Home » Stevie Nicks gets serious, down to business on Bella Donna

Stevie Nicks gets serious, down to business on Bella Donna

Stevie Nicks Bella Donna (1981)“Look, enough with these heavy interviews,” the guys upstairs told us. “Szasz, Anton Wilson, Leary, Turner, Bukowski. Give ‘em a break, give ‘em some gossamer. Mind candy. Set ‘em up for the heavy DEA informant rap next month.”

Okay, we say. We think music. We think lace and vaseline-soft images. Doll-houses and rainy-day dreams. Good witches. We think Stevie Nicks.

So we sent Liz Derringer, first lady of rock journalism and a specialist at corralling big names for us (Mick Jagger, June ’80; Pat Benatar, Jan. ’82). She tracked Stevie down to her penthouse suite at the Plaza Hotel and found the ethereal songstress just dying to talk about her solo career and her number-one album, Bella Donna. They sipped coffee and wine and spoke of many things: of shoes and discs and Fleetwood Macs and cabbages and kings.

HIGH TIMES: What I’ve gotten out of your album so far is your special way of combining vulnerability with strength—qualities that are hard to put together.

STEVIE NICKS: That’s what “Bella Donna” is about. I mean, the song “Bella Donna,” which says “come in out of the darkness,” was, as you said, what rock ‘n’ roll is. You live with somebody — well, it doesn’t make for a terrifically strong and independent women. It doesn’t allow you to be that very much. I think the music industry is very male oriented. Although there are a lot of wonderful girl singers around, still I think it’s their world. I fought through six years to make this LP. In Fleetwood Mac, they would have done it. I wouldn’t have. And I would’ve let them make me as dependent as I have always been on them, because when somebody is dependent, they’re under your thumb. And they knew that I had to go and do this by myself because I had to prove to myself that I could exist on my own.

HIGH TIMES: That’s the process of growing up.

STEVIE NICKS: And what are you gonna do without them if they’re not there anymore some day? (Record producer) Jimmy (Iovine) expected a lot from me from the very beginning. Well, he did bring me back to some reality. My life had to change in order to do an LP with him. I had to change. I couldn’t be Stevie Nicks with Fleetwood Mac. I had to be much stronger and much more in control of myself, because he would not waste his time working with an out-of-control, flaky girl singer with Fleetwood Mac. He had no reason to be in the studio with that person and it was made very clear to me from the very beginning that if I was gonna do this, I was no longer the coddled, dependent baby of Fleetwood Mac.

It was like he said, if you’re gonna come into my studio and there’s going to be ten of the best musicians in the world waiting for you, then you’d better damn well come in ready to work, and not two hours late and not fluffing in and expecting everyone to just forgive you, and too bad that you’re late, and it cost eight million dollars because you didn’t bother to show up, and they did two sessions and they made it over to the studio at seven o’clock. And I just realized right away that I wanted more than anything in the world to put these songs down and play them for all those wonderful people who seemed, for whatever their reasons, to love my songs. And I love my songs. That’s what I do — I write songs. I’m a tune writer. And I wanted this LP to be really wonderful. And without somebody like Jimmy, I could not have done it. Because I wouldn’t have been disciplined enough.

HIGH TIMES: Did he put together the duets?

STEVIE NICKS: He put it all together. But Don Henley (of the Eagles) and I did “The Highwayman” and “Leather and Lace” in 1975. Those duets were put together because they were done five years ago. And we have really wonderful demos of them.

HIGH TIMES: Didn’t you write “Leather and Lace” for Waylon Jennings and (his wife) Jesse Colter?

