For Gwen Stefani, never a doubt
The singer-songwriter always knew No Doubt would rise again. No matter how long it took.
Gwen Stefani may be a superstar pop singer, hit songwriter, fashion maven and
role model for millions of girls and young women, but on a brutally hot
afternoon late last week, on a loading dock outside a largely empty sports arena
in Ontario, she was just a mom, trying to keep her 3-year-old son entertained
while she took on an impromptu decorating project.
"I don't have time to do this, but you know me -- once I get obsessed with something . . .," Stefani said while splattering globs of sky blue, neon orange and electric pink paint across three large squares of white fabric. She and a couple of friends were creating tapestries that will hang in the backstage dressing rooms during the first full-scale concert tour in seven years by No Doubt, the once-scrappy ska-rock group that emerged from Anaheim to become one of the biggest-selling pop music acts of the 1990s and early 2000s.
Nearby, Kingston James McGregor Rossdale, the first of Stefani's two kids with rock star hubby Gavin Rossdale, frolicked over a separate sheet of material reserved for him. Eager to include his 8-month-old brother, Zuma, in the fun, James (as Stefani usually calls him) plopped his hands on his young sibling's head.
Inside the 6-month-old Citizens Business Bank Arena a short time later, Stefani, bassist Tony Kanal, guitarist Tom Dumont and drummer Adrian Young were showing pretty much the same childlike exuberance and energy as they bounced around the gleaming white retro-futuristic stage set they were trying out for the first time before the tour kicks off Saturday in Las Vegas.
Following a group hiatus of five years while Stefani put out two multimillion-selling solo CDs, "Love.Angel.Music.Baby" and "The Sweet Escape," No Doubt is back. From the early box-office response to nearly 60 shows across North America, the quartet is poised for one of the biggest tours of 2009.
During the break, many fans wondered whether Stefani's solo career would mean the end of the road for the Orange County band that launched her, but in Stefani's mind there was always No Doubt.
"The day I got home after my tour ended last year, I wanted to do a photo shoot with the group -- I thought it was an important thing to do," Stefani, 39, said during a lull in the show rehearsals. "This is what I told the guys: The plan was I wanted to do the dance record, go on the tour, come home and get pregnant -- since I'm a pro at it now because I did it before," she laughs, before elaborating on her plan. "I'll write the record while I'm pregnant, then after I have the baby, we'll go on tour and we'll have a new No Doubt record. It'll be amazing."
All but one part of that plan has worked out. Musical inspiration for Stefani, the main songwriter of such No Doubt hits as "Don't Speak," "Ex-Girlfriend," "Just a Girl" and "Underneath It All," just wasn't there after she and Rossdale became expectant parents for the second time.
"It totally didn't work," Stefani said. "I don't know how other women feel, but I lose connection with myself because my body becomes this other vessel for this other human, even after a few months, you don't have your body back, you're not yourself. I was feeling not very modern, not very creative."
After a few months of fruitless writing sessions, Stefani, Kanal, Dumont and Young decided the best thing they could do to get the creative juices flowing again was to follow the path that had first served them so well: Go out and play.
"We're not calling it a reunion tour, because the band never broke up," manager Jim Guerinot said.
Disbanding "was never discussed," Dumont, 40, said on the first of several days of band rehearsals in Ontario. "In fact, it was specifically discussed as 'Let's not be one of these bands that breaks up and gets back together.' We don't hate each other, it's just time for a break. Gwen had some real specific things she wanted to do with the time."
The last time No Doubt toured was in 2004, performing just more than a dozen shows in conjunction with a hits compilation, "The Singles: 1992-2003." It was 2002 when the group last mounted a full-scale concert tour, following the 2001 release of its last studio album, "Rock Steady."
That's when Stefani realized she had some career steps to take outside the parameters of the Anaheim band she joined as a teenager, entering the group as "Just a Girl" singer before taking over the role of chief songwriter after her older brother, Eric, left the band to pursue his dream career as an animator for "The Simpsons."
Following No Doubt's 2004 tour, she intended to put out just one, as she often called it, "stupid dance record" on her own. "Love.Angel.Music.Baby" sold 4 million copies in the U.S. and yielded hit singles including "Hollaback Girl," "What You Waiting For" and "Cool."
What she hadn't figured on was doing a follow-up, which left No Doubt in limbo a couple of years longer than the musicians initially anticipated. During that time Stefani also launched her phenomenally popular L.A.M.B. fashion line.
"All I know how to do is follow my inspiration," Stefani said in a separate interview in her dressing room. "That's why I did those dance records, it's where I wanted to be. . . . I really didn't plan to do the second one. I felt guilty about it, and it was a real scary conversation to say, 'Listen guys, I feel like I'm this close to another one, it's really what I want to do right now.' They were really so supportive and thank God I did it, because that tour was so rewarding, such a great thing for me to do.
"But as soon as I finished that second record, literally it was during mastering of that record I was like, 'I know I need to do another No Doubt record now. I'm done with this.' "
While their celebrity band mate toured and appeared on one magazine cover and TV talk show after another, Kanal, Dumont and Young kept busy. Kanal collaborated with other songwriters, he and Dumont produced recordings for other artists, Young kept his drum chops up guesting with a variety of bands on the road and in the studio.
Dumont and Young also started families of their own, something Kanal and his girlfriend of 6 1/2 years hope to do as well.
"For the first time ever we have our own buses," Kanal said. "That's purely out of necessity because Gwen's got her nannies and the babies on her bus, and Tom has his wife and his nanny and baby, and Adrian his wife, nanny and their son. That's going to be an interesting dynamic, a little bit of a change, by default. It'll be interesting to see how all that plays out."
No Doubt is finding it illuminating to pick up where the group left off five years ago. Earlier this month the group played a couple of warm-up shows, minus the full stage production that will be unveiled publicly on Saturday.
During the band's headlining set two weeks ago at the Bamboozle Festival in East Rutherford, N.J., Stefani asked how many in the crowd were seeing the group for the first time.
"I was just in so much shock by the amount of hands that went up," Stefani said. "I'm still sort of like: Did they understand the question? Because it was like the whole audience. . . . I still don't know if maybe they heard me wrong or what, but it was kind of exciting."
Manager Guerinot says he hasn't been completely surprised by the enthusiasm he's witnessed so far. "They've been away for five years," he said. "Gwen had spectacular success in the interim, people remember this band as a tremendous live attraction and I think there's an awful lot of pent-up interest in whether we'd see No Doubt again."
The group has sold out four nights at the 15,000-capacity Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Irvine -- they'll play July 31 and Aug. 1, 2 and 4 -- and three L.A. shows at the Gibson Amphitheatre in late July.
All four band members say they aren't interested in milking the nostalgia circuit, and that they consider this tour a steppingstone in the creative process, much like the way they operated in the beginning, before their 1995 album "Tragic Kingdom" transformed them into one of the world's most popular acts.
"It feels so much more right than I thought it was going to feel," Stefani said. "Physically it feels right -- I feel powerful again, I feel modern again. And I have my little baby, and everything feels so great in that kind of way. And on top of that, the welcome we're getting: Selling out the four Irvine shows, we're feeling bigger than we've ever been."
JUST A GROUP: Adrian Young, left, Gwen Stefani, Tony Kanal and Tom Dumont. No Doubt’s tour begins Saturday in Las Vegas and is expected to be among the year’s biggest. Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times
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