The Love in Music

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At 47, Gwen Stefani probably didn’t think she’d be where she is now. But instead of letting the breakdown of her 13-year marriage devastate her, she threw herself back into work and emerged victorious. With a new album under her belt, a cosmetic collaboration with Urban Decay and as a voice in the upcoming animated feature ‘Trolls’, Priya Kumar finds out how Stefani has never been more in her element

“I’ve gone through two great heartbreaks in my life and even though that can be so crushing, this record has helped me get back to what I love so much,” Gwen Stefani bravely admits. It’s been an absolute rollercoaster of a year for the songstress. Over the summer of 2015 she ended her 13-year marriage to husband Gavin Rossdale after a very public fallout over an alleged affair. As opposed to suffering in silence, the pop star took to the studio, producing her third solo album, ‘This is What the Truth Feels Like’. “It’s been tough, but putting together the album has been such a blessing. I never expected it to happen the way it did but sometimes things just work out for a reason. Sometimes good things are the result of bad things going on in your life.”

Stefani came from a conservative background in Anaheim, California. Love was meant to be forever. Her first serious relationship was with No Doubt bassist, Tony Kanal. In fact, it was his Indian mother who inspired Stefani’s desi-influenced look in the mid-nineties, featuring mehndi and a bindi. Much of the inspiration for No Doubt’s chart-topping album ‘Tragic Kingdom’ came from the emotional pain of going through that breakup. Besides getting Stefani through that time, and bringing the music genre of Ska mainstream, it also led to her meeting Rossdale. In the late ‘90s, No Doubt opened for Bush, the band he fronted, on tour. But ultimately, her own fame eclipsed even his.

Twenty years, three solo albums, an acclaimed fashion empire and countless beauty collaborations later, Stefani is nothing short of a legend. She herself is a lucrative and very much in-demand brand. In addition to her three beautiful sons, Kingston (10), Zuma (8) and Apollo (2), Stefani was also a judge on the popular American singing competition The Voice until last season. Incidentally, it was through this project that she found love once again, with fellow judge and country music sensation, Blake Shelton.

This year also saw Stefani partnering with Urban Decay on a line of cosmetics. Considering her edgy and absolutely ageless look, it’s hard to believe she turns 47-years-old this month, the alliance could not be more apt. Back to the music, Stefani also has a full-fledged world tour to think about and she’s not about to let her feelings keep her from her fans: “This is all part of my life journey and I’m so happy to be able to do this tour and to show my fans how much I love them and share this music with them.”

I recently had the opportunity to catch-up with Stefani on the song-writing experience that followed her most recent heartbreak. If nothing else, she proves she’s as resilient as ever:

Would you describe working on ‘This is What it Feels Like’ as a cathartic process?

It’s been so healing, the process of writing it and sharing it. And to go live with it takes it to a whole other place. It means a lot to me, to be able to go face-to-face with the people that have actually supported me all these years and through this year especially.

You’ve described the process of songwriting as traumatic. Was that all the more so on your new album?

The first time I started writing songs for ‘Tragic Kingdom’, I was in a very bad place. My heart was cracked and I needed to write to help get me through that terrible time in my life. But I decided that instead of feeling sad and sorry for myself I needed to get out and put my feelings into music and that’s how I’ve always approached my work.

I still don’t know exactly how I do it but it just comes to me and it’s something so beautiful and rewarding to be able to write a song that touches people and connects you to audiences all over the world.

How do the melodies and lyrics come to you when you’re suffering emotionally or going through the end of your marriage, as was the case with this new album?

I feel like God just handed these songs down to me as this kind of Band-Aid to help me through this crazy time in my life. And it’s all about finding your gift and then sharing it. I think of being able to pour my emotions into songs as a gift. It’s very gratifying to be able to go through those difficult and negative feelings and use them to create something positive.
I was aching to be creative again and so this has been so inspiring and comforting because I was feeling insecure about my work and now I feel I’ve got my confidence back.

Did you have an idea beforehand what kind of sound or feel you wanted to the album?

No, I just wanted to write songs that expressed what I was going through emotionally at the time. That was the inspiration and force behind the album. It was really hard because I just wanted to get under the covers and eat pizza and cry. But I just went to the studio.

How long did it take you to finish the album?

It came together a lot quicker than I expected. It took me eight weeks to finish the record and sometimes it’s taken me three years to finish an album. I wrote ‘Used to Love You’, the first single to be released from the album, and two weeks later it was on the air. It was like this was all happening in real time.

Sometimes there are these miracles that happen to you. Getting pregnant with Apollo was one miracle, and then getting The Voice was another miracle. You never know what’s in store for you.

Looking back, was making the album the best thing you could have done for yourself while you were going through this personal turmoil?

Sometimes really bad things happen just so that really great things will happen, and I think that’s what happened to me. It was like a wake-up call. When things started to kind of, like in my life, unravel last year, I thought to myself: ‘Get back on track and stop being insecure about writing and your gift and what you’re here for, and stop being selfish and share what you’ve got.’

What are your thoughts about your upcoming tour? Is it going to be more emotionally exhausting than otherwise because the songs from this new album are so very personal?

Touring is very draining. It’s both satisfying and healing, and it’s going to be something that’s going to make me feel super empowered. Every time I go out on stage, I have to do my very best. You can’t just walk through it. Like you have to be in it, and it’s exhausting.

And I think that’s one of the reasons I haven’t toured in seven years, because the last tour I did almost killed me, like after having those two babies and then going on tour and nursing an infant. And doing those No Doubt shows are really super physical!

How do you feel these days?

I’m in a great place now. This record was a lifesaver and it’s hard for me to describe this crazy journey I’ve been on this past year. I never expected any of this and I feel like this music just dropped out of the sky.