College Times: The Next Phase (May 2009)

Five years, a grip of side and solo projects, limitless speculation and a nursery (or two) full of babies later, No Doubt are heading back on the road. They’re ready, more or less.

“I think we’ll be just rehearsed enough to pull it off, not so well-rehearsed that something couldn’t go wrong,” guitarist Tom Dumont admits. “That’s just where you want to be at the beginning of a tour, I think.”

Dumont and Co. would know, having cut their teeth relentlessly touring their native Orange County prior to blowing up into one of the world’s biggest bands. But things have changed, both professionally and personally.

“It’s crazy, the last four or five years, everybody’s really grown up in the sense of – I got married, I have two kids,” Dumont says. “Gwen [Stefani] has two kids. So, I guess we’ve kind of just crossed into that next phase of our lives.”

The very same life changes have rendered speculation about production of the band’s yet-to-be-written or recorded fifth album; a wild goose chase, not only for rabid bloggers and fanboys, but for the band itself.

The seeds for a follow-up to 2001’s Rock Steady were planted in 2007 when, following a three-year hiatus in which Stefani cemented herself as a bona fide superstar with two wildly-successful solo albums and became a first-time mother, the singer voiced a desire to reunite the group.

“The idea was to have an album finished, you know, by the end of [2008] and tour this year, but you know, we didn’t get much done,” Dumont says.

When Stefani became pregnant with her second child, the record-writing process halted altogether.

“We’ve kind of never been fast at making records and writing albums,” Dumont says. “And, so towards the end of the year, after she had her baby and we realized we weren’t going to have an album ready, you know, we were kind of bummed because the touring part of the album is kind of the pay-off and the fun part. Hitting the road and playing live is kind of the blast of it all.”

Luckily for hoards of fans clamoring for tickets to this summer’s much-anticipated super tour, the draw of the road was too strong to foil the plan.

“The novel idea came up at the end of last year; ‘well, screw it, let’s just tour anyway,’” Dumont says.

“The idea was just to play shows and go and kind of revisit the early days of the band when we were a live band again, have fun together, and hopefully through that process we’ll get stoked and figure out what kind of album to make, how to make an album, what to write about, all that.”

As such, the Summer Reunion Tour with the likes of openers Paramore, The Sounds, Katy Perry and Panic at the Disco, will have a distinctly “greatest hits” flavor to it (Diamond-certified album Tragic Kingdom will provide plenty of ammo, alone).

Still, the wait for a new record for the first time in nearly a decade weighs heavily on everyone. What will it sound like? Lyrically, what direction will it head?

At this point, even the band has more questions than answers.

“I think it’s partially a matter of figuring out; ‘what is relevant to write about?’ Dumont says. “It’s that figuring out process: what do I have in common with these three guys now, and what kind of music makes sense for us to do? It’s kind of like getting reacquainted again, in a way, as friends and everything. It hasn’t been that long of a break, but it’s been long enough that, it’s like, what’s our common ground?”

And while No Doubt sorts through what remains, interpersonally, after a long layoff, the bigger challenge may be coming to grips with the dramatically-transformed world around them.

“It’s a hard thing to figure out, and the way the record business is, it’s hard to figure out if we make a record, who is it for? The world’s changed. Records are still meaningful and relevant, yet at the same time, they don’t have the cultural impact that they used to have. We’re never going to sell 10 million records again. Nobody does. It’s like the whole world is splintered into a thousand little pieces, which I think is a healthy thing for music,” Dumont says.

“It’s just up to us to figure out what’s our place in that, where do we fit in, and where can we do something that feels right and feels meaningful.”

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