STEVIE NICKS: I wrote it for them and I wanted them to do it. Waylon Jennings asked me to write a song called “Leather and Lace.” That’s his title. So I did and I spent a lot of time on the psychology of the man and the woman in the music business both being stars in their own right and trying to live with each other and work and give Waylon a break and let him be a little weaker for a minute and let Jesse be a little stronger for a minute. This is a long time ago. This is what I was searching for even then. I mean, I was writing about Waylon Jennings and Jesse Colter, but I was writing about me and Lindsey (Buckingham, of Fleetwood Mac). And I was, at that point, going out with Don Henley and I was writing about Don and me. I was writing about the few couples that I knew and what they went through to try and work it out. And I guess Jesse and Waylon sort of broke up around then. And I felt in my heart that either I had to do this song with Don, or Waylon had to do it with Jesse, or Waylon and I had to do it. Those were the only three possibilities for that song to be done. It was the most disciplined song I had ever written and I had to finish it.

HIGH TIMES: With your success you must feel stronger now.

STEVIE NICKS: See, that’s so amazing to me because I — This is the first interview I’ve done as just Stevie. It’s nerve-wracking for me too, because for the first time, I’m not forced to sit here and tell all the old stories. Even though I still tell them, and people want to know, for the first time, I’m free to talk about the particular songs that were — one-half of them were fully available to Fleetwood Mac. And for some reason, they weren’t done. I was very lucky, because these are really the perfect songs for this LP. I think that’s why this album seems to be very dear to people already, at least to my friends. They’ve lived it. This is my life. Every single thing that is written in this LP happened to me.

I’m not kidding. It’s real serious. And I didn’t have to beg to do these songs. In Fleetwood Mac I have to talk them into it. I get it as soon as I write the song. I know what it’s going to be. If I don’t, nobody ever hears it. I don’t ever go with it to anyone. It was very important to me to let people know that this is something that I wanted to do for them, the public. I don’t need to make any more money. I’m fine, I’m comfortable. I’ve got all my wonderful little stage clothes that I can wear forever and my boots, and I’ve got enough jewelry and I’m fine. I don’t need to do this to make money. I need to do this to fulfill myself as a writer. I mean, it says, “come in out of the darkness.” That’s saying, save yourself and come back. And it’s a serious thing. I had to do that to do the LP. I had to stop being crazy, or it wasn’t going to be done.

HIGH TIMES: But they’d still do it if you came two hours late.

STEVIE NICKS: But it wouldn’t have been the same. See, my reception from these men that played on my LP — they were only wonderful to me because I went in there strong. Otherwise they would’ve said, “This is some flaky chick from Fleetwood Mac, which is what we don’t need to work with.” And you can’t pay those guys enough to hang around.

HIGH TIMES: I don’t relate to you being flaky.

STEVIE NICKS: These guys, they’d really rather sit in a room with a bunch of guys and play. But because I made an incredible effort to be there for them when they needed me, to be there for them when they needed to talk to me, to try to understand, to try to explain. To explain to Waddy (Wachtel) that “Bella Donna” was serious — I was not talking about a beautiful woman. I was talking about a beautiful woman becoming old and not beautiful. And skinny and too tired, the woman disappears.

HIGH TIMES: Is that what you consider some of the pitfalls that you said were written in “Bella Donna”?

STEVIE NICKS: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. There’s a decision you make at a certain point whether you can go right on staying up all night and being very spoiled and very into your own world. Because the world that you live in has really made you do that. It’s very easy to become dependent in rock ‘n’ roll. My world was a phone call to tell me to get up, to get in the car, to get into the airplane, and a phone call to tell me that I had fifteen minutes before the concert.

HIGH TIMES: Isn’t it easy to fall into that again?

STEVIE NICKS: Very easy. But I won’t ‘cause I won’t come out of it again.

HIGH TIMES: That’s where age and experience help.

STEVIE NICKS: Yeah, if I want to do this again, which I do, then I have to be strong enough to deal with my life in Fleetwood Mac and deal with my life alone. Because when I’m alone, I’m alone.

HIGH TIMES: You’ve said that in middle age, you’d like to be on top of a mountain with a piano and typewriter.

