Shockhound (November 2009)

Tony Kanal unleashes a long, drawn-out lion roar of a yawn, then hastily apologizes. “Sorry, but I’m still jetlagged — we just got back from Singapore Saturday,” the hedgehog-haired bassist for No Doubt explains. “And God, I gotta tell ya — this one’s been a hard one to wrap my head around, just getting back on schedule. I dunno why, but it’s been really tough this time.”

Still, a headlining slot at the Singapore’s huge F1 Rocks Festival on Grand Prix weekend wouldn’t have been an easy gig for the Grammy-winning outfit to decline, even fresh off its sprawling summer comeback tour with Paramare and the Sounds. And the offers keep pouring in; No Doubt also just headlined Northern California’s annual Bridge School Benefit, at the personal request of Neil Young himself.

Prior to this sudden burst of activity, however, Kanal wasn’t exactly twiddling his thumbs while his frontwoman Gwen Stefani took time off to release two solo albums. He’s launched his own label/production company, Kingsbury, and issued a debut from his first signing, reggae artist Elan Atias; he’s also produced and/or co-written songs for Stefani, Jeanette, Pepper, Mark McGrath, Gang of Four, even Pink (yes, that’s him bouncing through a cameo in her new video for “Funhouse,” a track the two penned together), and appeared with the rest of the band on TV’s catty Gossip Girl as a new wave combo called Snowed Out, faithfully recreating the Adam and the Ants classic “Stand And Deliver.” Now, as No Doubt prepares to write and record a brand-new album, Kanal shouldn’t have a care in the world. But still, as he tells ShockHound in this exclusive interview, he worries. A lot.

SHOCKHOUND: The last time we spoke, your beloved pet cat had disappeared. And you’d hired pet psychics to track her down.

TONY KANAL: Yeah, I did. She came with the house I got in ’98, her name was originally Kitty and then it was changed to Kitsy, and I had her a good six years. But she went missing one night and it was devastating. We found some blood on the driveway and there were a lot of raccoons around that, so we think that’s what happened. But I hired psychics because I was so freaked out — she was a really strong cat who lived outside, and the idea of another animal taking advantage of her just didn’t make any sense to me. So I had to get some closure. But I never really figured it out.

SHOCKHOUND: Did any more cats adopt you later?

KANAL: Well, about eight months after that, my girlfriend said she wanted to get some cats, so she adopted two kittens. But when we went to pick them up — they were brothers — they asked if we minded taking their sister for a week, too. We love animals, so we brought all three home, and they were so tiny they fit in the palm of your hand. A week passed, and this cat, the girl, felt like Kitsy had come back — she looked exactly like her. So we kept the three cats. Then we thought, “Well, three is uneven,” so we went to the shelter and got one more. We never separated ‘em, my girlfriend Erin and I ended up moving in, and now we have four cats that rule the house — Dopey, Waffles, Donatella and Jupiter. But I still have a picture of Kitsy in my office. She was my first pet and we had a connection. And those were my single years, so she was with me during that crazy time. Every time I would have a girl over, Kitsy would get super-jealous — she used to sleep with me, so she’d get really bummed if there was a, um, visitor.

SHOCKHOUND: Pets rock. Humans can rarely be trusted.

KANAL: You’re right. Exactly. I can totally relate to what you’re saying, but I do think there’s some good stuff bubbling under these days. But I’m going through a very “Trying to figure out where I’m at” phase. I guess I’ve been going through it for a few years now. I’m trying to figure out what the next step is for me. Erin and I have been together for seven years, and we’re having the “kids” discussion. All my bandmates have kids, and I love kids, so I can’t wait to have ‘em. So I just need to pull the trigger and go for it. So I’m just wrapping my head around it, and that takes up a lot f my thought process every day. I always thought I’d have kids by the time I was 40, and — at 39 — I’m getting pretty close now.

SHOCKHOUND: It’s not easy to become an adult in the Neverland of rock ‘n’ roll.

KANAL: Right. But you also don’t wanna lose a lot of that [youthful energy], because it feeds your creativity. And moving into adulthood, in some ways, is admitting self-defeat. So there’s this weird battle going on in my head, where you wanna grow up, not be selfish and you wanna have kids. But at the same time, I wanna keep that balance of feeling young and still have that spirit of reckless abandon. Because that, to me, fuels so much of my creativity. So I need that balance in my life. But now I wonder if this internal turmoil of growing older and accepting certain things about getting older while also trying to move forward in life and still retain that excitement of childhood — I wonder if that turmoil is ultimately the thing that will fuel my new creativity? If I could channel that, I could really be onto something!

SHOCKHOUND: On this summer’s tour, you took recording equipment along to capture new song ideas. How did that go?

KANAL: Well, that was the original plan. What happened was, we did an amazing tour, truly spectacular. I was a little skeptical about coming back and doing a tour of that size after a few years, but it was incredible. And it did exactly what we intended it to — it helped us reconnect, helped us realize what we have as a band, and the history that we have together. Just doing those shows made us realize all that again.

But we’d tried to write, and Gwen was hitting a brick wall, creatively. And a suggestion came up to go play some shows. But when we do something, we don’t do anything small, so here we were doing 58 North American shows. And it was a different dynamic, because some years had passed by, some families had started, and my bandmates all brought their families on the road. So it was this new, interesting dynamic of kids being around, with all the energy of kids. It was great. But to be honest with you, on the road it just got too hectic to write. There just wasn’t any time.

SHOCKHOUND: But you, personally, were still writing — as Pink’s “Funhouse” clearly proves.

KANAL: Yeah. I spent the last few years working on some projects, and I also bought a new house, an old house built in 1922 and designed by the Art Deco architect Stiles O. Clements. So Erin and I renovated it, and we worked on it for two years before we moved into it. But I started writing with other people and doing some other production work — I just wanted to stay creative, ya know? And just keep things going while the band was on hiatus. And working with Pink was a cool experience, because we’d been talking about working together for years, ever since 2000, when we had a drunken conversation in a London hotel — “We should write together!” “Yeah! We should!” So every time I saw her over the next few years, it was like “We should write together,” but it was always drunken moments at parties. So last year we finally wrote “Funhouse” together, and she had another song called “Sober” where she’d already written it, but she asked me and my producer partner to produce that.

SHOCKHOUND: And then: “Snowed Out” doing Adam and the Ants?

KANAL: That was a good way of easing back into the studio as a band, just taking the pressure off and having a go at it. Without the pressure of having a new song. We weren’t at that point yet, we weren’t ready. It was earlier this year, we’d already gotten in tour mode. We put five months into working on that production design —we really went all-out.

SHOCKHOUND: So really, all told, you have nothing whatsoever to complain about.

KANAL: I’m a very blessed, lucky guy. I can’t complain about a thing. And doing this tour this summer was just such an amazing thing for us. And the cool thing about doing the Bridge School [benefit] is, we do the songs acoustically, of course. So we looked at our songs and broke them down to the basic core idea, then rebuilt them acoustically. And the timing of this was rad, because now we’re getting into the process of writing the next record, so that show will serve a bigger purpose. Because looking at our songs and their arrangements differently could really assist in the songwriting process. There are so many different ways to write songs — you can start with an electric beat and go that route, or you could start with an acoustic guitar or a piano and go that route. So for No Doubt, looking at things from a different point of view can’t help but be great. I feel like the timing of this is all part of us making our new record.

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