Interview date: 05/20/2008
Run date: 06/05/2008
It is one thing to be known as the leader of one of the biggest bands in the world, and another altogether to be known as the husband of an infinitely larger pop star, namely Gwen Stefani. (If you’re looking for second opinions on that topic, we’re pretty sure Sean Penn and Ryan Philippe would be happy to give them to you.) On paper, you would think that Gavin Rossdale, onetime frontman for post-grunge megastars Bush, would take issue with the latter category, but as long as you don’t use the dreaded “rocker daddy” expression, you’ll find Rossdale to be a candid and refreshingly humble guy who loves his new life and is happy to relinquish the spotlight to his betrothed. Bullz-Eye caught up with Rossdale on the eve of the release of WANDERlust, his first solo album and second album since Bush’s dissolution in 2002, to discuss the awesome fakeness of making movies and the benefits of working with both Bob Rock and the major labels. Wait, someone is sticking up for the major labels? You bet, and he has a point.
Gavin Rossdale: Hello?
Bullz-Eye: Hello, Gavin.
GR: How are you?
BE: Good. How are you?
GR: Hey, good, good. How’s it going?
BE: Great. How’s the family?
GR: Everyone’s good, thanks.
BE: For someone who’s only made one record since Bush disbanded and now [the 2005 Institute album Distort Yourself], you’ve actually been a very busy man, haven’t you?
GR: Yeah, yeah. Well, it’s a jungle out there now, and they don’t let you make records in the same way you used to be able to make them. You have to really jump…there’s a bar, and they set it really high, and you need a forklift to get over that bar. So, it’s not quite as straightforward as it has been in the past.
BE: Now, to my knowledge, you are one of only two artists to work with Steve Albini and then Bob Rock.
GR: Hmm, [the other band] would be Veruca Salt.
BE: That’s correct. What was it like going from Mr. Lo-Fi Indie King to Mr. Arena Rock?
GR: Well, I actually like them both a lot. Steve is a particular animal. Growing up and listening to the Pixies and whether it was, like, having Big Black records or Rapeman records, and then he made that great Rid of Me record with Polly [PJ Harvey]…it was just such a crazy idea to go in and get Steve. I was shocked when he went for it. I actually really enjoyed it. Bob is a different animal and yet, it’s just people who know about music. I mean, Bob is more of a producer, and Steve is a recorder. Steve is the proudest when he calls himself that; he records music. So it’s a whole different thing and different times in my life. I definitely loved working with them both, you know?
BE: Of course, the beauty of working with Bob Rock is that it always involves a trip to Maui, and that’s never a bad thing.
GR: That is not a downside whatsoever. I was there for a month, alone, and he actually kicked me out because I wanted to stay longer. I was like, “Let’s fucking finish it, let’s do it!” I found that solitary life there while I was in the studio really was pretty inspiring.
BE: You worked with Linda Perry on a song, and that song actually green-lighted the rest of the album, is that right?
GR: That’s right. Well, what happened was I worked with her at her studio and she also sent me home. Everyone wants to send me home. She sent me home so that…we began a song and then she was like, “Look, what I need you to do is leave the studio. Go home, now I get what you need.” So she sent me home and she began two songs, and I went home and I wrote “Forever May You Run.” In the morning I came back and she played what she’d done, which were really good and I thought we could work on those. She goes, “Well what did you do,” and I said, “Well, I don’t know, I did this folk song, check it out.” So I played her the song and she’s like, “Let’s record that.” So that’s how it happened with that process.
BE: Did you ever imagine that you’d be collaborating with her when you were fronting Bush and she was fronting Four Non Blondes?
GR: Well, I don’t really feel like we have yet fully collaborated, so it’s always something to look forward [to]. But I think she’s fantastic. I think she’s a really great girl and she is really talented and I love her. So I have a lot of respect for her. It kind of worked out weird, but an incredible song came out of it. We still have yet to work on the two songs that she began, so maybe that leaves room for the future. But, to answer your question, no.
BE: I cannot wait to hear the song where you use a Vocoder.
