Gavin Rossdale Provides Track by Track Explanations for “Wonderlust”

WANDERlust is the provocative title for the intriguing first solo album by Gavin Rossdale – an inspired song cycle by the former leader of Bush that turns out to be a trip in its own right.

“The wanderlust I’m talking about isn’t that desire to travel and see the world, Rossdale explains with a grin. “It’s my overwhelming desire to get out and play music for people. I feel like a racehorse that’s been stuck in the stables a bit too long. The doors are locked and no one can find the key — worse I’m not sure who’s looking for it.” With WANDERlust, the doors – and the floodgates – seem wide open and the result is the most mature, sensual, honest and compelling work of Rossdale’s life in music.

After years spent at the top of rock’s grungy heap — and then a couple more in a peculiar sort of high-profile musical wilderness — Rossdale has brought it all back home on a vivid, widescreen rock album that found him working closely with famed producer Bob Rock. Now that WANDERlust is finally completed, Rossdale can hardly wait to get back on the road. “This album is my way of saying `Let me out,’” Rossdale says.  “I’d love to take my family with me, but I do have a burning desire to go out and play for people again. I’ve felt too corralled for too long so this deep sort of wanderlust has set in.”

From the mid-Nineties into the early 21st century, Rossdale was seeing much the world from the stage of an ever-changing procession of theaters, arenas and stadiums as the dashingly tortured lead singer, guitarist and songwriter for Bush, a band that first came together in Shepard’s Bush area of London in the early Nineties.  Right from their 1994 debut Sixteen Stone, Bush connected powerfully with post-Grunge America through a series of jagged yet infectious hits songs including “Everything’s Zen,” “Little Things,” “Comedown,” “Glycerine,” “Machine Head” “Swallowed” and “The Chemicals Between Us.”

The music of Bush successfully married a guitar-driven modern rock with the fantastically twisted lyrics of Rossdale, a poetic sort heavily influenced by the likes of Charles Bukowski, Allen Ginsberg and his longstanding musical hero Tom Waits. If Bush were not exactly the critics darling, they were immediately the people’s choice as 1996’s Razorblade Suitcase album hit #1, followed by 1999’s The Science of Things and 2001’s Golden State. 

Still for all his past experience, there is an emotional and musical depth to WANDERlust that takes Rossdale far beyond Bush.  Here Rossdale has delivered the most personal and direct set of songs of his life. Like Peter Gabriel after leaving Genesis, Rossdale has moved beyond his past in a massively popular band and used the opportunity of going solo to stop hiding and more explore his life lyrically and musically.

“There’s such a minefield of people who have gone from bands that had success to the solo thing,” says Rossdale. “There’s a chasm to get from one to the other  –it’s like Death Valley and you look down and there’s fucking scorched singers.”

WANDERlust is not Rossdale’s first post-Bush album. In 2005, he released a hard-edged album with a group he dubbed Institute, produced by Page Hamilton of Helmet fame. “We went on tour with U2 and I think those were Institute’s four fans right there,” Rossdale recalls with a laugh. “I loved some of what we did, especially a song called `Ambulances,’ but Institute felt like a really painful left turn. It scared all the chicks away. My goal wasn’t to get one hundred of Tool’s audience. The expectation was quite high but the reaction was just confused and confusing. There was one guy who came to a show and he had Bush tattooed on one arm and Institute tattooed on the other, and remember thinking, `I’ve got to road test this stuff first.”

At the same time — as the perceived lucky bastard who got to marry Gwen Stefani — Rossdale was encountering the glare of a whole other level of celebrity. “It’s been a challenge because it’s been a tough few years for me because I’ve been lost in how to define myself in the present tense. With that glare of the publicity on us, how can I not feel like an appendage at times? It takes a tough man to be married to a force of nature like Gwen. `Rocker hubby’ if I ever see that phrase again . . . I’m not sure I didn’t prefer it when people were just writing, “These guys suck.” It’s challenging and it forces a lot of humility.  There are guys who come and photograph me working out at the gym, and I’m liked guys come and shoot me working in the studio – hook a brother up.

With WANDERlust — which Rossdale briefly considered recording as a Bush album — he has instead reclaimed not just his own artistic identity, but offered the listener a far most honest and plainspoken picture of who he is and what drives him both as an artist and a man.

