Gwen Stefani


Interviews

Gwen Stefani Interview

SPIN: Are you sick of your song "Just a Girl" yet?

Gwen Stefani: 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 nine years.

Do people get the satire in that song?

Enough people 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.

What were 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 bride.

Obviously, you took a wrong turn somewhere.

The first 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.

What were you first shows like?

Very intense. 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.

Spence killed himself nine years ago. Do you know why?

I couldn't 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?

Pogo, definitely. 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.

There's a 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?

Well, kind 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.

Basically, 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.

Sorry, but 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.

All right, 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.

Speaking of blondes---do you ever act dumb?

I am right now.

Scared Solo

by Jennifer Vineyard, interview by Billy Rainey

When Gwen 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.

Stefani 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.

"If I 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 else."

There was 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.

"I 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."

Stefani's 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 For?").

"I've 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."

Easier said 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.' "

So Stefani 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."

Pumped 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."

Six months 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.

"I don't 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."

She found 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.

"They 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 song!' "

Within 45 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.

"When 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 way."

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.

"He's 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 great."

Later on, 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."

Her confidence 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.

She decided 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.

"He 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.' "

Still, Dre 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 with Eve.

"I was 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?' "

Eventually, 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.

"What 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 people.

"I totally 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."

 


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