After having achieved such phenomenal success over the last few decades, it’s natural to wonder what Gwen Stefani was doing before she shot to fame.
Stefani joined the ska band No Doubt in 1986 and spent ten years singing and performing with them to limited success before 1995’s Tragic Kingdom brought the band to the attention of the mainstream.
Gwen Stefani’s early career with No Doubt was a rollercoaster, including the loss of bandmates, her split with Tony Kanal, and eventual superstardom.
Stefani’s Early Years
Gwen Renée Stefani was born in Fullerton, California, in 1969. Stefani grew up surrounded by music, especially folk music, and was taken to Bob Dylan and Emmylou Harris concerts by her parents.
Stefani wasn’t content to just listen to music – she wanted to be actively involved. One of her earliest performances was at a high school talent show where she sang “I Have Confidence” from The Sound of Music. Musicals have also had a major influence on the singer, especially Annie and Evita.
Stefani had a relatively normal life through her adolescence, working part-time jobs at Dairy Queen and the make-up counter at a department store. She attended Fullerton College and later transferred to California State University.
Joining No Doubt
No Doubt was formed in 1986 by Stefani’s brother Eric with his and Gwen’s Dairy Queen coworker, John Spence. Spence’s catchphrase “no doubt” gave rise to the band’s moniker. Eric would go on to play keyboard, with John Spence on vocals. Eric invited his sister, Stefani, to join the band.
Eric was also the person who introduced Stefani to ska and 2 Tone music in the first place, including bands such as Madness and The Selector.
Still in high school at the time, Stefani sang co-lead vocals with John Spence. However, in 1987, Spence committed suicide. At first, it seemed like it would be the end for No Doubt. “He was the inspiration for the whole band,” Eric Stefani said in a 1997 interview with People magazine.
Only four days later, No Doubt was due to play at the Roxy Theatre. Originally the band intended it to be their last performance, feeling they couldn’t go on without Spence, but a month later No Doubt reformed, citing that they felt it was what Spence would have wanted. They recorded a song in Spence’s memory, titled “Dear John”:
Many of the band members credit Stefani for being the glue that held the band together at the time.
Striving For Success
Success did not come immediately for the band. Their ska-pop style didn’t mesh with the popular grunge music of the time.
During this time, Stefani began a relationship with the band’s bass player, Tony Kanal. The British-born musician resisted Stefani’s overtures at first. “It was pretty much an unspoken rule that nobody dates Gwen. You know, you had her older brother in the band and he was real protective – it was almost like a bunch of brothers and our sister.”
This relationship would last until the recording of the band’s third studio album in 1995, Tragic Kingdom, which took three years to record. It was the break up between Kane and Stefani that would give rise to the song “Don’t Speak”, which became a hit single and pushed the band toward the mainstream.
The band went on to find commercial success, minus Eric Stefani who left to pursue a career in animation. During this time, Stefani met Bush lead singer Gavin Rossdale and entered a relationship with him.
L.A.M.B. and Solo Career
In 2004, Stefani released a solo album titled Love. Angel. Music. Baby, often shortened to L.A.M.B. The album was a blend of the music Stefani had grown up listening to in the ‘80s and ‘90s, mashing up electro, synthpop, and new wave.
The initial single “What You Waiting For?” debuted in the top 10 of most charts and reached number 47 on the Billboard Hot 100. The album itself went on to make multi-platinum in the USA, UK, Australia, and Canada.
Stefani has built on this success with a further three solo studio albums, the 2012 Push and Shove album with No Doubt, and her own fashion line named after the L.A.M.B album.
From Dairy Queen to “Queen of Confessional Pop”, Stefani has definitely come a long way.