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Gwen Stefani: A Rock Goddess With Major Issues

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Love, Angel, Music, Baby is the kind of Eighties-style electro dance album that Stefani grew up on in Orange County, California. It's so Eighties, in fact, that members of New Order are the backing band on "The Real Thing," alongside collaborations with OutKast's André 3000, Dr. Dre and Eve, the Neptunes, Dallas Austin and Linda Perry. "Right now in my life, I'm all about trying things I've never done," Stefani says. "I'm a woman and I'm thirty-five. I don't have that much time left to do this kind of pop record. Let's be real about it."

The idea for the album, she says, came to her one morning during No Doubt's Rock Steady tour two years ago. She heard one of her favorite dance tracks from the Eighties, Club Nouveau's "Why You Treat Me So Bad," turned to Kanal over breakfast and said, "I want to do that song." It was Kanal, after all, who had introduced her to that kind of music when the two were teenage sweethearts, before she turned him onto ska, before No Doubt had a record deal.

"I was super ska girl when I met Tony," she says. "I wore only black and white and these hoop earrings. Tony went to Anaheim High School, which is the big cholo school. He came over here from England at eleven. He has Indian parents, and he was the first-born, so he didn't have any influences. He thought he was Prince. Because I had a crush on him, he turned me on to Prince and Lisa Lisa and Debbie Deb, and that stuff has always had a special place in my heart."

When No Doubt got to the end of the tour in late 2002, everyone in the band was ready for a break. Stefani had just married Rossdale, Kanal "had his first real girlfriend," guitarist Tom Dumont was engaged, and drummer Adrian Young's wife had given birth to their first baby. "Everything started changing," Stefani explains. "All those years we were only committed to each other, but then we grew up. You could tell certain people in the band needed a break."

The night before she is scheduled to perform at the 2004 Billboard Music Awards, Stefani sits on the couch in a Las Vegas hotel room looking like Alice in Wonderland on casual Friday. Her hair is held off her face with a thick velvet headband, and she's dressed in a black sweater, jeans and white sweat socks. A keyboard with colored tape marking specific keys sits next to the couch so that Stefani can rehearse the intro to "What You Waiting For?" in her spare time. She starts by showing me a big white blister on her thumb that she got after one of the candles in her hotel room tipped over and spilled hot wax on her. "I can't stop playing with it," she squeaks.

"I was in such a shit mood before you came," she says. "I'm really on my period right now, really bad. I'm so emotional. I'm gonna cry just talking about it." Many of Stefani's stories involve her either crying, or nearly crying. "I'm just really emotional," she says. "I don't fight with people — like, I can barely fight with my husband because I'll just start crying instead. I've learned not to do that so much. Period week, I cry a lot. And the week when I was going to Anaheim to play my first show by myself, I cried on the way, because I was like, This is surreal. Why does the first show have to be in Anaheim?'"

Gwen Stefani's parents — Dad is a marketing exec and Mom quit her job as a dental assistant to stay home with the kids — still live in the same house in Anaheim where she grew up with her older brother, Eric, younger sister, Jill, and younger brother, Todd. "My mom and dad met at Anaheim High School," she says. "After they got married, all they wanted to do was have four children, and they did." When the kids were still small, their parents would take them to bluegrass and folk festivals; one of the first shows Gwen remembers seeing was Emmylou Harris. "She had just had a baby," she says, "and she took a break in the middle of the show to go feed the baby. I couldn't believe it."

The Stefani kids still all live relatively close to home, and though Gwen says she's very close with Jill — the two call each other simply "sister" — it was Eric whom she idolized as a teenager. No Doubt was his band before he recruited Gwen to share singing duties with the late John Spence, who committed suicide in 1987. Eric quit the group before Tragic Kingdom came out and now works full-time as a cartoonist. "Everything Eric was into, I got into," she says. "He's supercreative, and he was this high school cartoonist and he was in marching band, and he had all these wild artist friends. I don't know if he really was cool or not, but he seemed cool to me."

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