She’s hot, she’s the most beloved pop star in America, and now No Doubt singer Gwen Stefani is about to break out as a solo artist and Hollywood actress.
This feature originally appeared in Complex's December 2004/January 2005 issue.
After over a decade as the charismatic frontwoman for the biggest ska/rock/pop/ punk/dance band in the land, No Doubt, Gwen Stefani is about to have a ball out on her own. She’s got her clothing line, L.A.M.B.; she plays Jean Harlow in the new Martin Scorsese film, The Aviator. And on her first solo album, Love, Angel, Music, Baby, she collaborates with the likes of Eve, Andre 3000 and Dr. Dre. Complex caught up with her—where else?—in Hollywood.
How are you, Gwen?
Oh my God, I’m so glad you didn’t talk with me yesterday. Yesterday I was in the worst mood. One thing about my success is that, well, there really isn’t room to complain. If you even try to, you look so stupid. But let’s face it, sometimes at the end of a day of interviews I’m like, “I can’t do the last one; they’re going to hate me! I hate myself!” I mean, how long can you really talk about yourself? I enjoy it, but come on!
On that note, let’s talk about you.
Tell us about your new record.
It just kind of snowballed. I heard this track by Club Nouveau and this Lisa Lisa song. I had been listening to them forever, groups that I grew up on—Prince, the Time, Lisa Lisa. I was a ska girl, but secretly we loved all these bands. We’d go to see Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam at the Anaheim Theater. I heard that Club Nouveau track, and I felt like it would be fun to do a dance record, a fun ’80s record, the kind of stuff they played when I used to go to Circle K or Knott’s Berry Farm.
Was finding time to do this album your main reason for taking time off from No Doubt?
I wanted to do a film. I had this clock ticking in me. I was going, “Oh my God! You’re going to die and you’ve been doing the same thing for 17 years!” Actually, not the same thing, because we’ve gotten to be a lot of different types of band. It’s an incredible thing to become famous with your best friends. I wouldn’t have changed anything about it. But I was pushing myself, getting married, going on that last tour. I knew that I was running out of time and I needed to get going. Because when would I do a movie? When would I have a baby? I knew that I wasn’t going to put out this album unless it was ridiculously good. Because doing it away from the band—I’m not going to ruin everything we’ve done.
So I never thought it would be this great. And I don’t mean that in a braggy way; there was so much collaboration that I can say that and not feel too guilty about it. That was one of the biggest challenges, to put my ego over in the corner and say, “Shut up!” To go ahead and dive in with people like Andre 3000 and be open to their ideas. The lyrical thing is very difficult for me to give up. I’d be saying, “Go ahead, give me your ideas,” but in my head I was going, “Fuck off!”
In my next life, I’m going to be a guy and I’m going to be a slut.
It must have been frightening to work with people other than the band you’ve been working with your whole career.
I was crying before I went in, I was so scared. But I needed to get my feet wet and I did it. In the first song we did, Linda Perry came in and she had this chorus, “What You Waiting For?” and she was basically saying to me, based on my confessing my fears about the whole project, “Gwen, what the fuck are you waiting for?” For someone to come to me with something like that—it basically triggered something in me. It was magic. I wrote the rest of the song and I was like, “Fuck me! I think I just wrote my first single!”
A lot of people see you as an inspiration.
It’s crazy. I guess I’m getting used to the idea of being an inspiration to someone. I never saw myself as that person. I always feel like I can’t even spell and I like to watch Entertainment Tonight. I mean, I wake up and it’s all about me: “What can I do for myself today? Work out? Write some songs?” So when I hear that I’m inspiring, I feel guilty. I’m that same person from high school who happened to get lucky.
But being who you are, without apologies, is inspiring in itself, isn’t it?
It’s funny—I remember thinking, I wish I could be in the ’30s, it was so glamorous and I would have fit in better then!” But I know how lucky I am that I got to be with the guys and tour the world and be a fly on the wall in a man’s world. I know I’m respected; when I go in with my band, my vote counts. And I know that when I go into the label, everyone is looking to me for the idea. And it’s a great feeling as a woman to have that. There’s moments of every woman’s life when they feel, Oh, I’m less? I didn’t realize. When I wrote “Just A Girl,” I realized, you just do your own thing and then at one point you realize, “Oh. They look at me like that!?” But it’s great to be who I am right now.
Who inspired you?
I always loved the whole starlet thing. Marilyn Monroe and Jean Harlow, anyone who had blond hair! Madonna—she can do anything. Musicals. Julie Andrews was really magic to me. I loved old movies. I loved the clothes and the stupid stories about making it big and how to marry a millionaire. I loved glamour.