Interview: Gavin Rossdale
Mon, 14 Apr 2008 09:59:24
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Gavin Rossdale is feeling quite creative these days. Even though he stands on the eve of finally releasing his solo debut WANDERLUST (Interscope), he's still constantly writing. WANDERLUST is one of the best rock records of 2008. It's a swirling amalgam of electronic textures, distorted guitars and Rossdale's unmistakable voice. It's also an evolution from Bush, the now-classic, platinum selling alt rock juggernaut that made a name for him. Rossdale takes listeners down a personal road through the course of the record, without ever slowing down.
In between rehearsals, he relaxes at his Los Angeles home. With a glimmer in his eye and a smile, he exclaims, "Making a solo record is kind of like jumping across an empty swimming pool." He laughs, "There are a lot of casualties!" However, Rossdale has emerged triumphantly, crossing the pool, and making a career-defining album. Over the course of the next 30 minutes, he proceeded to delve into WANDERLUST, and much more for ARTISTdirect.
It feels like you had a lot to say on this record, and that it was a long time in the making.
The thing that's weird is that I work all the time. I make songs and music constantly. I met my producer, Bob Rock, and I decided to wait five months for him to be available. I thought it was more important to work with him than to worry about getting the record out five months earlier. So there were some weird delays like that. Also, the nature of how the business has changed so much was a factor. Especially at major labels, it's almost like a wheel of fortune where you have to wait until the light comes back shining on you. There are so many people trying to make records, and vie for attention at the labels, that it's very difficult for people to focus on one project. My thing is, it's not that it took me so long, it's just that, in a way, it took awhile for this wheel to come to me. It's just the nature of it. I wish I could bang out records more quickly. It would seem like I'm not that prolific, but in fact, it wasn't the longest process. It only took about three months to make the record. I always think the journey's not that important, but the destination, the record, is what's most important.
Definitely, and the record feels extremely cohesive. Did you have one story or concept in mind when you went in to make it?
Well, yeah. The one thing I discussed with Bob when I first met him was that I wanted make a full record. With this culture now, you do two or three tracks with different producers, and you put them all together. We liked the other way of doing it, which is probably a bit more old-fashioned. In the old school way, you have one producer, and you make a record that has a common thread through it. Then you get that cohesion. I think that comes from having the same musicians on all of the songs and the same approach. It's ironic, because we did it very band-like. We chose musicians that Bob and I liked, and we cut 18 songs in five days. So it was pretty intense.
The album does feel like a journey. The title WANDERLUST really fits, because of the driving and movement imagery throughout the album.
Right, we like that image. It's especially fitting now, after I've lived in America for a long time, and done so much driving. There's always that desire to be out on the road again too. It's been kind of a painful process: trying to find myself after being in a successful band, and wondering where I should be, and what I should do. I did the Institute record, which I am really proud of, but I don't think many people got to hear it. It's difficult to present a new band. It's easier to do a solo record. To do another band is one too many diversions [laughs]. It's tricky. It was weird, because I drove back the other night from rehearsals, and that Institute record was in the car. I was driving Gwen's [Stefani, Rossdale's Wife] car. I was like, "Wow, I like this record!" I always had hoped that in a career retrospective on me, people would be like, "You know what? That's a pretty good record! It's not a pile of dog shit [laughs]."
It's another snapshot of your career, and it is a great record.
I always wanted to make this kind of record. I always thought Peter Gabriel was great. I love his voice and his aesthetic. I never knew much about Genesis, actually, but I know Peter Gabriel. I always thought the concept of being a solo artist, especially after being in a band, was pretty terrifying. I just had to really work hard and make sure the songs were good, and that was the only way through. The process of elevation would be by the quality of the songs. I like those records where the bass has that dub-y side. I did that in Bush a lot. When you put guitars on the top though, it gets a bit muffed. You don't realize what's going on, because the guitars are this crushing foreground. It was nice to open it up and mellow it out. It was funny, because I was trying to restrain Bob [laughs]. He probably wished he would've done all of the Bush records, because they would've been balls-to-the-wall with the guitar. I felt with Institute that I had gone such a strong way left. So with the solo album, I really wanted to make it more universal, and bring it back around, and not trying to marginalize myself so intensely.
The record pulls you in, right from the first song "Can't Stop the World." The songs are soundscapes that you can come back to, because there is so much going on in terms of instrumentation and textures.
