No Doubt are one of the biggest bands in the world but for the last eleven years they’ve been on a musical hiatus. Now they are back with a stunning fourth studio album, Push And Shove, out now, and Gwen Stefani’s abs are just as impressive as the new tunes.
This time around it was no easy slog as Gwen has openly admitted the writing process was a grueling one now she has her brood, six-year-old Kingston and four-year-old Zuma.
But the blood, sweat and tears were definitely worth it as it’s the band’s best album with tracks like Settle Down, Looking Hot and the title track.
I caught up with Gwen and bass player Tony Kanal in an exclusive chat at a posh London hotel and to my surprise she starts to well up when I tell her what a huge fan of the album I am!
Relaxing on a coach wearing her trademark red lipstick, Gwen reveals how her kid’s musical opinions keep her grounded, why she thought the album would never be released and how every day feels like her wedding day….
Welcome back – it’s been an awful long time!
Gwen: It has been long. When you are living it it’s actually really speeding by because we have been doing so much but it does feel really good to get to this point though and to have finished the album. It was a really challenging record to make!
Tony: It was really challenging but the last few years have been so jam-packed with work that we never stopped.
Gwen: And work is not a good way to explain it because although it is hard and it is work – it’s our passion! We are writing songs and we are making an album and we don’t take it for granted for one second. We had a really fun time making it.
And it’s been 11 years since you released Rock Steady – how did it feel when it came to working on Push And Shove because after all having babies and getting married music was no longer the priorities in your lives?
T: It couldn’t have been more different!
G: There was nothing the same.
T: When we made Rock Steady we didn’t have kids, we could be in the studio as long as we wanted to, stay up all night, go to clubs all night and go to Jamaican dancehall clubs and get inspired and come in the studio the next day whenever we felt like it and then we’d do it all over again. Now we have to be responsible, be up early at 5-6am and sometimes we start in the studio at 9am and go on to 2pm, 3pm or 8pm at night. It was a different way of doing it but it was awesome.
G: It was so fun. I think that you have to look at your whole life of career of making records and music and different ways you get inspired. The thing that really made this record great was that struggle of having to do it different and having these time restraints – like you will have to come in after being up all night with the baby, exhausted all day long with kids and then sat on a couch with your best friends and try and write a song in the next five hours. You have to do it then. In some ways it was like an art project and saying ‘You are going to make a record but you have to do it like this…’ and ‘by having doing it like that it’s going to come out sounding like this…’ It’s true – if we didn’t have all the struggles that we had we wouldn’t have made the record that we have. I feel like… you always feel like this….Actually I don’t think you always feel like that…but I feel like this is one of our best records, for sure. It’s so fun to share it because it’s so innocent when you go in to make it because you really don’t have a lot of control over it and I think that song writing is the hardest things that we do. Add that in with the lifestyle we have now and the responsibilities it was just really hard. I hate when it comes out in a way because I ‘love’ right before it comes out. When it’s done and I’m driving in the car. Or before it’s been mixed and I’m like ‘This is sounding exactly what I want it to sound like’. It’s the best feeling.
Gwen, you admitted to having writer’s bock. Were you worried that this latest album was never going to get made?
Yeah, I think there were lots of times we felt that way! Tony now admits he was worried it wasn’t going to happen…
T: …I could never let her know that I was worried.
G: I was worried the whole time because I was like ‘How am I going to do this?’ ‘I can’t do this!’ But Tony would be like, ‘Don’t worry! It’s happening and you are doing it. It doesn’t matter.’ Him and Tom were both so supportive and were like if you can’t come in today then you can’t come in today, who cares – come in tomorrow! And if you need to leave now to get back to the kids, then go. I needed that at this time in my life. I couldn’t work with people that had all these expectations of me. I needed love and support and that’s what they really gave me.
Were you surprised at how much the charts had changed in the last 11 years because now there is the rise of shows like the X Factor and The Voice?
G: It is weird and way different. The platform to be heard is all over the place and you don’t really know who is hearing the record anymore. Everyone is on different pages and websites. It’s wild but it’s super exciting too.
T: The rad thing about our journey because we have been doing this for so long is that we get to see so many different ways of putting out records and so many different ways of making music. We are still doing it and having fun doing it. I think it’s really, really exciting the instant feedback you can get when you Tweet somebody.
G: Even the other night when we were in New York and Sophie Muller – who is an English video director and is one of my best friends – said ‘Let’s make a video tonight!’ We literally did a TV show, got in the van and we took a light on a stick, a camera and a boombox and tequila! Then we went on the streets of New York and made a video. We were literally on a private jet going to a show and we were dancing on the middle of a plane in the sky! Then the rest of it was shot at my house. In my kitchen and in my pool. One night after the kids went down we did it within an hour of shooting! It was guerrilla-style and that’s what is so exciting because that would have never happened before. Sophie then took two days to edit it, we upload it and then it’s out! That’s what it is amazing and that’s what is exciting. I could Tweet you right now and then you could be out there. I need to get more followers though….I am a lazy Tweeter. I like doing the photos and they are my favourite. I don’t like writing.
