Gwen Stefani Interview
Are you sick of your song "Just a Girl" yet?
No, not at all. Understand that for years we were this underground
cult band that sat in the garage and made fun of every other band
on MTV. Now that we have a hit single, it's like a whole new fresh
thing. It's a really amazing feeling for a band that's together
get the satire in that song?
get it. I hate it when I'm asked what that song is about. The
lyrics are so obvious. If you don't think it's sarcastic, you've
got to be like an idiot.
you like growing up?
I didn't have
a lot of direction. I remember when I was in school, they would
ask, 'What are you going to be when you grow up?' and then you'd
have to draw a picture of it. I drew a picture of myself as a
you took a wrong turn somewhere.
time I ever performed was at a talent show when I was 17. It was
me and my brother and some other people doing a cover of the Selecter
song "On My Radio." No Doubt kind of grew out of that.
Originally it just a bunch of people that didn't know how to play
their instruments trying to imitate the music they loved, which
was ska. I never wanted to be a rock girl. Basically I have no
idea what I'm doing or how I got here.
you first shows like?
We had two singers then, John Spence and I, although John didn't
really sing. He yelled and screamed and did back flips, and I
was like his little sidekick.
himself nine years ago. Do you know why?
answer that question. Obviously he was in a lot of pain. It's
really hard to understand why anyone would commit suicide. Mostly
I have happy memories about him. He was a very important part
of the band. He was the one who said, "Look, I want to be
a singer." He was the one who used to say, "No doubt."
And that's where we got the name. It still haunts us in a way.
Which is better,
the pogo or moshing?
Why would you want to hurt yourself while you're trying to have
fun? Moshing, I don't get it. I bruise really easily and I don't
like having that all over my legs.
Come on, you
seem like a woman who can take care of herself. I bet if you were
stuck in the mountains, you could pee standing up.
I'm a pro
at that. i don't even sit on toilet seats anymore. Do you know
how many restrooms I have to go to? Public ones? Every one.
line in the song "Hey You" that goes "You're just
like my Ken and Barbie doll / Your name will never change."
Are you Barbie?
of. The song is about me wanting to marry my boyfriend and knowing
that it would never happen; that I'm never going to have anyone,
that I'm always going to be alone and sad.
I assume you're
talking about Tony Kanal, No Doubt's bassist. Tell me how you
two hooked up.
I forced Tony to make out with me. This was 1987, we had been
in the band only for a few months together. He didn't even like
me and I made him kiss me. Then I forced him to go out with me
for seven years. He broke up with me about a year and a half ago,
but now he's like psycho-man, and he likes me again., so I don't
know what I'm going to do.
Did you two
lose your virginity to each other?
Oh, boy. That's
private, Kennedy. Please don't ask those kind of questions.
people look up to you---they want to know your opinions on sex.
All I'd say
is avoid having sex with anyone until you get married. It just
brings too many complications.
then. Who's sexier: Suggs from Madness or Gavin from Bush?
Oh, God. Suggs.
I have been in love with him for so long. When I saw the video
for "One Better Day," with Suggs's wife in it, I cried
for like an hour.
Do you ever
worry that you might be a one-hit wonder?
I think that
if everything was taken away tommorow, if they dropped the tour
and everyone hated us, I'd still be fulfilled. Because I can honestly
say I never expected us to get this far. It's kind of sad in a
way, we've done so much that we probably won't do again. I mean,
we did MTV. We did Conan O'Brien. You just don't go back and do
those things again.
Are you uncomfortable
with the commparisons people make between you and Madonna?
It gets old,
but it's understandable. She's the one female artist that really
made history, and automatically you're going to be compared to
her. Then there's the blonde-hair thing. I'm really obsessed with
the '40s and that whole starlet period, but for a long time I
wouldn't wear my hair blonde for fear of getting bagged on. Now
I'm fine with it.
blondes---do you ever act dumb?
I am right
Jennifer Vineyard, interview by Billy Rainey
Stefani got the call that Linda Perry was ready to write with
her, the first thing she did was bury her face in a pillow and
cry. All she wanted to do was sleep. And now she was going to
have to get up and get creative.
When she arrived
at Perry's house, nothing she did seemed fast enough. Stefani
would go into another room to try to write some lyrics, and when
she came back, Perry would already have the whole song nailed.
"Dude, slow down. This is my record. Let me be a part of
it," Gwen thought.
