NO DOUBT - OF A CERTAIN AGE (Sept. 2012 #107)

By Rex Weiner

When you grow older, does rock and roll die?

Not for No Doubt, the band born in 1986 in an Anaheim garage a few miles south of Los Angeles. What happens when you get older is, your record company puts out a new album and the tour bus hits the road, just like in the beginning—only this time with nine children that all four members, Gwen Stefani, Adrian Young, Tom Dumont and Tony Kanal have spawned in the eleven years since the last album. And don’t forget Adrian’s golf clubs.

“Talking about it is super-weird,” Gwen Stefani tells me, in the high-pitched voice known to millions of her fans and phrased in the kooky dialect peculiar to Orange County, home of Mickey Mouse and the Magic Kingdom of Disneyland. “It’s rad to share it.”

We’re sitting in Ocean Way Studios, a legendary recording house in Hollywood. Autographed pictures on the wall show everyone who has cut tracks here from Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, and Michael Jackson, to Green Day, Dr. Dre, Radiohead, Kanye West, and The Red Hot Chili Peppers. The studio is responsible for multi-platinum recordings and more than one billion record sales, including No Doubt’s last album, “Rock Steady,” and now add the new one, their sixth: “Push and Shove.”

“I’m not bragging,” says Stefani, “but this is the best record we’ve ever made.” That’s a big claim, coming from the band that recorded “Tragic Kingdom,” one of the best-selling rock albums of all time.

Looking as blonde and vivacious as ever at 43 years old in plaid pants, black silk jacket, and signature red lipstick, she’s accompanied by Adrian in blond Mohawk, pink shirt, Edwardian gray jacket and dark trousers, Tom in a conservative cap and black and white checked shirt, and Tony also sporting a blond Mohawk, in a casual jacket and t-shirt. The group, known for its fashion sense, stood fashionably cool in the back of the studio fiddling with their iPhones as the sound camp up big over the speakers.

“Push and Shove,” the album’s title song is a dense collaboration with Major Lazer (DJ Diplo) that also includes beats by Busy Signal, the Jamaican dancehall artist arrested in Kingston last May, extradited to the US where he faces charges on a 10-year old drug bust. The track features Stefani’s buttery, mellifluous, hiccupping voice and a flood of cascading musical hooks. It’s sure to be rocking dance clubs around the world.

The next track is “Looking Hot”… “Take good look at me,” Stefani sings, “You think I’m looking hot, you think this is the spot…” Horns blow, the beat chug-chugs. It’s hot. It’s a big, thick, rich mix with smoothly balanced sound and sharp effects. The album is produced by Mark "Spike" Stent, the man who engineered multi-platinum albums for Madonna, Lady Gaga, U2, and Beyonce, and who steered “No Doubt’s 2001 effort, “Rock Steady.”

It’s a long way from playing pizza parties.

The band started out in the late, post-punk 1980s playing ska and reggae-tinged rock. The band’s name was coined by John Spence who was playing with Stefani’s brother Eric on keyboards with Gwen singing backup. Her biggest influence was Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music.

No Doubt played a gig with The Untouchables headlining at Fender's Ballroom in Long Beach, California, along with fourteen other bands one night when UK-born Tony Kanal was in the audience. Kanal liked what he saw, and the bass player decided he wanted join the group, which he did. He also became Stefani’s boyfriend.

The suicide of John Spence in December, 10987 nearly broke up the band, but a few days after Spence’s tragic death, No Doubt played the Roxy on the Sunset Strip for a record industry audience and got a good response. They decided to continue onward.

Leaving behind a heavy metal band, Tom Dumont joined No Doubt in early 1988, adding his hard-driving guitar to the mix. The band began building a following in the Southern California ska and reggae scene while playing with bands like The Untouchables and Fishbone. Ska-enthusiast Adrian Young signed on as drummer and the group began opening shows for the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Ziggy Marley, gaining a mailing list of thousand fans along the way. The list was used to promote parties where the band played and pizza was served.
No Doubt signed with Interscope Records in 1991, while band members kept their day jobs and attended school. Gwen, an art student and Tony, studying psychology, both worked in a department store. Adrian, also studying psychology, waited tables at a restaurant, and music school student Tom ran a music equipment rental business.

That year the band recorded their 14-song first album for less than $13,000, with Interscope president Jimmy Iovine betting that in five years they would be stars. But in 1992, the Seattle grunge sound was big, and No Doubt, the band’s self-title album, sold only 30,000 copies. They shot a video that was never played on MTV. They set out on a tough, two-and-a-half-month cross-country tour in cramped vans playing small clubs opening for Public Enemy and 
The Special Beat.

Over the next two and a half years their break-through album, “Tragic Kingdom,” with song lyrics fueled by Gwen and Tony’s breakup, was recorded at eleven different studios. Kanal has referred to its difficult creation as a “battleground.” One of the casualties was Stefani’s brother Eric, who quit the band to join The Simpsons TV show as an animator.
By the end of 1995, with “Just a Girl” getting airplay on local L.A. radio stations, the band began to attract national attention, especially Stefani’s bindi and bare sexy midriff. By the summer of 1996, with “Don’t Speak” a hit song and sales of “Tragic Kingdom” earning certified platinum status, No Doubt was touring the world and Stefani appearing on newsstands on fashion magazine and teen fanzine covers as the reigning Queen of Pop.

The Decade of No Doubt followed, with the band seemingly everywhere and “Tragic Kingdom” selling more than 15 million copies worldwide. The new millennium dawned, and with technology moving into the World Wide Web, No Doubt became one of the last MTV bands to reach the world mainly through the medium of rock video, and one of the last bands to deliver global sales of music via CDs, before Napster and downloads changed the music industry game.

