CityTimes – Rest Assured
Rest Assured / 4 August 2012 Gwen Stefani reunites with her no Doubt bandmates for Push and Shove, their first new album in 11 years. the California four-piece talk about their time apart and juggling crazy workloads
No doubt have achieved a lot as a band, including releasing several multi-platinum albums (1995’s diamond-certified Tragic Kingdom, 2001’s Rock Steady, and a 2003 singles collection) and a string of chart-topping hits (such as Just A Girl, Don’t Speak and Hey Baby).
They’ve launched international sold-out tours, won two Grammy Awards and five MTV Video Music Awards, and were invited to perform for Paul McCartney and the President at the annual Kennedy Center Honors in 2010.
Lead singer Gwen Stefani has further emerged as a global music and fashion icon via two best-selling solo albums and her L.A.M.B., Harajuku Lovers and Harajuku Mini clothing lines. Through all the success, the band members have remained grounded by a long-standing friendship that began when Stefani, guitarist Tom Dumont, bassist Tony Kanal and drummer Adrian Young — bonded by a shared love of ’80s British New Wave and ska bands — began performing together in their hometown of Anaheim, California.
Their natural camaraderie, not to mention the musical alchemy that occurs when these four friends reunite, is palpable throughout the band’s new album Push And Shove (set for release on September 25) — a supercharged blend of ska-rock, dancehall, and electronic pop.
The band discuss all things Push And Shove, including Stefani’s writer’s block, the 2009 summer tour that helped her work through it and the band’s songwriting process.
You’ve been on hiatus from recording for the last decade. why did you take such a long break?
Adrian Young: we don’t think of it as a hiatus, because we’ve all done so many other things, both no Doubt-related and non-No Doubt related, including having eight children between us. After Rock Steady was released, we toured throughout 2001 and 2002. In 2003, we recorded It’s My Life and released our singles collection. In 2004, we toured behind that, then Gwen put out her first solo album.
Gwen Stefani: After Rock Steady we all decided we wanted to take a break. We’d literally never taken a break. But I don’t really know how to take a break, so I was like, “oh, maybe I can make a dance record.” It was supposed to be one record, but it turned into two. Then I ended up having two babies. So there were two records, two tours, and two babies. That takes us up to when we decided to make a new no Doubt record in 2008. everyone says we were on hiatus, but if you do that math, we’re way ahead of schedule!
Adrian: we were making music; making babies…we’re doers.
Have you felt pressured to put out a new album over the last ten years?
Tom Dumont: It’s funny, there’s that classic scenario where a band’s first album is always so great because they’ve had their whole lives to write it. Then there’s a time pressure on their follow-up records. Bands may feel pressured to release a new album quickly. I’m glad that we took our time and insisted on making our best effort. I’m inspired by my bandmates’ work ethic and commitment to make something really special. And I think for Push And Shove that really shows, it’s an album that we’re all so proud of.
Gwen, is it true you had writer’s block when you tried to write a few years ago?
Gwen: I did. In 2005, I was getting ready to go on tour after putting out Love. Angel. Music. Baby. and I got pregnant, so that was a surprise. I had Kingston, then I went back on tour within eight months and did 105 shows. the month I got home, I got pregnant with Zuma, which is when I said, “Let’s make the no Doubt record,” and started trying to write. It just wasn’t happening. I was just so depleted from everything I’d been doing. That’s when we said, “Let’s just go on tour and have fun.” I took that baby on tour when he was eight months old.
You’ve said that the inspiration to write again came from the North American tour no Doubt embarked on in 2009 — the band’s first in five years.
Gwen: being on stage with these guys again just felt so natural and so inspiring. But not just that. to have my two babies, and to sing those songs that were about my past and be in that moment, I was brought to tears almost every night. I was still nursing, so I was a little hormonal, but it was really emotional. It’s a moment in time when you’re like, “Wow, so much has happened, and we’re still really good friends and we still get to do this.” There was no taking it for granted.
Tony Kanal: we got back to what we started doing as a band in 1987, which is playing music live. That’s the one thing that’s always come very naturally to us. Songwriting has always been a challenge, but when all four of us are on stage together, it feels like home. It was the biggest tour we’d ever done and we didn’t even have a new record out. That felt good. It gave us the confidence to go back in the studio.
