Back in the post-grunge era in the ’90s, nobody — not Scott Weiland, not the dudes from Candlebox — was more maligned than Bush frontman Gavin Rossdale. Labeled as a wannabe from the start, his band still made four albums and sold millions of records on the back of huge singles like “Machinehead” and “Swallowed.” When Bush broke up, Rossdale formed a Helmet-channeling band called Institute and was known more as Gwen Stefani’s husband than as a musician. Now, he’s back with is first official solo album called Wanderlust and a hit single in the keyboard-driven ballad “Love Remains the Same.” “People are already sending me letters saying my new music is gay,” Rossdale says. “Apparently the only way to be hetero is to play a guitar.”
What happened to Institute?
That was my first solo record, but beause it had such a band feel, I thought it’d be cooler to give the group a name. And then the irony of it is that it would have be much better choice — it’s either Bush or Gavin Rossdale, because it’s just too much to start a new fucking thing. Marketing disaster. So that’s my Tin Machine period.
What’s different about Wanderlust than Institute or Bush?
I think every record is an antidote to the previous record. I mean, if you’re smart, you keep them all the same, and you have a big career. I’m always a bit too stupid. I’m trying to change things and be progressive but in fact I was just destroying what I’d done before. People should learn from my lesson.
This is a more keyboard oriented album, with a lot of ballads, and yet it’s produced by Bob Rock.
On one of the first mixes that Bob was doing I could hear the Bush guitars. I was like, “I know you’re Bob Rock, but I’m kind of looking for Bob Dub, and we’ve got to pull these guitars back.” I want to be Robbie Robertson. I want to be Peter Gabriel. I want to be in a band that people know and then we come out with a record that’s kind of surprising.
So was there any conflict in the studio?
He was on board from the get-go. I think people maybe do records with him and think it’s got to be really hard, and it’s got to be all in the same key. I think it allowed him to go in a different direction. He kept worrying that he wasn’t doing enough, and I kept telling him, “Bob, it’s not the quantity, it’s the quality.”
I noticed that in reviews people seem to be complaining that this record doesn’t sound like Bush, and yet the accepted view of Bush was that you were terrible.
I don’t get it. If I had made an album that sounded like Bush, it would have been dismissed. And now I’m reading reviews from people who killed me five years ago who are saying that Bush was a really great band. It’s like, “Why can’t he do the thing I didn’t like?” It reminds me of the joke in Annie Hall, about the two old women in the Catskill mountains, and one turns to the other and says, “The food’s terrible,” and the other one says, “Yes, and such small portions.” So you’ve just got to keep going. Back in the Bush days when I was getting slaughtered, I asked David Bowie how to deal with it, and he said, “Outlive your critics.” Now it’s just water off a duck’s back.
Lyrically, Wanderlust seems a little more personal than your past work.
In Bush, as a lyricist I was obsessed with Karl Hyde of Underworld and David Yow of the Jesus Lizard. They were stylists as much as they were singers, and their vocals were more about sound than they were about words. Now I’m more interested in Patti Smith and Mark E. Smith and Tom Waits, though I don’t think the Waits thing is for me. I think I’d sound like an idiot singing about east of St. Louis. But I tried to stay away from the idea of this solo album being “the real me” or anything.
There are a lot of collaborators on this record, including Linda Perry and Dave Stewart. Are these people you’ve always wanted to work with?
It was emphasized to me that I had to collaborate and that I couldn’t do it on my own, because that’s just the way you make records now. I’d make jokes like, “Is the guy who wrote ‘Glycerine’ available?” It was traumatic even to think about, because I’ve never understood collaborative songwriting. But Dave Stewart was a guy who worked with Gwen and I really liked him. I love what he did with Tom Petty’s “Don’t Come Around Here No More.” It ended up being really easy and quick. And there’s never any awkward moments because he’s usually on the phone with Deepak Chopra and Mick Jagger, so he’s only really half there.
How did Katy Perry get on the album?
We needed a girl and Dave brought her in. She’s feisty, that one. Not shy at all. I’ve known her for well over two hours.
Shirley Manson guests on the record. Do you guys go way back?
I only met her from Garbage. You know, I’ll tell you a weird story: Did you ever know that when I was beginning Bush, I was considered for the job as singer of Garbage before Shirley joined?
Did you actually audition?
No. Butch Vig got a copy of the Bush demo tape. I heard he was interested and thought he was interested in producing my record, but it turned out he just liked my voice. And they found Shirley before I was ever really considered, so I was a distant second. Or probably more like 12th. And now it’s sort of come full circle, because she sings on my record.
Do you have any regrets?
Obviously there’s a thousand regrets and different ways I could have done things, but that’s life. In spite of whatever might have been leveled at me, there’s always been a really good healthy thing with people and the audiences. I mostly wished the business moved quicker. I made this record and had to wait months before it came out. I always idolized bands that would make a record a year.
Have you considered going the Nine Inch Nails or Radiohead route where you make a record and then release it to the Internet two weeks later?
I think that’s an amazing way about it. But I fucked up and got it wrong. I went from a huge band to a brand new band that no one knew to now starting all over again. I’m a marketing nightmare. If you’ve been Nine Inch Nails for years, you can do that, but when you’re four months into your new career, it’s a bit trickier.