On September 25, something we haven’t seen in more than a decade will finally arrive: a brand new No Doubt studio album.
Push and Shove is the long-gestating result of a reunion begun back in 2008 but regularly undone by family obligations, touring schedules, and good old-fashioned writer’s block. Entertainment Weekly caught up with guitarist Tom Dumont to talk about the process of getting back together, the core sound of Push and Shove, and the strangeness of being a rock band full of parents.
EW: This album has been in development for almost four years… Tom Dumont: We came back together in 2008. Gwen finished her second solo album and tour cycle in 2007, so we said 2008 was the year for a new No Doubt album. We started to write, but then Gwen became pregnant with her second baby. So we thought, “We can write and record an album while Gwen’s pregnant—we’re in the studio, we don’t need to go on the road.” But we were up against a bit of writer’s block. And Gwen had just come off all her solo stuff and was pregnant, so she was just exhausted. And I think she would tell you the same thing.
So she had Zuma [her second son, born in August 2008] and then we decided to try to go out on tour to reconnect with each other on stage and with our audience. So that was the 2009 summer tour, which ended up being fantastic. We had a lot of fun, and we realized we had a huge audience there waiting for us. That gave us a lot of confidence. At the end of that year we started the process up again. We’re all parents now, and the challenge is balancing the time between trying to be good parents and doing a good job and making a great album. That stretched the process longer than it might have been. It’s rock and roll all grown up.
At what point in the process did the single “Settle Down” get written and recorded? It was pretty early on — I think early 2010. It might have been the second or third or fourth song we wrote. We were doing most of the writing at [bassist] Tony [Kanal]’s house. He has a home studio, and we would get together a couple of afternoons a week. Most songs started with the music. That song was one of the few on the album that we started with a Jamaican dancehall beat — something we explored a lot on Rock Steady, and in the case of this record, I think it was the only one that started that way.
We started with that kind of musical inspiration, and I would build the musical bed really quickly. I’d sketch it out while Gwen and Tony sat there and waiting for me. I was able to build these things without thinking a whole lot in a half hour or 45 minutes. From there, they would sit with the music and come up with vocal melody ideas. At the end of the process they would fit the lyrics, and the lyrical idea usually came last — hat’s mostly Gwen’s thing.
So is that the same process you went through on previous albums? It’s an evolution of the same process. Rock Steady was pretty similar. In the earlier days, like the Tragic Kingdom days, it was pre-computer, so we’d sit with a cassette recorder and a guitar, and it would be me and Gwen and a cassette tape, and we’d write it that way. The process has evolved a little bit because of technology, but it’s really the same thing.
You mentioned that a lot of Rock Steady was inspired by Jamaican dancehall. Was there a particular cornerstone sound for Push and Shove? Musically, the inspiration came from two worlds. One is that Jamaican-inspired part of the band, the ska-reggae-dancehall vibe. There are a few things on the album that come from that place. The title track comes from that place—it’s kind of a modern ska song, for lack of a better description. A song like “Sparkle” is modern sounding but has a groove from more of a ’70s reggae vibe.
But the other half of our inspirational palette is British music from the ‘80s, stuff like Depeche Mode and the Cure and OMD. That’s the other side of us. How those two sides fit together I don’t know, but that’s our sound. That’s what makes us No Doubt. A lot of that record is more of that ‘80s British New Wave kind of flavor. I think the other singles will start to tell a fuller story of what the album is. We’ve always had a really hard time focusing on one sound. We just can’t help ourselves. In the old days, the record label used to tell us to focus, and we’ve just never done that. [Laughs]
What sort of contributions did producer Mark “Spike” Stent make? Spike fills in a lot of roles for us. On one hand, he’s the best in the business as far as making things sonically awesome and interesting, and he really acts in some ways like a coach trying to get the best performances out of us. He’s also a filter in that sense. On a lot of the songs on this album, we rewrote sections over and over again, and Spike would be good about saying, “You know what? This chorus is not good enough. It’s not great. Let’s see if we can beat it.” In a lot of cases, he was the one driving us to try to do better. So he’s a quality control filter as well.
What about Major Lazer? What was that collaboration like? Major Lazer was a really different kind of relationship. We collaborated with them on “Push and Shove,” the title track. That song started with a musical bed they had created in Jamaica with an artist named Busy Signal. They sent it to us, and we wrote a chorus for that and a bridge and added a bunch of lyrics. Then we went back and forth and ended up with this modern ska epic. It’s six minutes long. It’s really awesome.
What are some of your favorite songs on the album? What are you looking forward to playing live? I’m really proud of the album overall. It’s one of those things that as I’m recording them, I can close my eyes and picture being on stage in front of 20,000 people. “One More Summer” is one of those songs that I think will go over really well.
One of the fun things about playing live is watching the audience sing the songs back to us. There’s another song called “Easy” that is another perfect summer anthem that feels like it’s going to go over great. There’s a song called “Undone” that is probably the one true ballad on the album. That may not go over as well live, because it’s a little more introspective and chilled out, but it’s a beautiful song, and I’m so proud of what Gwen achieved on that lyrically and melodically.