The biggest band to ever come out of Orange County have come to terms with juggling parenthood with their music careers, their OC roots and international fame, Gwen's solo career, and the realization that No Doubt have been together for 26 fucking years. All that, as Gwen Stefani, Tony Kanal, Tom Dumont and Adrian Young get ready to release their sixth album, Push and Shove. Of course, everyone has an opinion about No Doubt, so OC Weekly talks to the band, their producers, their peers, their fans, and the movers and shakers of the OC ska scene from back in the day.
I. YOU MAY ASK YOURSELF, HOW DID I GET HERE?
THAT 10-YEAR HIATUS BETWEEN ROCK STEADY AND PUSH AND SHOVE
Adrian Young, drummer: A lot has happened since the release of Rock Steady—we toured it in 2002 and in 2003; we had a Greatest Hits record that we toured in 2004. And the beginning of the decade was when we all started having babies as well. So there was a lot of energy going on. Gwen went on to record two solo records, and after that, we started writing. We thought it wasn't working out, so we said, "Let's just go on tour" [in 2009]. We were definitely tighter and ready to go after that.
Gwen Stefani, lead singer: We had to go on tour to get inspired. Just by playing all the songs we'd written together and being up on stage together and doing what we think we did best—which is perform live—it just calmed me down a lot. I realized that [the fans] are there waiting for us, and I didn't have to be in such a rush. I had done so much—I'd done the two solo records, had two babies. It was the first time I was writing the record with the band since I had gotten married. Life had changed so much, and there was so much pressure for me to come up with [new music] in the middle of having a brand-new baby and a toddler—and it was a lot.
Spike Stent, Push and Shove producer: I moved from London to Los Angeles for six weeks to do this record and ended up staying five years! Adrian called me initially, and we started doing sketches of songs. That's how it started. We didn't think it would be 10 years in between projects.
Sophie Muller, music-video director for "Settle Down" and "Don't Speak": In the "Settle Down" video, we had to address the fact that they hadn't been together for 10 years, so I think the obvious thing was to have the idea that they were all coming from different places—Gwen is coming from Harajuku, Adrian from Vegas, Tom from suburbia and Tony from India—they've come from faraway places for a long time, and they come together to be No Doubt at the party in the parking lot, where they meet and be No Doubt again. I think it fit well for that song; the chaos of the scenes of Gwen's life is the sort-of dance-party bit.
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THE CHALLENGES OF MAKING PUSH AND SHOVE
Tom Dumont, guitarist: The album title sums up a little bit of what it took to make this album. This is the first No Doubt album for which we're all parents—it changed the way we made this album, in that we just all have a lot less time. In the old days, the band came before everything. This time, it was a daily struggle to physically get to the studio together. Tony, Adrian and I all had babies last year in the middle of making the album. When you have a baby, sleep itself is something that kind of goes away. All of us would go to the studio in the afternoon and ask, "What time did you sleep last night?" and talk about our night schedules because we're all pretty involved dads, and we're up early, so by the time we get to the studio, it's been a long workday as parents.
Tony Kanal, bassist: When you get to the studio, it's not like a 9-to-5 job. You really have to find those moments in which magical things happen, and you can't really put a schedule on that, and that was why it took longer than the previous records had taken because we are so focused on so many things now between our families and life and everything else.
* * *
BEATING WRITER'S BLOCK
Kanal: We would get together at my house and start at 4 p.m., and we'd spend the first couple of hours just talking about stuff. Like, we'd literally just catch up on life every time we'd get together, and that was really important because when we were taking a break as a band, we all went off and did writing with other people and other projects. One of the most important things about being friends for so long is that there is that family feeling, so sitting down together for the first couple of hours, [talking] about life and kids is a really great way to spend the day.
Stefani: I think we finally settled in by just getting together and hanging out—me, Tony and Tom would listen to something that we wish we had written, like anything from our childhood or through high school, and listen to the song in a new way, where you actually listen to lyrics and hear and see things you've never seen before and getting into that mental place to get that vibe. We followed that pattern through the whole making of the record.
* * *
SONG LISTENING, SONGWRITING, SONG REVIEWING
Stefani: Tony and I wrote all the lyrics and melodies, and Tom wrote all the chords. It was a different form of writing, and once we had a basic form of demo, we would bring in all these programmers who would do remixes. So the whole beat could change after that, and we'd pick out our favorite parts, and we'd rework the song to be the song it ended up being. It was a lot of rewriting, reviewing and just trying to get it right.
