No Doubt bassist Tony Kanal could be taking it easy while singer Gwen Stefani does her solo thing. And for the most part, he is.
But after getting his feet wet with production on the band's albums over the past 15 years, Kanal decided that he'd spend the group's sabbatical getting more experience behind the board.
"With Rock Steady we did all the initial tracks and demos at [guitarist] Tom [Dumont]'s place. For us that was really hands-on, so it sparked a feeling that this is something I could do when we are on a break or after the band," Kanal said. "When we decided to take a break, for me it was about easing into it and working on projects I would enjoy."
Kanal's one rule: Only work on things that are fun and that don't feel like work. Which is why he's sticking close to home with his production gigs, doing a remix for Stefani and his boyhood idols Gang of Four and producing the debut album from his pal, reggae singer Elan Atias.
Kanal met Atias several years ago, and the two immediately bonded over their mutual love of reggae. When he was just 21, Atias was asked to join the legendary reggae group the Wailers, serving as their frontman from 1996 to 1999. "Here was this kid from Los Angeles going around the world with the Wailers singing all of Bob Marley's songs," said Kanal. The friends tested out their collaborative powers with a reggaefied cover of Roxy Music's "Slave to Love" for the "50 First Dates" soundtrack. The track, one of three Kanal produced on the album, featured a cameo from Stefani, who shows up again on Atias' debut.
Stefani sings background on the song "I Wanna Yell," and Kanal said she was a natural choice given that they live near each other in L.A. and see each other pretty regularly.
"We've gotten to the point where we've done so much together it's just like hanging out," Kanal said. "When she heard that song, she was like, 'Let me sing on it!' And with Elan, we both love reggae and we're friends, so it's never felt like work, either. I'm doing this to become a better songwriter and producer outside of the band."
In addition to roping in Stefani, Kanal and Atias cut tracks in Miami and Jamaica with Sly & Robbie and with reggae producers Tony "CD" Kelly (Sean Paul), Steven "Lenky" Marsden (Buju Banton) and Philip "Fattis" Burrell (Sizzla). Guests on the album include Tami Chin ("Don't You Go") and Italee ("Bad Man Don't Dance").
Kanal is also in the midst of finishing a remix of the Gang of Four song "Ether," which he calls a "labor of love." The influential British post-punk band (see "Music Geek: Gang Of Four, Forefathers Of Many"), who recently reunited and are in the midst of a U.S. tour, are slated to release a remix album in August. "I did that because the opportunity was there and it just felt right," Kanal said, adding that his project is a pure remix, not a re-recording of the song. "I took their original session and gave it a new interpretation," he said. "I added new beats and keyboards and changed the arrangement around" (see "No Doubt, Beck, Yeah Yeah Yeahs Plan Gang Of Four Remixes").
The remix he's really excited about is the one he just completed for Stefani's current single, "Hollaback Girl." Returning the favor, Atias does a guest vocal on the dancehall version of the song, which Kanal said he spent an "embarrassingly" long time working on.
"I expected to spend a week, but I had to find a reason for me to be doing it and not just throwing a new beat on it," Kanal said. "I had to be inspired, and I had a hard time starting it. I ended up spending three weeks on it."
While Stefani does the solo thing, No Doubt's Dumont has been recording atmospheric instrumentals with friend Ted Matson under the name Invincible Overlord. He will be touring this summer with singer Matt Costa, whose album he produced. Drummer Adrian Young has recorded with Unwritten Law and is playing live with Bow Wow Wow.
Don't fret, though. Stefani and Kanal say No Doubt have begun talking about getting together later this year to start writing their next album.
"We've been talking a lot about doing a new record, and it's going to be very interesting, now that we've all gone off on these different journeys, to come back together and see how that's gonna inspire this next record," Stefani said recently.
With the experience he's gained producing, Kanal thinks the band will be even stronger when it reconvenes. "I think it will be really healthy to have taken this break, and we'll get inspired to work together again," he said.