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Q&A with Gwen Stefani ahead of her Wonderfront Music & Arts Festival performance

Gwen Stefan, July 24, 2022, at Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa.
Gwen Stefani will headline Sunday on the third and final day of this year’s Wonderfront Music & Arts Festival, alongside San Diego Bay. She is shown here performing July 24, 2022, at Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa.
(Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Gwen Stefani’s Wonderfront gig comes 30 years after No Doubt, then an eager young band from Orange County, played here for several hundred people at the free Adams Avenue Street Fair.

Gwen Stefani has yet to star in a reboot of the classic Broadway musical “Oklahoma,” but she is more than happy to kick off her boots and kick back in Oklahoma.

That is where the solo singing star and co-founder of ska-rock band No Doubt was earlier this week, prior to coming to San Diego for her bill-topping Sunday performance at the second edition of the Wonderfront Music & Arts Festival. Kings of Leon and Zac Brown band are this weekend’s other headliners.

To be held Nov. 18-20 downtown, revamped event is returning with broader musical range and KAABOO-inspired VIP amenities, after a two-year hiatus prompted by the COVID-19 shutdown of live events

Her Wonderfront gig comes 30 years after No Doubt, then an eager young band from Orange County, played here for several hundred people at the free Adams Avenue Street Fair. Stefani’s most recent San Diego festival date took place at the debut 2015 edition of the now apparently defunct KAABOO Del Mar festival.

The fate of the dormant upscale music festival, which is mired in litigation in several states, remains unclear. Some ticketholders have gone two years seeking, but failing to obtain, refunds

That her career has endured this long is a testament to Stefani’s popularity, tenacity and ability to re-invent herself after rising to fame as the lead singer in No Doubt.

She did so first as a solo star, then as a fashion designer, and — since 2014 — as a judge on the NBC TV show, “The Voice,.” where she met country-music star and Oklahoma native Blake Shelton. They married last summer.

Jan. 26, 2020, Gwen Stefani Blake Shelton,  62nd annual Grammy Awards, Los Angeles.
Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton celebrated their nuptials over the 2021 Fourth of July holiday weekend wedding in Oklahoma. They are shown here arriving at the 62nd annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles in 2020.
(Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

“It always means so much to me that people have listened to my music over the years,” Stefani said. “And I plan to play all the hits at Wonderfront, so I know it’s going to be a magical night.”

The 53-year-old Fullerton native answered questions from the San Diego Union-Tribune via email this week. Some of the interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Do you have any new music on the way or incubating?

A: I wrote a lot of new music during the pandemic, while we were all in lockdown. It was such a strange time because I was writing on Zoom with people I hadn’t ever even met in person! But it was really refreshing to get back into writing, and I do have a lot of new music in the works. I will definitely share it with the world when the timing feels right.

Gwen Stefani has hands full with reunion tour, two sons to raise — maybe even a new album?

Q: We last spoke in 2008 and you told me then: “Now, I have this weird relationship with music. I’m scared of songwriting. To me, it’s something I have no control over. Compared to other artists who love to write songs every day, for me it’s like this fear: ‘Oh my God, I have to write and nothing’s coming out. Argh!’ I want to make a (new) record so bad, but it’s scary for me.” It’s been 6 years since your “This is What Truth Feels Like” album came out. What has changed? Are you more or less scared of songwriting now?

A: I definitely still have those same concerns today, but it’s a little bit easier because I have done a lot of writing since we talked last. In the last couple of years, I’ve been writing a lot and had a lot of fun. In a sense, it’s spiritual, meaning that you don’t know what’s going to happen sometimes, so you must trust the process.

A lot of the writing process is so unbelievably therapeutic, and it happens when it’s supposed to happen. What I love the most is when you write a song, and it says more back to you than you even thought it would. After you finish, you listen, and you realize that it actually pulled something else out of you; it’s almost like it goes into your subconscious sometimes.

Q: Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash made some classic records together as husband and wife. Might you and Blake make an album together. Why or why not?

A: If Blake Shelton came to me and said, ‘Let’s make an album together,’ and you think I wouldn’t jump on board, you would be insane. He’s my best friend and I always want to do everything with him. Never say never. I’m always trying to get him to write songs with me and if something is meant to be, it will happen.

Gwen Stefani, Feb. 11, 2022, at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles.
Gwen Stefani’s first San Diego festival performance was at the free 1992 Adams Avenue Street Fair. She is shown here performing at the Bud Light Super Bowl Music Fest at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles on Feb. 11 of this year.
(Chris Pizzello / Chris Pizzello/invision/ap)

Q: You’ll be headlining this weekend at the Wonderfront Music & Arts Festival, which debuted in 2019 and then was postponed in 2020 and 2021 because of the pandemic. Does music mean something more or different to you now than it did before the pandemic, and — if so — what?