STEVIE NICKS: I would, I look forward to that. I love my performing and I’ll do that for another five or six years, but there will be a point in my life when what I’ll really want to do is go away and write. And I’ll write about all of this. I’ve already written thousands of pages. The story’s written already. I’ll want to add to it and I want to put it together and it’ll be an incredible book. It’ll be full of poetry and all of the songs that you’ve heard. All the real happy parts and all the sad parts. And the real difficult parts are there. And that’s what I want to do eventually. I’ll want to go and really put that together. But now I’ll work toward being able to tell as much of my personal life in my songs — that’s as much as I have to give right now.

HIGH TIMES: Do you find it hard to maintain relationships in this business?

STEVIE NICKS: I find it nearly impossible. Anyone that you meet is going to be in some way in the business. I don’t meet people who aren’t in the business. I don’t go anywhere to meet them. What am I going to do, sit in a bar? And at some point or another, my job gets to them. It’s easy to understand. “No, I can’t have dinner, I have interviews.” “But we were in New York all week and we didn’t get to have dinner once.” “I’m sorry, what do you want me to do, call everybody and cancel?”

It’s incredible. That’s why you wish for some time that you won’t be so busy. You end up really hurting people because you get angry. You have fifteen things scheduled and you would love to sit here and watch a movie with someone, but you can’t because you have to get ready. You have to do your hair and your makeup and take a shower and do all that, and that takes a long time. Then you have to get everything ready. And then when it’s over, you are so tired. You have been under so much pressure because you have been talking all day. Or you’ve been traveling all day, you’ve been to the sound check, you’re getting home and you thank God you have fifteen minutes to lay down on your bed before you have to start the whole thing over – the shower, the hair, do the makeup and get down there. So you’re down there an hour before the concert so you don’t feel like a jerk walking into the concert and you’re not vibed out at all, you just feel like you dropped by.

So you’ve got to make time, and what happens is you make the time for rock ‘n’ roll. You make the time for Fleetwood Mac, you make the time for the interviews, you make the time to go to the record company, you make the time to go stop by a radio station, but you don’t make the time for your boyfriend. And slowly that creeps into their head, that you are not making the time for them, but you make the time for everyone else. Because you can’t say no to everyone else.

HIGH TIMES: What about someone like Don Henley, who knows that? He’s in the same position.

STEVIE NICKS: When I was going out with Don, it was five years ago and I was much less busy; Fleetwood Mac was much less popular, we were just beginning. When I was with Lindsey, we lived together and were famous. It was the opposite extreme. I’ll never forget the day I was up at Don’s house having dinner with him and his manager, Irving Azoff, who is now my manager five years later, and Glenn Frey of the Eagles walked in and looked at me and said, “Spoiled yet.” Like no mention of Fleetwood Mac. I was not even in the league of a singer. I was nothing more than a girl. My claws went out and I wanted to get out of there.

HIGH TIMES: I don’t know him well, but that sounds typical of Glenn Frey.

STEVIE NICKS: He’s witchy! And I love Glenn, and that was a long time ago. That was my first taste of what it was like to be a happening girl rock ‘n’ roll singer. Going out with a very famous man rock ‘n’ roll singer and have people not relate to me like I even had a job. I went out with John David Souther for a while, who is very, very, very male chauvinistic and very sweet and cute and wonderful but very Texas, and I found when I was with him, I didn’t mention Fleetwood Mac ever. It didn’t help my status with the man to bring up anything I did, so I didn’t. And then you start saying, “But I work too. I’m happening. I write songs, but you aren’t giving me a break.”

HIGH TIMES: I think that what keeps couples together is an understanding, you live your life and I live my life.

STEVIE NICKS: That’s all it is, if somebody just knows and understands. My mother said, “Stevie, you were born guilty. You never lied, you never did anything bad, and you always looked guilty. But you were willing to take on the guilt of everyone else immediately.” And I am that way. If I ever think that someone thinks that I did anything wrong, it’s a neon sign across my face that blinks guilty guilty guilty.

HIGH TIMES: You feel the weight of the world sitting on your shoulders.

