This Is What The Truth Feels Like, Gwen Stefani’s third solo album and first in nearly 10 years, is surprising fans with its candid songwriting after being released on Friday (Mar. 18). J.R. Rotem, the producer behind 10 of the songs on the full-length, uses the word “honest” multiple times when describing his studio sessions with Stefani, who split from her husband Gavin Rossdale and began a new romance with Blake Shelton over the course of writing the album.
“When an artist puts such honesty into the music, I think that always resonates with people,” Rotem, who’s also worked with artists like Britney Spears and Jason Derulo, tells Fuse. “It’s a real honest snapshot of Gwen at this point in her life. It captures that moment, that six-month process, that transitional process, that rebirth, that renewal, and we made [the album] while she was going through that.”
Rotem says that he and Stefani had never met before collaborating on the project, and originally assumed that their time together was going to be limited to one session. “We caught a vibe and connected on a musical level,” says the 40-year-old producer. “She was obviously going through a now-public story, but that was what the theme of the album was—just telling her story. … This turned into a much deeper musical experience, really being part of the sound, the direction, and helping to tell her story and becoming friends along the way. It turned into something that I was very lucky to be a part of.”
Soon after joining Stefani in the studio, Rotem picked up on the tumultuous nature of her marriage with Rossdale by studying her songwriting.
“It’s not like she first came in and said, ‘Hey, here’s what’s going on in my life,’” he explains. “In the process of the songwriting, you could tell that she wasn’t just coming in the studio and trying to make a hit song. The songwriting process in the studio was almost a form of therapy for her. She would just put it into the lyrics. Without me trying to pry, I would get a clearer sense of what was going on. She’s going through a big transition, she’s writing about betrayal, and that was the beginning of the songwriting process. As things went on… they started to also become love songs, specifically about finding new love. Over the course of writing a bunch of songs and getting to know her personally, she would tell us more and more details and what was actually going on.”
Considering the metamorphosis that her personal life was undergoing, Stefani decided to scrap the work she had done on her third album with producers like Pharrell Williams and Benny Blanco. Singles like “Baby Don’t Lie” and “Spark The Fire” were released in 2014, but failed to make an impact at radio and do not appear on This Is What The Truth Feels Like.
“I think the disconnect was that they just didn’t emanate from her,” says Rotem. “They didn’t really feel, for her, like an honest reflection of what she was going through. … Maybe those songs would have worked for a different type of artist, but for her, it just wasn’t this natural, organic connection. I think she’s much more personally connected to this body of work, because it comes straight from her.”
With This Is What The Truth Feels Like finally released, can we expect Stefani to continue focusing on her solo career and not make fans wait another decade for a new album? Rotem can’t say for sure, but feels pretty confident that Stefani’s fourth studio set won’t take quite as long.
“That’s a very hard prediction, but I know that she felt like, ‘Man, I don’t want to stop writing songs. I’m on a roll here. I feel a new creative high, almost like a second wind,’” he says. “Obviously there’s a lot of promo and touring that goes with every album release, but I think that she’s in this creative vibe where she’s continuing to write songs. If anything, she didn’t want to stop the songwriting process [for this album]. I wouldn’t be surprised if she was a lot quicker to come back with another album, just based on how inspired she feels.”