That song actually switched titles from "Some Days" to "Can't Stop the World." It was always called, "Can't Stop the World," and then Jimmy Iovine [Interscope Chairman] was like, "What's the name of that song?" I was like, "'Can't Stop the World.'" He just responded, "What the fuck does that mean?" [laughs]. I responded, "It's a lyric twice. It's in both bridges before the chorus right there." He was like, "I don't get it, call it something else." So we came up with "Some Days," but it's not really a title I would use. Every time I try and say it, it sounds like clunk in my mouth [laughs]. I liked the idea of "Can't Stop the World." I like it when you see it written out. "Gavin Rossdale" – "Can't Stop the World" [laughs]. No one can stop the world! I just like the idea of "Can't Stop the World," because it's about progress and constant change. I don't think I like change that much. I get into a groove, and I like things. I consistently have to get used to the fact that everything is always changing, and evolving, and so I like that concept. It appealed to my inner psyche about that stuff.
This album is your vision, and "Can't Stop the World" is quite a statement to start the record off with. Do you feel like this album is more personal than ever?
Yeah, it would seem that way. I did a radio show this morning, and the radio host was like, "It seems so honest." But I was like, "Yeah, it wasn't like I was lying before!" [laughs] It's a context that I've seen forever. People come out with their next record and they're like, "This is my most raw, compelling and honest record to date!" I love that! You really try to make everything raw, compelling and honest. I did start off with a really heavy fascination for Mark E. Smith and Alan Ginsberg. I like that whole stream of consciousness narrative. It explores that bleak sort of adolescence. There's something about it. It's the journey. You change, and life is different. Sometimes criticism can be constructive. I can take that. Fair enough, it seems that I can go a bit vague. For the most part, I'm pretty proud of everything. Sometimes I go back to songs from before and I think, "I should've worked on those more, just clarify what was going on more." So with this new album, I was like, "Fuck that, I'm clarifying the shit out of this" [laughs].
The songs have a universal appeal and can resonate with everyone, especially cuts like "Drive."
Yeah, I call that one "Landslide" [laughs]. It's funny when I talk about the songs now, and reflect on them, and how they came about. With the songs themselves, nothing was ever a problem. It was a very natural process. The hardest thing in the world is aligning up with the opportunities. No matter what you do, or who you want to be, the hardest thing is aligning yourself with all of the opportunities and potential. It sure is easy to miss the bus. "Fuck, I've been here for hours!" That song makes me think about when things just click.
You paint a vivid picture of maturing and evolving as an artist and a person on the record. You've got a family and have evolved. Even though you can't stop the world you change with it.
Of course, yeah. You go through stuff, and things are different. There are different perspectives. I'm really thrilled, because I made the record as if I was fully emancipated, because the lack of reception for the Institute record was so shocking that it almost removed any pre-conceived notions. I completely let go, and I was like, "Let's go out in flames. Let's go out on fire, burning bright." The reaction to the record is pretty mindblowing. It's taken me by surprise. Whereas, if I thought there would be any kind of reaction like this, I probably would've made a different record. It would've inhibited me. It's been a really great process so far.
In some ways, it's like a classic rock record, because anything is sonically possible. Take "Future World," for instance, which incorporates so many different sounds.
To me, that's probably because "Future World" is right in the middle of the album, and it really is the defining aesthetic of the record. In a weird sense, it is mothership to ground control. It's in the middle, because it can reach to either side of the record. When you put it in, it feels like the anchor of the record. It certainly was the aesthetic that I was intrigued by and wanted to go for, which is having that universal sound with a modern concept about today and not falling back on distorted guitars and that kind of stuff, because I've definitely done that. I have that in my repertoire. I have that in my live songs. Bush songs, incidentally, are really fantastic to play live. I've played a mixture of this Bush stuff, Institute stuff and this solo record at a couple shows last week in Orlando. It was pretty good to have it all fit together. It made for an interesting dynamic within the set. It allowed the set to breathe, move, change shape and change feeling. Whereas if you just do all, "Guitar, guitar, guitar," by the time you get to track 10, you're like, "Damn." My intention is really to mix it a lot. It's not like I'm discounting any part of my career when it comes to the live stuff. I feel like it's one journey. I hope to incorporate it all in there. Even my Tin Machine phase is going to be given space.
