IN BETWEEN BITES of a Cobb salad at New York's Tribeca Grand Hotel, Gwen Stefani explained why No Doubt is on tour for the first time in five years without a new album to promote.
"Honestly, it's procrastination," she said with a sigh. "My plan was to get pregnant and write a record, but instead of writing, I just ate all the time.
"Writing is always really hard for me - I hate it and hate it and then I do it, and I'm happy it's done," she said. "I was blocked and I needed to get inspired, and I thought playing live would get the creative juices flowing again."
Which isn't to say Stefani and her No Doubt bandmates haven't been busy since the 2001 release of their last album, "Rock Steady." Stefani, who has two sons ages 8 months and 3 years, released two solo albums, "Love. Angel. Music. Baby.," which sold 4 million copies, and "The Sweet Escape," which sold 1.7 million, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Bassist Tony Kanal did production work on Stefani's albums and wrote songs with artists like Pink. Guitarist Tom DuMont produced two records, scored a documentary and was a stay-at-home dad. Drummer Adrian Young did session work and played golf.
Now they're on a tour that started last month in Las Vegas and stops at Camden's Susquehanna Bank Center on Thursday.
While hitting the road without new material after years of relative silence might seem risky, the band's manager, Jim Guerinot, was delighted when the group approached him with the idea.
"I think it's the right move," he said. "Even though they remained friends throughout the hiatus,
they've all been working on other projects and haven't spent a lot of time together. They've become more of a unit in the time they've been rehearsing together and played a few shows."
So far, tickets have been selling briskly, said Live Nation spokesman John Vlautin. Tickets for Thursday's Camden show are going fast, though if you wait until tomorrow to buy No Doubt and other summer concert tickets, there's no service fee, a Live Nation Wednesday promotion.
The band started rehearsing in Hollywood, then set up shop at the Borgata in Atlantic City, to prepare for some East Coast dates. "As soon as the pressure to make a new album was off, it was like a weight was lifted," Stefani said. "I could get back into learning the songs and planning the show, and it was so much more fun than banging my head against a wall in the studio."
No Doubt wants to make it clear that it's not another '90s band looking to cash in on the band's greatest hits. "I don't see us as being part of that '90s revival," Kanal said. "We were always a band, even when we weren't playing together."
The group also wants to make sure its audience doesn't consist of twenty- and thirtysomethings who loved "Just a Girl." So it will give away digital copies of its three studio albums with tickets in the top two price tiers.
"Tom had the idea to give the albums away electronically for free with the ticket purchase," Guerinot said. "A lot of people like Gwen's solo work but might not be as familiar with No Doubt."
In DuMont's mind, giving the music to fans is a continuation of No Doubt's time-tested strategy. "When we first started out, we had mailing lists and parties where we'd sit and lick stamps for hours. This is a more modern version of that. And we won't get high off of licking stamp backing, either."
No Doubt's albums seem to be ubiquitous in many CD collections; while its self-titled 1992 debut sold 328,000, its 1995 breakout, "Tragic Kingdom," sold 8.1 million copies. Follow-up "Return of Saturn" sold 1.6 million, while 2001's "Rock Steady" sold 2.8 million. The greatest-hits collection "Singles 1992-2003," which was released in 2003, sold 2.4 million, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
If the band is worried about fans forgetting the hits, it shouldn't be. At recent performances on NBC's "Today" and at the Bamboozle festival in New Jersey, the audience sang along as the band ripped through a set of its greatest hits, including "Spiderwebs," "Don't Speak" and its cover of Talk Talk's "It's My Life."
The audience at both events leaned slightly older, and at Bamboozle, when Stefani asked those in the crowd to raise their hands if it was their first No Doubt show, many did.
After the joys of parenthood and channeling their inner Tiger Woods, the band members will do their best to maintain a semblance of normalcy on the road. All admit to being fitness fanatics, and they're indulging their need to jog while touring. "We travel with two personal trainers," Kanal said. "We make hotels keep their gyms open late so we can work out. We're getting older, and we can't party like we used to."
But Kanal said that being older has plenty of perks. "We got to live though the record industry in its heyday. When we started, we were in a van and looking for change under the seats so we could buy food. We went from that to having a hit and getting to do things like make music videos with million-dollar budgets."
Stefani cheerfully showed off pictures of her sons Kingston and Zuma, but she'd rather talk about her ventures as a businesswoman, albeit in a self-effacing manner. Her clothing line, LAMB, is in its seventh year, and she also has her own perfume.
"I'm a good collaborator," she said. "I'm always open to other opinions, and I can do things like have meetings at my house and juggle it all. I'm actually heading to a five-hour meeting about the new line of handbags after this, and I'm pretty excited. I started it seven years ago and never thought it would last, but here we are." *
Susquehanna Bank Center, 1 Harbour Blvd., Camden, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, $80, $10 lawn, 215-336-2000, www.livenation.com.