We've all had that moment when we sense that things are about to change. For Gwen Stefani that epiphany occurred as a high school senior in Orange County. 'I remember being this 17 year-old girl, in love and really excited about my future with the boy that I thought was going to be my husband and we'd have babies and that, 'she pauses, 'was my passion. Then I learned that I could write songs and that is when my life changed. I went from being this really passive girl to 'Oh my God. This makes me feel so powerful when I write these words.' It was such a turning point to find that I had a talent and I had something to contribute, somewhere.'
Mission accomplished. As lead singer and songwriter for Grammy-winners No Doubt, and over the course of the group's four platinum-plus albums, Gwen Stefani has reigned as one of rock's most iconic and cool females.
The name of Gwen's much anticipated debut album is Love. Angel. Music. Baby. and it is absolute Gwen. It's rhythmic, rebellious, confessional, sexy, fierce, playful, funky, ballsy, emotional and oh yeah, very f'in cool. Working with an eclectic array of musicians and producers who rep everything from new wave to hip-hop, Gwen has fashioned an album that shimmers with exuberance, which was the plan from the start. 'I definitely wanted to make a record that would get underneath the skin,' Gwen offers. 'I wanted to make a very good feeling, classic upbeat dance record that when you first heard it, it would be your guilty pleasure.'
Helping Gwen achieve that goal are artists like Dr Dre, The Neptunes, Andre 3000, Linda Perry, Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook of New Order, Nellee Hooper, Dallas Austin, Wendy & Lisa, Tony Kanal, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. As you'd expect, that blending of skills and influences makes for a sonically adventurous album. 'This record is a collaboration of a lot of great talents coming together and trying to make something that's classic. Something that you want to listen to over and over,' Gwen explains speaking to the project's overall intention. 'I want the album to be the record of 'now' and to give people some kind of satisfaction and release.'
A 'solo' effort from a member of a popular band always begs the question: how will this be different? 'That was the big controversy because for years people were pulling (No Doubt) apart. I never for one minute thought that I'd go solo. It never crossed my mind, except when people would ask me. The real difference is that with No Doubt everything is a full collaboration, everybody has their vote and their energy: we're a real band. Nothing would be without all of us. Working with (new collaborators) and letting people in to try new melodies and new lyrical ideas was very hard. The idea was to be open and let my ego shut up and sit over in the corner and make something great based on a concept. That's why I don't really see this as a 'solo' record in the typical sense. It's an art project; it's me collaborating with some different people to create something magical.'
While it's true that Gwen might not have been actively mulling over the possibilities of doing something on her own, she definitely had a sense of the music that mattered to her. A long time ska fan, Gwen was also drawn to other influences and would often flash back to those more innocent days when the rush of going out dancing or checking out a song on the radio totally fueled you. Depeche Mode. Club Nouveau. Early Madonna. Prince. The Time. Debbie Deb. The Cure. The sensations of that era were dormant in Gwen's soul. After No Doubt's successful Rock Steady tour, Gwen approached band-mate bassist Tony Kanal and said, 'Dude. Wouldn't it be fun to do like a Club Nouveau record? Do a record just on the side. We're going to take a year off, why don't we do it? You could produce it, we could write songs like those songs.' That's how the process started and it snowballed. 'I thought it was going to be easy and fast because I'd work with a few people, do a few covers and I could just put a side record out, which people do all the time. After 17 years you try something different.'
Fast and easy it wasn't. Gwen procrastinated. She was distracted by life, (she'd just gotten married), and exhausted. 'The clock was ticking in my ears. I knew I had to get started on the album or I'd never get to the next No Doubt record, or the baby or the movie.' As fate would have it, Gwen received a call from Linda Perry. They had known each other since Perry was with fellow Interscope act 4 Non Blondes. Gwen dug Linda but despite Perry's insistence to the contrary, just didn't envision her as the woman who could bring Gwen a dance record. Perry let Gwen know that she was ready to begin work and had a brief window of time available. Yet Gwen wasn't feeling inspired and was still unsure of what Perry could offer. Despite her misgivings she pushed herself to meet with Perry. The two women clicked and immediately began to write, coming up with several tracksÉamong them the album's first single, 'What You Waiting For?' High energy and all attitude, 'What You Waiting For?' is an insistent, spiky new wave/dance track that was inspired by Gwen's self doubt and hesitancy to begin the recording process. 'When Linda said to me, 'What are you waiting for?' I was like 'Oh no. You did not just say that!' The next thing I know I'm writing my first single. Completing that song really triggered something in me. I had found my inspiration.'
If Gwen was hesitant to work with Perry, she was eager to join forces with Andre 3000, whom Gwen had first met when OutKast remixed 'Hey Baby.' 'If I could be a boy, I'd want to be like Andre. I relate to him so much. I just feel like he's so talented and my dream was to do something with him and he said 'yes.'' Andre came to the studio with one song that was nearly completed: an utterly modern Prince-influenced observation about interracial romance called 'Long Way To Go' which he'd originally intended for OutKast's Grammy-winning Speakerboxx/The Love Below. Gwen and Andre expanded that song, with Andre handling most of the production duties. 'It's hard going in with another artist because, for me, you have the whole fan thing going on. Andre is so calm and I was so shy but he did everything to make me feel great and by the time we began working on 'Bubble Pop Electric,' it really felt like a collaboration.' That song, which has a vibe like 'Grease' on acid, is a caffeinated hyperspace duet that pushes boundaries not previously thought as Andre and Gwen work their inner John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. Offers Gwen, 'We're perfect for each other on 'Bubble Pop Electric.''
Another standout track is the breezy, synth-stoked mid tempo love song 'Cool,' produced by Dallas Austin. 'Cool' breaks down the give-and-take between ex-lovers with a sound reminiscent of 80's power ballads.
Tony Kanal wasn't the only familiar face Gwen reached out to. Dr Dre, with whom Gwen had worked on Eve's 'Let Me Blow Ya Mind,' came on board with the funk-blessed 'Rich Girl.' Based on a dancehall cover of Fiddler on the Roof's 'If I Were a Rich Man,' 'Rich Girl' allowed Gwen to really test herself by writing, not from personal experience as she usually does, but instead taking on a role. 'Dre was really pushing me to write in a new way and I'm not going to question him. The whole reason you work with someone like Dre is that you want to know what they think. He's such a great producer because he really knows how to get the best out of you and make you feel good about yourself. 'Rich Girl' is so fresh, so Dre, he just totally tricked the track out.' The Neptunes went all out on their track as well. Gwen knew that the innovative producers were her go-to-guys for an attitudinal modern dance song. The result? The superfly club-banger 'Holla Back Girl.'
Drawing vitality and love from an amazing group of artists, Gwen Stefani was able to not only express herself but also find commonality in the process of doing so. Asked how she sees Love. Angel. Music. Baby. and her enthusiasm is contagious. 'I can't believe how good it is. It's fun to be able to brag in that way because it was a lot of different energies and talents coming together. All of these different elements made it so great. In the beginning of the process I was scared to let other people into my creative world, but doing that fueled some fire in me.'