Kanal: So we'd hang out for a bit, and then we'd start getting into music, and we'd write into the evening and hope something cool would happen. I would have a mic, Gwen would have a mic, and Tom would put some chords down, and we'd sing over those chords, and just do it over and over and over again. We'd develop a couple of songs, and we'd say, "That's a great chorus; now we have to come up with a verse." Then we'd say, "Well, that verse is even better. The chorus isn't good enough; let's rewrite the verse," and we just kept doing it until we felt the songs were done.
Dumont: We wrote our first song for Push and Shove at the end of 2009. In the past, it seemed as though every album has had a clear theme, as to musical direction where we were going, and this one didn't. What emerged with Push and Shove was kind of a big mix of influences of everything we grew up listening to, from U.K. music from the '80s to reggae and ska music to the new-wave stuff such as Depeche Mode and OMD.
Stefani: We just said, "Let's try to write songs that are going to be really catchy."
Stent: No Doubt cover so many different areas of music, and their music has changed so much over the years that it's a reflection of who they are and what they've been doing through the years. Some of these tracks, we did them god knows how many different ways and styles. And that was just because we wanted a new approach for everything.
* * *
PUSH AND SHOVE FAVORITES
Stefani: I love "Push and Shove." I think that song feels like everything we've ever been and everything we've ever loved. It's definitely a fun song, and being able to work with [DJs/producer duo] Major Lazer was really cool.
Dumont: "Push and Shove" starts off in a really traditional kind of ska beat, and it's funny because we used to be known for being a ska band in the old days, and we've never had a song that had that particular beat and groove, so that song kind of reminds me of our past but is completely new and different. Vocally, it's amazing. It's kind of like a ska "Bohemian Rhapsody"—it's epic.
* * *
DISCOVERING NO DOUBT DNA
Stefani: On this record, it was more like we went back a lot to the music that was the fabric of our life. The music that we discovered when we were just discovering who we were as people.
Young: A lot of our records come from '80s inspiration—that's what we grew up on. So it always finds its way into what we do, but when we try to go for a certain vibe, it always ends up being a No Doubt song because we can't escape ourselves. That's just the way it's always been.
Stefani: All the songwriting that I do—besides on the solo records, which are about having fun and not getting too deep—I just try to draw from my life as things are going on. Anything from being in a relationship to being overwhelmed—and I have a lot of overwhelmed feelings. When I started 10 years ago, when I got married and started my clothing company and had my two babies . . . I didn't know I would be doing everything at once. I feel like it's impossible to do and be all these things all at once, and I think I wrote a lot about that on this record.
* * *
Stefani: When you have a family and get married, your priorities change so much. The band has become something that's so special to us because it's fun—life is so serious once you have a family. It's so amazing, but you have to grow up and be a parent. So the band is a fun way to escape, in a way. To be able to go and hang out with my friends and play music is a total luxury compared to going to school and not sleeping at night. But this year has been super-challenging. Gavin [Rossdale, Stefani's husband and lead singer for Bush] has been on tour all year, and this is the first time that that's happened. Up until this point, with the kids, we've been really lucky that we're all together. . . . And [the rest of No Doubt] all have wives. Neither one of us has a wife. [Laughs.] I think everything will work out; these things usually do.
Kanal: I don't know if we're bringing all the kids on all the tour dates; you have to do what the right thing is for the kids—but you know what the good thing is? Lots of Skype.
Adrian: The goal that we're really going for is to bring our families with us. It's different than the old days; there's definitely more parenting and less partying. It's a great vibe, but it's also very grounding because being in a very successful band is sometimes so self-indulgent that it's good to not think about ourselves when we go offstage and just think about how are the kids doing. We'll take the kids to the movies or a park on off days, instead of being self-indulgent rock stars.
Stefani: My kids definitely get into our music. Every time my son hears our song on the radio, his face just goes AAAH! Like, "Oh, no, it's on!" Like, he's excited, and he's embarrassed. I think it's quite weird for them to see me perform; they don't like to share me, but that's just a natural thing for a child to not want to share Mom.
Kanal: My daughter Coco's almost 2 now. She goes "ge ge ge" whenever "Settle Down" comes on the radio. She flips out—like, I gotta pick her up, we gotta do a dance party, she puts her hands in the air, and anybody else around us, if they don't start dancing with us, she's like, "Hey! Hey! Hey!" They have to join in. It's pretty incredible.
II. YOU MAY ASK YOURSELF, HOW DO I WORK THIS?
GWEN GOING SOLO
Muller: Gwen's solo career hasn't dented the band relationship at all. It's refreshing for her to go back to them.
