Gwen’s successful and close writing team, including Justin Tranter, Julia Michaels, and J.R. Rotem, recently commented on working with her on This Is What the Truth Feels Like and what they took away from it.
Genius chatted with Tranter and Michaels and they shared that they were thrilled for the opportunity to work with Gwen since they were big fans to begin with. “Tragic Kingdom is one of the reasons why I ever wanted to make music. She has that amazing gift where she is so honest and so real but still totally fabulous,” says Tranter.
Tranter admired Gwen for wanting the album to come across as genuine saying, “Itâ€™s a really amazing thing to see in an artistâ€”â€™This is who I am, and it has to be something I would actually say or else weâ€™re not doing it.â€™â€
He tells the story of Gwen approaching them for the first time in the studio,
“She walked into the room and was just like, â€˜I donâ€™t give a fuck about hits. I donâ€™t care about the radio. Iâ€™m here to tell the truth.â€™ In the beginning, she didnâ€™t really tell us what she was going through. She just said, â€˜Iâ€™m going through a lot. I started writing songs as therapy, and I need that right now. So thatâ€™s what weâ€™re doing, and if youâ€™re not going to do it then I suggest you leave.â€™ I thought that was great! Youâ€™re Gwen Stefani and you want to talk about some real shitâ€”letâ€™s do this!”
Julia Michaels shared that the album has had Gwen’s point-of-view the entire time from lyrical content to the melodies. “If we suggested a line that she didnâ€™t connect to sheâ€™d just say, â€˜Yeah, itâ€™s good, but itâ€™s not my story.â€™ She had a lot she wanted to say this time.â€ Even when it came to Gwen’s love to the word “boy”, Michaels says that her quirks and touches were included throughout, too.
“I think her lyrics are so relatable because theyâ€™re not poetic or metaphoric. It just is what it is. â€˜Whyâ€™d you have to go and make me fucking like you? This is crazy!â€™ Itâ€™s all very conversational and very much from her point of view. If you can be honest then thereâ€™s always going to be somebody that relates to it.â€
Tranter said that most writing sessions ended in tears from everyone saying, “Once the song was close enough to really listen to, we would turn that shit up and dance along, sing along, and cry along. Weâ€™d jump up and down, and Gwen and I would perform them together. It was too cool.”
In an interview with Fuse, producer J.R. Rotem says that Truth is a true snapshot into Gwen’s life and that it “captures that moment, that six-month process, that transitional process, that rebirth, that renewal…” The pair had never met before and J.R. assumed that their relationship and collaboration wouldn’t last pass their initial session.
“She was obviously going through a now-public story, but that was what the theme of the album wasâ€”just telling her story. â€¦ This turned into a much deeper musical experience, really being part of the sound, the direction, and helping to tell her story and becoming friends along the way. It turned into something that I was very lucky to be a part of.”
J.R. studied Gwen throughout the songwriting process and picked up what was going on since she wasn’t understandably direct about anything in the beginning.
“In the process of the songwriting, you could tell that she wasnâ€™t just coming in the studio and trying to make a hit song. The songwriting process in the studio was almost a form of therapy for her. She would just put it into the lyrics. Without me trying to pry, I would get a clearer sense of what was going on. Sheâ€™s going through a big transition, sheâ€™s writing about betrayal, and that was the beginning of the songwriting process. As things went onâ€¦ they started to also become love songs, specifically about finding new love. Over the course of writing a bunch of songs and getting to know her personally, she would tell us more and more details and what was actually going on.â€
He also comments on the material that was curated for her in 2014 and says that songs that had been written for her just didn’t suit for type of person Gwen is. “Maybe those songs would have worked for a different type of artist, but for her, it just wasnâ€™t this natural, organic connection. I think sheâ€™s much more personally connected to this body of work, because it comes straight from her.â€
Though he couldn’t say for sure, J.R. is confident that Gwen will be quick to head back into the studio to write new music once touring and promotion slows down.
We feel incredibly grateful and thankful to the team that helped Gwen refocus and create some of her best work to date.