The members of No Doubt are back together — but none of them want to call it a reunion. “We never broke up,” bassist Tony Kanal says from the midst of the ska-punk group’s 15-week summer tour, its first live trek in five years. The quartet is planning to work on its first new album since 2001 afterward.
“We just decided to take a break,” Kanal continues, “and it ended up being a lot longer than we thought it was gonna be. It was just an extended hiatus, I would say.”
It was the kind of pause that seemed like it could become permanent, however. After five albums that sold a combined 27 million copies worldwide — and launched hits such as “Don’t Speak,” “Spiderwebs,” “Hey Baby” and “Hella Good” — and two Grammy Awards, No Doubt put itself on ice following the “Singles 1992-2003” collection. Singer Gwen Stefani took the opportunity to go solo, releasing a pair of albums — “Love*Angel*Music*Baby” in 2004 and “The Sweet Escape” two years later — that sold another seven million copies between them and left fans and observers wondering why she would return to a group situation.
Her bandmates weren’t worried, however.
“She said (the break) wasn’t permanent, and I took her at her word,” says guitarist Tom Dumont, 41, who produced other acts and scored a documentary during that time. “As much as on a certain level it was a little bit difficult, I always knew it was a really healthy thing for Gwen to spend some time doing something she always wanted to do outside of the band.
“She had been in the band since she was a teenager, when the band started. She grew up and became a woman; it made sense for her to be in a position to make her own decisions and her own creative calls and not have the compromise of three other people. I always knew it was a good thing.”
Kanal wound up producing some tracks on Stefani’s albums and also wrote songs for other artists, including Pink, while drummer Adrian Young played sessions for Scott Weiland and Unwritten Law — and played golf. Stefani, Dumont and Young also became parents while the group was on its break.
Despite those separate endeavors, however, Kanal says the group members “did see each other quite often.”
“Y’know what brings everybody together is the kids’ birthdays,” says the bassist, who enjoys a “favorite uncle” status with the assorted No Doubt offspring. “You end up seeing your whole band at every kid’s birthday party, and in a nice way it’s kind of a constant reminder of how lucky we are to have each other as a family.”
No Doubt’s initial return strategy was to make a new album first, then go on tour. The three instrumentalists “put together a ton of ideas,” according to Kanal, 38, during a handful sessions with producer Spike Stent. But Stefani, who’s married to fellow rocker Gavin Rossdale, was in the throes of writer’s block when it came time to work on melody and lyrics.
“Gwen realized she just wanted to get out and play again,” Kanal says. “She had cabin fever and she was (tired of) being pregnant. It was just time to get out there and play again.”
Her bandmates had no objections. “We started out as a live band, back in 1986-87,” Kanal says. “That’s what we do best.” And while Dumont says the group was “uncertain” about what kind of audience remained for No Doubt five years after its last tour — especially with this year’s economic woes — it’s been buoyed by “the biggest audiences ever for us.
“I guess there’s a lot of pent-up demand,” Dumont says. “It’s been a number of years, and we’re just fortunate to be in a position where people want to hear us play these songs together again. I’ve got to be honest — it’s a huge ego boost.”
No Doubt came up with its set list by polling fans via the Internet, and Dumont came up with the idea of giving those who bought the top-priced tickets for the shows No Doubt’s entire catalog for free via download.
There have been a few changes on the road for No Doubt this year, of course. Each of the band members has a separate bus. The group members have taken personal trainers on the road to help them stay in shape and eat well. And the backstage room that once hosted after-show parties has been turned into a nursery/play room for the five band children, ages 1 to 7, and there have also been daytime trips to aquariums, parks and Disney World.
“It’s a totally different element, but it’s been really fun,” Dumont says. “Usually on tour, it’s a very self-serving environment where everyone’s working for me, me, me. The great thing with the kids and being parents is that it’s a little bit about me, but, ‘What are we gonna do with the kids? What’s next?’
“I think it’s been a really great thing to have them out with us. It really takes you out of yourself, which is a good thing.”
No Doubt is hoping to sink back into some new music soon, however. The decision to play live first, then record is working, according to Kanal and Dumont. “We definitely feel on top of our game right now,” says the Kanal, who keeps a portable studio on his tour bus to keep working on ideas. “We feel really good about playing together again, and I do believe that’s going to lead to a very inspired record as soon as we’re done with this tour.”
Dumont adds that “the proof will be in the product, in what we produce, in the album. But I think (the tour) was the right move. The good thing is we’re playing together and we’re having fun ... kind of recharging our confidence and getting ourselves to a place where we’re excited to do it and, hopefully, Gwen figures out what to write about.”
Dumont says he expects No Doubt will hit the studio in the fall, once the tour wraps up Aug. 12 in Honolulu, with the album out in 2010. But Kanal is less interested in putting a firm timetable on the project.
“I don’t think we’d do that to ourselves,” Kanal says. “I’m sure we’re gonna want to decompress for a week or so after the tour, then just get on the phone and say, ‘Everyone ready? Is it time to get together and start working?’ We’re definitely not going to put pressure on ourselves. It’s gonna happen when it happens.”
Until then, the No Doubters say they’re simply happy to have their band in working order once again — and hopefully erasing all, er, doubts about a break-up.
“Obviously bands that succeed on some level have some kind of magic thing in what they do,” Dumont says, “but their personalities are such they can’t hold it together. It always seems to explode for one reason or another. So we’re incredibly fortunate in that we’re still able to do it and people still want to come and listen. That’s huge.”
No Doubt, Paramore and Bedouin Soundclash perform at 7:30 p.m. Friday (July 3) at the Palace, Lapeer Road at I-75, Auburn Hills. Tickets are $80 general admission floor and $20-$59.50 reserved. Call (248) 377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.
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