Gavin Rossdale's been out of the rock-and-roll game going on four years now. The former frontman for British post-Nirvana modern-rockers Bush said his band's been in something of a holding pattern since guitarist Nigel Pulsford's revelation — not long after the release of 2001's Golden State — that his passport had been stamped for the last time, and he'd be touring no more.
So Rossdale decided that if he were to return to rock's front lines, he'd have to do so in drastic style. Forget about going the tender route of the softhearted solo troubadour — in the words of brusque celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse, it was time to turn it up a notch.
"I didn't want to do a softer record than Bush, because I thought that would be maybe more expected," Rossdale said. "I thought what would be cooler would be to do something a little bit heavier, a little stronger. I wanted to make a more forceful record."
To that end, Rossdale recruited Helmet mastermind Page Hamilton to produce his first post-Bush project, and assembled a band called Institute, made up of a veritable who's who of hardcore: former Helmet/ Orange 9mm guitarist Chris Traynor; bassist Cache "Utah Slim" Tolman, formerly of Civ, Rival Schools and exploratory jazz metalloids Iceburn; and drummer Charlie Walker (Chamberlain, Split Lip).
"What I wanted to do with this record was make it very spacious and very muscular," Rossdale said. "Sometimes there's as much music in the space as there is in the sound. So a stripped-down kind of record was the intention. With Page producing it, I couldn't help but have that aesthetic being in my head — of that kind of hardcore genre, of the Helmet thing. It was right in there. This, for me, is such a natural process, creating these large rocks songs. It's kind of second nature."
Institute's tentatively self-titled album — slated for an early fall release with the first single, "Bulletproof Skin," expected at radio later this summer — is a departure from Rossdale's work with Bush. Producer Daniel Lanois even sings with Rossdale on several of the tracks.
Rossdale said the band will soon shoot a video with "XXX" director Rob Cohen, whom he met when he contributed a solo track, "Adrenaline," to that film's soundtrack a few years back. Also, "Bulletproof Skin" appears on the soundtrack to Cohen's forthcoming Jessica Biel flick, "Stealth," about a fighter jet piloted by a computer that develops a mind of its own, threatening all of human existence.
For Rossdale, much of the material on Institute's debut — songs like "Boombox," "Animals Attack" and perhaps even more specifically, "Ambulances" — revolves around the theme of self-preservation.
"This idea that people ... you're always trying to find hope, improvement, salvation of some kind. It's a large idea of how to survive. It's a common feeling of sometimes you can be low, and you find your way through with the power of going right into that, headfirst into those feelings, and then you come out. ... I never want to make depressing music, morose music. I like it to be hopeful and uplifting. But you can't do that the whole way. There has to be some sort of a ramp-up to that."
More than anything, Rossdale said, he's anxious to be back on the road again — something he's missed these last few years, which saw him dabbling in acting, appearing in "Constantine" and the forthcoming "The Game of Their Lives." "It's a real bad cliché, but I feel best when I'm onstage," he said.
Still, he can't help but worry about how the new band will be received.
"I'm really excited, but I'm a little bit nervous," he said. "I think those nerves come no matter what, because you're kind of putting your head right out the window for people to either throw eggs at or wave at and say nice things. So you don't really know how it's going to go. But that's another affirmation of being alive and doing something ... I had fun working on those films, but music is my love. So to get back to that, to get back on tour, it's really exciting for me."