GR: Right, well, it’s pretty cool. There’s actually two bits of Vocoder in there. It’s kind of interesting and a bit tripped out. I haven’t overused it, I hope, but they are trippy things.
BE: Well, you’ve experimented with electronic stuff in the past, so this isn’t too much of a stretch.
GR: No, none whatsoever. I mean, I grew up listening to both kinds of…live music and real musicians and drummers and stuff and also a whole world of machines. So that’s just music.
BE: I see that you work with Shirley Manson and Dave Stewart on the new album. Are there any other notable guest performers or just those two? You mainly just recorded with the band and…
GR: Mainly with the band. There’s a few other musicians. There’s a new girl called Katy Perry, she came in and sang on a track with me and she did a great job. Then three traditional backing singers, who are from L.A., recommended by David Foster. So there’s a twist.
BE: That’s an unlikely collaboration.
GR: He’s actually friendly with my manager, actually had dinner with him. He’s a great, great guy, David Foster. But yeah, he suggested three girls for me. They were fantastic. Real good, gorgeous girl singers, you know? Great energy, great vibe, killer voices.
BE: But just to be clear for the readers out there, it’s not like this record has turned into a Santana album or anything.
GR: No, it’s the opposite of a Santana record. It’s an Anatnas record.
BE: You said in the press release that you’re on the gang plank with this album. Do you really feel that this is your last chance?
GR: Well, I think there’s a healthy way to make a record. With intense paranoia, looking over your shoulder and fully aware that the great divide between band success and solo Palookaville was a skinny ride away. So, I don’t know. Institute, which is a record I really liked, was really proud of and failed. You know, with these big labels and the way that they work, it’s pretty scary knowing if you’ve got a place to bring records out. There’s of course an argument that you don’t need record labels anymore. Well, if you’re starting your career over and you’re basically trying to do a solo career -- which is basically something new -- yeah, I think you do need a bit of a help, you know, to get it out there and for people to know what you are doing. So yeah, I did feel like that. I felt like every time I sang a song, it might be the last time I ever sang a song in a studio. I don’t mean to be overdramatic, but there’s something so cleansing about failure; about falling on your ass. Something about it just strips away so much artifice that you’re just left with what you have. I felt very…it’s not like I felt vulnerable but I felt raw. Singing the songs, I’ll give you an example, when I sang the first song with Bob and he had a couple of things to say. I was like, “Look, you’ve got to think of it like every time I go to sing a vocal, it’s like I am playing in the Cup Final and I am going to fucking die for this song. You tell me everything you think, but you’ve got to give me 45 minutes.” I think we got a different system going than he had adopted before. I think it was different for him; it was just different for him and it was different for me. We found an interesting, unique way of working together, and I would definitely do another record again with him.
BE: You bring up an interesting point about how a lot of people think that they don’t need the label system. I mean, as far as I’m concerned, only Radiohead has gotten away with that, and most people didn’t even pay them for the record.
GR: Right, and Radiohead did, of course, benefit from the last 15 years of help [from Capitol Records]. It’s not like they just began. So yeah, you need the help. And also, the other thing is record labels, they do help nurture young talent. I mean, they sure know how to squash it and destroy it as well, but there’s a lot of bands that may not have been able to develop without some help from the labels. Now, obviously that help is dwindling as we speak. It’s less than when [Bush] began. That’s just the way it goes. So in a sense, you have to be going back to that whole gang plank idea. Every time you step into a studio, you have to be responsible for yourself and you have to come out with what effectively is a sonic weapon. If it isn’t, then you might as well not get up.
BE: Good point. Let’s just have some fun for a second. Which do you hate more: the word comeback, or “US Weekly?”
GR: [pause] Well, I don’t have hatred for either. To me, a career is a series of comebacks, so comeback doesn’t really kill me as long as you’re back. It’s comeaway that would be the scary one. So I don’t have hatred for either.
BE: Did you see the parody of “Glycerine” that recently appeared on an episode of “The Simpsons?”