A: Getting to perform is the most amazing experience for me. The exchange of love between myself and the audience is something I will always be grateful for. I missed that during the pandemic, so it feels extra special to be back doing shows and performing with an audience in real life and I definitely do not take this moment for granted nowadays.

Q: In 1992, No Doubt performed in San Diego at the free Adams Avenue Street Fair as part of a lineup that included Third World, The Blind Boys of Alabama, fIREHOSE and a lot of San Diego bands. Do you have any memories of that festival and if anyone had told you then that, 30 years later, you would be a solo star and headlining festivals on your own, how would you have reacted?

A: My memories of San Diego that really stick out for me was when I had just given birth (in 2006) to my son, Kingston, and I was on a world tour. I spent so much time in San Diego preparing for that tour. It felt like, creatively, everything was coming to a head for me at that time; from touring with No Doubt, to doing a solo record and to being able to go on a world tour and do the kind of creative show I did.

That all started in San Diego and that’s what I think about when I think of San Diego. ... There’s never been a day where I take it for granted and I want to give my all for people who show up for me.

Also, if you had told me I’d be headlining festivals back then, I would have said zero chance. There’s no way I would have believed this would happen. When I look back at all the incredible opportunities and things that have happened to me, I can’t soak it up enough. The longer I’m alive the more I realize, wow, God really did choose this gift for me.

I didn’t even know I could write songs, especially ones that were so reflective of what was going on in my life. And then when I shared that and I was naively just being me, people seemed to react and once I got that reaction, I couldn’t stop wanting to push that button. It’s so inspiring for people to react to you as a human being, because I think what people were reacting to was not only the songs, but the way I expressed my true self. Thank you for doing this interview because it makes me reflect more and be even more grateful.

Q: Your upcoming performance at Wonderfront appears to be your first since July 24 at the Iowa Speedway. When you have a nearly four-month gap between shows, how do you keep your voice in shape and how often do you sing at home (and what do you sing) when you are not on the road?

A: I never sing at home. When I was doing the Las Vegas residency shows, which — by the way — is a completely different experience from being on tour, it seemed like I would get sick all the time. We were definitely more carefree about being mindful of germs before the pandemic. People were coming to Vegas from all around the world and I would bring people on stage every night and interact with them, but now I am a bit more careful.

Touring takes a toll on you physically, mentally and vocally. It’s like being an athlete. It is very much like doing a sport because you have to be disciplined, you have to think about your voice. ... I’ve learned how far I can push myself and realized I do need to warm up before I go onstage, but there are times where I go on stage and I push myself past my limit and blow my voice out. Being a singer, it’s really important to take care of your voice.

Q: Hypothetical question: You and your husband, Blake, are on a five-hour drive without any of your children. What music do you play in the car and who has a bigger say in what you listen to? What are the go-to songs that you both agree on?

A: Somehow, God gave me the coolest best friend ever and we definitely bond over our love for music. One genre we love is ‘70s yacht-rock love songs. We love ‘80s pop music as well. The fun thing about being with somebody that is such an expert in a genre I didn’t really grow up with or know much about, which is country music, is that Blake has been able to share a lot about that world with me.

The country world, unknowingly to me, has genre categories within it, so there’s so much to experience. Blake is this crazy jukebox of a person, and he knows every single country artist and song that has ever existed. So, he’ll share different things that he think’s I’ll like and make playlists for me. It’s really been a fun experience learning about those artists. ...

Q: You have become a regular presence in American pop-culture, first with No Doubt, then as a solo artist and fashion designer, then on “The Voice.” What is the best thing about success and stardom, and what are the downsides?

A: I am constantly in awe of the gifts I’ve been given and the blessings I’ve received in my life. I never imagined I would have the success I do and it’s still hard to wrap my head around it. To continue to create and be inspired by the people that have exchanged love with me all these years is so incredible and that is one of the best things about all of this.

I think I’ve done my best to avoid the downsides because I’ve always been very clear on who I am and I live by my own truth in all aspects of my life.

Wonderfront Music & Arts Festival

When: 2:30 to 10 p.m. today; Noon to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Where: Seaport Village, Embarcadero Marina Park North and Ruocco Park, downtown

Tickets: $139 (single-day general admission), $309 (three-day general admission), $499 (single-day VIP pass), $525 (three-day Wonderpass), $1,399 (three-VIP pass)

Online: wonderfrontfestival.com/tickets/


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