At MTV’s "Spring Break" in 1996, Gavin Rossdale performed his band Bush's hit single “Glycerine” alone in the pouring rain. In that ultimate rock star moment, he risked electrocution and being struck by lighting, all for the fans who had braved the elements to hear him.
The performance is considered one of the highlights of his fourteen-year career. And while much has changed in Rossdale’s personal life since then – a solo career, fatherhood and marriage to Gwen Stefani — don’t think that’s changed his attitude toward his music.
“I just continue to find new inspiration in different areas,” he says.
His new record and first turn as a solo artist, “Wanderlust,” is inspired by his desire to travel and see the world, while telling stories about “human dilemmas.”
Rossdale, who says he's "no darling of the music industry," had a lot of self-imposed pressure to make "Wanderlust" stand out. Having risen to fame in the post-grunge era as the frontman for Bush, he penned massive hits including “Machine Head,” “Glycerine” and “Swallowed.” Then, in 2005, he released an album with the group Institute and briefly toured with U2. While Institute’s record contained some of Rossdale’s deepest material, including “Letting the Cables Sleep” and “Ambulances,” Rossdale characterized it as “a really painful left turn.”
“It scared all the chicks away,” he jokes.
“Wanderlust” has already yielded the hit single “Love Remains the Same,” and has been labeled by critics as some of the best work of his career. But just don’t try to tell him that it’s more mellow than some of his previous work.
“People take the record as a sort of 'last supper of sound,' but it’s just 12 songs I wrote in June,” he says, arguing that he is not necessarily looking to achieve anything lighter than his other material.
“It’s not like you get to jettison your earlier stuff. I don’t leave it behind. People hear the single that my label chose, but really, it’s just one song that is not necessarily the ambassador or my record.”
Regardless, even Rossdale agrees that the songs no "Wanderlust" are some of his best. “I’ve never sung or played better,” he says. “But my experiences are no different than any other musician in history, from Mozart to Mick Jagger to Bob Marley, they all lived and had kids and did records people liked and others that people liked less.”
But none of them — not even Jagger — had paparazzi poking lenses at them every minute of the day. As we speak, he tells me that he can see two boats from the balcony of his hotel, both with photographers on board waiting to capture a photo him, his wife, or his sons.
“[The paparazzi] clearly destroys the enigma of a musician. It takes away so much of the magic,” he says. “Who really wants to see the Beach Boys coming out of Subway? Who wants to know if Bob Dylan went to Pizza Hut? Is this really the stuff that is important?”
And while he says he understands the fascination with his beautiful wife, he can’t help but be a bit bothered by the fascination with the kids.
“Yes, it’s strange. But I mean, I don’t feel vociferous enough about it to complain to some tribune. I love the idea of escaping into other people’s worlds, but to me, that stuff is dull. Those photos of us taking out the trash, 'Whoop dee dee.' It takes away from what we are doing with the work.”
Still, he agrees that artists today have a lot more work to do, considering the declining sales plaguing record labels.
“There’s a collective responsibility on the part of all musicians. So much of the romanticism has been lost — squandered by too many bad records, I suppose. It’s just not enough for us to say, ‘Hey, I can sing pretty good, you owe me something.’ The fight for quality music never ends. You’re only as good as your last show, really.”
Rossdale has a few tricks up his sleeve — not only with his own talent, but with his superstar wife, who offered her vocals on "Some Days."
"I don't talk about her much in interviews for privacy reasons, but it was cool to have her on the track. She heard me working on it and came up to investigate. Then she told me she had an idea and offered to sing, which turned out great."
"But I think she is still annoyed I kept it on the record," he says with a laugh. "I'll probably get in trouble for that."