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No Doubt’s Tony Kanal talks band’s Coachella reunion and scoring new career as a TV and film composer

Man in white band T-shirt in front of palm trees
Tony Kanal, bassist and co-writer for No Doubt, poses for a portrait backstage Saturday during the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)
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Ahead of No Doubt’s first performance during Weekend 1 at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, bassist Tony Kanal didn’t even try to contain his excitement. Standing in front of his trailer at the band’s backstage artist compound flanked by his wife and parents, Kanal beams when asked about the buildup to the festival’s most anticipated set.

“The vibes and rehearsals have been awesome,” he says, sporting a Toy Dolls band T-shirt and black jeans. “When I get up there, I think there’s some part of me that thinks I’m still 16. The energy has been incredible at rehearsals and I can’t wait for people to see the show we put together.”

While posing for pictures, he smiles as he talks about some recent band dinners that left all the members of No Doubt, including frontwoman Gwen Stafani, with good vibes and the recipe for a grand return to form since their last time sharing the stage together in 2015.

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Despite being known for his bass duties in the biggest-selling band from Orange County, lately Kanal has shifted his musical focus to be not on stage but behind the screen as a TV and film composer.

In 2018, while Dreamcar — his project with the three non-Stefani members and AFI singer Davey Havok — went on hiatus, Kanal was invited to perform at the Hollywood Bowl with Danny Elfman during the encore of his three “Nightmare Before Christmas” shows, where he played Oingo Boingo’s “Dead Man’s Party.” There, he met Blake Neely, who at the time was working with an orchestra and wanted to have live bass and drums added to what they were recording. Neely asked and ultimately enlisted Kanal and Jane’s Addiction/Porno for Pyros drummer Stephen Perkins to be their rhythm section. The two became fast friends and Neely went on to tap Kanal to perform on the soundtrack to DC Comics’ “Crisis on Infinite Earths.”

During the early days of the pandemic, the pair decided they wanted to hang out (albeit safely) and play music together. That summer, jam sessions commenced at Neely’s North Hollywood studio with Kanal on bass and Neely on piano. The sessions were recorded and soon after, Neely gave the bassist a room at his studio. At the time, Kanal hadn’t been writing much.

“He told me to come and to start writing music again,” Kanal said. “At that point, I had been taking a break from everything so I moved in and started recording. It was so kind for him to bring me back and start working on music again.”

On the afternoon of New Year’s Eve 2021, Kanal was winding down and having a quiet New Year’s Eve when he received a call from Neely.

“He called me at 3 o’clock and said, ‘Dude we never sent our reel,’” Kanal said.

Man standing in front of a trailer
Tony Kanal, bassist and co-writer for No Doubt, poses near his trailer in the band’s artist compound before rocking the stage on Night 2 of Coachella, Weekend 1.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)
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What the Emmy-award-winning composer was referring to was a promise that he and Kanal made to each other earlier that year. They had been composing music together for the better part of the year and vowed to send it to music supervisors before the calendar turned.

“So we went over what we had and we literally put it together really quick and sent it out,” Kanal said.

Not only did they make their deadline, but on the first Monday of 2022 the pair had a call back from someone interested in their music. That music ended up on Netflix’s romance musical “Purple Hearts.” Once that was completed, Neely sent Kanal out on his own.

Just as quickly as Neely inspired him to score on his own, Kanal’s first solo score was in the second season of the Hulu comedy series “Single Drunk Female.”

“It was just a really cool different world to work in,” Kanal said. “Writing to a scene is a completely different experience than writing in a band, obviously.”

Coincidentally, all three phases of his musical career came into full view in 2024, including No Doubt’s reunion along with Dreamcar’s — his project with AFI singer Davey Havok and No Doubt band mates Adrian Young and Tom Dumont — which is playing at the El Rey and the Cruel World Festival next month.

The seeds for the latter’s reunion were planted at the annual Musack benefit in Hancock Park last year. Havok joined the trio, who were set to perform for the first time as Tony, Tom and Adrian, on “The Assailant” and a cover of the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop.” They were originally set to perform just with the Musack students before getting in touch with Havok, who excitedly hopped on stage.

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“After that good vibes happened,” Kanal said. “People got excited and Goldenvoice called and asked if we’d be interested in playing Cruel World Festival.”

Work is underway for the Dreamcar shows, with the trio already rehearsing that material to prep for the much-ballyhooed reunion with Gwen Stefani as No Doubt. However, after Coachella, that’s when the real work begins on getting those songs ready for the shows in less than a month.

No Doubt on stage at Coachella
No Doubt performs at Coachella on Saturday, April 13.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

The show featured massive production (and even a surprise Olivia Rodrigo appearance on “Return of Saturn’s” “Bathwater”) and a strong sense of nostalgia, with the videos from the band’s earlier years shown throughout the 80-minute, hit-laden set. Even with the bells and whistles, No Doubt prepared for Coachella as if it were playing a local show.

As for the rest of 2024, Kanal is psyched to get back to composing. Following the four shows, Kanal has plenty of time to forge ahead with his latest chapter.

“I’m excited to get back in the studio, start working and stay creative,” he said. “I’m really grateful to be in this place right now.”

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