Gwen Stefani says working on her new album helped her deal with the emotional fallout of her broken marriage

The new album certainly reflects what has been a roller coaster ride of emotions and upheaval in Stefani’s life over the past couple of years — one that has taken her to some serious depths and back to pure exhilaration.

To Gwen Stefani, her new album This Is What the Truth Feels Like was more than just a chance to create music.

In a sense, she says it saved her life.

That may sound a tad overdramatic, but the new album certainly reflects what has been a roller coaster ride of emotions and upheaval in Stefani’s life over the past couple of years — one that has taken her to some serious depths and back to pure exhilaration.

The events in Stefani’s recent life have been well chronicled — in the mainstream media, as well as in tabloids and online. Early last year, her 13-year marriage to Gavin Rossdale (lead singer of the band Bush and father of her three sons) started coming apart and sent Stefani into a swirl of sadness, anger and depression. She responded by doing what she knew best — writing songs. Along the way, she started connecting with Country star Blake Shelton, one of her fellow coaches on the television show The Voice.

Shelton was going through his own divorce from his wife, Country singer Miranda Lambert, and the two bonded over the similar life-changing events they were experiencing. The Stefani/Shelton romance has since gone public. This Is What the Truth Feels Like is heavily informed by the whole saga.

“Music has to be from real life and it has to honest and with the right intentions for people to connect to it,” Stefani says. “And that’s what this record was. And so I just feel grateful to have to go through the pain to get to this place, because that’s sometimes what you have to do.”

Several songs on Truth, such as “Naughty” and “Red Flag,” hint at secrets and betrayals (presumably by Rossdale), while “Used to Love You” is the sound of a relationship ending and a woman ready to move on. That song, in a sense, sets the tone for several other songs (“Rare,” “Where Would I Be?” and “Truth”) that revel in the excitement of new love and emotional renewal.

Musically, the new album isn’t as bouncy and bubbly as much of Stefani’s previous music, but songs like the tempered ballads “Misery” (the current single), “Truth” and “You’re My Favorite” are rich musically. And the album gets a measure of energy from the sunny “Make Me Like You” and the slyly playful “Naughty.”

The situations that produced This Is What the Truth Feels Like have some direct parallels to the album that first introduced Stefani to a large audience, No Doubt’s 1995 hit, Tragic Kingdom. Written in the wake of her breakup with the bassist in that band, Tony Kanal, it included songs that were inspired by the pain Stefani was feeling. The hit “Don’t Speak” was a prime example of a song that captured the breakup experience. Stefani said she sees parallels between the two albums, which involved simply pouring her emotions into her songwriting.

“I’m devastated that my best friend (Kanal) doesn’t want to be with me anymore,” Stefani says of that time. “So it was, like, everything I lived for was… I was being abandoned, do you know what I mean? So I wrote these songs. Tragic Kingdom was pure like that. (This Is What the Truth Feels Like) was pure. I wasn’t making this record to talk to (the media) about it. I wasn’t making this record to go on tour. I wasn’t making this record to share it — I was making it because it’s all I could do to save my own life. And so there is a similarity between the two albums, emotionally (and in) the intention or the purpose for making them.”

No Doubt’s follow-up album, 2000’s Return of Saturn, was well-received critically, but was a commercial disappointment. But the group bounced back in 2001 with Rock Steady, an album that produced two Grammy-winning singles, “Hey Baby” and “Underneath It All.” Following that album, No Doubt went on hiatus and Stefani launched her solo career. She made an eclectic debut with Love. Angel. Music. Baby. in 2004, featuring the hit single “Hollaback Girl.” She returned two years later with another successful solo effort, The Sweet Escape.

Stefani then turned her attention back to No Doubt. But she struggled creatively, and it wasn’t until 2012 that the group’s comeback album, Push and Shove, arrived. By that time Stefani had started to find her creative confidence again, and that feeling was furthered after getting pregnant with her third son with Rossdale, then getting the offer to be a coach on The Voice.

“I gave birth to (my son), and four weeks later, they called me to do The Voice,” Stefani says. “And I just kind of went, ‘Yeah, let’s go.’ I didn’t even know what I was getting myself into. And that was the beginning of the end of that insecurity. OK, I was on the show. I had this new baby. I’m around all this music. I’m looking at my life. I’m looking back at myself, at what I’ve done. It made me think about how many great songs I’d written and how much I’d accomplished. And so my confidence was coming back slowly.

“And then I guess at a point when things started to unravel last year… sometimes really bad (things happen) just so that really great things will happen, and I think that’s what happened to me,” she says. “It was like a wakeup call. Get back on track and stop being insecure about writing and your gift and (do) what you’re here for, and stop being selfish and share what you’ve got. That’s what this record is, and that’s what I’m going to celebrate on tour. I’m just going to celebrate that I was put on this Earth to write these songs.”


GWEN STEFANI performs with EVE Tuesday at Riverbend Music Center. Tickets/more info: riverbend.org.

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