No Doubt is more than 'Just a Girl'

December 05, 1996|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

A successful video can be a double-edged sword for some bands. On the one hand, being in heavy rotation on a major video channel can help establish your sound and image; on the other hand, a lot of fans are going to end up thinking that you are what your video presents. And quite often, there's more to a band than what gets seen on MTV.

Just ask No Doubt. When this California-based ska band broke through earlier this year with the catchy, skanking "Just a Girl," it seemed that after almost 10 years of hard work, the band was finally going to hit the big time. Except that some viewers didn't actually realize there was a band, so relentless was the video's focus on singer Gwen Stefano.

"I think we kind of walked into the trap unknowingly," says guitarist Tom Dumont. "When we did that first video, we wanted to establish ourselves as a band. But once we made it and it got out, we realized what had happened -- the media and everybody totally focused on Gwen."

"Just the fact that that song was 'Just a Girl,' people are going to focus on Gwen," adds bassist Tony Kanal. "They're going to focus on Gwen because she is the lead singer; because the first single that we released was 'Just a Girl,' and it is very autobiographical; and because she is who she is. And she is the kind of person that people like to focus on.

"It might have maybe helped foster the misconception that we were back-up musicians. When that was completely opposite from the truth of the band. The truth is that we have been a band, we write songs together. We've been a band for nine and a half years. It's a completely equal situation."

In fact, even though the lyrics to "Just a Girl" were pure Stefano, the music was totally collaborative. "When it was written, it was just me and Gwen sitting in the garage, and we were saying to each other, 'Let's try to write a new wave-y song,' " says Dumont. "I was saying I would like to write this kind of new wave-y riff, like Devo had with 'Whip It' ... That kind of vibe."

What Dumont eventually came up with was the jaunty, descending guitar riff that opens the song. "We were just improvising, and that riff came out," he says. "It all happened kind of accidentally. I actually envisioned the drumming being more like a double-time thing when we were writing it, but Adrian [Young], when he came in, put more of a half-time, laid-back ska drums behind it. Then it went to double-time with the chorus."

That sort of collaborative interaction carries over to the band's stage show as well. Because the whole band is in constant motion, No Doubt seems almost to radiate energy and enthusiasm, qualities that go a long way toward explaining why the group has such a large and loyal following among ska fans.

"We came from that whole school of thinking that you give people 150 percent every time," says Kanal. "You don't bring people down to your show and expect them to stand there and look at your shoes. We just came from that whole thing of giving them a show, as well.

"It's not that we want to make the music any less important," he adds. "For us, the music is the most important thing that we're doing. But we also like to give that energy to the crowd, because what they do is take it and give it right back to you. It's a two-way street. And once you're doing that, and you have that channel flowing, it just makes the show so much more incredible."

No Doubt

When: Monday, 8 p.m.

Where: Patriot Center

Tickets: $18

Call: (410) 481-7328

Sundial: To hear excerpts from No Doubt's new release, "Tragic Kingdom," call Sundial at (410) 783-1800 and enter the code 6113. For other local Sundial numbers, see the directory on Page 2A.

Pub Date: 12/05/96

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