Kanal: I never, ever thought we were ever going to break up [when Gwen went solo]. I just didn't realize how long our break was gonna be. Gwen had to make those records; she was so inspired, and she creatively needed to have that output. She couldn't have made those records with the band—she had a whole different vision for what she wanted to do, and as a friend, I was so proud of her. She created an empire of fashion, and those records were tied into that.
Dumont: We've known one another so long, and we have a great trust among one another. . . . When Gwen talked to us about going to make her first solo album, she was really clear with us—"I'm not leaving the band; we're not breaking up. We're going to take a break and let everyone breathe for a year or so." It was planned to be a year-long break, and it took three.
Young: The plan was always that we were going to make another record.
Stefani: When I was writing the solo record, I had this fantasy of being in Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam. I was making a dance record, and lyrically, a lot of dance records aren't really that deep, so I think I was just more of a creative writer in that kind of way.
* * *
ON STAYING TOGETHER FOR 26 YEARS
Dumont: The single thing I'm most proud of is we've been able to make it this far. We've had ups and downs, and we're still together. We still have fun, we're still friends, and we get to share this incredible thing that we've built together, and we're forever bonded by that. We've made it through intact and happy. Coming into rehearsal every day is something I'm excited to do.
Stefani: It doesn't really feel that that kind of time has gone by.
Muller: Their dynamic hasn't changed that much. In some ways, they're easier on one another than they were when I first met them. When you're first making it, you're far more anxious and scared and unsure and insecure about what's going to happen. When [Gwen] got attention then, they felt that they wouldn't be taken seriously or that they wouldn't be a band. Whereas now, they know it's not going to happen; they're safe in the band. And I think that's the biggest change. They feel much more confident in the band around one another.
Young: We still get along, as a band, miraculously. I don't know how, but we do. That's one way to stay together for 26 years.
Jon Halperin, booker for the Glass House and founder of ska label Vegas Records: I think they're still around 'cause they take breaks and they don't burn everyone out. They don't put out that much music, so people anticipate their return.
* * *
ON NO DOUBT'S LEGACY
Halperin: They sort of held that ska flag out there for the rest of the world, and I loved that they helped out bands such as the Vandals. I love that they proudly held up that ska banner. No Doubt made that three-letter word a household word.
Aaron Barrett, lead singer of Reel Big Fish: They were always rock stars. You could just feel the energy. They were always important; it was just a matter of time until the rest of the world knew. I still have a signed No Doubt picture in my wallet. We still look up to them and aspire to be that big.
Kevin Lyman, founder of the Warped Tour: Everyone loved No Doubt. Everyone loved touring and working with them. They were a band that crossed over and helped break out of the Orange County scene. That's when people started paying attention to OC.
III. SAME AS IT EVER WAS
HOW NO DOUBT CAME TO BE
Stefani: When we started, we were trying to make music that was so the opposite of what could possibly get on the radio. We were doing it because we discovered this music that defined us, so it's crazy that we keep going. It's a miracle, and we really are appreciating it more than we ever have before.
Kanal: I was 16 years old when I joined No Doubt in 1987. I could play at bars, but they were 21-and-over, and I would have to sit outside and wait until it was our time to go onstage.
Young: We always prided ourselves on being a live band. I think that's what we do best, and we were crafting that early on—we practiced so much. As we were going to high school and college, it was always, "I can't wait to go to band practice to get ready for that next show."
Kanal: The thing about OC, growing up, there weren't a lot of great places to play. Fender's Grand Ballroom in Long Beach was one of our favorites, and it was a super-duper dive, incredibly punk-rock venue, and it was the most incredible place.
Jerry Miller, lead singer of the Untouchables: We played at Madame Wong's West in Santa Monica, and this girl invited them over to her apartment to listen to music and hang out before the show. When they showed up, they brought seven large pizzas. And before we were going to play the show, the whole band just started cleaning up! They vacuumed the house, washed dishes, took out the trash. . . . It was the coolest thing. They were probably 15, 16, yet they had the wherewithal to show their appreciation and cleaned up this girl's house after bringing us food to eat. They're good, clean kids.
Lyman: I worked with Goldenvoice and Paul Tollett, and we had No Doubt on lots of shows back in the day. In the late '80s and the early '90s, we put them on lots of shows. We used to do a lot of ska shows, with 10 or 12 bands on the bill, and they'd be third or fourth from the bottom. When Tragic Kingdom came out in '95, they did part of the first Warped tour, that first year.
