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Issue 1084

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GWEN STEFANI: JUST AN ORDINARY ORANGE COUNTY GIRL?

Gwen Stefani
Gwen Stefani The Black Hat Picture Turn It Up Relax Gwen Star Gazing

As speculated, Gwen Stefani looks absolutely-fabulous-dahling in the flesh. No shattered illusions today. Clad in skin-tight jeans and skyscraper heels, complete with that signature red pout, the Californian gal is physically on form. Our conversation takes place at Londonâs exclusive private members club and boutique hotel, Home House. Located in the heart of the west-end, close to Selfridges, the 18th century building feels luxuriously gothic; screaming âMoney!â and âGwennie!â in the same breath. Within spitting distance, Stefaniâs baby boy Kingston is being protected by his motherâs extensive entourage. Throughout our chat, Stefani looks over repeatedly at her son as he snoozes blissfully. In town for a week to promote her new and second solo album, âThe Sweet Escapeâ, before jetting off to embark upon a world-wide tour, Stefani doesnât share the same indulgence of uninterrupted sleep with her son.

âIâm tired,â she says, in her thick, Californian accent. Even so, Gwen Stefani does a great a job of not looking or acting knackered. Her eyes are bright, her manner is warm and sheâs genuinely chatty. Not very pop. But when it comes to pop, Stefani has got it locked. In a big way. From her 1997 number one âDonât Speakâ, with ska/punk band No Doubt, to her 2004 Lynda Perry-collaborated solo hit âHollaback Girlâ, the 37-year-old (yes, thereâs hope yet!) has succeeded in giving proper, mainstream pop a cool, underground edge. It was her 2001, Dre-produced collaboration with Eve -the hooky as hell âLet Me Blow Your Mindâ
- that exposed the platinum bombshell to the R&B and hip hop world and, since then, Stefani has become our Kylie, our Madonna.

Her brilliant pop/ hip hop/ electro hybrid, âLove.Angel.Music.Baby.â, Stefaniâs debut solo album, displayed thoroughly original flavour - proving she wasnât simply jumping on the âurbanâ bandwagon (see Aguilera and Furtado). Riddled with loud, minimal basslines (akin to Miami bass and Brazilian funk carioca) from the likes of Dre, the Neptunes, André 3000 and Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, (not forgetting No Doubt bassist, and ex-boyfriend, Tony Kanal), Stefani gave us simple but oh-so effective pop. The kind thatâs equally as appealing to a 30-year-old club kid as a potty-trained toddler, though those wack âbananasâ lyrics on âHollaback Girlâ would make even a dummy-sucker cringe. Still, Stefani proved, by taking inspiration from Madge, Blondie and all things fabulously 80s and quirky, she was actually far ahead of her time in todayâs musical climate. And it didnât take long for the likes Timberlake and co. to follow suit with their electro-pop copycats.

Back with what looks likely to be her final solo album (âI just wanted to do one more so thatâs why Iâm sitting here nowâ), Stefani has flipped the script again on her sophomore solo set âThe Sweet Escapeâ. To mixed reviews, the fashionista has, once more, embellished the 80s dance era, but this time the tempo is, overall, more chilled (blame giving birth), with even a sprinkling of balladry. And, on the ballad front it doesnât get much more beautiful than stand-out track âEarly Winter.â

âThat oneâs awesome,â says Gwen, enthusiastically. âI did that with Tim [Rice-Oxley] from Keane who is super amazing. I wanted to write something like âTime After Timeâ by Cindy Lauper,â she says, laughing nervously, as if worried sheâll be labelled a rip-off merchant. âWe had this really long phone conversation and I met with him the next day at the studio and he played me this song and was like, âI did this last night.â I was like, âThatâs a great song. What am I supposed to do with it? Itâs pretty much done.â He was like, âYeah, but you can redo it. Rewrite it.â I said, âYou know, thatâs the one thing I donât do. I donât rewrite words.â I wish I could but itâs this weird thing where I get emotionally caught up. âI went home after the sessions,â continues Stefani, who has been in a relationship with her husband Gavin Rossdale - one-time rock singer in the British band Bush - for 11 years. âI listened to that song again and I was like, âThis song is so fucking good!â So I started thinking about what it meant to me and I did actually change some of the words to the point where itâs so weird because it became my life. Itâs just so weird that it started through him. That was a real collaboration - just like the journey Iâve been on during these last two records. Itâs been about going in and collaborating with people and seeing what comes out; not being the one whoâs done the whole thing but being part of it and seeing what happens at the end.â

