Tony Kanal gives us the lowdown on what influences the band's new album
It took 11 years for No Doubt to release the follow-up to the mega-successful Rock Steady. But you wouldn't know it from listening to the giddy, good-timin' Push And Shove. The album is full of catchy, deeply New Wave-influenced pop, though this time No Doubt's trademark Jamaican music touches share space with a dappling of EDM. In advance of the album's release, the band's bassist, Tony Kanal, who also co-writes much of the music with singer Gwen Stefani and guitarist Tom Dumont, spoke with us about the sounds that went into Push And Shove.
"Look," says Kanal, "the Jamaican dancehall stuff, the reggae influences and the ska influence, are always going to be part of our DNA. But for this album we found ourselves going back and getting inspired by a lot of the synth-pop and dance bands that came out of the U.K. during the '70s and '80s. I think that's because we were limited by the amount of time we could actually spend together. Gwen needs to spend time with her kids. So we had to find ways to get inspired really quickly. We did that by going back to the things that really moved us when we were teenagers and in our 20s. They still give us that emotional rush and get us in that headspace to get ready to write our own music."
Peter Hook's bass playing
Out of unforeseen necessity, Kanal ended up emulating the distinctive melodic style of former New Order bassist Peter Hook. "When we wrote this record," says Kanal, "I spent most of my energy writing the songs with Gwen and [guitarist] Tom [Dumont]. I didn't really worry about building the song production-wise. Because of that I didn't really focus on my basslines until really late in the process, which was completely different than every other record we've ever made. Some times we'd already put down a synth bassline by the time I was ready to do my part. And that meant the songs didn't really call for a traditional bassline. So we said, 'Fuck it, let's just go Peter Hook style.' I'd play melodic basslines up high on the neck of the bass guitar. A New Order song like 'Perfect Kiss' is a great example of what the kind of sound I was getting on our album."
For Kanal, British New Wavers Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark are "are geniuses. Andy McCluskey is the singer and he also plays bass, which is incredibly difficult way to multi-task. I finally saw them live last year and his playing and singing are so incredible. As pop songs, the early stuff like 'Electricity' and 'Enola Gay' were such inspirations to Gwen and I, especially melodically. They inspired us to try and do our own John Hughes prom-scene movie moment kind of songs. I could go on about them forever. If you're gonna get one of their early albums, either get the first one, which is self-titled, or Organisation. Junk Culture is great too. It's so hard. If you get the greatest hits you'd be super duper set, but there's so much more to the band."
The band's new Push And Shove has a definite EDM slant, but to achieve that, No Doubt gave up some control. "There is an EDM influence," explains Kanal, "but it came from the programmers that Spike [Stent], the album's producer brought in. We don't listen to any of that stuff. We're familiar with names and the sounds, but it's not the stuff that you would hear us putting on in our hotel room. We would write our songs, then we'd have a programmer come in and add, for lack of a better term, bloops and bleeps on top of everything. Of course, the funny thing is that a lot of the modern-day dance music people are super-influenced by the '70s and '80s stuff that we already love. So it was a natural fit for No Doubt."
The (relatively) stripped-down country-pop vibe of the new album's "Undone" wasn't the result of the band's going on a Taylor Swift kick. Instead, the song's genesis came from good old-fashioned elbow grease. " 'Undone' is the last song we wrote for the album," says Kanal. "We had ten songs done, and Gwen said, 'Do you think we should do one more?' We wrote the early idea for 'Undone' but it just wasn't working. Then Gwen had to go to England for some family stuff and when she was there, she sent me an email saying that she had an idea for what to do with 'Undone.' She sent me these demos and she was totally right, there was something there. I'd been ready to be done with the album. But we kept working on this one song. There was a space that needed be filled on the album. 'Undone' was an answer to how upbeat the rest of the album is. It came together really quickly. I can hear a country thing on it, but that wasn't on purpose. We didn't put too much production on the song. It was guitar, bass, drums, piano, vocals, and some strings. It turned out great. It was a breathing space for the album. It's a nice note for us to end on."