This was no
isolated incident — recording her solo album ended up being
a largely terrifying, maddening and ego-shredding experience,
no matter who she worked with. Not exactly what the No Doubt singer
had initially envisioned.
had decided to do Love, Angel, Music, Baby — which she calls
her "dance record" or her "collaborations record"
— when she was on the Rock Steady tour with No Doubt. One
day, she happened to hear the old Club Nouveau song "Why
You Treat Me So Bad" and immediately was transported back
to high school, when she used to go dancing at Knott's Berry Farm
in Buena Park, California. She turned to No Doubt bassist Tony
Kanal and said, "Wouldn't it be fun to do music like that?"
Or not. It
looked like this '80s flashback fantasy would have to happen outside
of her band. So she made a list of influences she wanted to explore
in an updated way — Prince, Lisa Lisa, Debbie Deb, the Time,
New Order, Depeche Mode, early Madonna. And then she made another
list of musical idols she'd like to do some exploring with. The
game plan was simple, but strict: Love the '80s, but make them
modern. The concept for a solo record was born.
was doing a solo record, it means basically pouring my heart out,
the real Gwen," she said. "Like the years with No Doubt,
that was just No Doubt, this is me." In some ways, the new
album "is actually less of me, because I'm letting all these
other people into my world and trying on their clothes, their
music and melodies."
The list of
those people was long — Dr. Dre, the Neptunes, Andre 3000,
New Order, Nellee Hooper, Dallas Austin, and Jimmy Jam and Terry
Lewis were among the producers and musicians with whom she collaborated.
Perry made the cut primarily because she'd put Gwen in a headlock
at the Grammys, looked her in the eye, and told her they could
make beautiful music together.
That was a
good start, but Stefani didn't have a "huge game plan"
for how she wanted to get there. "I know one thing,"
she said. "You can try not to like this album, you can try
real hard; but it will at least be your guilty pleasure. It's
like the ABCs — you can't get them out of your brain. I
wasn't trying to go for an art record or a deep record. I just
wanted to make you feel good for a moment and forget everything
just one problem — she wasn't feeling so good herself. Instead
of the big cast of contributors helping to take some of the pressure
off, it only made her feel worse. In fact, it scared her stiff.
think every record No Doubt's made had its own challenges,"
she said. "But this one, for me, was the hardest. When you've
never really written with other people, you're exposing yourself,
taking your clothes off, saying, 'All right, here we go, this
is me, this is you.' And then there's the whole fan thing going
on, when you're a fan of the person you're working with. It's
humiliating and intimidating even if they're sweet and excited,
because you're drowning in their creativity."
ego got a beatdown during her first writing sessions with Perry.
The freelance songwriter/producer tried coaxing Stefani out of
her shell, but it wasn't until their second day and second song
together that their sessions turned fruitful — by writing
about Stefani's very fear of writing (on "What You Waiting
never been a creative writer," Stefani explained. "I've
been a writer from the heart, whatever's happening at the time,
usually a love thing. I wanted to be one of those writers who
picks up a story or a theme. It doesn't come to me naturally,
but it was one of the things I wanted to conquer."
than done. Soon after their initial success with "What You
Waiting For?," Stefani freaked out when she was trying to
write "this deep song" about a friend who had passed
away, and Perry came up with the lyrics before she could. "That's
my territory," Stefani thought. Upset, she told Perry she
had to leave. "I went in all glossy-eyed, and she's like,
'You're a freak. Go.' "
bolted from the studio and went to visit Kanal, who played her
some new tracks he happened to be working on. This made her jealous
at first, she said, until Kanal revealed that one of the tracks
was for her. They turned that into the Salt-N-Pepa-inspired song
"Crash" that very night. "I'm sitting there crying
about my ego," she said, "and I go from, 'I feel so
bad, I suck so bad, I'll never write again,' to writing a song,
the exact song I wanted to write."
up, Stefani canceled everything and locked in with Kanal instead
— only to run into writer's block. "We totally thought
we were on to something," she said. "But we didn't write
anything for two weeks straight. We thought, 'We are the biggest
a--holes ever in the world.' It was just frustrating and embarrassing
to sit there and think we could write songs."
later, she and Kanal took a second look at some of the earlier
tracks they had tossed, and one of them, a "Lisa Lisa/ Prince
wannabe song" called "Serious" pleasantly surprised
them. This moment made her realize she was being way too hard
on herself, letting her ego interfere with the songwriting process.
She decided to change that.
want somebody writing something better than me on my own record,"
Stefani admitted. "But at the same time, it's not about that.