âIn some ways though,â Stefani muses, crossing her slim pins, âthatâs why Iâm looking forward to going back and doing a No Doubt record - to have the whole weight of the universe on my shoulders. Thereâs something quite gratifying about that and Iâm looking forward to that creativity.â

So, has she started work on the new No Doubt album yet? âNo, but they have actually,â responds Gwen, referring to the rest of the band. âLast year they went in the studio and started stuff but, now that weâve kind of had a heart-to-heart about the whole thing, weâre really going to go in and start working. We had a meeting yesterday actually. We had lunch together and talked about the next No Doubt record, which is really exciting.â Itâs hard to believe that Gwen Stefani has time to go back in the studio with the band sheâs been with for 20 years - since she was just 17. Asides from promoting her new album and looking after her baby, Stefani runs her own fashion label (donât yawn), L.A.M.B. (âLove.Angel.Music.Baby.â - like her debut solo album). As opposed to many pop stars (who shall remain nameless) that simply attach their âbrandâ to yet another business venture, Stefani actually has a genuine love affair with couture. The Vivienne Westwood fanatic, known for her outrageous on-stage costumes and impeccable every-day attire, has codesigned many of her own outfits and says she used to actually sew her No Doubt creations herself. And then thereâs her forthcoming world-wide tour. Kicking off in Las Vegas, the tour heads to the UK this Autumn with Lady Sovereign (gâwan girl) and Akon (shudder) in tow. Does she feel nervous? Excited? Exhausted? All three?

âIâm overwhelmed,â she sighs with a forced smile. âIâm really tired. I have to just take it one day at a time. If you try to do the whole thing itâs just too much - like with the baby. But before I know it Iâll have a whole show together and Iâm looking forward to, more than anything, getting in to the rhythm of the tour. Thatâs when it really starts to feel good because you get these really amazing shows and you get that feeling thatâs like a drug. Youâre up there and everyoneâs singing the songs and you see certain people in the crowd and you think, âWow, this is the whole reason for all of it, right there, that little eight-year-old girl looking at me, right now.ââ

Having watched Stefaniâs explosively âshowbizâ performance on her âHarajuku Lovers Liveâ tour DVD (note to self: Donât ever do something so stupidly scary as that before interviewing a pop star again), seeing Gwennie live is now on my list of âthings-to-do-before-I-dieâ. After leaping around her huge, âlights-camera-actionâ stage in front of thousands of mesmerised fans, in all manner of ridiculously fabulous costumes, belting out hits like âWhat You Waiting For?â and âRich Girlâ, the icon pauses. âYâknow Iâm just an Orange County girl,â she protests, introducing one of the key highlights from her new album. But is that really how she feels?

âPretty much,â she says, raising her perfectly groomed eyebrows. âI mean itâs just unbelievable whatâs happened in my life. Like if you knew me and you knew who I was, youâd be like it could happen to you. Iâm just like anybody else. Iâm like the most normal girl from Orange County, second one out of four kids; my parents are still married. Iâm from a really cool family and I just happened to start
a band. Cut to 20 years later and (she pauses momentarily) itâs just really weird. I never, in my wildest dreams, imagined that Iâd be sitting here right now.â

Gwen Stefaniâs new album and title track single âThe Sweet Escapeâ are both out now on Interscope Records. For more info on her forthcoming tour, hit www.gwenstefani.com.
Words Elle J Small

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