Not Just Luck
Not Just Luck
Rock bands are sometimes like recipes—they need the right combination of ingredients, flavors, and cooking time to turn out perfectly. If No Doubt was a recipe, then it was still looking for the right ingredients in 1989.
In that year saxophonist Tony Meade and drummer Chris Webb left the group. Adrian Young, a huge fan of No Doubt, auditioned to be its new drummer. Young told the group he had played in a band for seven years, even though he had been in a band for only a year and had owned his own drum kit for only two years. The group members were impressed with his talents, and Young became the band's new drummer. Young brought a free spirit and wild influence to No Doubt.
The changes in band members brought new styles and flavors to No Doubt, sometimes without the band even realizing it. Instead of playing purely ska music, their sound began to take on a distinctive and unique style. As the group wrote songs together, each member brought something new to their ska roots—a little heavy metal, a little funk, a little pop.
Tom Dumont unintentionally brought his own spin to No Doubt. He explained:
I didn't really have a deep knowledge of the ska scene. I tried to fit in quickly, but I never seriously studied the ska idiom. I never, for example, sat down with a Madness record and tried to learn the guitar riffs. I kind of picked up the general gist of things from the other guys in the band. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because we ended up sounding unlike any other ska band.5
One of Gwen Stefani's favorite actresses, Julie Andrews, became famous for her many movie musical appearances. She is best known for her role as the "practically perfect" Mary Poppins in the movie Mary Poppins (for which she won the Academy Award for best actress). Her equally popular role is that of the outspoken and kindhearted Maria in The Sound of Music.
Recently, Andrews has had a run of royal movie parts. She played Queen Clarisse Rinaldi in The Princess Diaries and The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement. She also served as the voice of Queen Lillian in Shrek 2 and Shrek the Third and was the narrator in the movie Enchanted.
Andrews has received a number of awards. Most notably, Queen Elizabeth II made her a Dame Commander of the British Empire in 2000. This title is the female equivalent of the men's honor of being dubbed a knight.
Dame Andrews bounced back from adversity in 1997 when an operation on her throat left her unable to sing. After years of recovery, she regained the use of her voice and sang a song called "Your Crowning Glory" in the movie The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement.
Tony Kanal also sensed the shift in the band's flavor. Each member was influenced by different music, including Jimi Hendrix, Steely Dan, Journey, KISS, Black Sabbath, and Prince—and for Gwen, The Sound of Music, as well as the ska band Madness, Julie Andrews, Kermit the Frog, and Fishbone's Angelo Moore. Kanal knew that despite their diverse musical tastes, it felt right at the time. "I guess when you take all that, we're bound to produce an open-ended sound. None of us would want it any other way. You know, just one sound would be so limited and boring."6
Gwen, too, could feel the band evolving into something unique. She says: "I look at our band as kinda like The Police. They had the reggae/ska thing happening, but they're a rock band. Our roots are ska, but ska just bubbles under in our music. We don't label our sound by that term."7
One of Gwen's biggest challenges in working with the band at that time was the simple fact that she was a girl. Gwen had to overcome the attitudes of fans and the music industry. Very few women were performing in ska, punk, or reggae bands at the time. And the ones who were sported a distinctive rocker appearance—dark hair and eyeliner, leather clothes, and hard-core styles. Gwen's platinum blond hair, red lipstick, and movie-queen makeup was far outside the rock band norm.
Gwen explains: "Whenever we went to a club, I would always be looked upon as a tagalong girlfriend. [They would ask,] 'Where's your wristband?' But as soon as I finished a show, the same people would be like, 'Ooh, I can't believe you were up there!'"8Gwen remembered that she was even given rude stares by the girls in the audience, as if she did not belong onstage with the band.
Gwen Stefani's Bindi
For a period of time around 1995 and 1996, Gwen Stefani made a fashion statement by wearing a bindi. A custom among women in India, a bindi is a dot of red makeup worn between the eyebrows, just above the bridge of the nose. Stefani discovered the custom while dating Tony Kanal, whose parents were from East India. Kanal's mother wore a bindi according to her home custom.
Stefani favored a bindi that resembled a jewel, and sometimes wore a double jewel, with a larger stone placed above a smaller one. Her use of the bindi caused a major stir among fashion and music industry publications.
Throughout 1989 and 1990 No Doubt played more concerts than ever and saw a huge increase in its fans. The band gained popularity with college crowds after it began opening for bands such as Red Hot Chili Peppers, Mano Negro, and Ziggy Marley. The mailing list that Tony Kanal had started in 1987 with a few hundred names grew to include more than two thousand fans. Nonetheless, Gabriel Gonzales departed from the band in 1990, making No Doubt a five-member group—Eric, Gwen, Tony, Adrian, and Tom.
With their fan base on the rise, the group expected to catch the interest of a record company before long. No Doubt had evolved into a group with a unique sound, and they thought that surely their original musical style deserved a CD. As it turned out, the group's style actually turned away the record companies. Music executives did not understand No Doubt. They had never heard the band's unique sound before and did not know how to classify it—as rock, pop, punk, or any other style. They were reluctant to produce a CD with the group because they did not know how to sell it. Record companies told No Doubt that they needed to sound more like a specific current style and that their songs needed to sound more similar. The group decided to ignore that advice and stay true to themselves.