STEVIE NICKS: And you didn’t even do anything, but you wake up sick to your stomach the next day, thinking that you did. For whatever reasons —which aren’t important — my relationship with Paul (Fishkin, co-founder of Modern Records) stopped, he is the one man in my life that was truly good. Truly understood. I was in an emotional trauma all through that fifteen months. And he stood by and watched it, and was as much help as he could be. While the rest of the world questioned me constantly, including my very close friends. About everything.

HIGH TIMES: I guess being a superstar, people want to get involved in your life and tell you what to do.

STEVIE NICKS: They want you to be dependent. I always know what’s right, and when I get pushed into something — which I do a lot — that I knew wasn’t right from the beginning, I’m the hardest on myself and punish myself severely. I just lay in bed and think about it over and over until I can’t think about it anymore. I start to go crazy. Just now, I’m calming down with this album because this was the freest thing I’ve ever done — though I had a disciplinarian behind me with a little stick going nananananana. And not being treated as a child — being treated as a grown-up.

HIGH TIMES: You become more together with age.

STEVIE NICKS: I absolutely love being thirty-three years old. I think it’s wonderful. You can see things clearer. You don’t have to get so crazy. You start making your own decisions. You’re a woman, not a child. You’re grown up and have to fend for yourself. You’re the only one who’s here and no one is going to save you. And nobody can tell you that, because my mom has been telling me that for years. And I call her sometimes and she’ll say to me, “I wish you’d let somebody take some of this pressure off your little bitty shoulders for a moment, Stevie.” And that’s what I did. I gave it to Jimmy. I said, “Here it is, here’s the pressure, here’s my weird life, here’s how crazy it is. Now figure out how to make this album.”

HIGH TIMES: Where does your fascination with witches come from? Did you dream about things like that when you were a little girl?

STEVIE NICKS: I dreamed only about giving a little fairy tale to people. That’s what the outfit is on my album cover, that’s what that bird is. (Reaches for the album jacket.) That bird belongs to my brother, that’s the only reason I could work with a wild animal. That’s Max on the front. With my clothes and the things that I wear, I have so much fun with them. I was talking to a lady today and were talking about dress-up and about how much fun dress-up used to be. And if there was a trunk in the attic, I was in it looking. And I would rather wear that drape than anything you could sell me from Bloomingdale’s. I don’t like all that stuff. I love the Muppets. Miss Piggy on the front of the TV Guide kills me with her portable TV, and Kermie in the back sitting, and with her little shoes. I just adore Miss Piggy to death. I collect marionettes and dolls so I have an incredible collection and I carry these things all over the world. They’re so real. See, that’s a fantasy. The Muppets are no different from my fantasy. My fantasy is giving a little bit of the fairy princess to all the people out there that maybe don’t have the Hans Christian Andersen books, and the Grimm’s fairy tales. If that’s the only thing I can do for them, well, that’s fine.

HIGH TIMES: I couldn’t imagine you as a type that sits around and puts black spells on people.

STEVIE NICKS: I don’t do that. That’s silly and stupid, and anyone that does that is making up their own character and has nothing to do with me. I love good witches. I like the good witch of the north, Glinda. Glinda is my friend, not the other one. And I don’t want them around. My love of that fantasy fairy-tale thing is the good part, and I’m a coward and I get very scared. I don’t go see any of those scary movies. I just watch old movies and good sad movies, but I don’t want to be scared and frightened.

HIGH TIMES: Any particular movies you like?

STEVIE NICKS: My favorite old movie is Beauty and the Beast, the 1946 one, and I love Mary, Queen of Scots. I love those kinds of movies. I can watch these movies over and over again. I love anything that is wonderful, and it can have some sadness. I don’t mind that, but like evil, bad things, I don’t like them in my life.

HIGH TIMES: Books, too? The same?

STEVIE NICKS: I read a lot of Taylor Caldwell books. I get a lot of ideas for things that I’m writing. I just read anything that comes in my way that’s interesting. I pick up bunches of little old poetry books. I love serenity since I don’t have much of it in my life. The outfit I wear on the cover of Bella Donna is the same as the one I wore on Rumours, except it’s opposite, it’s white. It’s a strange turn-around that I’ve come from black to white.

