Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2009

On Chris Cornell, Gavin Rossdale and Scott Weiland

By Evan Rytlewski
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In the last two years I've interviewed a trio of grunge veterans—Chris Cornell, Gavin Rossdale and Scott Weiland—and all three struck me as sad, albeit in different ways.

Chris Cornell was friendly, open and chatty, and also remarkably defensive. Unprompted, he floated an absurd theory about why the reception was so cold to his crappy 2007 solo album, a scattershot set of overproduced songs better suited for an "American Idol" runner-up: Because fans are used to hearing him in a band, so they're prejudiced against him going solo. Perhaps because of the recent critical rejection, he was territorial of his legacy, claiming that Temple of the Dog "was kind of a solo record because I wrote most of the songs entirely alone." True or not, the statement stank of desperation.

Like the happily married Cornell, Gavin Rossdale now leads a picture-perfect life we can only begin to imagine. A typical day for Rossdale might involve a celebrity tennis tournament, lots of sun, then sex with Gwen Stefani. But like Jason Bateman's domesticated Juno character, he's creatively unfulfilled. Rossdale tried recording the kind of uncompromising hard-rock he prefers with his band Institute, but nobody carried. He tried a Bush reunion, but the rest of the band turned him down. He was shaken by how hard it had become for him to even get the funding for a new record, so when he finally succeeded he played it safe and recorded WANDERlust, a limp soft-rock album for housewives complete with a ballad co-written with Linda Perry. The album has performed well—it's actually not bad for what it is, and it's certainly more focused than Cornell's—but it's not the music he enjoys making.

During our phone chat, Rossdale drove past a London pub and noted how bright and festive all the city's watering holes are—nothing at all like the dank, seedy bars he used to frequent in Los Angeles. When I asked him which kind of establishment he preferred, he didn't hesitate to answer—L.A.'s. Read into that what you will.

Scott Weiland, of course, is the most troubled of the three. In the last couple years he's suffered through a divorce, jail time and the drug overdose death of his brother. His own addictions are so notorious that I was surprised to find that he was pretty coherent during our interview—if nothing else, he sounded less like Ozzy Osbourne than he did when he appeared in Milwaukee this summer with the Stone Temple Pilots. At that show he wobbled around, threatening to trip over his feet at any moment.

Unlike Rossdale and Cornell, Weiland has considerable personal demons, but at least he's touring behind a solo album that he's actually proud of. So Bowie-ish that it at times sounds like a rocking version of that "Flight of the Conchords" tribute song, Weiland's self-released "Happy" In Galoshes is pretty damn good, save for a train-wreck cover of "Fame" and some flaccid slow numbers—but at least those slow songs fail on their own terms and not because label executives overloaded them with dueling songwriters and superfluous session players.

Weiland has high hopes for his solo career; he'd like to make more records on his own and, ultimately, tour less with bands, spending more time at home with his kids. He'd be healthier and happier that way, no doubt.

But here's the tragedy: His solo career is going nowhere. "Happy" arrived completely under the radar, save for a handful of dismissive reviews. The same media outlets that covered Weiland's every move in 2008—his Velvet Revolver antics and departure, his Stone Temple Pilots reunion—could barely muster a mention of his new record. And Weiland's subsequent solo tour, which stops at the Pabst Theater Friday night, hasn't generated much interest, either. His prospects for settling down with a comfortable solo career seem bleak.
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