Eventually, No Doubt caught the eye of Tony Ferguson, who worked for Interscope Records. Ferguson had mixed feelings about the band. With grunge music in style, he thought it would be difficult to sell the band, with its unusual style, horn section, and a blond female lead singer who looked nothing like a punk, grunge, or rock performer. But he was impressed that the band was selling out its small shows. Ferguson pushed Jimmy Iovine, the head of Interscope, to attend a concert and consider producing No Doubt's CD. Iovine liked what he saw. No Doubt signed its first contract with Interscope Records to produce a CD in 1991. Iovine predicted that Gwen would be a star in five years.
After signing the record contract, it would have been easy for No Doubt to think they had found success. They dreamed of hearing their music played on radio station KROQ, one of the biggest stations in Los Angeles and a major influence on radio stations across the country. But the group realized they had a long way to go. All of them kept their jobs in order to support themselves. Tony Kanal and Gwen continued working at a department store, Tom Dumont ran a small business renting music equipment, and Adrian Young worked as a waiter in a steak house. Eric had taken a job working as a layout artist for the animated series The Simpsons.
From October to December in 1991, No Doubt was constantly juggling schedules. Gwen was in art school, Tom was studying music at a community college, and Tony and Adrian were psychology majors. Amid their school and work schedules, they had to squeeze in time to record the fourteen tracks that would appear on their CD. This required making many trips to recording studios in Los Angeles—a drive of thirty to ninety minutes each way depending on traffic.
They soon found that the process of making the CD was not easy. Interscope provided little support for recording and marketing the CD. The band did most of the work of recording and promoting the CD on their own. They set up their own Web site, created their own T-shirts and merchandise, and produced flyers for their mailing list. Tony Ferguson recalled that the band did a remarkable job of marketing their CD, with Kanal organizing the group and managing their business matters.
No Doubt's first CD, titled No Doubt, was released in March 1992. The CD was barely noticed by fans and radio stations as a result of heavy competition from grunge bands such as Pearl Jam and Nirvana, which had the hottest music in Los Angeles at the time. Grunge was selling records; alternative sounds like No Doubt went ignored.
In the 1980s Eric Stefani discovered a record by a band called Madness that would forever change his life. Hooked on the song "Baggy Trousers," Stefani played the record constantly. He attempted to learn the style and used to wake up his sister by pounding on the piano. In 1986 Stefani discovered that his friend John Spence shared his musical tastes. The pair struck upon the idea to start a band, and they invited a reluctant Gwen Stefani to join.
The band developed into No Doubt, which struggled for many years but eventually made music history with its CD sales and concert tours. Eric Stefani was the band's first keyboard player and wrote many of No Doubt's early songs. He is credited by the rest of the band as a perfectionist who always drove them to improve and be more creative.
In 1994 Stefani left No Doubt to pursue a different career. He took a full-time job as an animator on the hit TV series The Simpsons. Stefani lives in the Los Angeles area, not far from the rest of his family.
No Doubt sold thirty thousand copies. Interscope Records considered the CD a terrible failure compared to other albums that were selling five hundred thousand copies and becoming certified gold records. Radio station KROQ refused to play No Doubt's music. The band's biggest accomplishment—their first CD—turned into a disappointment.
No Doubt would not give up. Interscope provided money for them to go on tour, so they piled themselves into two vans, along with five other musicians and crew and all of their equipment, and set out on tour. They played thirteen shows in two weeks in the western United States. After returning home briefly, the band embarked on a second two-week tour over the summer.
In 1992 music videos had been around for just over ten years. The music industry had discovered the value in producing a music video—it exposed new songs to millions of viewers and potential customers. A music video on a channel such as MTV might launch a new band toward huge record sales.
Interscope also understood the value of appearances on MTV and budgeted a mere five thousand dollars for No Doubt to produce a video. In between their tours the band filmed a video for the song "Trapped in a Box." The song, based on a poem written by Tom Dumont, describes Tom's feelings about television. He hated being sucked into a TV program and feeling like a zombie after watching it. The finished song was a collaboration of the entire band and showed a distinctive punk influence.
The music video features Gwen belting out vocals. Scenes of the band alternate between a tiny, cramped room and a spacious studio. The band members stare glassy-eyed at a television, and fans gaze zombie-like at No Doubt performing on TV. Some scenes show the band playing on the roof of their house—in those shots, they are carefree and uninhibited while away from the television. The video also shows the beginnings of a habit adopted by drummer Adrian Young—in most scenes, he is wearing only boxer shorts and his socks and boots.
Music video channel MTV took no interest in the video and never played it. Had the video been played on MTV, it might have given No Doubt exposure to a new audience and garnered thousands of fans.
