Gwen Stefani x FAULT Magazine
Photography: Yu Tsai
Words: Fabio Magnocavallo
“There is really nothing I’ve ever seen her do that wasn’t really really cool,” Amy Lee once said about Gwen Stefani during VH1’s 100 Women in Music countdown. Truer words have never been spoken.
For as long as we can remember, Gwen Stefani has been a multidimensional force in pop culture whose endless amount of accomplishments is forever growing. Over three decades, we’ve seen her be the badass frontwoman of No Doubt, metamorphose into a chart-topping solo artist, become a style icon with successful fashion labels, launch a beauty line, headline her own Las Vegas residency, and become an on-and-off coach on The Voice.
Claiming to be “Just A Girl,” her most noteworthy accolades evidently say otherwise. In addition to winning four VMAs, three Grammys, a BRIT award, and the Radio Disney Hero Award, she was honoured with the title of Fashion Icon at E!’s People’s Choice Awards in 2019. Stefani’s beauty and lifestyle brands, including fragrances, accessories, and eyewear, have earned the entrepreneur over a billion in retail sales while her music has shifted a hefty 60 million around the world. Stefani’s 2004 smash, “Hollaback Girl,” not only became her first No. 1 hit on the US Hot 100 but also the first-ever song in history to sell 1 million copies from digital downloads alone. No Doubt’s breakthrough record, 1995’s Tragic Kingdom, remains one of the few albums to be certified diamond while its monumental single, “Don’t Speak,” recently hit over 1 billion views on YouTube for its music video.
It’s 2023 and Stefani’s legacy is alive and very much thriving. Her ability to tap into various genres has allowed her music to transcend multiple generations. Whether it’s being referenced in a Doja Cat song, featuring on a Dua Lipa remix, or her music going viral on TikTok, it’s pretty fair to say that Stefani is just as much that bitch in 2023 as she was in 1995 or 2005.
The powerhouse is still not done as she returns with her first solo single in over two years, “True Babe.” Out June 23, the pop-rock-infused anthem is a wholesome love song and an open letter to her country-singing husband, Blake Shelton. As proven many times, Stefani knows how to write a top-tier heartbreak anthem and has left us in our feelings on multiple occasions. However, it seems the days of writing sad, sentimental songs might be behind her. Gushing about her relationship on the track, it appears the blonde beauty is happier than ever and that those positive vibrations are what we can expect to hear more of.
Ahead of her rare visit to the UK, Gwen Stefani is participating in some promo before headlining a concert at Warwick Castle and opening up for Pink at Hyde Park. In our exclusive interview, she discussed her long-awaited fifth studio album, the new single, and why the UK holds a special place in her heart.
Hello Gwen! How are you today?
Gwen Stefani: Me? I’m good! I didn’t expect to be doing interviews. I’m just in Oklahoma hanging with Blake and having a little downtime. It’s really bizarre that I’m going to be going to Europe tomorrow and I haven’t been there in so long. To be doing shows and being on that huge Hyde Park stage is gonna be crazy. I have a new song that’s coming out. When something happens that you haven’t done in a while, it doesn’t even seem real. Well for me, it doesn’t feel real! [laughs]. It’s exciting though!
We’ve definitely missed you over here in the UK! It’s been nearly six years since you last came over and 15 years since you performed a full set. So the obvious question is, what have YOU been waiting for?!
Gwen Stefani: [laughs]. First and foremost, I would say everyone kind of knows the story. I had my family break up and that took a while to transition into the next part of my life. Then the pandemic happened, and during that time Kelly Clarkson and I were texting and she was sending me all these songs she was writing during the pandemic and I was getting jealous. I was like, “What?!” I reached out to people and said, “Hey, when we get back to LA, let’s do some sessions. We can do Zoom sessions, whatever. I feel like writing.” I did start writing and god, I took so many sessions and got this whole album and I did release a couple of singles but it was during a really turbulent time. There was the election, Christmas, I was on The Voice at that time and I was like, “I just wanna put stuff out”. During the pandemic, there was a lot of traffic but I still wanted to put something out.
But then I got married [laughs], and when that happened, I felt I wanted to really be in that moment and not rush back to finish the album. Plus, I also feel I was trying to really find the record. I started on one route of the style of music I wanted to do but then find it through living. And a lot of time went by, so it’s been a couple of years and now I feel I’m in this really crazy zone where I’m writing the songs I wanted to write. It just kind of took a long time.
And as far as going to Europe, I just take shows that are easy for me to go do. I had the Vegas residency for two years, so I wasn’t going anywhere. I’ve done a lot. I’ve been on The Voice seven times or something and am about ready to do that again. It’s been overly busy. Way more busy than I wanna be, but I just don’t have time to travel. And I have a lot of kids. I have three boys and it’s hard to space it all out, it’s really hard. I mean, anyone that’s a mum would probably be like, “How does she do all of those things?” because it is impossible. So that’s why getting to this point where I actually get to put a little music out is exciting. I have had this new song for like two years! Time goes by so quickly. But here we are!
