Before she discovered she could write songs, Gwen Stefani was looking forward to a life of marriage, children, and white picket fences. When her brother introduced her to ska and new wave music, it set off a chain of events that would eventually lead to millions of albums sold and a Madonna-sized public image that extended past music and into the worlds of film, fashion, and technology.
Born and raised in Fullerton, California, Stefani had a musical epiphany at the age of 17. She had fallen in love with the Madness and Selecter records her brother Eric was constantly spinning. Seeing Fishbone, the Untouchables, and other bands involved in Los Angeles’ ska revival scene only reinforced her interest, so she was more than ready when her brother asked her to join a ska band he was forming with a friend named John Spence. Gwen originally shared lead vocals with Spence, but in December of 1987 he committed suicide, leaving the band, now called No Doubt with an uncertain future. According to numerous interviews with the bandmembers after their breakthrough, Gwen was the glue that held No Doubt together during these hard times, pushing the group to keep trying. She was also romantically involved with the band’s bass player, Tony Kanal, by this time.
After playing numerous gigs and parties, No Doubt were signed to Interscope in 1991. The label considered their 1992 debut album a flop and refused to financially support a tour or further recordings, but the band refused to give up. The self-financed Beacon Street Collection appeared in 1994 and did well enough to make nice with Interscope, but the band was once again going through a traumatic period behind the scenes. Eric Stefani left to become an animator for The Simpsons and Gwen and Tony’s relationship had ended. Gwen wrote a collection of songs focused on heartbreak and rebirth that would become No Doubt’s third album, Tragic Kingdom, and the rest, as they say, is history.
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