No Doubt bands together to overcome uncertainty

Music: With sudden fame came internal problems. Only a group decision, and strong friendship, could keep things together.

June 15, 2000|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Going from nowhere to the top of the charts is a trip many musicians dream of someday taking. Everyone imagines how great it will be - fans and fame and fortune. Your video on MTV, your face on the cover of Rolling Stone, your name in the gossip columns.

But it's never a smooth ride. Just ask anybody in No Doubt.

"We went through so much craziness with the success of the last album," guitarist Tom Dumont says. Before the release of "Tragic Kingdom" in 1996, No Doubt was just another Southern California ska band, with a solid but strictly regional reputation.

Two years later, No Doubt was one of the biggest bands in rock, with a multi-platinum album and several hit singles to its credit. Suddenly, the band, which also includes singer Gwen Stefani, bassist Tony Kanal and drummer Adrian Young, was everywhere, and it didn't take long before the strain of overnight success began to show. "It was such an intense thing to go through," says Dumont. "There were a lot of highs, and definitely a lot of lows as well. But as friends, we came out stronger than ever in the end."

Indeed, as No Doubt begins to tour behind its latest release, "Return of Saturn," the band (which plays the Merriweather Post Pavilion this evening) is more cohesive than ever.

"When we came back to sit down and write songs for this record, we had a lot of fun together," he says. "It was something we all looked forward to. Something about going through turmoil together kind of brings you closer."

This camaraderie wasn't merely a matter of bonding over old tour stories, however. As the quartet began to write and record "Return of Saturn," Dumont says he and his bandmates began to notice a new dynamic at work. Where once the group acted as if all its members are equal, now it understood that one - Stefani - was a little more equal than the others.

"It feels good to settle into this thing where we have a little bit of a leader in Gwen," says Dumont. "It's a natural structure for a band, but we fought it for a long time."

Things weren't so comfortable in the band's first blush of success. Because the music press tends to act as if singers automatically outrank all other band members, No Doubt was widely seen as being Stefani plus three other guys - a view that didn't exactly sit well with those guys.

"We got thrown for a loop with the whole Gwen thing," says Dumont. "I think we were maybe a little bit naive, and that there was a little bit of ego involved. But we've had a lot of perspective on things since coming back from that whole `Tragic Kingdom' tour, and getting back into our normal lives."

Of course, things weren't entirely back to normal in those lives. Although all four members of No Doubt moved away from the band's original stomping grounds in Anaheim, they didn't move far. Stefani and Kanal settled in Hollywood, while Dumont and Young moved to Long Beach. Beyond that, though, Dumont insists that life is not extremely different than it was before. "We have mostly the same friends," he says. "And when we're off the road, we still hang out."

But the shift in perspective regarding Stefani's role in the band definitely changed the way No Doubt made music and for the better, in Dumont's view. "On this record, we really tried to support her instrumentally," he says. "In my role as guitarist, I'd leave a little more space for the vocal, and try to support the emotional content of what she's singing about.

Overall, Dumont feels that everyone in the band has a better sense now of where and how they fit into the overall scheme.

"We're all trying to pull the same way, instead of pulling against each other," he says.

No Doubt

When: Tonight at 7:30

Where: Merriweather Post Pavilion

Tickets: $31.50

Call: 410-481-7328 for tickets, 410-730-2424 for information.

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