Formed by brother and sister, Eric and Gwen Stefani, with high school friend John Spence in 1986, the California band No Doubt labored in near obscurity for nearly a decade before achieving worldwide success with the fifteen million-selling Tragic Kingdom in the mid-Nineties. Initially a Ska band, No Doubt eventually incorporated super-shiny synth-pop and taunting hard rock into their sound, and Blonde idol Gwen Stefani went on to a successful solo career.
Spence, whose onstage back-flips set an early standard for the band’s frantic performances, was the group’s original lead singer, while Gwen Stefani did harmony vocals. Bassist Tony Kanal joined in early 1987.
On December 21, 1987 - a year to the month after the band’s formation - Spence took his own life in an Anaheim park. The group carried on with Gwen Stefani assuming lead-vocal duties, and they soon added guitarist Tom Dumont and drummer Adrian Young. They signed to Interscope in 1991 and released their self-titled debut the following year; it tanked. Eric Stefani left in 1994 to work as an animator for the TV series The Simpsons, though several of his songs appeared on both 1995’s self-released The Beacon Street Collection and Tragic Kingdom, released on Interscope later that year.
Tragic Kingdom was slow to take off, but reached Number One after fourteen months on the strength of three hit singles: “Just a Girl” (Number 23), “Spiderwebs” (Number Five, Modern Rock), and the Number Two Modern Rock ballad “Don’t Speak,” in which Stefani sang about growing tension in the band as journalists began to focus more intensely on its blonde-bombshell of a lead singer (the song is often interpreted as addressing the breakup of Stefani’s seven-year relationship with Kanal). Stefani, like Blondie’s Deborah Harry before her, attracted the lion’s share of the band’s media attention, often appearing on magazine covers without the other group members. Her relationship with Bush frontman Gavin Rossdale kept her profile high even during the downtime between the end of the Tragic Kingdom tour and the release of Return of Saturn (Number Two, 2000). Although that album sold far less than its predecessor, it featured two successful singles, “Ex-Girlfriend” (Number Two, Modern Rock) and “Simple Kind of Life” (Number 38).
The band ventured to Jamaica to record the bulk of Rock Steady (Number Nine, 2001), a dancehall-tinged album that showed the group’s increasing embrace of synthesizers. Stefani sings about groupies surrounding the band in the bouncy “Hey Baby” (Number Five, 2001), the Neptunes produced the clubby “Hella Good” (Number 13, 2002) and Prince guested on “Waiting Room.”
Stefani had made a high-profile appearance on Moby’s 2001 hit “South Side,” and after Rock Steady - and the band’s subsequent best-of The Singles 1992-2003, which featured their Grammy-nominated cover of Talk Talk’s “It’s My Life” - she began work on her first official solo album while the band went on a temporary hiatus. When Love. Angel. Music. Baby. arrived in 2004, it transformed the spunky, punky Stefani into a polished pop star preoccupied with Japanese culture (she employed an entourage of backup dancer Harajuku girls) and girl power. Her LP generated a string of successful singles (“What You Waiting For?,” “Hollaback Girl” and “Cool” among the best), and eventually reached Number Five on the chart. During her 2005 solo tour, Stefani revealed she was pregnant with her first child, Kingston (she later had a second son, Zuma, in 2008).
With Stefani temporarily out of the picture, the rest of No Doubt proclaimed their intention to begin work on their fifth studio album. In November 2008, the band posted on its Website that they’d return to the road in search of inspiration for the disc. They played their first official gig at the Bamboozle festival a few days after a brief set on the Today show in May 2009. That year No Doubt also made a special appearance on an Eighties-themed episode of the TV show Gossip Girl, during which they covered Adam and the Ants’ “Stand and Deliver.”
While work continues on the band’s upcoming disc, the quartet made headlines after suing the makers of the video game Band Hero for alleged inappropriate use of their avatars. The group’s “Don’t Speak” and “Just a Girl” are included on the game’s playlist.
The band’s new album and their first in eleven years, Push and Shove (2012), is a supercharged blend of Ska-rock, dancehall, and electronic pop that will remind people why No Doubt has maintained its position as one of the most beloved and commercially successful acts of the past 20 years.