* * *
ON THEIR BREAKTHROUGH ALBUM, TRAGIC KINGDOM
Stefani: When I wrote Tragic Kingdom, I was very open because I didn't think anyone would hear it—I didn't even know I could write songs! We worked really hard for eight years, and we finally had a record, and we went from being this big fish in a really small pond to, like, having this commercial success we'd never experienced. Having to face everybody with all our private lives was really complicated.
Tazy Phillips, founder of Ska Parade: When Tragic Kingdom came out, I thought they had overshot in terms of it was so good. It wasn't only something you'd hear on KROQ; it was something you'd hear on KIIS-FM. It was too pop—but in a good way. It was pretty obvious to me that "Just a Girl" was a smash.
Muller: When I met the band, it was a really big thing for them to wear Orange County on their sleeves. People didn't know anything about Orange County. In some ways, they still have that homegrown feel, even though they're much more world-class and have done everything everywhere all over the world. They still feel like a gang from OC. You still have the feeling they're approachable. . . . I had been hired to shoot the "Don't Speak" video, and it was so intense. I remember Gwen was all sparkly—remember when she used to wear the jewels around her eyes? She was very charming and really excited and sweet. They'd been a struggling band [getting famous], and, of course, Gwen was an extraordinary artist, so she was getting loads of attention. The band didn't like it, and it was causing huge problems for them, and it was really embarrassing for Gwen because it wasn't like she asked for it—it just happened. They were so open and said we've got nothing to hide, and I was so impressed—why wouldn't we make a video about what was really going on? I really admired them for it.
Barrett: No Doubt were already local heroes when we discovered them. When Tragic Kingdom came out with those hit songs, everyone started writing articles about that. As soon as they got big, that helped us. If it weren't for them, we wouldn't have gotten a record deal; we owe it all to them.
Phillips: I made a ska compilation for KROQ that included No Doubt and Sublime's "Date Rape." And Sublime weren't the easiest band to work with, so it got to a point where you had to think, who would you rather work with? The band that lights up in the studio with Jed the Fish, a recovering addict, or No Doubt, the band that was a total dream to work with, wrote great songs, had a pretty girl who made freshly baked chocolate-chip cookies and brownies for the DJs? The answer was more than obvious.
Muller: If you remember the beginning of the "Don't Speak" video, when Tony bites into an orange that was rotten inside—that was symbolic of their relationship with Orange County at the time. It was beautiful outside but filled with worms. In the ["Settle Down" video], he grabs an orange in the truck and wants to eat it because it's fresh and ripe. A lot has changed.
* * *
'HOO-LY SHIT, THEY'RE BLOWING UP'
Stefani: I'm lucky because we were in our band nine years by the time we got commercially famous. [The fame] doesn't really feel real—when you say, "fashion icon," that makes me giggle. But the older I get, the more I've realized it is a responsibility and I do have an influence on people. I just try to be a good person; I just am me. I do things I'm comfortable doing, and it's really nice that I feel I don't do anything that would hurt anyone.
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Jenny Fowler, founder of and webmaster for No Doubt fansite Beacon Street Online: I've looked up to Gwen since I was 12 or 11, when Tragic Kingdom came out. I know it sounds corny, but she's always been such a good idol to look up to. She's such a good girl and always true to herself. And the band—they're such respectable people. Their dedication to one another is great. And their style is always changing and evolving, but they always remain true to themselves at the same time.
Halperin: I think if you're a fan of No Doubt from before, and you grew up with them, the new music . . . still stays true enough to its roots that they're maintaining that core fan base.
El Mac, artist for Push and Shove's cover: I remember being a teenager and having a crush on Gwen, so I guess you could say I've been a fan for a little while. And when you're that young and you're into something, it stays with you, so there's a certain amount of respect there.
Miguel Happoldt, manager and producer of Sublime: In 1995, when we played the World Beat Center in San Diego, Sublime headlined and No Doubt were a supporting act. It was weird—for one heartbeat, Sublime was a little bit bigger than No Doubt. I had to pay Tony $500, and he gave me and Brad [Nowell, Sublime lead singer] a two-song cassette, and we listened to it on the way home, and Brad said, "We're done." It was "Just a Girl." It was like, "Jesus Christ, we're going to be opening for them for the rest of our lives." Within two weeks, every time we'd go to 7-Eleven to buy beer, we'd hear that damn song. It was like, "Hoo-ly shit, they're blowing up."