Photo by Kevin Westenberg

Though it pains me to admit this, I honestly can't remember the first thing Gavin Rossdale said to me. It's not that I wasn't listening, but that I couldn't hear a damn thing. It was one of those days in Los Angeles where you miss every green light, you lose your cell phone under the car seat and your lunch consisted of black coffee and cigarettes. In my case, I had just arrived in Westwood to interview Rossdale and barely stepped off the elevator on the 20th floor of Azoff Music when I was ambushed by this deafening siren for what appeared to be a four-alarm fire drill.

Rossdale and I, along with countless Azoff employees, were ushered down the emergency stairwell, into a hallway and — when the coast was clear — crammed back into the elevator and allowed to return to our upstairs meeting room. The former Bush frontman is currently promoting his solo debut, Wanderlust, and funny enough, one of the tracks is called “This Place is on Fire.” Coincidence? Probably. Regardless, the fire drill was the ultimate ice breaker and once the sirens stopped, the conversation flowed.

L.A. Weekly: So when was your last fire drill, man? I don't think I've been in one since grade school.

Gavin Rossdale: Yeah, a while ago. I really can't remember the last one. I think it was at a hotel.

Did you set the fire?

No, no. But I know who did [laughs].

I heard you’re friends with David Yow (Qui, formerly the Jesus Lizard and Scratch Acid).

M-hmm. It began with me being bold enough to ask the Jesus Lizard to come out on tour with Bush. That was one of the best things about being in Bush was my ability to take out on tour who I wanted. Some people would say, “Get bands that are worth something to the ticket,” and Jesus Lizard obviously was worth a lot to the ticket. Certainly there were many bands I took that weren't big bands, but to me they were such great bands that they mattered. Taking the Jesus Lizard on tour was fantastic. We became good friends with David.

He's a force, isn't he? [Laughs]

I saw him the other night. I saw Qui play at Spaceland. It's great; he is a force to be reckoned with. He is a bright light in my sky.

Tell me about any music you and he have worked on, or some of the experimental pieces you’ve dabbled in that don’t fit the mold of what people might expect from you?

David is a really gifted, tastemaking musician. He's got his whole angle so he creates weird opuses and I squeeze on them and see what we can come up with. I like being involved with him artistically. He's a great illustrator. In my studio I have a blowup treatment of the photograph he took, it's about 12 feet wide, this massive piece on canvas. I always thought he was one of my favorite lyricists ever. And I'm totally enjoying Qui. I'm looking forward to their second record.

He’s great and I think he fits into that outlaw frontman role within the rock world. Some of the other writers you've spoken about before — Tom Waits, Allen Ginsberg, Charles Bukowski — they’re outlaws in their own way. Where does your attraction lie in these outsider characters?

Yeah. It's weird in this bizarre tabloid world to say it, but I've always felt the kinship with the outlaws and with the real mavericks [laughs]. It appeals to me. What I've done in my life is very much against the grain of what was around me and what was available to me. I really did break my own mold. No matter what anyone thinks of me, I have lived an artistic life and I've sustained it. There's a natural sense of life as suffering. I think everybody suffers and there's this thread through [artists] that I like which is, not only do I think that they're good, but they write about ways to deal with all the shit. I don't mean in any sense that I feel unique, I just think that it's much more interesting to embrace and illuminate the darkness in your life and that's the way through it. It doesn't mean that I'm manic depressive and I'm definitely not a Scientologist but…

Good thing we cleared that up, because that's totally what I thought coming in here.

[Laughs] Yeah, I hate to shock you about that. I'm not a goth or something like that. I'm not lost. I'm not in a heavy metal band where I think Satan is real, you know? [Laughs]

Right, your feet are on the ground.

My feet are on the ground, even when I'm on the 20th floor. I connected with Bukowski because he could pinpoint that pathos and suffering in the shortest forms almost like haiku. There was no wasted space. Bukowski is like bare knuckles dragging on the street… this human condition without any artifice. I couldn’t believe that someone could cut to the quick like him and be that succinct.

How does what we're talking about factor into your new record?

With Wanderlust I actually tried to pull back from these literary techniques that go into stream of conscious and make it much more direct. Like, take a breather. [Laughs] Can you survive without putting distortion everywhere? Of course you can. I felt it was quite cinematic because when you don't have guitars things become so much clearer. They muddy stuff up. I like guitar bands forever but it’s quite nice sometimes to not rely on that. A friend of mine who's a modern dancer said, “You don't have to be loud to have force.” I always thought that was a really brilliant thing.

On a local note, now that you live here, what are some parts of L.A.'s underbelly that you've discovered and fallen in love with?

Well… what have I fallen in love with. There's an intense rip-tide in Los Angeles. When I first came here all I could see was a concrete jungle. I was kind of shocked by it. I love Koreatown, Chinatown… Koreatown probably more so because I used to live in Los Feliz. I love Downtown and Olvera Street. Now I moved uptown, bringing down the neighborhood, so that's kind of weird. The underbelly I found is the people here. We're spoiled because of the fantastic bands that come through; you can see any great music any night. I like the dark bars. Growing up in England, there are pubs on every corner. Dark and dingy, you feel like it’s the Depression-era or something. I like that you're in deep conspiracy with those in there, like only you guys know how fun it is to have a cold beer in the day. I used to love the Drawing Room, Ye Old Rustic Inn. The rip-tide effect, you can be walking along the shore in Los Angeles and not know what's going on beneath you and it can pull you right out. But that's the nature of the city. That's the beast.

Wanderlust is available now through Interscope Geffen A&M Records. For more information check out Rossdale’s official site and MySpace. Expect a tour early 2009.

LA Weekly