“Really I felt like my life depended on this record,” says Rossdale. “There are too many records anyway and not enough outlets, so it had to be everything or there was no point.” Rossdale has to wait five months for producer Bob Rock (Metallica, Aerosmith, Motley Crue) to work with him on the album. “As soon as I met Bob, I knew he was the guy, “says Rossdale. “I really wanted experience; I wanted an overview in the old school way of making album. I really wanted someone with perspective.”

Rossdale and Rock cut the tracks for WANDERlust with Josh Freese on drums, Paul Bushnell on bass, Jamie Muhoberac on keyboards and Chris Traynor on guitar. “We recorded it old school as a five piece at Ocean Way in Los Angeles,” Rossdale recalls. “We recorded everything together and got down eighteen songs in five days, took a week to add guitars from Chris. Then I went to Maui to work with Bob. Bob thought I would get lonely and go mad, but as a husband and father now, I loved being that selfish for a short time. I’d get up, go for a swim, have a salad, and then work for ten hours until Bob chucked me out.

The vocals on WANDERlust are easily the most effecting of Rossdale’s career. “We had a system,” Rossdale explains. “Bob’s used to handholding, but I’m quite clear about what I want. I’d always come in and do five takes. Then Bob would ask me for one over the top theatrical vocal. After that, I’d go out and play with Bob’s miniature pet donkey, his dogs and eighteen cats I’m allergic to. And when I’d come back Bob would have comped my vocal back together. I’ll never know how much he used of what take. I only knew it worked.”

WANDERlust works, and Rossdale could hardly be pleased to be heading out of the stables with an album that means so much to him. “I’m on the gang plank,” he says. “One more fuck up and I’ll never be allowed to record again, but I won’t be alone. Yet the thing is I feel totally emancipated because there is such a sense now of being able to write myself back into music on my own terms. There’s a sense of freedom for me now. When you’re tense and needy, you’re going to miss. And when you’re free and loose, you’re going to hit the ball the furthest.”

By those deeply personal standards, WANDERlust is already Rossdale’s biggest hit yet.  David Wild



Song-By-Song by Gavin Rossdale


SOME DAYS: I met someone from Fox in a grocery store who came up and asked if maybe I could write something for TV.

It was nice because I love being commissioned. I must have been a dog in a previous life because I quite like someone throwing a ball and I have to fetch it. So I wrote the song for this TV show Drive. They had sixty songs already but felt they all missed the mark. It was a show about people on a journey, so I looked at it through my eyes and I wrote this song the next day.  They loved it.  I thought “Great – this song will make me a star like something on Gray’s Anatomy.” Then the show was cancelled after four episodes, so it’s just my song now.


FRONTLINE:  Obviously we’ve all been watching wars around the world of late that have been shocking and horrible even if you agreed with them — which most of us didn’t.  It was clearly dodgy and has become a chronic diversion of funds. It’s hard to get political in songs unless you’ve committed your whole creative life to that like Rage Against the Machine. But the situation is so shocking and heartbreaking, so I wrote my anti-war song imagining how I would feel if I was there — because my experience has only been about getting killed in print.  As a parent, imagining anybody’s kid over there is too, too horrible.


FOREVER MAY YOU RUN: I didn’t have a studio at the time so I called up Linda Perry who Gwen had worked with and I think is just great.  I had never co-written anything but I wanted to start with Linda. We began this song, and since I don’t play piano, I asked her if she would. I started singing this bit and she put a nice change in. Then Linda sent me home saying she had my vibe and would try to write something. I went home and I wrote this song that I wanted to have a little of that universal feeling of “Everybody Hurts” Linda played me what she had done, and I played her what I’d done. And she said let’s do yours. Jimmy Iovine’s daughter Jade heard this one and got her father excited about that song. That was the song that green-lit this record.


THE SKIN I’M IN: In London, we live opposite Primrose Hill, and it’s a beautiful love pad. I was there and wanted to write a really truthful love song. I wrote “The Skin I’m In” in a studio I had that was eventually turned into the nursery. It had a picture of Johnny Lydon and Bob Marley on the walls — two men who meant the world to me. To me, this one’s more Bob that Johnny, with its little reggae feel. Really it’s just a nice song for my girl.


