Gwen Stefani on Recent Album, Songwriting and the Past Few Years

GWEN STEFANI is in a burbly and chatty mood on a mid-day phone call with reporters to promote her ambitious This Is What The Truth Feels Like Tour. There’s plenty to talk about, of course; for Stefani the past few years have seen reunions of her band No Doubt, the troubled pursuit of her third solo album and a nasty, tabloid-filling divorce from Bush’s Gavin Rossdale, her husband of 13 years.

Fortunately, the singer, songwriter, occasional actress and fashion entrepreneur has made a, well, sweet escape from the turmoil and into happier terrain all the way around. That includes the deeply personal This Is What The Truth Feels Like album, which debuted at No. 1—Stefani’s first as a solo artist—upon its mid-March release. She’s in a new and very publicly happy relationship with country star Blake Shelton after the two met while judging TV’s The Voice, and their duet “Go Ahead And Break My Heart” gave Stefani her first-ever appearance on the country charts.

The tour, meanwhile, kicked off July 12 in Mansfield, MA, and will have Stefani and her array of dancers and special effects as well as opener and guest Eve blowing minds until at least October, and probably beyond. She’s still grappling with some of the darkness that brought her here, but Gwen Stefani sounds positively buoyant, even a bit defiant, and excited to talk about what she’s learned about songwriting and performing her own material.

Music Connection: This Is What The Truth Feels Like is obviously you digging deep and digging in, emotionally. What does the album represent to you?
Gwen Stefani: I feel like when I was at my darkest hour, I was trying to figure out, “What is the purpose? Why am I here? What is my gift?” and discovering that my gift is music and being confident in that and receiving these songs, I feel like [my purpose is] to share that now.

MC: You were working on another album that got scrapped before you made This Is What The Truth Feels Like. How did you get from there to here?
Stefani: I needed to do those. I felt so inspired during that time period. I mean, I created (fashion lines) L.A.M.B. and Harajuku during that time period. I had just gotten married. I then went on to have two babies during that time as well, so there was a lot of output, and it was such a creative time and there was no stopping me. I was just ready to go.

Then I came back and I wanted to do a No Doubt record. I felt like I needed to do the No Doubt record, but when I gave birth to Zuma they were like, “First, we’re going on tour. That’s how we’re going to get inspired.” I was like, “Okay. Let’s go.” So we went, and that tour, I think, almost killed me. At that point I felt really burnt out, physically, and I think mentally I felt so much pressure to make the No Doubt record, like it was all up to me. We were going to get in the room and there was not going to be any outside writers and I didn’t feel secure enough to have outside writers, because I was starting my journey of insecurity basically at that point.

MC: It was pretty difficult to balance things that were happening in your life.
Stefani: Yeah, the next five years was a really challenging time. I had spent a lot of time trying to make the No Doubt record, but also trying to balance being a mom and a lot of guilt, like, “Okay. I’m going to go to the studio right now, but I’m going to miss dinner and I’m going to come home.” It was a lot of that, and it wasn’t helping my creative center at all. So I went through that for a long time, just finding out what is the purpose. And that’s when I got pregnant with Apollo, and being pregnant with him was a time for me to just stop everything.

MC: And by stop you mean...
Stefani: I just stopped everything. I was like, “I’m done doing everything for everyone. I’m just going to be pregnant.” And I gave birth to him, and four weeks later, I got called to [be a judge on NBC’s talent series] The Voice, and that’s when I was like, “Wow... I hadn’t thought about doing something like that.” And I just kind of went, “Yeah, let’s go.” I didn’t even know what I was getting myself into.

And that was the beginning of the end of insecurity. I was on the show. I had this new baby. I’m around all this music. I’m looking at my life. I’m looking back at myself, at what I’ve done. It made me think about how many great songs I’d written and how much I’d accomplished and how did I do it? You know what I mean? And so my confidence was coming back slowly.

MC: Ironically, this was around the time you and Gavin split, right?
Stefani: Sometimes really bad things happen just so that really great things will happen, and I think that’s what happened to me. It was like a wake-up call––“Get back on track and stop being insecure about writing and your gift and what you’re here for, and stop being selfish and share what you’ve got.”

It was really hard, because I just wanted to get under the covers and eat pizza and cry, but I went to the studio and this is what the new album is, and that’s what I celebrate on tour––that I was put on this earth to write these songs. Everybody has their own purpose; for me, it’s music.

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