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After going from singing in the once-ubiquitous '90s alternative-rock band Bush to fronting the short-lived and largely unknown Institute, Gavin Rossdale is starting over again with a solo effort. Maybe not surprisingly, it's proving to be a tough sell.
"It's hard to make your mark when you're just starting out again," Rossdale says. "I am basically reintroducing myself. It's fucked up."
And judging from the critical reception for his new solo album, Wanderlust, he's off to a rough start again. The album is more keyboard-oriented than his previous work; the lighter, adult-contemporary sound is so light-rocky that it's been hard for Bush fans, as well as some critics, to swallow.
"With the solo record, I thought, 'Well, look, we can use a heavy guitar to sound like Bush, or I can be cinematic without guitars,'" Rossdale says. "There's plenty of guitars still, but I tried to do it differently. A lot of time, energy and love went into making this, and at the end of the day, it's always me singing, and every song is as relevant as the next."
Rossdale hopes his new material resonates with audiences during this U.S. trek because his touring future depends on its success.
"It's a jungle out there. The agents all tell me, 'Wait.' If the material connects, then I want to go on tour again as soon as possible," he says. "But it all depends."
One thing that doesn't hurt Interscope Records' marketing efforts concerning Rossdale's record: The man is a stone fox. So much so that he ranked 79th on VH1's list of 100 sexiest artists, just behind Barry White.
"Barry White is a very sexy man," Rossdale notes of his placement. "But I'd rather not be on the list. VH1 and I have never had a love affair."
Rossdale has had several other affairs, though, including a much-disputed one in the 1980s with a drag queen named Marilyn, discussed in Boy George's autobiography Take It Like a Man, as well as with songwriter/designer Pearl Lowe, with whom he has a 20-year-old daughter, Daisy — but, hey, all press is good press right? And those pesky tabloid stories haven't hurt the relationship that matters: the one with his wife, Gwen Stefani, pop megastar and singer of No Doubt, which is currently on a much-publicized reunion tour that came through Phoenix in May.
Although there's no sign of a Bush reunion in Rossdale's future, he's playing plenty of songs from both Bush and Institute during his current tour, which brings him through Fall Frenzy this weekend.
"Anyone who's ever liked me will love this show," Rossdale says. "I imagine it like, 'If I was going to see me, what would I want to hear?' I'll play what I know excites the crowd. People singing along to my songs is, to me, the greatest thing in the world."
But Rossdale couples his optimism with a deep-seated realism about his album's limited success and the potential repercussions on his career.
"These [albums] are different ways to deal with my reality, not by design, but by default," he says. "When I'm on hiatus, am I going to sit and twiddle my thumbs or work on something new? Projects are so hard to get off the ground and make: You push and work, and it doesn't get anywhere sometimes — doors are locked. The trick about it all is just to keep going. The only way out is through.
"Even on this tour — my heart is broken at the idea of not singing. I keep annoying everyone who works with me because I don't want to stop," he continues. "The audiences are amazing. I can be where I want to be every night: onstage. It's a crazy rock show. It's everything I know how to do and want to do. I die onstage every night."