With tour money still available from Interscope, the time had come to reach new fans and stretch beyond the West Coast. In the fall of 1992 No Doubt embarked on its third and longest tour. They piled into two vans and traveled across the United States for two and a half months. They played at small clubs and performed as the opening act for bands such as Public Enemy and The Special Beat.
The tour had highs and lows. Some nights, No Doubt played for big crowds of up to one thousand people who enjoyed their music. Other nights, audiences were small and hostile. As the opening act for other bands, No Doubt sometimes played for crowds that had come for completely different music. But the tour gave the group experience and helped them to bond as a band and a family.
After returning from the tour, the band had to decide upon its next move. They began writing new songs and recording for their next album. With their first album launched, they expected that Interscope would back a second album and that the band was well on its way to fame.
Getting work done on songs for the second album was streamlined by the convenience of No Doubt having a home base. Eric Stefani and a friend, Eric Keyes, lived in a house on Beacon Street in Anaheim, and it became a hub of songwriting and rehearsing. The members of No Doubt came and went as their work demanded. The garage was eventually transformed into a recording studio.
Interscope was disillusioned by the low sales of No Doubt and was not enthusiastic about producing another CD. The band pitched song after song to the company, but was repeatedly told to try again. Interscope gave the band a new producer named Matthew Wilder, and the band was both frustrated and annoyed by repeated requests to change their music to match the current styles and trends.
Gwen and the band spent the next three years in a tug-of-war with Interscope. Tony Kanal summarized the situation: "One of the reasons this record took so long to come out is that we withstood a lot of pressures and we were unwilling to compromise on a lot of things."9
"It was a really hard time. We were working, writing, attending school, trying to use up time," Gwen explained. "But every day, we were calling up [Interscope] and going, 'When can we go in? When? When? When?'"10
The tough days of the early 1990s got even tougher in 1994. Eric Stefani had been working with the band as always, writing songs for the next CD, rehearsing, and recording. The band was on its way to finishing its next CD. But Eric decided that his heart was in a different place. He made the difficult decision to tell his sister and the band that he wanted to quit. He planned to follow another dream—working full-time as an animator for the TV series The Simpsons.
Gwen was crushed. She had idolized Eric ever since they were little. The departure put stress on their relationship as brother and sister. At the urging of their parents, Gwen and Eric went into therapy to repair their family bond. After several months, they worked though their differences and restored the closeness that they had always shared.
The rest of the band felt lost without Eric. He had driven the band to write songs and to learn to make their songs better. Gwen recalled that Eric focused on every detail. At Eric's direction, the band would work hard on the smallest things until they got them right. Sometimes he would stay up late at night and rewrite sections of a song or develop new musical elements. The other band members were worried that without Eric's influence, they might not survive.
Eric's departure from the group was difficult for Gwen. Then things turned even worse. She had been dating Tony Kanal for about seven years and felt certain that they would marry. She had never had other serious boyfriends and considered him the love of her life. They had struggled in their relationship for a few years, since they spent so much time together in the band and worked in the same department store. Stefani felt very dependent on Kanal, but he was feeling too much pressure. He told her that he wanted to break off their relationship.
Tom Dumont and Adrian Young also had to deal with the crisis of the breakup. Some bands might have completely collapsed under the circumstances. Stefani and Kanal worked hard not to let their split affect the band. Dumont gave his thoughts: "People have to follow their own hearts. I think they still care deeply for each other but it's hard to break up with your girlfriend and then live with her [on tours]. That's a tall order. They've done a great job of pulling it off. When we're all together, we get along pretty good."11
Stefani was devastated, but she knew she could not give up on life. She began writing more songs as a way of dealing with her feelings. She and Kanal both had the band, which they loved, to keep them busy and help them move forward. They managed to remain friends even after splitting. Stefani shared her theories about the event in Cosmopolitan:
I think it was probably the passion for music. We just loved the band so much, and I guess we knew that it was worth it. But him breaking up with me was the most incredible thing, because before that, I was a very passive person who was dependent on him for my happiness. I was only seventeen when I started seeing him, and I never had any other serious boyfriends before that, so I glamorized the relationship and I was so in love. When he broke up with me, I started writing all these songs, and I found my talent, which was the most empowering thing that has ever happened to me.12
Stefani's pain turned into hidden treasure for No Doubt. Her feelings about the breakup and picking up the pieces turned into several songs for the next album, including "End It on This," "Hey You," "Happy Now?" "Sunday Morning," "Spiderwebs," and "Don't Speak." With Gwen's new material, the group turned back to its shared goal of completing their next CD.
After having so much trouble with Interscope, the band nearly gave up on their contract. Nearly three years had passed since the release of No Doubt, and they still had not finished their second CD.
Over the course of a long weekend in early 1995, the group got busy and recorded ten songs on their own in the garage on Beacon Street and turned out an entire full-length CD. The band cut one thousand copies of the new CD that they titled The Beacon Street Collection. For the cover of the album, they chose a photo of Gwen and Eric's grandfather doing a trick with his pet parakeet—the bird was perched on his lower lip, leaning way into his open mouth. They sold out of all the CDs at local concerts and record stores.