No Doubt calls out the flock to pitch in with Toys for Tots

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
Dec. 23, 1996

“I’m not a male,” Gwen Stefani said.

You wouldn’t think that the willowy blonde would have to state the obvious.  But as the frontwoman for No Doubt, which has the No. 1 album in America, she has grown used to speculation and innuendo. But even Stefani was surprised at the latest rumor being spread about her on the Internet: that she has too little body fat to be a woman and therefore must be a transsexual.

“I have to work out all the time ’cause if I don’t I’d get really chubby,” said Stefani, 26.  She tried to punctuate this point by scrunching up her black sweater – a present from Gavin Rossdale of Bush – and pinching her stomach “fat.” Her fingers had little to grasp.

“I must be a woman then ’cause look at this,” drummer Adrian Young said, grabbing a section of his flat stomach.

On Saturday, one day after the most recent leg of their tour ended, Stefani, Young and bassist Tony Kanal came to Chicago to participate in Q101’s Toys for Tots drive at the Merchandise Mart. (Guitarist Tom Dumont was tending to a personal matter in California.)  Fans started queuing up as early as 8:30 in the morning – 4 1/2 hours before the group was expected to arrive – to meet the band.

“I wanted to be here because they’re my favorite band and Gwen’s my role model,” said 15-year-old Stephanie Tyler, from Evanston, who could pass for Stefani’s younger sister.  “They’re getting so popular that I don’t think I’d get another chance to meet them otherwise.”

More than a year after its release, No Doubt’s “Tragic Kingdom” has gone double platinum and is No. 1 on Billboard’s album chart.  A cogent mixture of pop tinged with ska, the album has produced three singles, including the current ballad “Don’t Speak.”  The group, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this New Year’s Eve, is so used to not having recognition that their burgeoning popularity makes them, well, giggle.

“It’s so rad,” Stefani said.  “Sometimes it makes me want to laugh because I can’t believe it’s us that’s at No. 1.  It doesn’t seem real.”
What is real is that the giddy joy of their breakthrough single, “Just a Girl,” belies the rough times the musicians endured to get where they are today.  After their self-titled 1992 debut tanked on the charts, the musicians weren’t considered a priority  by their label. They recorded “Tragic Kingdom” in bits and pieces over the next two years.  In 1994, Stefani and Kanal ended their seven-year relationship.  Also that year, Stefani’s brother, Eric, quit the group to work as an animator for “The Simpsons.”

But an incident early in the band’s career remains vivid in their memories.  In December, 1987, No Doubt’s original singer John Spence committed suicide.

“I’m really emotional to be here for this whole Toys for Tots thing today,” Stefani said, nibbling on a Christmas cookie before going out to meet her fans.  “John had always desperately wanted to be in a band, and he was influenced by the Bad Brains, who just happened to be at our show (Friday) night.  We do a cover of   theirs and the drummer came on and played with us. The whole timing thing was weird because John passed away nine years ago (Saturday) and he was only a kid.

“If anything is cool about our success, it’s that we’re able to help out. I know the feeling of when you’re just one person, it feels almost impossible to make a difference.  But now, it’s a pretty cool feeling to be here and really be able to help something like Toys for Tots.  It makes us feel like we matter.”

After the holidays, No Doubt will resume their tour, which will end in August – two years after they hit the road.  Then they’ll head back into the studio to work on their next album.

“We never know what our next songs will sound like,” Kanal said.  “It just sort of happens.  We don’t like to limit ourselves by setting rules, but it’s a safe bet that it won’t be `Tragic Kingdom 2.’ “

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