British rock star Gavin Rossdale was still a newlywed when he started cheating.
Not on his wife Gwen Stefani, the energetic singer with pop band No Doubt, but on his comrades in Bush, the group famed for such ’90s hits as “Everything Zen” and “Glycerine.”
Through what Rossdale calls a combination of “apathy and animosity,” Bush drifted apart three years ago, and he started a new band. The foursome, dubbed Institute, released its first album, “Distort Yourself” (Interscope) Sept. 13, and it debuted modestly at No. 81 on the U.S. pop charts.
“It felt, at first, slightly adulterous, and now it feels completely right,” Rossdale, 37, says of his new professional relationship.
As with Bush, Rossdale is the boss, handling singing, most of the songwriting and rhythm guitar. Stefani, whom he married in September 2002, sings on one tune.
While Bush was a mainstay of modern-rock radio, churning out arena-friendly anthems alongside acts like Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots, Institute’s sound is harder. Its detuned guitars and semi-tone precise riffs recall the uncompromising rock of metal bands like Pantera, Helmet and Nine Inch Nails.
That is no accident: Rossdale teamed up on the project with two Helmet alumni, Page Hamilton, who produced the album, and Chris Traynor, who plays guitar for Institute. Rounding out the group are bass player Cache Tolman and drummer Charlie Walker.
Good to be backRossdale addresses his fans on the album’s opening track and first single, “Bullet Proof Skin,” declaring, “Cool to disappear, but I missed you most days.”
“This is my return,” he explained in a recent interview at his label’s offices. “What’s the first song you wanna sing to the fans, the people that care?”
After a 10-year cycle of recording and touring, racking up worldwide album sales in excess of 14 million copies, Rossdale went through a “hellish” phase as Bush ran aground, his beloved dog Winston died and some crises tested his mettle at a time when he should have been at his happiest.
“I’ve been going through some pretty crazy stuff,” Rossdale said. “And I’ve had to deal with a few people that I thought were pretty close to me turning around and just trying to destroy me, I think.”
He did not go into detail. But while his private life is fairly mundane by rock-star standards, Rossdale did generate some headlines last year following his belated discovery that he was the father of an aspiring teen model.
Communication breakdownBut nothing compares with the trauma of the Bush breakup. Somewhat hurt and mystified, Rossdale fantasizes about a reunion. The problem is that he’s only “a little bit” in touch with drummer Robin Goodridge, and not at all with lead guitarist Nigel Pulsford and bass player Dave Parsons.
Pulsford fired the first shot when he announced he wanted to spend more time with his family after the band completed touring for its fourth and final album, 2001’s “Golden State.”
Rossdale, who says he is in no rush to have children with Stefani, hoped Pulsford would eventually opt for screaming fans over screaming kids. In early 2004, he asked Parsons and Goodridge to help prod Pulsford. In vain, as it turned out: “I never heard from anyone in the band.”
Rossdale said he felt “very alienated from myself” as he faced up to his band’s mortality, but he kept busy with a few acting gigs and some soundtrack work. He started writing songs for what would become Institute. But in an ideal world, Institute would probably not exist.
“Institute is my way of keeping working,” he said. “I didn’t do it because I didn’t want to be in Bush.”
Some of the new songs could be interpreted as having a vague application to Bush’s demise, he said, but “I like to keep stuff positive.”
Ever optimistic, he stipulated that his contract with Interscope allow him to record with Bush in the future. If his fantasy comes true, he would divide his time between the bands.