No Doubt must have a portrait in the attic. In the eleven years since the ska-punk rockers’ last album, age has not wearied them – in fact, their new record Push And Shove is fresher than ever. “It says: this is who we are, this is who we’ve always been since we were 17 years old,” says lead singer Gwen Stefani. “But yet this is us right now.”
The record picks up right where 2001’s dub-heavy Rock Steady left off. For the new album, production duo Major Lazer collaborated with Jamaican dancehall artist Busy Signal. While Stefani is delighted with the results, she never actually met the man himself after his real-life exploits caught up with him: earlier this year he was extradited to America to face cocaine-dealing charges. “The day we finished the track we got an e-mail telling us he’d been arrested,” says Stefani. “We were like: ‘Oh, guess he won’t be in the video!’ He had been an outlaw for ten years and written all these songs about it – actually, it was a challenge for me to make his song fit into my life. I’m not a gangster!”
For Stefani, playing with No Doubt again marks a change in musical direction from the two solo records which transformed the ska singer, from California’s Orange County, into a bona fide all-conquering pop star. “Those records were never meant to be taken too seriously,” she says now. “It was kind of an art project. It was my chance to be girly and indulge in my theatrical side. It was fun to live a fantasy life, but being on stage with the band is what I’ve been doing since I was 15 years old. It’s so comfortable and natural. It feels great to be home.”
Speaking of home, in the last decade Stefani also married Bush frontman Gavin Rossdale and had two children – not exactly conducive to making a record. “This album took us about a year of writing and a year of recording because I had these two babies to take care of. It’s crazy, there’s no way to do it all!”
So why now? Stefani shoots down the idea that the band is returning to cash in on Nineties revivalism. While No Doubt have been plotting a return for a couple of years, she says, it was a 2009 greatest-hits tour that rejuvenated their song writing and galvanised them back into action. “For a while I didn’t know what was good any more. So going on tour and singing all those songs that we had written together was electric.”
Originally published in British GQ, October 2012.