Gwen Stefani interview: "Music is the fire behind everything I've ever done"
First as the frontwoman of No Doubt and then as a solo artist, Gwen Stefani delivered some of the biggest hits of her era. Who can forget the band’s pleading break-up ballad Don't Speak – a Number 1 hit in 1997 – or 2001's dancehall bop Hey Baby, which peaked at Number 2?
After going solo, Gwen quickly racked-up seven Top 10 hits, including the electro-pop stomper What You Waiting For, hip-hop-tinged Hollaback Girl and the Akon-assisted The Sweet Escape.
Now, ahead of her live shows at BST Hyde Park this weekend, Gwen has dropped her first new single in two years, True Babe. Here, she talks about being influenced by British ska legends Madness, her love of gardening (!), and details plans to release new music that she’s super-excited about.
How are you feeling about playing BST Hyde Park this weekend?
I mean, it's not just a show – it's Hyde Park. You know, the DNA of everything for me – not just music, but who I became – comes down to the English band Madness.
When I was 13, my brother bought this Madness album where they were singing about Camden Town and it was just so much fun. We were these Orange County kids who were like, 'What is this music?' It was super-underground at the time and it wasn't on the radio [in the US]. You had to know somebody who knew about it, but when you showed up to a [ska] club, everyone was dressed in that style and it was a scene. And I think that sparked everything in my life and career that led to me playing Hyde Park now.
It's crazy to look back at my 13-year-old self and think that. And I have a new song coming out!
Your new single True Babe is nearly here. When did you first start work on it?
It's weird, because I've been writing for like three years to try to put something out. And I did actually put a couple of songs out, but it was during that really weird time when it was like… the [US] election was going on, it was Christmas, I was on The Voice and it was also the pandemic. I was the one that was like, 'I don't care, I'm putting something out.'
But there's so much that's happened for me over the last three years, including getting married [and the fact] I'm a mother first and foremost. And when you're song writing, it's not like you just press this button and all these songs come out. You have to go in [to the studio] with people you don't know and think of an idea: like, what am I trying to say? I'm actually really happy right now, so that makes it even harder.
I have written a bunch of songs, but I feel like it's only in the last couple of months, with this team that I have now, that I've written songs that I feel really excited about. I wrote True Babe with [songwriter] Nico and [Swedish duo] Jack & Coke. A lot of times it really comes down to, like, your chemistry in the room and how comfortable you are. But this song reminds me so much of alternative music back in the day. It almost feels like it's old but new.
It feels nostalgic, but so current at the same time...
Thank you! Like, I have probably 30-something songs that I've come up with in the last few years. [So now] it's about just trying to kind of weed through them and figure out: 'What is it that I want people to hear?'
I mean, if I had it my way, I would release one every day and be like: 'I wrote these, do you wanna hear 'em?' I mean, the greatest thing in my life besides obviously my personal life and family is to be able to share music. Nothing can touch it. It's definitely the fire behind everything that I've ever done."
LISTEN to Gwen Stefani's True Babe below:
The industry works so differently these days. Is the end goal still for you to release an album?
Yeah, I think so. I mean, listen, people are doing crazy stuff. Like, they're putting out lots of music – they'll have like these 20-song records. And yeah, I don't really have a super-plan. I do want to put out the songs… It's hard because I want to put stuff out that ultimately I would want to listen to [and] that I believe in. But then, there's all these other songs that I've written [where] I'm like, 'I think people would like this.'
But then it's like, how do I know that? So I think I'll just take it one day at a time. Last month I wrote three songs that I can't stop listening to. And when that happens for me, then I don't know, but I feel like other people might feel the same way. So let's see.
You've achieved so much, but is there anything in particular that's still on your career bucket list?
Not really, I've done a lot. I have this make-up line that I've been working on [and] that was definitely one of those bucket list things. But I think after this album, there's another album I want to make that, like, is [already] in my head. I just need to find the right people to do it with.
But besides that, I just want to live! You know, me and [my husband] Blake have an amazing place where we come together and [do] gardening. It's large scale – like right now I have thousands of flowers that are about ready to open, so I'm hoping I don't miss that while I'm in London! I have a lot of hobbies and I'm learning how to cook better now. So I think for me it's more about trying to build in more downtime so life doesn't go so fast.
Gwen Stefani's True Babe is released Friday June 23 via Interscope.
Article image: Yu Tsai