Gwen Stefani's getting a little help from a lot of friends on her upcoming solo record, but so far, her favorite pairing comes from one of her oldest friends of all — No Doubt bandmate Tony Kanal.
Stefani's not lacking for people to work with — if anything, she's got enough names for several solo albums to span several different genres, with the Neptunes, Mary J. Blige, Missy Elliott, Outkast, the Matrix, Linda Perry, Tim Armstrong, Nellee Hooper, the Eurythmics' Dave Stewart, Dallas Austin and Damon Elliott all among her known collaborators (see "Gwen Stefani Works On Solo LP With Outkast, Missy Elliott"). The hodgepodge of songwriters and producers, though, was overwhelming to Stefani, who found working on her own music a little more difficult than she had anticipated.
"It's been so hard, and it's been hard, and hard," she laughed.
Stefani started working on her LP about a year ago while she was in London, first hooking up with the trip-hop-leaning Hooper, with whom she had previously collaborated on several tracks for No Doubt's Rock Steady, including "Hella Good" and "Running," and then with Stewart, who had contributed "Underneath It All" to the same album. Though she wasn't planning to just reuse her Rock Steady crew, she did reuse the formula — team up with as many talented people as possible. What seemed like a solution, though, caused a few problems of its own.
"I have my job in the band — I write the words and I write the melody, that's what I do," she began. "But then you go and you're writing with some of these people that are so talented, like they're songwriters, they do it every day. For some reason, it just looks so easy for them. I've had a hard time with my ego, because it gets bruised. Like, 'Oh my god, maybe they're writing some of the melody and they came up with something really good, and I didn't come up with it.' So it's a whole kind of learning process."
During this writing process, Stefani went back to Los Angeles in May to join her husband, Gavin Rossdale, who was shooting a video with the Blue Man Group for "The Current." She started to feel overwhelmed by her task at hand, so she sought solace from Kanal, thinking that visiting her bandmate would give her a much-needed break.
"I just had a breakdown," she said. "I was like, 'I gotta stop now, I have nothing to write about, I can't do it anymore.' So I left the studio, and went over to Tony's house, because he was like 'Come over, we're going to all go out!' "
Instead of going out, however, Stefani found that Kanal had a surprise waiting for her at his home studio.
"He starts, 'Hey, lemme play you some tracks,' " she said, "and he plays me this track he's doing for another singer, and I was blown away. And then he goes, 'Lemme play you some tracks I've been doing for you!' So he played me this track, and it was like, instant."
Stefani said she's always wanted to write with Kanal, and that he would feel the same was no surprise. But to be on the same page was the trick, since she felt like she was going in a different musical direction.
"Tony and I kinda came from different schools," she explained. "There's a certain kind of record I'm trying to make; it comes from something that we used to listen to growing up, so it's more of a dance kind of thing."
Happy to find her writer's block cured, she hunkered down with Kanal and worked out the as-yet-untitled song with him that very night, calling it "probably my favorite track that I've written so far." But unfortunately, she said, the magic only struck once — they tried to write together for two weeks straight after that, and couldn't find a place where they clicked quite the same way.
"It's so hard!" she laughed. "But it will for sure be on the record."
Stefani's debut solo album is expected in 2004.
—Jennifer Vineyard, with additional reporting by SuChin Pak