What do you think of shows like the X Factor and The Voice and the platform for fame and success which they provide?
T: I think it’s awesome that there are all these new things. In the States we did the mentoring on American Idol and that was cool because we get to be on stage with all these really talented finalists and all these really talented singers and try and impart a little bit of advice which is always weird because we are not those kinds of people.
G: We’re not but it is fun. You know those things about those things is that when you watch it on TV it’s so different to real life with the people singing right there. They are actually really talented and you’re like ‘Woooh, this is intense!’ I like those shows actually. I lot of people I know don’t because they are like ‘oh it’s a talent show’ but they make it really engaging. I’d never watched any of those shows and then I was here last year in England and my nannies were all living in the house and we started watching X Factor. Little Mix had a cool rap and it was just engaging and fun. I just started watching X Factor USA but no I’m gone so I’ll have to catch-up when I’m back. There are some amazing people who come out. There was a white rapper who came out who was totally nerdy and he comes out and freestyles and makes-up his rap right there. He asks the judges what they want in to put his rap and Britney is like ‘something about doughnuts or whatever’ and he incorporated everything that they said in to it. It was so cool. And he was totally nerdy.
What do your kids think of your music?
G: Tony’s daughter Coco calls me ‘Sissy’ and then goes ‘get get get’ because she is just starting to talk. I think she is like fascinated with me. Why is she fascinated with me? Because of my lipstick I think.
T: She just recognises you. So every time she sees my computer she will go ‘Sissy’ and then I’ll put on No Doubt music and she will go ‘Dadda’.
G: Do you remember at first every time I looked at her she would cry? I was like ‘Nooooo, this can’t be happening!’ Then my ones…I came home with a CD the other day and gave it to Kingston and he was like ‘Oh my gosh’ and was looking at it. Then on the way to school he wanted to listen to it but then he was really mad that he didn’t watch TV on the way to school. When he got to school he was like ‘I made a mistake, I should of watched TV! I made the wrong choice.’ That definitely keeps me grounded. I think it’s really weird, especially for my kids to see me, because when we went on the tour three years ago then were too little to really take it in. Now I think it’s just weird. Zuma watched us the night we played in Vegas and I was like ‘I don’t know if I want to watch’. He did soundcheck with us on Ellen DeGeneres and he had his guitar. He wants to be in the band – that’s the problem!
Do you ever think one day there is going to be a mini No Doubt formed of your kids?
T: We hope not. We are telling them to all be doctors and scientists!
G: I just want them to be happy and stay out of jail. That would be my dream.
How rock n’ roll is your lifestyle now you are in your 40s?
T: We have been out partying the last few nights because we have been celebrating the record coming out.
G: And none of them have their wives or kids with them. I just have Zuma with me so it’s been a little bit free. Zuma actually came out with us because he was totally jetlagged. He went to dinner with us to till 2am in Paris. He was in a Spiderman outfit like ‘Whatsup it’s two in the morning!’ Everyone must be thinking ‘She’s a bad mother bringing her kid out’ but he was totally jetlagged and is up! When we were writing we would have those special nights where we would get all the families together. You would have to go there a little bit and luckily we have amazing support with our wives and husbands and nannies that you can still go there once in a while.
With the album track Looking Hot do you feel pressure to look good in the limelight?
G: I think there is a pressure to look good in life generally. I think we all have those pressures. For me it’s not that hard and even before I was in the band – I have been in the band since I was 17 so for most of my life - I have always liked getting made-up and make-up and dressed-up. Even if I didn’t have someone waiting to look and judge me I would still do it. It’s part of who I am and I love that part of life. I love clothes and I love Barbies and I love playing dolls and I was always that girl. It’s not that different but I just get to do it more. I was thinking about it and people get married and that’s their one big night with the dress and the make-up and I get to do that everyday. It’s a dream and so much fun. I think we all take care of ourselves and we try and eat good and we work out and we have to do that stuff to do our live shows. It’s just part of who we are and it’s not that hard. It’s fun! Yes I do take bad pictures. I have had bad pictures taken.
And finally – how do you keep your amazing abs in shape?
Oh well they are a little squidgy. They are not what you think they are! I’m going to go and work out after this. I keep them in shape by working out and I like to work out. I like to work on my fitness. On stage our show is so physical. It’s interesting to watch footage of the live shows and see how much energy we put out and how much you have to be in shape to be able to do that. We played six songs in Vegas the other day and I was dying because I haven’t been on a big stage in ages! We had been rehearsing on a small stage and all of a sudden you’re on a big stage and are like ‘Aaah, I can’t breathe!’
No Doubt’s Push and Shove is out now….
Words: Natalie Edwards