Science of Things, Pulsford sat down with Guitar.com and discussed his role in the band, his favorite toys, and the group's future aspirations.
Guitar.com: Where do you see yourself now in today's shifting musical climate?
Nigel Pulsford: I don't know. To be honest, I think radio sounds pretty indecisive at the moment. Aside from maybe Korn, there's nothing else. Everything else is a one-hit wonder. So I think it's quite a good situation to be in because we're well known. Having been away for three years is good, I think.
Guitar.com: If The Science of Things was a commercial failure and the public no longer seemed interested in Bush, would the band break up?
Pulsford: No, God no. There's an element of wanting to succeed, and that's a challenge. But no, we'd just carry on as a band no matter what happened. Of course, it's much nicer to be a band with a big audience as opposed to a band with a small audience. But when we started out, I always thought we'd sell, like, 20,000 records and tour clubs in the States, and it would be fantastic. So that's what I aspired to. I thought that would be a pretty good life for 10 years or so.
Guitar.com: Did you intentionally take three years off between Razorblade and The Science of Things?
Pulsford: We definitely wanted a break. And then Gavin started writing in Ireland in about February, 1998. And then we all got back together to start rehearsing in May. We rehearsed for six weeks, had a break, started recording in August. Then we did four weeks, had a break. Six weeks had a break. Then we started mixing. So it doesn't feel like that long.
Guitar.com: What did you do during your down time while Gavin wrote the new record?
Pulsford: I did my solo album. I stayed with my sister in Nashville, but she's also got a small studio out in the country 30 miles out of Nashville. So we stayed there on our own on a cottage. I got myself a little Pro Tools set up and I started writing songs and recording and gradually came up with Heavenly Toast on the Paradise Road. My sister had set this label up, so the original idea was to do an EP to give a bit of extra publicity to the label. Then I got into it, and ended up with about 15 songs. I hired a drummer, but played everything else myself.
Guitar.com: When did you finish it?
Pulsford: I actually finished most of it about a year ago, but then I had to wait a year to get permission to release it. I just got permission when we resigned our record deal. The label wasn't understanding at all, so I said, "If you won't fucking give me the letter I won't sign the contract." It's a small scale thing. It's just for sale on the Internet. It's a nice cottage industry. I had David Yow of the Jesus Lizard design the artwork for me.
Guitar.com: Did you write the record in order to let out creative energies you can't necessarily express in Bush?
Pulsford: Mmm, yeah because my songs don't get done in Bush and I wanted to get them out. Over the last couple weeks I just got started on a half dozen new ones.
Guitar.com: Have you asked Gavin if you could write songs for Bush?
Pulsford: When we first started the band we did co-write a bit, but that just went by the by bit by bit. Then there came a point where he said, "No, I do the songs." And I was like, "Fuck you then," but that was sorted out years ago. Now it's just understood. It's ancient history. And now I've got another outlet, so I'm not too bothered.
Guitar.com: What approach did you take with your own material?
Pulsford: I didn't shoot for anything at first. I was quite eclectic, so there's a dodgy jazz piece on it. It's weird, it's just what came out. It's not really a guitar-heavy album either. I didn't really want to make a guitarist's guitar album. I wanted something that was more song-based.
Guitar.com: Some of the album has an atmospheric, psychedelic vibe.
Pulsford: That's because I was just trying to have fun recording, and just experimenting with different techniques. I had Pro Tools, so I was able to really mess around with stuff and turn it upside-down and see what happens. I was only pleasing myself, which is fantastic. I was my own quality control. I know there were things in there that I shouldn't have gotten away with -- like doing a harmony guitar part for a solo, and getting the harmony wrong and then going, "That's great. It sounds horrible." And then turning it up really loud in the mix.
Guitar.com: There doesn't seem to be that angst and frustration that's so prevalent in Bush's music.
Pulsford: I don't like to make too much of things. I wanted it to have a slightly lighter tone, and a bit of humor as well. Maybe it was a conscious attempt to get away from full-on savagery.
Guitar.com: Is there a theme to the record?
Pulsford: Some if it is about my dad. He died while we were making the first Bush album. It's just reflections on stuff. There's stuff about growing old and being paranoid about that, and stuff I've noticed, really.
Guitar.com: Are you paranoid about getting older, especially because Bush has such young fans?
Pulsford: I think being in the spotlight makes you hyper-aware of how you look, your height, your age. Suddenly all those things you don't normally think about become so important to you. So you notice if you're getting fat or if you swear a lot or if you're aging. And, for most people, unless someone was having a go at you, you wouldn't necessarily pick up on that stuff.
Guitar.com: Was it a cathartic record to make?
Pulsford: Yeah, because I've been wanting to do it for years, and I've never had the confidence or the time. It was my sister who really encouraged me.
Guitar.com: Could you see yourself veering off and becoming a solo artist?
Pulsford: No, Bush is the main thing. But I'm going to do another album hopefully this year. I'm writing it now, so I'm really into doing this as well. I with I'd done it 20 years ago. It was the success of Bush that gave me the confidence to do it, really.