They have good memories of touring, especially in Italy before the band had reach the height if its fame. Tom remembers playing a big festival in Milan during their “Tragic Kingdom” tour when Rage Against the Machine playing on an adjacent stage stole away their audience (the band members are friends). But no sightseeing for Adrian, who recalls being attacked by mosquitos during the Milano concert. They laugh about it now, but he says he jumped on a train to Germany, getting there early before their next date to recover from huge Italian mosquito bites on his skin.

Tom and Adrian also remember an historic concert in Tel Aviv in 1997 when the audience brought together Jewish and Arab Israelis and everyone got along, happily rocking to No Doubt’s music.

They’ve been busy in the eleven years since “Rock Steady,” says Adrian. “It was really healthy to take time for the kids.” On their 2009 tour the band had six kids to look after who have now grown up together. Instead of looking for clubs in the various cities they visited and bands to jam with, they had other concerns. “We’d be looking for fun things for the kids to do,” he says.

Adrian is a “scratch” golfer playing competitively with a zero handicap and often plays in charity tournaments. Both Adrian and Tom live in Long Beach, but Tom is a surfer who loves the ocean.

Tony Kanal is the late-comer to parenting. He and his wife had trouble conceiving, and Stefani says “We would come to the studio asking Tony, ‘Did you get pregnant yet?’” Now Tony’s daughter Coco is just over a year old. “Kids take your life to the next level,” he says.
Stefani, who married Bush rocker Gavin Rossdale in September, 2002, now has two young boys, Kingston and Zuma, to look after. She confesses that the rock and roll lifestyle often conflicts with her parenting role. “I feel the mommy pie gets divided up,” she says, between time with the children and time away, time in the recording studio, doing photo shoots, rehearsing, tending to her career. “Being without my children…,” she says with a frown, “Guilt!”

Stefani was four and a half months pregnant on tour with her first child. Then, once her first boy was born, she was on tour for six months, doing 106 shows while nursing. “When I got home I was pregnant again!”

“It was a super-hard, crazy journey, being a mom,” Stefani said, “but we had to fight and didn’t give up.” She says that at one point, overwhelmed, she pictured herself in a wheelchair being taken away to a rest home.

The demands of being a mother have curtailed her other career as the head of her L.A.M.B fashion line. “I missed Fashion Week in New York because the kids were starting school,” she says. But she is “super passionate” about her clothing line and the fashions business, which she calls “A lot less emotional than singing.”

But from the beginning she’s had to learn the basics about what people in the garment industry call “the rag trade.” She says, “I was late to the fashion world. I was from the OC,” meaning Orange County, a place not known for its devotion to style.

It wasn’t until she reached the age of 30 that Stefani attended her first fashion show. It was for Vivienne Westwood, the British design icon who is Stefani’s design idol. Stefani wore a Westwood corset in an early video. Meeting Westwood was “like meeting the queen,” Stefani told a fashion magazine at the time, and was also widely quoted as saying “I cried” when she was invited to a Christian Dior show and saw fashion bad boy John Galliano’s creations on the runway. Stefani has hailed Galliano, since disgraced and dismissed by Dior for anti-Semitic remarks, as a genius.

Last year she donated her pink silk faille wedding dress, designed by Galliano, to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. “But it’s a work of art, it needed to be seen,” she told Elle UK. Stefani and Gavin whose 2002 wedding in an Anglican ceremony at St. Paul’s Church Covent Garden in was widely covered in the media. Now she is a L’Oreal icon, using her sponsor’s products and chooses blue-red lipstick “but I’m exploring the orange.”

From the Beverly Hills house she shares with Gavin, she travels to the Hollywood studio three days a week, and works until four in the afternoon. Often the group meets at Tony’s house in Los Feliz, which is not far from the studio. And touring now, with all families on board, has a different feel, she says. “Definitely tribal!” It’s all about the kids now, “from the minute they wake up.”

We’re listening now to the album single, “Settle Down” which begins with Indian strings, a sitar sound with tablas lending a percussive beat. Was this due to Tony’s South Asian background?

“It was actually Sophie Muller’s idea,” says Kanal, speaking of the director who has shot nearly all of the band’s official videos. The visuals and the music show a Bollywood influence
Stefani says the band is definitely together again, and after two solo albums 

("Love.Angel.Music.Baby." and "The Sweet Escape") the “Hollaback Girl” does not contemplate anymore solo recording or touring. “My solo albums were not meant to be a solo career,” she says, “but an 80’s dance record I just wanted to make. When I finished that last solo tour, I said, ‘I’m ready now for No Doubt.’”

Stefani’s solo concert concluded in 2007 at Irvine Meadows stadium which is on No Doubt’s Orange County home turf. That night the group came onstage for an encore. They played “Just a Girl and “It’s My Life.” It was an emotional moment for the audience and for the group, Kanal says, and watching it captured live on YouTube, “I still get goose bumps.”
Stefani was looking forward to hosting a “Family Day” fundraiser August 12 at her Beverly Hills home with First Lady Michelle Obama for the President’s re-election campaign. Active in philanthropy, the singer has already donated $1 million to help children affected by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

We’re listening to the track called “Gravity” and the lyrics say “I don’t know where all the time went, so many close calls, everybody falls.” It seems to be a song about survival, which No Doubt does well. But the best song, for at least one listener, is called “One More Summer.”

Been wasting all this time but I can’t let go
Getting used to all your mistakes
I could be right I could be wrong…

Stefani sings in a sparing voice to a strong rolling beat. The lyrics seem to be about holding onto the past while moving into the future. It’s a different sound from No Doubt’s previous work. The band is certain that their new album will take fans in new musical directions. 

“We’ve never been stuck in one genre,” says Adrian, “and we’re always doing something new.”

Which is one sure way No Doubt never gets old.