It's Monday in Los Angeles, the day before the release of No Doubt's fourth album, Return of Saturn, and all the gang is here at S.I.R. Studios in a little back office, doing a live Web chat with a few thousand fans. There's drummer Adrian Young, 30, cracking open a stapler and firing staples at people. He has spiky brown hair with patches dyed blond, a love for golf (he's an eight handicap and an aggressive long hitter) and liquor (he'll drink almost anything, but right now Jack and Coke is his, and the band's, favorite), and an energetic punk soul. "Adrian's the adrenalin for the whole project," someone says. Guitarist Tom Dumont, 32, is sitting quietly in the corner. He's a shy, intellectual sort, easygoing in the way that only sunbaked SoCal boys can be, a surfer at heart, a guy who proves that still waters run deep. He's the one with the strongest musical education. "Tom is the musician of the band," they say.
Bassist Tony Kanal, 29, is plugging in his Macintosh G3. He's an intensely cool cat with a deep, breathy voice that is the sound of sincerity. He's the kid in your high school who was somehow down with everyone. He's the one who tells the band before a concert for fifty fans, "This is the biggest show of our lives." He's the one who spends all day on the phone keeping management in check, making sure No Doubt don't shit on their fans, the band's conscience. "All I do is No Doubt," he says. "It's really important to us to be fair about everything we do, because I know that feeling of going to see Prince at the Forum, and my dad buying me a ticket and it being a struggle for him to afford that ticket." Tony is also the ex-boyfriend of singer Gwen Stefani (though Return's lead single, "Ex-Girlfriend," isn't about him). The two are best friends and share personal space the way lovers do – leaning over each other, being a little touchier than friends. During the Web chat, Tony says, "I am single. I have yet to meet the girl of my dreams, but I'm out there exploring." Gwen barks, "That's not true!" then drops the issue with a laugh.
And then there's Gwen, 30, sipping hot tea because she's a little sick. The tall diva dynamo has her neon-pink hair pulled back and is rocking a black T-shirt with a pink cartoon cat, a white calf-length wool sweater-jacket held together by forty or fifty safety pins, and cranberry-colored toenails. She's the one who fills the room with her presence, playing coy, cartoonish sexy as well as badass hot mama – a little bit Betty Boop, a little bit Buffy. (Boop is on her key chain.) She's also the creative leader. Adrian pushes for the sound to rock, Tom brings his knowledge of music theory, and Tony adds his propulsive bass and often serves as Gwen's muse, either as songwriting partner or subject, but Gwen, the other members say, was the major force behind the direction of Return of Saturn. "When we went into making this record, Gwen wanted to do music that wasn't as quirky," Tom says. "When a band like us pushes to be serious, there's this lame side to that idea. But that's the direction she was pulling us, and we all wanted to follow."
"She has ideas all the time, and we don't," Adrian says. "Even drum parts, though she sometimes doesn't know what she's talking about, but she sometimes does."
Gwen herself deflects the title. "Am I the creative leader?" she says. "I don't know. But my opinion sure counts for a lot in my group of friends, and that feels good. I think I've earned that."
The gang is arranged around a little desk, Tony's G3 logged on to the site so they can watch the chat unfold. The Webmistress relates the questions coming in from the fans, and they tell her what to type. The gang is polite and mindful of one another in the way that people who've been married – which they essentially are – for a long time are. But this is No Doubt, and no matter what, they're gonna have a good time. Tony logs on to the chat as Boogerface Guys.
"If you could take one album to the moon, what would it be?" the Webmistress says. "I would say Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon," Tom says. "That's good, Tom," Tony says.
"I would say Beatles, White Album, 'cause it's actually two albums," Adrian says with a smart-aleck grin.
"That's a good idea, Adrian," Gwen says, sounding like a mother.
On the screen, Boogerface Guys asks, "Who has the biggest penis? Who has the worst farts?" Everyone giggles.
"I'm not gonna participate in such a silly question," Gwen says. "Of course, I'm never gonna get to the moon."
Tony and Tom: "Good answer!"
Boogerface Guys: "Adrian, I saw your penis at Roseland! Wow!"
"If you guys were trapped on a deserted island," the Webmistress asks, "who would you eat first?"
They pause a moment, looking for a diplomatic way out.
"That's a great question," Tony says with amazing sincerity.
Boogerface Guys: "Tom, is it true you put peanut butter on your genitals and let your dog lick it off?" Everyone laughs.
"I'd eat Tom last," Tony says in all seriousness." 'Cause he has the smelliest farts, and I do not know what's goin' on inside his body."
"That is fucked up, dude," Tom says, deadpan. "I feel really bad." Staples from Adrian's staple gun are flying. Gwen is cracking up. Things are out of control.
The Webmistress, unaware of the brewing chaos, says, "What's the craziest thing you've ever clone onstage?"
Adrian leans into the speakerphone: "Stage-dive naked into the audience and tattoo my ball sack on a teenager's forehead. Yeah!"
Boogerface Guys: "I was that teenager!!! I love your balls!!!"
Do No Doubt fans have more fun than the gang? Doubtful.
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