Passing Through Dallas Austin's Lab: Gwen Stefani, Duran Duran, Nas

Songwriter/producer says Stefani and Duran Duran albums have strong '80s vibe.

Dallas Austin had low ambitions for his most recent projects. All he wanted to do was turn Gwen Stefani into an '80s mixtape queen, bring Duran Duran back by taking them back, and help Nas become as outspoken as Bono. Easy, right?

So far, so good, according to the producer/songwriter.

"I just finished the Duran Duran record, which is going to be insane. And I just finished the Gwen Stefani solo record — it's off the chain, man," Austin said a few weeks ago in Miami.

The man who helmed some of TLC and Pink's biggest hits said Stefani's LP lives up to the hype, and then some. "Everybody is anticipating it, and it's everything they think it's going to be," he said. "It's myself, Andre 3000, Nellee Hooper and Linda Perry [producing]. It's almost like an '80s mixtape. We go back to some electro-pop, to some breakdance/b-boy stuff, then it goes into stuff like the Cure, then kind of alternative, like the Pretenders."

Dallas says working with Gwen was like spending time with someone during his wonder years.

"She's like a little eighth grader, in a way. She's a sweetheart," he smiled. "She's so used to writing with the band and being in No Doubt — in that mode. This is a new experience for her. We had a chance to collaborate on some really good stuff. She's incredible.

"I always wanted to work with Gwen," he said, when asked how the collaboration came about. "I knew when [I heard] she was going to work on a solo record, that would be the best opportunity for me. So I kinda put in early [to be a part of it]. Plus, I had Fishbone [albums] — once she found out I was an '80s nut, she was like, 'This is it.' We took it from there" (see "Gwen Stefani Warns, 'Watch Out' For Solo LP, Summer Single").

Austin says he's been stuck in a back-in-the-day time warp, between working with Gwen then getting in the studio with Duran Duran.

"I brought that '80s element back to Duran Duran," Austin continued. "I brought that classic sound back to them. Between their harmonies and voices and those sounds, it made everybody have that Duran Duran element. I been in the '80s mix for a minute."

Austin didn't have a time period for the Nas sound he wanted to create, but he did have an idea of where he wants the voice of God's Son to be.

"Nas is the king," Austin said of the MC. "He's made every street record possible. I told him, 'I think it's time for you step up and deliver some information'. He should be the Bono for hip-hop. He's a really good brother and I think people need to hear the messages he has to deliver."

Nas' double LP, Street's Disciple, now has a release date of November 30. Duran Duran, who recorded in London with Austin, are putting their album, Astronaut, out on October 12. Stefani's Love Angel Music Baby is slated to be released later this fall.