Guitar.com: How much creative input do you have on the guitar parts in Bush?
Pulsford: It's pretty much Gavin's stuff, but then things will change and develop. I tend not to play his lines. I don't really like playing other people's lines in the same way that he doesn't sing other phttp://www.guitar.com/node/5/edit?destination=admin%2Fcontent%2Fnode%2Fo...'s words.
Guitar.com: In Radiohead, Thom Yorke writes the melodies and Jonny Greenwood gives the songs the tension and eeriness and texture. Is that your role as well?
Pulsford: That's part of it. I usually drive for texture because the rhythm guitars and drums and bass are sort of grinding, so I have a slightly freer hand to try to color it. And on this album we used more electronic textures as well. Even just as far as sampling some of my guitars and tweaking it around.
Guitar.com: Did that approach stem from the electronic remix album you did?
Pulsford: Yeah, sort of. It opened up our eyes to some other stuff as well. We got some Pro-Tools and samples and messed around with it. We have a keyboard player live now to play all the samples. Deconstructed definitely inspired us. We haven't become the Prodigy. We're still who we are, but we just incorporate it into what we do.
Guitar.com: Where do you see Bush heading in the future?
Pulsford: I think this record will see us through the next couple of years, and I don't know where we go next. I'd still like to go back and do another two week album, maybe with Steve Albini again. Who knows? Only the future will tell.
Guitar.com: What were you shooting for guitar-wise on The Science of Things?
Pulsford: I just wanted something different. There's this guy called Bruce Barr, who runs Chemical Soundbarrier out of Chattanooga. And he always finds me these brilliant old pedals, like old Maestro pedals. He'd always come up with these combinations to try out. So basically, I try to find stuff that has nice sounds to use. So that was fun. And that's how I approached most of it. I wanted to get something a bit different, rather than just using some digital gizmo. During my time off, I'd spend time going to guitar fairs and finding old amps and pedals and finding good combinations of sound to use. I collect old pedals.
Guitar.com: What are some of your favorites?
Pulsford: My favorite is something called the Maestro Filter Sample Hold. It's just an amazing sound. You turn it on with a noisy amp, and you get this really crazy thing. I use it in "The Chemicals Between Us" and "Letting the Cables Sleep." Also, I tried more clean sounds on this record. I was doing a lot of it with my Les Paul Junior, and something called an Orange Squeezer, which is a Dan Armstrong, one of those little pedals you stick in your guitar. It's a little box with a jack on it and it's an amazing compressor just going into an old Tonemaster. It's great for nice compressed clean sounds. I have another great pedal, which is a Pearl Octave Divider, which has got a really nice horn-like quality to it. I love finding old stuff, and everything's got a sound, and there's always a combination worth trying. It's just a long process of unplugging and plugging in.
Guitar.com: What kinds of guitar did you use on the record?
Pulsford: Just my Strat, which I got 10 years ago. And I had a maple Strat made for me, which Gavin and I used a lot. It's got Seymour Duncans on it, and it's got a really nice sharp tone -- quite a solid tone. I also used a Danelectro Baritone guitar and a Les Paul as well.
Guitar.com: What about amps?
Pulsford: I always use a lot of different Mesa/Boogies -- the Tremoville Rectifier, and I've got a Blue Angel I use, and there's a new 50 watt Rectifier, which they just brought out, which I use as well. I use this Bob Bradshaw amp, the best audio electronics head. We use his amps live as well. And then an old '61 Tremoluxe. And there's a '59 Junior. And a I've got an old Guild Pro-Star amp from the early '60s, which has got the best tremolo on it. So that was how I got my tremolo sound. I think if you find something that's good for one song than it's paid for itself in the album because it's got this unique tone. I don't think you can really get unique tones with all this digital stuff.
Guitar.com: Is your setup different live?
Pulsford: I use two Boogies and the custom Audio and a little Guild. I've got a four amp setup going through the Bob Bradshaw rig, so I do change them all the time. And the Strats hold up really well. I've got an old '57 Strat, and that's really nice, but it's too delicate to take anywhere and do anything with.
Guitar.com: What's your perfect guitar tone?
Pulsford: I just like something unique, any setting where you can clip it and it's sharp, and if you brush it gently with the side of the pick you're gonna get a richer sound, and if you use the open face of the pick you're gonna get a twangier sound, and if you really clip it you're gonna get a chirpy sound. I like something that encompasses all of them, so it's all in your hand. If you can get all that in one tone, I think that's ideal. I always liked Jeff Beck because you just gets it all out of a Marshall and his one Strat. Every sound you can imagine comes out of his pick. That's what I'd like to aspire to.
Guitar.com: Do you layer different takes with different amps for different tones?
Pulsford: I used to, but I don't anymore. One thing we learned from Steve Albini is if you want a big guitar sound, turn it up in the mix and if it's well recorded it will sound big. If you track it three times, it will sound small because it's all chorusing together and it narrows. One well recorded amp is better than three different takes.