If I were to write the chorus of 'Yesterday' by the Beatles, and
that's all I wrote, that would be good enough to be part of that
history. It's like this whole thing with your ego: 'No, I did
that part,' 'No, I did this part.' For the most part, people don't
care. And I wanted to take that away."
that change freeing, and as she began working with other writers
and producers, songs came more easily. She even started mixing
things up a bit, turning one session with Dallas Austin into more
of a party by inviting Linda Perry (whose studio was across the
street) to join them.
both worked on the same records, Pink, Christina Aguilera, and
they never knew each other! So when Linda called to say, 'I have
this mix for you,' I was like, 'Come over,' " Stefani recounted.
"Dallas didn't even know what she looked like. So she walks
in, and immediately they start talking about all their stuff from
the past, and everybody starts having a drink, and the next thing
you know, we're playing the tracks and Linda's getting really
excited. 'Oh my god, you have to use my mellotron!' And she's
punching Dallas in the arm, 'Come on, dude, we have to write a
minutes, the three wrote the new wave rocker "Danger Zone,"
on which Stefani gets her Pat Benatar on, ripping her lover for
trying to keep "all of your secrets, all of your lies."
Her session with Austin was even faster on the sweetly nostalgic
"Cool," a midtempo track he was trying to write about
remaining friends with an ex — something she could relate
to. This time, the lyrics took her all of 15 minutes to write.
he started to play it for me, I was like, 'Wow, this is my song,'
" she said. "I was never intending to do personal songs,
you know? But when he told me about the track and where it came
from for him, it just triggered something in me. It really captures
a feeling and kind of puts an end to a chapter in a really nice
The song "Long Way to Go," which is about an interracial
relationship, came courtesy of another collaborator who made Gwen
feel insecure: Outkast's Andre 3000.
crazy talented," she gushed, "like totally get-down-on-yourself
talented. I didn't have a lot to offer. If I'm super honest, it
makes me look stupid, that I'm sitting next to him, feeling all
blank brain, hoping I can come up with something good. And meanwhile,
he keeps writing away. But you're in with Andre, so even if you
don't get all your ideas in there, you're going to make something
Stefani had an idea for a melody that evolved into the curiously
catchy "Bubble Pop Electric," in which Andre's alter
ego Johnny Vulture takes her out on a date. "It sounds so
weird and it's so Andre," she said. "If I could be a
boy, I would be him."
restored, Stefani, having co-written some 20 songs, figured the
sessions were over — until she decided to give the Neptunes
another chance. She hadn't felt a spark the first time they got
together for the project, but then she reconsidered and booked
seven days with Pharrell Williams.
during those sessions that she needed an "attitude song."
"I need something about how the [No Doubt] fans probably
are like, 'Why is she doing this record? She's going to ruin everything.'
" Her response is the b-girlish "Hollaback Girl"
— the third song in three days she cooked up with Pharrell.
But her speedwriting
streak ended when she tried to finish up the album with Dr. Dre.
Stefani had previously worked with Dre, along with rapper Eve,
on "Let Me Blow Ya Mind," and she had been hoping to
recapture a little of that track's magic. But after she played
Dre the songs she had been working on, he rolled his eyes.
was like, 'You don't want to go back there,' and I'm like, 'Yes,
I want to,' and he's like, 'No, you don't.' "
found something for Stefani he thought would work — a dancehall
reggae reworking of a song from "Fiddler on the Roof,"
"If I Were a Rich Man," which, transformed into "Rich
Girl," had already been a minor hit for Louchie Lou and Michie
One in the early '90s. All Gwen needed to do was update the track
helping with her rap, she was helping with my part, and we made
the demo for Dre, and he basically told us to go rewrite the whole
thing again. And I was like, 'Oh, no, what am I going to do?'
during a brainstorm while running on her treadmill, Gwen got it.
At a dinner party another night, Stefani ran into 50 Cent, and
in swapping Dre stories, she discovered that the rapper/producer
was strict with everybody, not just her. "You kinda go with
him last," she said. "You get the doctor in." If
she had gone in with Dre first, she realized, she might not have
had the confidence to keep at it as long as she did — completing
enough tracks for two albums over.
I learned is that you can get a lot done if you push yourself,"
she said. "I made all my dreams come true of working with
these people, even though I have so many insecurities. I still
have this whole ego issue, and it's all bruised up and messed
up. But at the same time, the record is so spectacular, and I
can say that without bragging because I worked with so many talented
feel like I am Alice in Wonderland right now," she mused.
"It's been such a journey. It's been so magical. I don't
even know how I got to this point, it's been such a maze. I've
been dropping down this hole for a year. But now, I've landed."