"It was definitely my least favorite two years of my life," says Stefani, settling onto a couch in Interscope's new digs, which were no doubt largely subsidized by...No Doubt. She's recalling the period spent writing and recording Saturn, during which "it was hard to figure out which of the Gwens is the real Gwen." Straddling 30, as she just did, "you start to feel like, this is me, this is what I am: All those years of blossoming, and now it's time to...perish." She laughs, not meaning to sound quite so morbid. "At the time, I didn't know what the feelings were all about. I was like, Why do I feel sad, and why is it that when I eat ice cream, it is not helping?" It was Rossdale who told Stefani she must be going through "Saturn returns," an astrological concept that explains (in case more obvious theories about scary round numbers don't suffice) just why facing the big three-oh tends to be a self-analytic drag.
Some folks cure their first midlife crisis by buying an SUV. Stefani dyed her hair Easter-egg pink, with blond highlights. She's color-coordinated today, curling up with her morning coffee in a pink velour sweater Ed Wood would kill for. She will not go monochromatic into that good night.
"I'd never experienced any kind of depression," she explains, describing her initial bafflement at developing a taste for Sylvia Plath. "I've always been a happy-go-lucky, passive type who attached myself to one person and lived happily through them. But I got to a point where I was going, oh my God, maybe this is what an adult feels likeand it sucks! And maybe nothing will ever be as exciting as it used to be when I was going through puberty. But," she adds, caffeine-cheered, "I feel a lot lighter now."
She's hard-pressed to explain her cure, other than experiencing the same postpartum elation the whole band felt when the album was done. There was no small pressure on this humble Anaheim, Calif., foursome, who'd quietly enjoyed a cult following on the So Cal scene from their '86 inception until Tragic Kingdom took to the stratosphere circa 1996. Says producer Glen Ballard, "It's a pretty regular occurrence that the follow-up album for a huge album can be the least fun album for any artist. They were beginning to feel like that was going to be the case. Everybody dreams of having that kind of problem, but the truth is, once you get there, it's not fun. I insisted that they have fun. And...they kind of came around."
Not before some false starts. Following 27 months of touring, they took just two months off before going back into the studio with Tragic producer Matthew Wilder in February '98. Half a year and a half-dozen or so tracks later, producer and band amicably parted. Six months after that, they picked Ballard (of Alanis fame) as their new coachor doc; he describes his first task as producer as "performing triage." Sifting through tapes, Ballard found the weary band weighed down by 40 demos, and whittled the list to a workable 20 or so. Eventually, they cut two dozen tracks to arrive at Saturn's 14. Did we mention money was no object?