AKG’s Stories Behind the Sessions interview: No Doubt drummer Adrian Young on breaking through with Tragic Kingdom

As part of AKG’s Stories Behind the Sessions Series, legendary radio and television presenter, producer and journalist Nic Harcourt catches up with No Doubt drummer and producer Adrian Young on making No Doubt's platinum-certified breakthrough album, Tragic Kingdom.

In April 2024, No Doubt headlined the Coachella music festival – making it the first time the band performed together since 2015. No Doubt has amassed a wealth of achievements since forming in 1986, including releasing several multi-platinum albums (1995’s diamond-certified Tragic Kingdom, 2001’s Rock Steady and a 2003 singles collection) and a string of chart-topping hits including Just A Girl, Don’t Speak, Hey Baby, Hella Good, Underneath It All and It’s My Life.

At first overlooked by radio, the once-underdogs went on to mainstream success and sold out multiple international tours, winning two Grammy Awards and five MTV Video Music Awards, and were invited to perform for Paul McCartney and the President at the annual Kennedy Center Honors in 2010. 

Through all the success, the band members have remained grounded by a long-standing friendship that began when front-woman Gwen Stefani, guitarist Tom Dumont, bassist Tony Kanal and drummer Adrian Young bonded over a shared love of ’80s British New Wave and ska bands. Releasing their last album in 2012, the band’s legacy lives on in their punchy blend of ska-rock, dancehall, and electronic pop. 

With Coachella behind them, Young reflects on the band’s struggle to break through commercially in the early ‘90s and how they defied the odds with Tragic Kingdom.

We were told that it would take an act of God for this band to get on the radio.

Why was it that the band ended up recording the 1992 debut album, No Doubt twice?

Before we had a record deal, we had a decent little following in Southern California. We were able to sell what we thought was going to be our first record at a local studio called South Coast Recording in Orange County, so we started recording this record, and we never finished it, because then we started to get a little bit of label interest. Some of those songs that we recorded, that we were intending to release, ended up being re-recorded for our first Interscope record.

Your debut was released during a period of popularity for grunge music – an aggressive rock style which contrasted with No Doubt's upbeat sound. After the debut album failed to gain traction, did the label lose interest in the band?

To be fair to the label, in 1992 the sound of No Doubt probably was not going to be having much success at alternative radio. One of the radio stations said, “It would take an act of God for No Doubt to get on the radio.” In 1992, there were a lot of Seattle bands, a lot of heavier bands, and there was no place for what we were doing at that time.

It was a weird way to grow up because you're living paycheck to paycheck, scrounging for change to get a burrito after rehearsal.

The ska punk-inspired follow-up, The Beacon Street Collection sold over 100,000 copies in 1995, more than triple the sales of No Doubt. Tell us about the decision to produce the record and record it in a homemade studio in the garage of your house on Beacon Avenue in Anaheim.

With our frustrations about the length [of time] everything was taking, we decided, “Fuck it! We're gonna go make our own record. We're going to sell fun and we're going to put it out for the local fans, and for us.” We had so many songs. We were still working our jobs and going to school. 

So much time had gone by that we decided we were just going to record the songs that are not going to make Tragic Kingdom, ourselves. In a sense, it became a B-sides record – self-funded – but we put it out before Tragic Kingdom came out because we didn't know if it was actually ever going to come out. We didn't have that confidence.

1995’s Tragic Kingdom became the band's most commercially successful record, reaching number one on the Billboard 200, topping the charts in Canada and New Zealand, selling over 16 million copies worldwide, and was certified diamond by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in the US and Canada, platinum in the UK, and triple platinum in Australia. Not to mention it helped to initiate the ska revival of the ‘90s and included hit singles Just A Girl and Don’t Speak. What are your memories of recording the album at 11 Studios in L.A?

The label would call and say, “We found a good deal on a studio in Santa Monica; can you guys be there tomorrow?” Okay, here we go! We were excited. We were still young, we were hungry. Just to have the opportunity was something that we were very interested in, so there were a lot of those starts and stops.

When we finished Tragic Kingdom, did we feel like, “Fuck yeah, we've got a hit record there?” – no.

By the time the album was mixed and ready for release at the end of 1995, did the band think there were any hits on the album?

No. It felt like a miracle that No Doubt would even be on the radio, even in ‘95 or ‘96. You've got to remember it was the Chili Peppers, Green Day and The Offspring. Was there an avenue there for No Doubt? It still felt foreign for a bit. 

When we finished this record, did we feel like, “Fuck yeah, we've got a hit record there?” – no. I think my personal goal was, if we sell 100,000 copies, it's gonna feel amazing – and go on tour. That was a big goal.

Just A Girl was released as the record's lead single and became No Doubt's first charting single in the US, also reaching the Top 10 in several countries. Did the label start offering tour support after the band started to see commercial success?

There was more of it, yeah, definitely, though it felt very different. It felt way more real.

Was there a sense of vindication for you after not feeling supported by the label previously?

100% yeah. It felt deserved because the band had been together at that point for nine years, got a song on the radio, and we were told that it would take an act of God for this band to get on the radio, and there we were! So, I'm not a believer per se, but to have someone make a strong statement like that, the vindication was part of it, for sure.

if our first record was as successful as Tragic Kingdom we would have been younger; I don't know if we could have handled it as well.

Five singles charted from the album, and the band toured extensively for the next couple of years. What are your memories of that time?

We circled the globe three times on that record, and we grew up pretty quickly. It was a weird way to grow up because you're struggling and living paycheck to paycheck and trying to make it all happen, scrounging for change on the bottom of your car to get a burrito after rehearsal. Then you're headlining arenas and being recognised. It's a different way to live!

How did the band adapt to being recognised and the sudden success?

I think we all handled it pretty well. No one developed any kind of crazy drug habits. We all came from solid parenting, so that was good. It was probably a lot more drinking – it was mostly celebratory [laughs].

It was humbling to put out a record with the label and have it be considered not successful.

Since Push and Shove, you’ve moved more into the production side of things. Tell us about setting up a production studio and a production company called Moxy Brothers with Todd Forman.

Our bands would play together, especially during the Sublime’s 40oz. to Freedom days – that's when Todd was playing with them the most before he went off to Harvard. He's a medical doctor now, except for when he comes over and plays music with me. We get along great and we started working with a lot of younger bands. I have a studio at my house. I have a basement, which is very rare in Southern California, and we set up this whole experience. 

I'm very gear-nerdy and I do a lot of mixing as well. Our partnership is a good time. I really enjoy it. Now we've morphed into scoring films; we're doing quite a bit of horror films. I love it. It's not something I ever... it wasn't a goal of mine. But now that we're doing it, I absolutely love it.

If you were to take a look back at your career in No Doubt, is there anything you would do differently? And do you have any words of advice to offer an up-and-coming drummer or anybody trying to get into the music business?

I'm sure there are a couple of things that we would probably do differently. But I would not want to have it go any other way. Part of that is because it was humbling to be in a band for that long and have local success, but we couldn’t get a record deal for a very long time. It was also humbling to put out a record with the label and have it be considered not successful. 

I think it prepared us better for Tragic Kingdom, because if our first record was as successful as Tragic Kingdom we would have been younger – in our early 20s. I don't know if we could have handled it as well. But we loved our band. 

We were doing it because we loved it and that's why we kept doing it for so long. That's what I would say to any artist: do it because you love it, and if something else comes out of that, what a bonus.

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