What was the songwriting process like for Push And Shove?
Tom: we wrote the first song for this album, Undercover, in November 2009, then really began writing in earnest in early 2010. we wrote the album that year, recorded most of it in 2011, and here we are putting it out. It was a two-year process.
Gwen: we wrote it in a really different way. we would get together around 4pm. Nothing would happen before the sun went down, but we would pretend and try. And then maybe at 9pm, for 15 minutes, some magic might happen. It was really slow going. That happened for a year straight until we finally got the record. There are only 11 songs, there are no more.
Tony: That was a big difference between writing this record and previous records. In the past, we’d have 20 or 30 songs and pick the best ten for the album. we spent so much time on each song, making sure the chorus was as good as the verse and the verse was as good as the bridge. if it wasn’t, we’d spend weeks fixing it just to make sure it felt right. we learned that you can’t rush songwriting. But once the door was open, we walked right through and the songs started flowing.
How do you describe the sound of Push And Shove? Critics have been speculating about whether you’d return to your ska-rock roots, retain the dancehall influences of Rock Steady, or maybe have a more electronic sound.
Tom: It’s all of the above. to me, Push And Shove is a perfect mix of our musical influences over the years, but put together in a really modern way. we all grew up listening to a lot of ’80s New Wave, like Depeche Mode and the Cure, and British ska, like Madness and the Specials. That’s the palate we draw from. this album has a lot of that, but we never stick to one particular style in no Doubt. we cover a lot of ground, and I think that’s a strength.
Gwen: It’s so great having Tom because he’s the one person in the band who is really schooled musically. He can listen to a song, listen to the chord progression, and know the theory behind it. So we were able to figure out why certain notes work really well and how to create certain feelings. we had no idea what direction we were going to go in when we started making the record. we just started by listening to songs that we love and wished we had written and analysing them. we try to sound like what we love, but we always end up sounding like us. It’s the weirdest thing.
Tony, you collaborated with Gwen on the lyrics on this album. what did you guys find yourselves drawn to writing about?
Tony: what would happen on a lot of these songs is Gwen would talk about how she was feeling and we would try to narrow that down to a concise, two or three-word idea. Then it would flow from there.
Gwen: we would sit and talk about what was going on in my life and realise, “That’s what we’re trying to say.” Tony was very patient with me. I’m so hard on myself because I don’t want to disappoint anyone. He would say, “no worries, it’s going to come. You don’t want to work right now, come back tomorrow, we’ll start again.” It was really laid-back and I needed that.
You teamed up with Major Lazer on the album’s title track. how did that come about?
Tony: It’s the only collaboration that we did outside of the band. we were fans of Diplo and Switch [Major Lazer] before we started writing the record. we were about a year into writing when they sent us the idea for what would become Push And Shove. It was something they’d done in Jamaica with an artist named Busy Signal and it was this really cool, inspiring start of a song. we all heard it and were just like, “this is amazing. this is going to be a great thing to work on together.”
Gwen: the lyrics that Busy Signal had written were all about being a hustler in Jamaica. I was like, “Okay, how does this relate to my life? Let’s see. Mum of two…” Because I like to write from my heart about what’s going on at the time. I had a moment where we were sitting on the couch and I realised, “I know what this means for me.” It ended up being the chorus to Push And Shove. we chose it as the title because making the album was a lot of pushing and shoving, just trying to find time, and trying to make it happen.
Settle Down (which was released on July 16) is the first single. what can you tell us about that song?
Tom: most of the songs started with a beat and keyboards, but Settle Down started out on guitar. Sonically, it has this huge dancehall beat plus the ska guitar, it’s an organic blend of styles – both vintage and modern.
Gwen: I think the lyric is pretty self-explanatory. It’s a bit about being overwhelmed, having so much going on, and trying to glide through life saying, “I can do all this” but actually it’s more like, “I’m going crazy, I don’t know if I can do all this.” everyone always asks me, “how do you balance it all? how do you make it work?” well, I don’t make it work. There are so many days when I fail. There’s always someone that suffers, it just depends on what day it is. Settle Down is about that feeling.