|.: FEBRUARY - MARCH 2005|
NO DOUBTS' GWEN STEFANI ROCKS STEADY ON HER SOLO DEBUT, LOVE ANGEL MUSIC BABY
Q & A By John Morrisson/Articles International
In a world that venerates the adolescent likes of JoJo and Lindsay Lohan, thirty-five is pretty old to be making your solo debut album. But Gwen Stefani has a pretty good excuse: she's been fronting her multi-platinum, ska-influenced pop band No Doubt since she was seventeen. Throw in a years-long courtship with former Bush frontman Gavin Rossdale (they finally married back in 2002), the launch of her own fashion line (L.A.M.B.), and an assault on Hollywood, and you have ample reason for the delay.
Maybe more to the point, though, Stefani was scared. Years working with the same three bandmates in No Doubt meant she knew how to create one way. Could she make it on her own?
Well, not quite on her own. Her label, Interscope, provided the platinum blonde beauty with more than enough high-powered collaborators to ensure Love Angel Music Baby at least a fighting chance on the charts. Among Stefani's creative accomplices: Dr. Dre, Eve, Dallas Austin, Linda Perry, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, New Order, Outkast's Andre 3000, Nellee Hooper, The Neptunes and her No Doubt bandmate Tony Kanal.
Her first single, 'What You Waiting For?', is a new wave-influenced call to arms that sets the tone for the entire record, which processes her teenage influences - Madonna, Prince, The Cure, Club Nouveau - through a grown-up imagination. John Morrisson talks to Stefani about making Love Angel Music Baby, the fear and fun of collaboration, and her cameo role in Martin Scorsese's recent Howard Hughes bio-pic, The Aviator.
So tell us why you named your album Love Angel Music Baby.
It's really weird because, of all the records I've ever done, always the last thing that's decided is the title. There were a couple of different names and I never convinced myself that they were the ones. The very last person I had gone into the studio with was [The Neptunes'] Pharrell [Williams]. And I was in London and watching TV, and they had one of those Pharrell weekends. We had gone into the studio earlier and done three tracks together, and I wanted to do a song called 'Love Angel Music Baby', which is just kind of the vibe of everything right now.
And, all of a sudden, it was like 'that's the name of the record right there' and 'why didn't I think of that earlier?' It was just clear at that moment.
What's it been like not working with No Doubt?
It's very different. Seventeen, almost eighteen years with those guys - they're my best friends - and we decided we were going to take a year off. In that year off there was a whole list of things I wanted to do. And what happens is, after working for so many years on something you're so passionate about, you start to panic and see the clock ticking. I wanted to do a dance record and I wanted to work with these people.
I think it's very important to put yourself in a situation that's uncomfortable to be able to grow.
Was it difficult?
Working without them was difficult because they're my little comfort zone, and I'm used to them and know how to do that. But to go into the studio with Dr. Dre, Andre 3000... Everyone I worked with presented a huge challenge for me. It helped to figure out how they do it and try something different. And, hopefully, whatever I got out of that will trigger things with No Doubt.
Andre 3000 is the man of the moment. What was it like working with him?
He was definitely one of those guys that was at the top of the list of people I wanted to work with. His star is sparkling so bright right now and he's the one guy out there doing something totally original and fresh. I think if I were a man I'd want to be Andre 3000!
So going into the studio with him was really challenging. It's not only going with a writer, it's going with an artist, and I was drowning in his creativity. Even though I so relate to him, and I wish I could be him, at the same time we come from such different worlds and different musical backgrounds.
But it worked out.
It was really hard for me. Even though he was the nicest, trying-to-make-me-feel-good kind of guy, I had a lot of my own insecurities. But it's really weird because by the end of the whole thing we looked at each other in the eye and went, 'Oh my God, we're in a band together!', and it was kind of amazing.
But he was really driving the car, though we came up with some good stuff together. And I think his tracks on the record are really the most unusual. 'Long Way To Go', a song that he actually came to me with that he'd been working on for his last record, is a song about interracial relationships. I think that song, to me, the way it turned out, is a bit like a painting. There are so many layers to it and it's such a beautiful message.
If you could collaborate with anyone else, who would it be?
The thing is, I'm so spoiled. At this point I don't even know if I could do another person right now. I feel really beaten - my ego's over there, going, 'Ow, write your own songs!'
When you're collaborating, there's something really magical about it because it's the power of two. And, lyrically, it's really hard for me because I can't just sing someone else's words. But this record was all about trying to be a creative writer. With someone like David Bowie, I think he's really good because he makes up stuff; it's not necessarily coming right from him and his experiences. So that would be good.
The first single, 'What You Waiting For?', seems pretty personal. How did it come about?
When I got off [No Doubt's] Rock Steady tour I wanted to do a record but I also wanted to sleep really bad! I wanted to take a break and was really burned out, but the record company were ready to go. 'Linda Perry is ready, she's in the studio waiting for you'. 'First of all, I'm sleeping right now, and Linda is not Prince, is she? She's not going to write me a dance record'. I was really reluctant to go in, but they were like 'she only has five days to work and you have to go in right now'. I literally cried in my bed because I was scared. I'd never worked with a woman before, I was tired, I had a lot of anxieties about doing the idea that I had.
How'd it work out?
Well, I went in the studio and... she was so incredible. To watch her, see her run the board, play all these instruments... She has an amazing personality, and we basically wrote a song that first day called 'Fine By You'. It was like 'I don't want to be inspired, I don't want to call anyone, I don't want to talk about it. All I want to do is lay around all day'.
I felt really good about it, and then the next day she basically pressed play and had this music and said, 'What are you waiting for?', almost as a dare. It just triggered it, and the song came out and it was everything I was feeling about doing the record.
You're also doing work outside of music. Tell us about your first film role in The Aviator?
I had heard that they were doing a film about Howard Hughes and they were looking for someone to play Jean Harlow. I got the script and heard it was Martin Scorsese. And I'm looking for my part and couldn't find it, and it was just one page, one line. I was like, 'Wow, the pressure's off'. So I went down and the casting people couldn't have been more helpful. It was just great to meet people at that level that are so incredible, like Scorsese.
What was he like?
He couldn't have made me feel more comfortable, like I was meant to be there. And he was so passionate and I love seeing people like that. He knew everything about Howard Hughes and the time period. Anyway, I got the part and it was really scary the week before I went to Montreal to film. I'd never done it before at such a high level, and I got there and Leonardo [DiCaprio] and John C. Reilly... everybody was just so welcoming and really tried to prepare me for what it was going to be like.
What was your one scene like?
Well, I walk down the red carpet, which is something I've got plenty of experience of! And you know what? It was so real. There were 500 extras, and they'd rebuilt Mann's Chinese Theatre, and it felt like you were on Hollywood Boulevard, but it was brand new. It was incredible, and all the extras were so amazing, they looked so real. And the best part? I didn't even have to try to act.
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