No Doubt at SIR Studios in Hollywood. Tony Kanal (bass), left, Tom Dumont… (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles…)
A couple of big questions loom before the members of long-running rock group No Doubt as they prepare to re-enter the fray of contemporary pop music with their first new album in 11 years, "Push and Shove": Does the world even remember who they are and, if so, does it still care?
"Where do we fit in?" bleach-blond-Mohawk-coiffed drummer Adrian Young, 43, asked during a break in rehearsals recently in Hollywood ahead of a string of high-profile TV appearances the group is making in coming weeks. "I still don't know. [The first single] 'Settle Down' is on the radio right now, but I don't know where this album is going to fit in. It may carve its own niche."
Singer Gwen Stefani took an even more pointedly pragmatic view of the question: "Where did we ever fit in?"
That realization spurred frontwoman, main songwriter, fashion designer, cover girl, celebrity mom and solo pop star Stefani to embrace a Zen-like attitude while working for the last 21/2 years with her longtime cohorts on the album they'll present to the world on Sept. 25.
"It wasn't like we were trying for anything more than just to enjoy the moment, and to be in the moment," said Stefani, 42, looking like, well, the rock star she is in a monochromatic black, asymmetrical-collared jacket, white tank top, trim slacks and four-inch silver stiletto heels, her blond hair pulled back in an anarchic ponytail, one small perfect wave curled above her right ear.
"It took so long," she said. "If we were just waiting for it to be done, it would have been a waste of life."
Popping back up
To almost any other act, an 11-year gap between albums would constitute several lifetimes outside the fast-churn world of pop music. But No Doubt has remained committedly resilient through a 25-year career that produced one of the cornerstone pop albums of the 1990s in "Tragic Kingdom." It spent nine weeks at No. 1, and spawned one of the defining singles of the era, "Don't Speak," Stefani's soaring ballad about the dissolution of her seven-year romance with the band's bassist, Tony Kanal.
"That's the story of No Doubt," said Kanal, 42, as he sat across from Stefani. They co-wrote all the lyrics for the new songs — a first in the still-evolving musical partnership that long ago transcended their romantic relationship. "Through all the tough stuff we've gone through — and you can name 50 things — we've always persevered. And through all those obstacles — it sounds really cliché to say it — but we've always come out stronger."
Is it possible, though, for a band that's been around this long to exert a significant influence in a world now dominated by the frothy youth pop of Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Rihanna, Taylor Swift and "American Idol" — none of which existed when No Doubt got started?
In that regard, No Doubt is virtually unique.
"We don't feel like they've ever left, because Gwen is in the forefront of pop culture," said John Ivey, program director at Southern California Top 40 radio powerhouse KIIS-FM (102.7). "With her and Gavin [Rossdale, Stefani's rock star husband] and the babies, her [product] endorsements, her clothing line: When you have all that other stuff going for you and your brand is so big, you can be a little bit slower in putting out your music."
Pop radio isn't the only place where No Doubt is still generating interest this far down the line: The NFL featured the group during the kickoff game for the 2012 football season, the band performed in July on ABC's "Good Morning America," it will launch the two-day I Heart Radio Festival in Las Vegas on Sept. 21 and will visit "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" the week the album drops. It's also playing six shows Nov. 24 to Dec. 4 at Gibson Amphitheatre.
The album features a cadre of au courant programmers including Anthony Gorry, Jonas Quant and Wayne Wilkins, and Major Lazer and Busy Signal on the title track.
The guest talent helps bolster the album's broad stylistic range — from driving electronic dance music ("Looking Hot") and dreamy synth-pop ("One More Summer") to romantically yearning dancehall reggae ("Sparkle") and melancholy dance pop ("Undercover") echoing No Doubt's earliest efforts.
"We wanted it to sound modern," guitarist Tom Dumont, 44, said, "but we've openly said the album is really made up of influences of things we grew up with.... It opens the question of what is modern? When I hear 'Settle Down' on the radio, it still doesn't sound like anything else."
Getting a hold on it
That's often been true of No Doubt, the band that sprouted in Anaheim, in the shadow of Disneyland, and for which the next step has rarely come easily, or quickly.