WHEN NO DOUBT VISITED Disneyland last fall, the official tour the rockers received seemed weird in oh-so-many ways. First off, the famously image-conscious Disney folks were making nice to a group that had risen to fame with an album called Tragic Kingdom. Secondly, it seemed odd that the ultra-hip No Doubters actually accepted the invitation, even if lead singer Gwen Stefani felt a kinship with the park, having grown up so close in Anaheim, Calif., that ashes from the fireworks floated onto her front yard. Yet, as Stefani, 27, later told the Orange County Register, the strangest thing occurred near the Alice in Wonderland ride. Stefani noticed that as a long line of bright-eyed little kids were waiting to go on the ride, “all us punker, washed-out tattooed people are cutting ahead.”
Such are the perks of fame for No Doubt after 10 years of hard times, including the suicide of a founding member. Tragic Kingdom, which was released in October 1995, has sold more than 10 million copies worldwide and has spawned a string of hit singles, among them the break-out “Just a Girl” and “Don’t Speak.” Fresh from concerts in Europe and Israel, No Doubt has embarked on a summer tour of the U.S. “For so many years,” Stefani told the Register, “we were the dork band. We were never cool enough. Now, suddenly, people like us.”
The turnaround has something to do with the waning of tortured grunge and burgeoning enthusiasm for No Doubt’s brand of unabashedly sunny, British ska-kissed pop. Fans are “starved for music that is not negative,” says Kingdom producer Matthew Wilder. “Gwen’s presence doesn’t hurt either.” The entire band’s hyperkinetic stage act, especially hers, has made No Doubt a top concert draw. Sometimes Stefani gets so carried away, she scampers up stacks of amplifiers. “That’s always scary,” says stage manager Donnie Spada. “Sometimes you’ve got to tell her, ‘Gwen, stay off those things.’ ”
Given her exuberance, not to mention her young-Madonna good looks, it’s hardly surprising that the public’s fascination has focused on the group’s lone nonguy. At concerts “people are shouting ‘Gwen! Gwen!’ instead of ‘No Doubt!’ ” says Spada. “It’s weird to hear that because they are a band.”
Still they might have folded long ago if it weren’t for Stefani. The singer was raised in Anaheim by her father, Dennis, 52, a marketing consultant, and homemaker mom, Patricia, 51. Her older brother Eric, now 29, recruited her to sing in the band he formed in 1986 with his Dairy Queen coworker John Spence. “He was the inspiration for the whole band,” Eric says of the flamboyant front man who did backflips onstage and shared vocals with Gwen. Then, in 1987, Spence shot himself in a local park. As the band regrouped after the trauma, Stefani stepped to the front. “She tends to be shy by nature,” says Eric Carpenter, an early band member who left to become a reporter at the Register. “It took a lot of convincing to get her to the lead singer position.”
The lineup was bolstered by the addition in 1987 of bassist Tony Kanal, 26, who was born in London of Indian parents and moved to Anaheim with them in 1981. Also, Orange County natives Tom Dumont, 28, the guitarist who came aboard in 1988, and drummer Adrian Young, 27, who joined the following year; they now live in Long Beach. During Kingdom recording sessions in 1994, Eric, who cowrote much of the music, quit to devote himself to his second career as an animator for The Simpsons, among other projects. “It was the right decision for me,” says Eric, who will contribute material to the next, as yet unscheduled, No Doubt album.
Gwen and Kanal, lovers since 1987, broke up while the CD was being recorded. Her chronicles of heartbreak, says Eric, “gave some realness” to her “Don’t Speak” and “Happy Now?” lyrics. But she has few complaints at the moment, having struck up a romance with Gavin Rossdale, leader of the British grunge band Bush. Her other passion is pedicures. “On tour, my poor feet get so abused,” she says. “It’s so great to have a pedicure and freshly painted toenails!”
PAULA YOO and TOM CUNNEFF in Anaheim