After a decade-long break, No Doubt is back in the studio, with the rockers getting ready to release their hotly anticipated new album later this year.But, as Gwen Stefani tells Gill Pringle, working on this album took the style superstar on a dark and difficult journey.
It’s 8:30 PM and, with her two boys tucked up in bed, Gwen Stefani is sitting in the kitchen of her gated home in Hollywood Hills, hanging out with her long-time coulorist, Kristoff Ball, as he tends to that fabulous platinum blonde hair.
“I’ve finally put my kids down and have a free moment to myself. As we speak, I have a bottle [of bleach] stuck to my skull,” she laughs as she chats on the phone with Marie Claire.
It’s an incongruous image: teh superstar who has sold more than 40 million records, an entrepreneur whose fashion empire notches up $90 million in sales each year, and a woman who regularly makes best-dressed lists, having her hair done at home. But with Stefani currently putting the finishing touches on No Doubt’s first album in more than a decade, her schedule is jam-packed.
A high achiever her entire life, Stefani is at pains to explain why this particular album took more than nine months to gestate. “It was chaos trying to make this record, but I think that what made it so good and interesting was that we made it in a real old-school way, total No Doubt style, trying to dig deep inside,” she reveals.
“Back in the day, we had the luxury of life when we’d stay up all night and sleep all day, and make a record at our own pace,” she says, somewhat wistfully. “I also think there’s a really cold, desperate energy to record because of all the pressures. I think good things come from working for it, and we like that.”
It’s nearly two decades since No Doubt burst on to the international music scene with 1995’s Tragic Kingdom, a record that sold 16 million copies and earned the group two Grammy nominations. In the years since, Stefani has built her own creative empire, releasing two successful solo albums, running a range of fashion labels, and enjoying a short-lived stint as a big-screen starlet with her role in Martin Scorcese’s 2004 Oscar-winning film, The Aviator.
But with this new project, Stefani is returning to her first love – music. She has long lyrically pinner her heart on the airwaves, and No Doubt fans will have a field day interpreting the hidden meanings of the group’s new album, including the single “Settle Down”. “It’s actually about when you’re in trouble and you’re sort of trying to hide it inside, but you’re not [fine],” says Stefani. It’s hard not to wonder about what darkness she’s referring to. “It gets harder when you’re happy in love, but it doesn’t mean the entire time you’re married you’re happy and in love. I just really tried to pick up on what was happening right there and when I was writing those songs,” says Stefani, who turns 43 in October.
But other details about the hotly anticipated album, No Doubt’s first original offering since 2001’s Rock Steady, are scant beyond the album’s slated September release.
Despite haveing her finger of creative pies, Stefani is adamant that recording and writing are still her greatest joy. “Out of all the artistic things I do, music is the most rewarding because it’s so hard to write songs,” she admits. “It’s so hard to believe it’s going to happen and then, once it does, it’s just addictive.”
GWEN ON FASHION:
When Stefani and No Doubt first hit the charts, it wasn’t just their infectious, jubilant rock that made an impression, but their lead singer’s irreverent look. Part Betty Boop, part rock chick, with a dash of Californian hippie thrown in for good measure, there was never any question that Stefani’s look was all her, no clutch of stylists feverishly putting together her outfits behind the scenes.
Since then, Stefani’s name has become synonymous with her original style, a constantly evolving melange of cultural reference points as sext as it is proudly individualistic.
But as fashion is not just a passion for Stefani — it’s a big business. In 2004, she transformed her love of satorial iconoclasm into a fashion empire that includes L.A.M.B., Harajuku Lovers and Harajuku Mini, and turns over $90 million in sales each year. Not only have her labels proved an enormous commercial success, they have also earned her critical plaudits, with the appearance of sartorial impresario Anna Wintour front row at a L.A.M.B. show last March signalling the fashion industry’s love of the label.
While Stefani’s style might be ever evolving, one constant is her signature, sexy red lipstick, and she’s never too tired to apply it. “If I wasn’t even famous or had any success, I would still wake up and put tons of make-up on and put on a cool outfit. That’s always been who I’ve been my whole life, so that’s never gonna change. I love fashion. I love getting dressed up. I love Halloween, too,” she laughs, revealing how she has her grandmother to thank for her trademark hue. “One Christmas she bought me a bunch of different lipstick colours and I tried them all one, and I remember thinking, ‘That red looks good! I’m gonna wear that!’ And I just never stopped. I like the old, vintage Hollywood look.”
GWEN ON GAVIN:
September this year marks a decade since Stefani said “I do” to sexy British rocker, Gavin Rossdale – not once, but twice. Wearing a bespoke pink John Galliano gown, Stefani first walked down the aisle in London, before celebrating their union again at a glamorous reception in Los Angeles.
Their marriage, apparently, requires little maintenance. “We don’t have any rules,” remarks Stefani. “We just have to take it while we can and look out for each other. We miss each other a lot right now because he’s been touring. We know when things start to get weird, btu I think after all this time we understand how it works, and how to make it work.”
Interestingly, Stefani’s never given any serious though to teaming up musically with her Bush frontman husband: “No. Gavin’s a one-man show. He’s so in charge. I think I would feel very weird working with him like that. We make babies together. That’s what we do!”
GWEN ON MOTHERHOOD:
Pick up any gossip magazine and chances are you’ll find paparazzi shots of Stefani out and about with her dapper sons, Kingston, six, and Zuma, almost four.
Unlike some celebrity mums, who feign doing everything themselves, Stefani is refreshingly up-front about her situation: “Of course I have nannies, but, at the end of the day, anybody who has kids realises that you’re the mum and there’s only so much you can push them off onto other people. I have tons of help, but it doesn’t really matter because when you’re the mum, you’re a mum. You don’t want to miss those moments.
I feel really blessed with what I have – these two guys; they’re a lot of fun. I can’t imagine it any other way.”