A year ago, new music from Gwen Stefani included very high profile collabs — Pharrell Williams and Eminem, for two — and the shiny writing of hitmaker Benny Blanco. But despite the release of those few singles, when the singer finally debuts her third solo album, it won’t be the one she originally intended to put out.
“It didn’t feel right,” Stefani tells EW of scrapping that collection. “I didn’t feel fulfilled. That record with Benny was done that way because I had just given birth and had just started on The Voice and felt like I should do something in music, but what was I going to do? There wasn’t enough time. So I tried to make a record where I was just kind of involved — which is how a lot of people do it, but it didn’t work for me.”
The months since have also been personally tumultuous for the No Doubt frontwoman. In August, she and her husband of 13 years, Gavin Rossdale, announced their divorce. Saturday night as Stefani commanded the state at New York City’s Hammerstein Ballroom for her MasterCard Priceless Surprises concert, she debuted a track off the new set of music called “Used To Love You.” Hyper-personal lyrics like “I thought I was the best thing about you” and “I guess nobody taught you how to love,” felt immediate and affecting to the 2,200-strong crowd.
“I needed to go through what I needed to go through to write the record that I needed to write. There was a lot of prayer and meditating in the sense of trying to be open and grateful with this record,” Stefani tells EW of her process. “These songs are really natural — they’re from not worrying about what happened or what’s going to happen but about living in the moment, from trying to be present and trying to feel.”
Stefani says once the songs started coming, they just wouldn’t stop. “I’ve never had that before,” she says. “In the beginning, I was just really naïve. I didn’t know I could write songs. But then once you have success and people hear your work, you’re never pure again. Then it became a huge burden. Coming off Tragic Kingdom (1995) — touring for two years and 15 million albums sold, moving out of my parents house at 26 into a mansion — everything changed. I felt like then I had to prove I was a good songwriter. And that took like three years, Return to Saturn (2000). And then it was Rock Steady (2001) where I was like, ‘I’m just going to be free and have fun!’ That record was a lot freer and faster, and fun. And then [Love Angel Music Baby (2004)]. And then I wasn’t even ready to shut down, so I made Sweet Escape (2006). And then the last No Doubt record was just really hard, it was no one’s fault, it just was what it was. Music has been a journey, a real journey.”
While the singer doesn’t offer an expected release date for the music, she began writing in June and already has more than an album’s worth of material. “It happened really fast,” she admits. “[But] I just feel so lucky to make music. It’s a gift to channel true emotions and then capture them. When I finish a song I listen to it so many times — until I can’t listen again — because you learn things about yourself that you didn’t even know you were saying, or needed to say.”