Throughout your career, you have spent a lot of time in the UK. Is there anything about the culture or the crowds here that really stand out to you when visiting?
Gwen Stefani: That’s an interesting question. I mean, almost triggering, because it really does get me emotional and I’ll tell you why. The first music that I got into that started to build my identity as a human being was when my older brother brought home a Madness album. I know that Madness is huge in the UK, but in the US they had “Our House” and “Must Be Love,” but they were still underground in that whole scene. And so that record led us into The Specials, The Selector, and everything from Bad Manners to UB40 and everything that we loved that set the tone for the music and our identity as human beings. The path we would go on was London and England and those bands. All of that led me to like reggae music. I liked ska before I even knew about reggae music. So you just have to try to put it in perspective. We are from Orange County, it’s so far away from London, and all those bands sang about the culture of Camden Town and England. All the references were very cultural. A long answer to a little question, it’s my DNA, and everything that I am inspired by originally music-wise is London, so I have a huge respect.
And not to mention, the first designer piece that I ever bought, by accident, I didn’t even know I was buying a Vivian Westwood at the time! My best friend Sophie [Muller], who has done all my music videos, is in London, so it’s a huge place for me. It’s almost one of those places you wanna impress so bad. You want them to like you so bad and you love them so much. Just the fact they know you is exciting. So, it’s big for me. To be able to do Hyde Park and to be at the show with another incredible artist, it’s gonna be crazy. I try not to think about it too much because it’s going to get me nervous but I am excited. They’re always amazing audiences, but it’s also like any other big city, you don’t know what you’re gonna get. They’re jaded, they’re cool, and they’ve seen everything. It can be intimidating, but at the same time, I feel like I’m one with them. I’ve had such a huge history that there’s this unspoken exchange of love and inspiration that we’ve had all these years.
June 23rd is going to be a big day for your fans. You will be playing your first of three UK shows at Warwick Castle and will be releasing your first solo single in over two years. It’s also my birthday that day, so thank you very much [laughs].
Gwen Stefani: I’m glad it’s not my birthday! [laughs]
You’ve expressed that you’ve had this song for two years. Does that mean you have been in the studio more recently recording new music for the album that’s to come?
Gwen Stefani: Yeah, I have like a whole bunch of songs that I wrote in 2020 all the way up to now. I’ve been writing and going to the studio again. It’s one of those things, I feel like anyone that’s a songwriter can relate to this who is able to write a song about something that feels honest and real and purposeful. And by the way, you can go in and write a song and on paper, the song is everything you think it is and you get excited and then you decide, “I don’t really wanna listen to that” and you don’t know why. When you write a song like “Hollaback Girl,” you know that minute that you’ve just touched something that’s never been touched before and you’re jumping on the couch and you’re having your Tom Cruise moment. Like, “Whoa, this is crazy.”
But other times when you write songs, it’s not special. It’s really been challenging to know sonically what the direction is. When I wrote my last album, which is forever ago, This Is What The Truth Feels Like, which is actually one of my favorite albums, I kind of feel like when I got my team, I felt as if they were my cheerleaders. Any idea I had, they were so supportive and so I could be completely free with myself in the studio. This time around, I feel I’ve gone in with so many different people and I always get, like you said at the beginning, “What are you waiting for?” I always get really insecure and worried about writing a song, and then I’m happy to do it in a four-hour window when the kids are at school. It’s just different. I look back at my life and I go, “Wow, I was so selfish.” I got to be such a true artist in the sense that I got to stay up all night and show up at the studio at one in the morning and then sleep all day. Those things are kind of necessary to write music. That’s probably why it took me so long and why it always takes me a long time. No Doubt doesn’t even have that much music if you really look at how long we’ve been around. There’s not a lot of music compared to a lot of people, sadly. Over the last couple of months, I went in with some people that I adore and had really good chemistry with. I’m just dying to go back in and write with them because every single song you write changes what the record could be. Another one falls off that you’re like, “Oh, I thought that was good, but eh I like this one.” Currently, I’m in that zone.
I have four new ones that I literally can’t stop listening to. And so when that happens, I’m assuming that other people might feel the same way. That’s exciting. But there’s no time. Now I’m going on tour. I know it’s four shows, but it doesn’t matter because just the lead-up to just do it takes as much as it does to go on a 60-date tour. I also really learned in my life to build time to enjoy downtime by watching movies, cooking, hanging out with my husband, gardening, and other things too.
Talking of your husband, your new single “True Babe” is definitely about your love for him. How does Blake feel about the song?
