One of the last times Tony Kanal, Adrian Young and Tom Dumont were on stage together was at the No Doubt reunion at Chicago’s Riot Fest in 2015.
When: 7:30 p.m. May 27
Where: The Vic Theatre, 3145 N. Sheffield
“That was an amazing show,” says Kanal, remarking how the one-off appearance felt like the old days of the So Cal ska-pop-punk rockers, who have only been intermittently active since 2004. “I distinctly remember Gwen [Stefani] climbing the scaffolding during the set. That was old-school Gwen, she hadn’t done that in a second.”
While many willfully assumed the energized performance was a foreshadowing of more to come from the “Just a Girl” hitmakers, what most didn’t realize was that Kanal (bass), Young (drums) and Dumont (guitar) had been secretly working behind the scenes on a project called Dreamcar that joined them with a new singer, AFI’s Davey Havok.
“If there’s one thing that history has afforded us, it’s the opportunity and luxury to be able to try different things,” says Kanal. “Gwen has done lots of solo stuff and Dreamcar [came out of] Tom, Adrian and I sitting down and saying, ‘We love playing together, let’s keep doing it.’”
He’s adamant that there has been no official breakup of No Doubt but also reveals there’s no imminent plans to start working together again. Given the intense scrutiny, Dreamcar was hesitant to announce its arrival at first. “We didn’t know what was going to happen with the band and didn’t want to tell the world until we had songs we knew would make a great record. That was three years ago, and it’s surreal that we are here today.”
Dreamcar’s self-titled debut was released May 12 on Columbia Records. Songs like the neon glitz of “Kill for Candy” and “On the Charts” are an amalgam of synth pop, glam rock and a near revival of ‘80s new wave, which may sound like a surprising plot twist for a group of musicians synonymous with the punk scene.
“There are so many points of reference from music we grew up with that were influential. We all had similar tastemakers in those early formative years when we were impressionable,” says Kanal pointing to bands like The Cure and Gary Numan. Young also briefly worked with Bow Wow Wow and the new wave-synth style was a large influence of Havok’s side project Blaqk Audio, which opened on a No Doubt tour in 2012. The bond grew when Havok moved to Los Angeles from the Bay Area several years ago and helped Kanal through a drastic lifestyle change.
“At that time I was just on the verge of becoming vegan, and we had lots of conversations about that. We’d see each other at the same restaurants and the comradery just grew.” In fact, he, Young and Dumont invited Havok out to dinner to pop the question about joining them in a new band. “We were lucky he said yes,” Kanal laughs, admitting there was never anyone else up for consideration. “We never even had a conversation about anyone else. He was the first one that came into our heads.”
What Havok brings to Dreamcar is “a different perspective lyrically and melodically that’s been a great fit with our creative process,” says Kanal. Having a new band also provides the chance to start over in many ways. “What you hear is a free expression of us being creative in the studio together without any expectations or parameters. When you are in that position you can just create for music’s sake. That hasn’t happened in a long time. With No Doubt, not since 1995. In many ways it’s like starting in the garage again and to do that was refreshing and exciting.”
Kanal is also enjoying returning to the small clubs No Doubt first started playing three decades ago, including a date at the Vic Theatre on May 27 that will end the initial tour run. “We played The Roxy [in Los Angeles] a few weeks ago and I was looking at the No Doubt touring calendar from the last 30 years. It had been 22 years since we stepped on that stage,” he says. “There’s something beautiful about playing big shows [Dreamcar just played both weekends of the Coachella Music Fest], but there’s also something incredible about intimate small shows where you feel the energy, when it’s really contained and palpable.”
Others are catching on to the thrill, including Stefani who blasted a photo of Dreamcar’s cover art to her Instagram followers the day of its release. “Whoa that’s awesome! I didn’t even see that yet,” Kanal says when I tell him that same morning. “That’s so sweet of her. I think she’ll really like the music. We still have similar tastes.”
Selena Fragassi is a freelance music writer.