Just a year and a half after her epic third solo LP, This Is What the Truth Feels Like, Gwen Stefani is back with brand new music. The singer, 48, dropped her Christmas album, You Make It Feel Like Christmas, which features six new tracks along with standards like “Jingle Bells” and “Silent Night,” earlier this month.
“I love the idea of being a part of the joy of Christmas,” Stefani tells EW. “And I love the idea of having a record that will be an annual thing. I really hope we hit on something that people want to hear every year. That would be the fantasy: to be Mariah Carey.”
Below, EW caught up with the No Doubt frontwoman to talk about collaborating with boyfriend Blake Shelton, breaking down genre boundaries — and, surprisingly, what role wildebeests played in the writing of this new record.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This Is What The Truth Feels Like just came out last year. Were you feeling particularly inspired?
GWEN STEFANI: It’s just crazy how fast time goes. And I’ve always felt like Christmas is this great marker of time; it’s the end of the year, you kind of take note of everything that happened and what you want to happen coming up. But, yeah, it’s crazy that I did it. You know how many records I’ve made, not many! [Laughs]
How was writing for a themed record different than writing for your last album?
That last record, I didn’t make that to share it. I made that record to save my life. I didn’t think I could write anymore and then it just flew out of me — and thank God! So after, I honestly didn’t think I’d make another record. I was like, “There’s nothing left to say!”
It just came into my head. When I pray, I pray for guidance, and when those little sparks of ideas come out of nowhere, I just have to believe that is what it is. And when it came to me, I texted my managers and was like, “I’m going to make a Christmas record, by the way!” Within a week I had a session.
You worked with busbee for the first time (5 Seconds of Summer, Jason Aldean). What were you looking for in a collaborator?
Blake’s the one who said I should work with busbee, actually. [And] the thing that’s cool about him is that he has no genre boundaries. He does write for Nashville but he also does everybody else. When I went to the studio, I brought [songwriter] Justin Tranter with me because, like, what if I hated busbee? [Laughs] But we all hit it off within 10 minutes! He was like, “It needs to be raw and punk and sort of classical at the same time!”
You have classic Christmas songs like “Let It Snow” on the album, but also six original songs. Which one kicked off your writing process?
I was at Blake’s ranch in Oklahoma [this year] and there are all these exotic animals — like wildebeests! It’s like Jurassic Park. I decided to go for a run and, you know some people meditate, but I pray, so I was like “I’m going to do my physical exercise and also my mental and spiritual exercise all at the same time! So I was out there thinking to myself, “If I wrote a Christmas song, what would it be?” And, literally, this whole chorus comes out of my mouth! I was just singing out loud, by myself, with the wildebeests, this song called “Christmas Eve.” [Laughs]
Blake also recorded it for his own Christmas record. How’d he ask for that?
I’ve never had anyone record a song of mine for one of their records — let alone one of the biggest country stars ever, so I was like, “Okay, babe!” He went into Capitol Records and recorded it and then he was like, “I really think this song needs to have children on it.” So he went to the Nashville Children’s Hospital to see what kids wanted to and were well enough to sing on it. That song is like a Christmas miracle to me.
You and Blake also duet for the second time since you began dating on the title track. Did you get in the studio together?
We haven’t directly worked in the same room. [Laughs] I’m dying to, but I’m scared! Anytime you’re going to write with somebody, it’s very intimate and it’s very scary. I’ve only recently learned how to be confident and just be like, “Why do you beat yourself up?” But he was on the bus and he was just sitting around and he came up with the “I wanna thank ya baby” melody and he’s like, “I was just sitting around and thinking about this idea and I don’t know if you can do anything with it…” He’s so humble it’s stupid. When I heard it I was like, “Oh my God, you are such a jerk! You just sent me a hit!” I couldn’t ever imagine having a better Christmas song! It’s uptempo, it’s fun, it doesn’t sound like any style, it has a country guy on it — it’s such a weird mixture! It’s almost like a No Doubt song with Blake on it.
Has this whole process reignited any desire for another solo record?
I’m not writing at all. [Laughs] I don’t ever write until I have to. But last week I was fantasizing about doing a record. I don’t know…I have to be really picky because of time, because of my kids. But I think about it a lot. I love writing. There’s nothing that compares to it when I think about all the things I do. There’s nothing that gives you that thrill or that fire, when you get a song done — it’s just so addicting.