“I completely let go, and I was like, 'Let's go out in flames. Let's go out on fire, burning bright.'”
Given that the record is so visual, would you ever want to do a film or book to accompany it?
Yeah, that would be fantastic. There's a short film that I made on my web site with a really brilliant director. We made it to publicize this record. He's so brilliant. Instead of doing that one blowout video, we wanted to do a series of four of five vignettes.
You really have a story to tell, and that's what's most rewarding for listeners. You've evolved with the industry. What's it like to look back on how much the music industry has morphed and changed?
I don't mind any of it. I just think that obviously with the rise of the Internet and the lowering of CD sales, there's an inherent danger that it can suffocate the record labels. So that suffocates the artists. Now people are so understandably insecure at the labels that it can make it more stressful than it probably should be. Having said that, that elevates standards, so it's OK. I think what's bizarre is that love of music has only gotten stronger. The only thing that's a bit of a shame is the sense of fragmentation. It's not as unified as it was. It's not like we all have to listen to the same records, but at the same time, there was a common sense of who was leading the culture. Now it's possibly a bit harder to define. The range of choices has left has fragmented more than ever. I miss the tribal element a little bit. But like everything, it will continue to correct itself. I think, with the free flow of information we have, it's pretty exciting. I think that we're listed in a slightly strange five or six-year teething period of the transition basically of taking the power away from the labels, I suppose, and giving it back to the fans. That's a way of looking at it.
The artists become unfettered to a certain point, and could possibly be even more creative.
Radiohead did such an amazing job of bringing out In Rainbows. They also benefited from 15 years of fantastic records and fantastic support. It's a little tricky. I wonder if it's as good for Joe Shmoe to come out with no help from anyone [laughs]. "Pay what you like!" "Yeah right buddy, see ya!" You cannot deny that people are loving music now, more than ever. That's got to be exciting. Live shows are fantastic still. I think it's in a really healthy position, but it's been reeling a bit from the inside.
Your lyrics have always been very literary and eloquent. Are there any authors or books that inspire you?
Yeah, loads! My favorite would probably be Paul Auester, who I think is a magician, a master of words. I can't get enough of that guy. I think I've probably read everything that he's ever written. We have Ian McEwan. He's an amazing English writer. Then there are people like Kate Hughes who I really love. They have such powerful, guttural writing. I think they would be up there. I absolutely love Jeanette Winterson, she's the queen of tangent. She's all over the place, but she writes incredibly. I love books. Words are what define me, and I believe that they're what has gotten me to where I am now.
There's a parallel between books and music because both conjure imagery that isn't necessarily there.
Yes, there's something about it. I often fantasize about the process of writing books. Sometimes it's hard in songs, because it's almost like a Haiku. You're somewhat limited to having three verses. I know that Bob Dylan is the master of having 16 verses. In the music that I like, and that I do, the amount of space you have is a bit more limited. Sometimes it's really nice when you can approach the song to make it have an abstract quality, so it floats. Other times you make it more literal with action, like "Drive." So there's a balance of these different styles, and I'm always trying to find it. Writers have a whole book to expose their ideas, develop their characters, and it's a whole different animal. Hopefully, you get the same effect. Ultimately, whether it's a book, film or a painting there's something that draws you in and speaks to you on a gut level.
That's what keeps people coming back, because everyone needs that release. Even with the state of the industry, there will always be musicians making music because they need to create, and fans need that release.
People need to expect it. There are some fantastic records out now, and people continue to make good music. I don’t think the quality of music will ever change. Sometimes I get concerned that some music may not get heard as far as all this administration of financial record label problems more than the quality of the work itself. That's the only thing that sometimes bums me out. There may be things we don't get to hear because 80 people are laid off, and some are A&R men for certain bands, and those bands are gone. At the same time, record labels are not charities. They're the business and we're the creators.
It's all going to change somehow, but it's cool that music pops up in other venues like video games. Would you ever want to score a video game or a movie?
Yeah, absolutely! I think I've got something in the next Guitar Hero, "Frontline." It's funny. The thing is that it's all about rolling with what's going on. I think that's the great thing about music. It's so transportable. It can pop up in so many different outlets and ways. I think it's great, because like you said, everyone needs that outlet. You put a great song with a great video game that's pretty cool.
As long as the people get to hear it.