GR: (laughing) No. The only one I’ve seen was when one of them had a crush on Gwen and they had that song “Fuck That Guy from Bush.” (Ed. Note: That would be the work of DVDA, the rock band side project from “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone.)
BE: (laughing) I don’t think I’ve seen that one.
GR: Anyway, no, I’d like to see that. That’s funny. “Margerine.”
BE: Well, speaking of Fox shows, for what it’s worth, we were big fans of the show “Drive,” which featured one of your songs [“Some Days”].
GR: Yeah, thank you. I mean, not thank you, it has nothing to do with me, I just happened to do some music for it. But yeah, I thought it was a really good show! It just fucking pisses me off now, the speed with which these fucking corporations demand that the public responds to them. And if they don’t respond then two, three years of creative endeavor is just thrown down the pan, in favor of what? Reality shows? I mean, it’s just terrible. It actually could have been something. I met this guy, and he commissioned me to do this song. I didn’t think much of it until I got the DVD. When I sat down and watched it -- the pilot -- I was like, “This is good.” It’s so rare that you see something good, you know what I mean? Normally, it’s this fucking half-assed crap you get. “Could you be part this or part of that,” there’s some things that don’t have that much merit. This was, I thought, really good. I thought the characters were interesting, I thought the premise was cool, and you could see it going somewhere. My only fear was that it was a race. I said to the guy, “It’s a race, it’s a shame that it’s so finite.” He goes, “Oh no, no. If this is a success, don’t worry, they’ll keep it running. Look at ‘Prison Break’.”
BE: Right, exactly.
GR: So I felt bad for that show. Listen, when that happened, I couldn’t help it. My ego went rampant. I was like, “I’m back! Yeah, that is it, I’m fucking back!” Because now you think of Snow Patrol or “Grey’s Anatomy” and what they have done for those songs. So you get stuck in this idea that TV is the one medium that maybe does connect everyone, because everyone sees certain shows. And no sooner had I felt that I was really back in the building, then I realized I was in the wrong building, my keys didn’t work anymore, and the show was dead.
BE: I just talked to another musician who said it was actually more important to him to get a song in a TV show than it was to get on the Top 40 or on radio.
GR: Hmmm. Yeah, that might be someone following too close to the sort of the admin side of their career. I don’t know. [laughs]
BE: Well, you and I are about the same age, and he was 13 years younger, so they just come from a completely different mindset.
GR: Right, right, right, right.
BE: What is your attitude towards acting? Is it a fun diversion, or is it something you view as a serious career path?
GR: Hopefully, a bit of both. I mean, I really try to avoid doing it in a dilettantish kind of way, and to try and be involved in the films that I have some kind of connection to and can relate to. So who knows, I might be able to get a chance to do some more of it, but really, I am much more involved around doing what I consider as my chosen thing. I love the process. When you’re actually in that minute, when you’re actually connecting and acting with someone and you create the situation, I found that really inspiring, actually. It’s a bit of a trip, you know. It’s like you really are on this kind of high wire of making this real situation out of something that is painfully artificial.
BE: Did you have fun playing a demon half-breed in “Constantine?”
GR: Yeah. I think I’ve died in every film. What I haven’t died in, I’ve been cut out of, so it’s a bloody path I’m on. But I love it.
BE: That’s the greatest pull quote ever.
GR: You get typecast. So now I’m like the bad English bloke who gets killed.
BE: We need to get you in a romantic comedy, then.
GR: No, there’s not too many romantic comedies coming my way.
Interscope Rep: David, we’re going to have to wrap it up. Do you have one more question?
BE: So your record is called WANDERlust. Are you going to hit the road soon?
GR: Yeah, absolutely. I’m going to Europe. I’m doing a bunch of shows there to set the record up. Come back here and play quite a few shows here in America. And then Gwen is going to have another baby, so I’m going to take a little bit of time out and let the record kind of sit with people, and start again in the fall.
BE: Well, fantastic. Good luck with the record, and I hope Gwen has a swift and pain-free delivery.
GR: Thank you very much.