Gwen Stefani: He likes the song! What’s weird about it is that the girl that started the song sent me this song pretty much half done. When I listened to it, I was actually on this ranch with all the kids. This guy, JKash, that I’m working with sent it to me and said, “What do you think of this?” And I went, “I love this. This sounds like my song!” They told me, “Oh, they wrote it for you.” They came to me with the lyric idea and then I went in with them and finished the song and put in some of my own lyrics to really make it feel more custom. It’s interesting because also the girl is a young girl that grew up in LA, her name’s Nico and she’s very cool, but weirdly grew up on my music too. I just feel so blessed to have those experiences because it’s almost like you can see the trail of what you’ve done as an artist and how it does affect people. To then be able to go in and work with a young girl that’s in her twenties maybe, it was just a really cool experience to watch her talent and the way she sees me.
I think those kinds of experience are what keeps me inspired because otherwise you just sort of become a cartoon version of yourself and you don’t know who you are anymore and don’t know what direction to go in. It’s just a whole evolution because when you start out, nobody knows who you are and you think no one’s ever gonna know who you are. You’re so innocent, you are just putting out stuff that you believe happens to you. And by chance, someone happens to identify with that or relate to it. And that was what the Tragic Kingdom was. And then Return of Saturn was already in a place where for me, I was like, “Whoa, I became this huge thing over kind of overnight, but after a nine-year period.” And then you’re like, “Oh my god, I wanna be a writer. I need to be a better writer.” It changes the way you’re gonna write because the innocence is gone. Now I ask, “How do I find a new way to evolve?” And for me, that’s by collaborating. I think all the best things I’ve ever done have been just working with other talented people that have either just been inspired by me or we inspire each other and then something happens. But truly songwriting and music is just a gift from god. I always feel like it just comes to me and I don’t feel I really have a part in it except for just the prayer and the hope that something will come down. There’s nothing like it. Even though there’s designing, doing the makeup, photoshoots, whatever it is, even live shows, nothing touches when you have a new song, it just never gets old. To be able to share it is kind of scary now, but also fun. I know there are people out there that still maybe would wanna hear new music. I just like making it, it’s amazing.
I don’t know if you’d agree, but “True Babe” sonically sounds like something that could have been a part of the Push And Shove album. By the way, the album title track from the album is one of No Doubt’s most underrated songs. It’s fire!
Gwen Stefani: Thank you. Push And Shove, the title actually makes so much sense to the songs. That whole time period was just a really hard time. Everything was like we were in molasses and nothing was coming easy. Even that song, we did that with Diplo, and he sent us something and then we were trying to write a chorus to it so it was almost like this Lego song where we put it all together. It was an amazing moment, I agree. I think it’s just such a weird, weird song, you know what I mean?
I don’t see how this song sounds like the Push And Shove record, that’s interesting. I feel that record was where No Doubt was most confused. We just had come back together, and we wanted to do it so badly, but for me, I was completely depleted from my world tour and giving birth. So many things had happened and then we tried to write that record. Spike Stent, another Englishman, was part of producing that album. When you work with No Doubt, it’s almost like you have to have somebody that’s just there to make everybody happy so that everybody can have their little piece. It was a lot, that was a struggle, that record. But, I’m happy that someone listened to it. That makes me happy.
What has it been like having your old songs blow up on TikTok? Songs like “Bubble Pop Electric” that were never singles but now have a life of their own.
Gwen Stefani: The whole new world is just hard for me to wrap my head around. It’s just so crazy to me. It never ceases to amaze me that I’ve had any of this. Your question even makes my whole life seem more ridiculous. It’s like, “How me? Why me? How did this happen?” I think there was something that happened with “Don’t Speak.” Sophie Muller, one of my best friends, did that video way back and that’s when we met. This is going way back and I think it hit like a billion views or something. It’s a number that you can’t understand and to me, it just doesn’t even penetrate. It’s hard as you can’t take any of it in, but I think the funnest thing to do is to be able to get up on stage, which is gonna happen next week, and just be like, “Yeah, you forgot about this song guys.” And then I’m gonna hit him with another one. It is really fun. That’s the greatest thing I think about having a long career, to be able to get on stage and actually not be able to play your whole catalogue because there are just too many hits. And so how that happened, I don’t know, I’m looking up, but to be able to do it still and have the opportunity to come there and be on such a huge stage with Pink, it’s just gonna be one of those, I don’t remember a lot, but I’m gonna remember this one.
It’s going to be incredible. Well, if your set is even half as good as your Vegas show!
Gwen Stefani: Did you come? What did you think?
Honestly, it’s my favourite show I’ve ever been to! You even brought me up on stage!
Gwen Stefani: Oh my god, yes! I love that so much. That show was so hard. Honestly, it was so exhausting. I look back now and I’m so happy I did it and I was so proud of it and it makes me feel sad for the people that didn’t get to see it because it was such a unique moment in time. It was so different from a festival. It was so personal and intimate, it was so raw. You could just do whatever you want and bring people on stage. This is gonna be different. I haven’t done festivals in a long time, so it will be a challenge in its own way, which I always need.
I can’t wait to see you. Thanks for listening to my music and being so sweet. I’ll see you in a week! Have a great birthday!