In an era where the majority of bands are caught up in aggro posturing and the spewing of songs that have degenerated into teen-angst-recitation-by-numbers, No Doubt is something of an antidote, a beacon of hope for those tired of every-day, angry-rock living. Drawing from a palette of new wave, guitar-rock, ska, dance, reggae and pop, vocalist Gwen Stefani, bassist Tony Kanal, guitarist Tom Dumont and drummer Adrian Young stand as tribute to the fact that music can be fun -uplifting, even -- without sacrificing raw power and drive.
With their latest Trauma/Interscope release Tragic Kingdom, No Doubt furthers their penchant for musical exploration. Gwen's rich voice growls, struts and glides its way around a kaleidoscope of sound and emotion: from the reggae sounds of "Sunday Morning" to the dance beat of "You Can Do It" to the Spanish guitar sound of "Don't Speak" to the ska-tinged horns of "Different People," to "Excuse Me Mr.," a volatile cocktail of edgy punk guitar and booming horns. And then there's the New Wave vibe of Tragic Kingdom's first single "Just A Girl," a tongue-in-cheek litany on the perils of being: a girl. "I got the idea when my dad would yell at me for going to Tony's house and coming home real-late," chuckles Gwen. "I really don't think a lot of guys know what a burden it is to be a girl sometimes."
Despite No Doubt's musical inclination toward that which is upbeat, Gwen is quick to point out that what goes into inspiring the music isn't necessarily all sweetness and light. "You know what the thing is? As people, we're angry," she laughs. "We went through some really bad times the past couple of years -- personally and bandwise -- and our whole way of dealing with that is humor and I think that's really apparent in the record. Even though things may have been bad, and some of the songs are sad if you really listen to them, there's still an element of humor to it all."
Perhaps one could say No Doubt embodies the celebratory side of Orange County (you know, land of scathing punk rock?). Whatever it is, it's become readily apparent that plenty of people are ready to hear something other than teen angst-fueled grunting and screaming as No Doubt has become something of a west coast phenom. Fans plaster their cars with No Doubt stickers, their bodies with No Doubt tattoos and turn the band's shows into one seething, hyperkinetic party.
"Live, something happens that really transcends all the music," explains Tony. "What's cool is that because we have a female singing, Gwen gets the girls into it, lets them participate. With a lot of other bands, it's just a testosterone thing. But when you come to a No Doubt show, the audience is spread across the board. Gwen will definitely get the girls involved, give them songs that are their songs and it's their time to get boosted, be in the pit whatever. Everyone feels like they're part of it, nobody gets left out."
"But it's not just this energy where it's a loud, fast beat and you can slam around," explains Tom, "there's a real emotional thing that comes from the songs because they're so melodic. When Gwen sings she's just incredibly gripping and fascinating to watch. There's something magical about her."
Unsurprisingly, the eclectic mix that makes up No Doubt's sound is the direct result of the band members' cornucopic musical tastes and experiences. While Gwen admits to "worshipping" Madness in high school with her brother Eric (and declares The Sound of Music as "the big influence in my life as far as music goes"), Tony claims Prince as the first "big thing" for him. Adrian's roots were grounded heavily in 70's rock (Hendrix, Steeley Dan, Journey), but he adds, "but by the time junior high came around, ska, new wave and punk became my life."
"For me, the first band I ever liked was actually KISS," laughs Tom. "I ended up really getting into Judas Priest and Black Sabbath -- I was very much into the rock guitar thing and that's the kind of bands I played in at first. But I got fed up with the whole heavy metal scene in Orange County -- it was such an unhealthy scene, people weren't there for the music, they were there to wear tight spandex and get chicks."
No Doubt's first incarnation included Gwen's brother Eric (an avid cartoonist who's worked on The Simpsons) an accordian, and Gwen, a skeptical female lead-vocalist who was, in the first year, accompanied by an animated, HR influenced Bad Brains enthusiast whose kinetic stage style and contagious energy finally broke Gwen's reluctance. Things quickly evolved. Eric traded his accordion for keyboards and Tony -- who'd lived in London until the age of 11 and was also a fan of the English ska bands -- was enlisted on bass. Eventually the trio was joined by drummer Adrian Young and Tom who, thanks to their love of '70s arena rock, brought a distinctive rock edge to the "two-tone ska" sound of the fledgling No Doubt.
The band's reputation for outrageous live shows netted them a wildly dedicated following, while their unique sound landed them opening slots for such diverse artists as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Urban Dance Squad, Mano Negra, Ziggy Marley & the Melody Makers and Fishbone. RHCP's Flea eventually produced a demo for No Doubt which gave the band one of its first studio experiences. No Doubt then went on to self produce some additional recordings which they were ready to release themselves, until Interscope Records entered the picture and snatched them up.
Interscope released their eponymous debut in 1992, which was followed by a period of extensive touring and intense song writing. In early 1995 the band self-released The Beacon Street Collection ("We had so many songs we knew weren't going to make it onto Tragic Kingdom -- we'd written about 60 -- that we just decided to put a CD of some of the stuff out ourselves," explains Tony of the latter disc).
While Tragic Kindgom, their first album under the aegis of Trauma/Interscope, marks the departure of Eric (whose gone on to cartoon full time) it also hails the band really coming into their own as songwriters and musicians.
"Before I just didn't have the experience to get too involved in the songwriting," says Gwen. "But with this record I got really involved in the writing of songs and expressing myself, putting my personality into things. I think that's what makes tkis record so meaningful; it's really personal"
"We've been playing, recording and touring for eight years as a band and with Tragic Kingdom the album has really found it's own sound," says Tony. "Now we're just really ready to tour and take it to the rest of the world."