DRIVE: I’m guilty of writing about some of the same themes over and over. I’m one for owning up to life’s struggle — even the Buddhists say, “Life is suffering.” Coming to LA to be with Gwen was great, but the move was somewhat isolating because all my friends were in London. And I didn’t want to come here and just lean on the person I love. So that move was intense. Marriage itself is intense. I wrote this song and I couldn’t call it “Landslide” because Stevie Nicks had gotten there first with one of my favorite songs. But that word still fit. Hope Stevie doesn’t mind


FUTURE WORLD: This was almost the template for the record — that sensual feel and songs about living in the modern world of hard-wired cable and firewalls. It really is another in a long list of my survival guide songs.  I think life is hard for everyone – no matter what you do. It’s just such a fragmented, fractured world that you just to have a lot of ability to make a lot of glue in every area.


LOVE REMAINS THE SAME: I really wanted to write my drinking song — my drowning of the sorrows song. I have a tough wife with high standards so there are those times when there is a disconnect. It’s hard to be with anybody for any length of time, and there are those times when you realize we need to make an effort here. I’m not really a drinking man, but I can imagine. It does have a certain Bukowski ness to it.  I didn’t want to hide behind anything.


IF YOU’RE NOT WITH US, YOU’RE AGAINST US: I’m really inspired by Radiohead — as anyone who loves music should be I think. Thom is such an interesting writer.  I like what he does with phrases. This song is about who’s starting all the war, and manipulating the world purely for themselves at the expense of the masses. We all know the difference between right and wrong –there’s not really that much grey area.


THIS IS HAPPINESS: There was a particular week when that I went with Gwen to New York. It was one of those times when parking space after parking space, everything fit in perfectly. Something about it was so magical, and when I wrote this album I wanted to make sure I had some of those up moments. I have such a deep love for New York — probably my favorite city in the world.  I quite like that middle eight, “You make me so much better/I hope I don’t make you worse.” Bob loved it so much he said we should have it twice. And Chris’s guitar solo is fantastic,


ANOTHER NIGHT IN THE HILLS: I was writing with Dave Stewart. I went to his studio and I wanted to do something less self-conscious. I’d moved up into the Hollywood Hills.  I said, “Let’s do a new wave song, not painfully earnest but actually fun. Writing with Dave is hilarious because he has no attention span. He had a good riff and then went off to take a phone call. But that’s great because it suits my personality because I’m more comfortable working some things out on my own.


THE TROUBLE I’M IN: That’s Shirley Manson of Garbage fame singing with me. One of my favorite records of all time is Bob Dylan’s “Desire” and especially “Isis” and “One More Cup of Coffee” with the great female voice blended in.  I love that. It’s another thing that being in a band was not possible, Now it’s whatever goes. At first Shirley didn’t want to sing on it. I wrote her and she wrote back and said, “You persuasive bastard.” So she came to sing on it. And she’s great on it.  It’s just about relationships and how we’re always in trouble.


BEAUTY IN THE BEAST: Often I will just write the lyrics first and they’ll lead me to a musical feeling. I wanted to write a nighttime urban song. That’s as close as I’ll get to writing like Beirut – whose music I love. What Dave Stewart did for me on this one was to write really great bass lines. Dave’s bass part allowed me to get deeply in that plaintive mood. The song’s meant to feel like walking down by Soho in England.


THIS PLACE IS ON FIRE: That was the working title for the record. I have a studio upstairs in my house and Gwen was downstairs with her design team. The clothes were looking amazing and she had the artwork for her album out and I was upstairs with this huge Dr Dre-like bass woofer and the music was going. And the engineer was like, “Wow, this place is amazing.” And I was like “Yeah, this place is on fucking fire. “ I though `Oh my god, that’s the title.” So I started singing with a Vocoder. It’s a nod to my wife. It was a longer piece but I thought it was a nice trippy way to end. And maybe open my shows.”


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Author: James McQuiston

Ph.D. in Political Science, Kent State University. I have been the editor at NeuFutur / since I was 15. Looking for new staff members all the time; email me if you are interested. Thanks!

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