He's performed to packed arenas with the band Bush and walked the red carpet with his wife, Gwen Stefani, but despite his notoriety, singer Gavin Rossdale now finds himself relegated to the less glamorous slot of an opening act.
Rossdale is back on the road with his new band, Institute, a foursome that released its first album "Distort Yourself" in September to modest reviews.
The music will remind listeners of Rossdale's work with Bush, but with a harder edge, thanks to his bandmate, former Helmet guitarist Chad Traynor. Despite their combined successes, Rossdale admits they're finding a slightly chilly reception as a band.
"You just get the sense that people are waiting to jump or to bail, they don't know what to do with it," said Rossdale. "It's a weird one, and just finding the right track for people to connect with. I see people come to see me and they know me … but how to get people to get the record? It's a little bit frustrating."
He's pouring that frustration into an explosive live show as Institute tours heavily this fall, mixing small club dates with opening slots for U2 through December. "I keep thinking if I just do good shows we can make it work," said Rossdale.
The U2 tour is bringing Rossdale back to some familiar locations, which has the British singer feeling both grateful and a bit humbled.
"All the venues they're playing I've played with Bush so it's a bit more fun when you're the reason," said Rossdale. "I don't really like borrowing people's stages. It seems a little bit strange, but if you're going to borrow someone's stage, God bless U2!"
Emerging From the Grunge Era
More than a decade ago, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Nirvana pushed alternative rock to the top of the charts. Bush was in the middle of that success, as Rossdale's powerful voice helped propel the British act to a huge audience with the hits "Everything Zen," "Glycerine" and "Machinehead."
But as hip-hop eclipsed rock in music sales, Bush faltered, finally dissolving four years ago. Rossdale decided to start fresh and formed Institute in New York.
"I thought it was interesting at a time when rock music is so injured to try to really do a big rock record," said Rossdale. He then jokingly admitted, "I haven't yet been proved right … I've been proved a little wrong thus far, but you never know how it's going to go."
His voice is unmistakable on Institute's tracks, which mix soft melodies with heavy guitars. "I just want to make sexy music and make it physical and instinctive and guttural," said Rossdale.
With this band, he's again taking the lead as songwriter, despite a history of critical bashes for his writing style.
"I try to be as direct as I can. I sometimes get accused of … sort of swapping subjects and not being that decipherable, but I'm not sure anyone is that decipherable who I know and think is good," said Rossdale.
If he was looking for any help producing the new album, he certainly had one successful songwriter at his disposal. Rossdale's wife, Gwen Stefani, has penned a long list of hits for the band No Doubt and is now enjoying the success of her first solo album, "Love Angel Music Baby."
Rossdale became a bit bashful when asked about his famous wife, just hinting at how involved they are in each other's music careers and songwriting processes. "Nothing excessive. Just like, if you're living with someone, you kind of show them something," said Rossdale.
So are there any references to Stefani in his new lyrics?
"Obviously she's right there, kind of in my emotional focal point … there's plenty of material, plenty of meat for me to chew through if I need," said Rossdale.
He wouldn't get more specific than that, other than to note that his wife is definitely not the inspiration for dark song titles on the album, such as "When Animals Attack."
Date Night With Gwen
Pop stars never seem to be far from the red carpet, as award shows and benefits often crowd their calendars. While the idea of facing the paparazzi may look like a stressful experience for the uninitiated, for Rossdale, big glamourous evenings are simply an outing with his wife.
"It's nice to be able to take her out," he said. "It's the date part that gets me, I just kind of like it -- it's cute."
He joked that attending high-profile events hasn't changed his own fashion choices, which include simply "slipping something on," but said he clearly had to have some sense of style to woo a fashion icon such as Stefani. "I grew up in London so it's fabulous that she's this great style icon, but no style icon wants to date a complete dork, just a semi-dork," he said.
The pair splits their time between his home of London and her terrain in California. At the moment, they're touring separately and meet up for occasions like Rossdale's recent 38th birthday.
"I went in to New York to meet Gwen actually," said Rossdale. "It was actually really nice. New York is my favorite city in the whole world."
He hasn't yet had the opportunity to see her tour, which is Stefani's first outing without No Doubt. "I've seen every tour they've done, I think, since I met Gwen," said Rossdale. "She's my best friend … I love going out to see my friends play so I'm for sure going to see Gwen play."
In the meantime, Institute has tour dates scheduled through December. While Rossdale is clearly in a new phase of his music career, he's keeping a bit of Bush in the shows. "It's such a massive part of me, it's what people expect to see when they see me live. I wasn't ready to leave those songs behind."
And while he was sensitive to how his new band would feel about showcasing old material he said there are benefits.
"It's a fun thing to be on the stage and play a hit -- wherever you are," said Rossdale.