HIGH TIMES: Who designed it? You?

STEVIE NICKS: It was my idea, six years ago. Margi Kent designed it. She just keeps making it longer. She makes everything, and these are my boots that my little Jewish cobbler who’s seventy years old makes. A five-foot one-inch-tall person needs six inches. Onstage especially. Standing next to Mick Fleetwood is ridiculous. Anybody standing next to Mick is ridiculous, so imagine a five-footer. You blend into his drums, which he loves because then he’s the star. So I say, “Wait a minute, Mick, I’m going to get tall.” I get far on these boots. They are very out of style and I don’t care. I love them. They are beautiful suede and they are soft. I tried to get this boot a long time ago, and it was going out then. We searched London, and I found one pair that was like a size five, and I wear a five and a half or six, but I bought them anyway. I stuffed my little feet into them.

HIGH TIMES: You mention in “After the Glitter Fades” that the one-night stand is hard to take. What are you talking about?

STEVIE NICKS: That was written in 1972 and Lindsey and I had never been on the road at all. We had certainly never had a one-night stand because we had been together and there were no one-night stands between Lindsey and me. That was a real premonition. I just had some idea about Fleetwood Mac. I wasn’t talking about one-night stands with a man. I was talking about your one-night stands in a concert where you run in, played, and left.

HIGH TIMES: After a concert is over, do you feel sad?

STEVIE NICKS: Yes. When you come back to your hotel, and you’ve been in front of fifteen thousand people…I would like to sit down in the audience and talk to them about what’s happened. Bring like a podium up and ask questions and have everybody tell me what they think. It’s very hard to just walk away from them. You certainly don’t go to sleep; you can’t. It’s like falling in love with somebody and having yourself turn into a pumpkin and you’re back mopping the floor. That’s the hardest thing — all that energy around you and walking away from it. You have much less than they do because you come back to a motel, they go home. If I could go home after every concert and have my puppies and my cats and my friends, whoever, it wouldn’t be so difficult. To go back by myself to a hotel room is a real downer.

HIGH TIMES: On Bella Donna you seem to be saying how strong and confident you can be. Do you think you are a dominating person?

STEVIE NICKS: It’s very easy for me to be dominated because I’m used to being part of a rock ‘n’ roll band that dominates your life.

HIGH TIMES: Is the Fleetwood Mac album finished?

STEVIE NICKS: The tracks are done and we worked for five days last week on one of Chris’s songs and it is fantastic, positive, wonderful.

HIGH TIMES: You must have a great relationship with Christine McVie. You dedicated “Think About It” to her.

STEVIE NICKS: Yeah, when I really love something that she does, I really get in there and help her with it. She can do it alone, she really doesn’t need anyone, but when she writes something that I really take to heart, then I go for it. I stay up all night with her and we work on it. I really work on it and I drag Lindsey and her in there and make them sing, because that’s what they forget—they forget that there’s three of us and how good we sing. I irritate them to death, it’s like a little bug. I keep saying, “Lindsey, you and I should sing this part. It’s important that we sing this part, it would sound terrific.” And they eventually do it. Especially because I am not going to stand by and watch no singing go on this album.

HIGH TIMES: It sounds like there has been some dissatisfaction on your part in the past.

STEVIE NICKS: That’s because they’re players, they get really wrapped up in the playing of it, and I don’t get to play. I don’t have anything to do. I sit around and watch them play — it’s boring. The thing I do real well is vocal production. I can really get them happening on singing, but if it wasn’t for me, there wouldn’t be nearly half the vocals.

HIGH TIMES: You did a duet with Kenny Loggins, “Whenever I Call You Friend.”

STEVIE NICKS: That was a discipline thing. I call him Slave-Driver Loggins. He cracked the whip on me for two days to get that particular performance. And I was downright angry at points where I was going, “I’m not going to do this.” He said, “Yes, you are.” He’s a real good producer, Kenny, he got exactly what he wanted. When it was done and I left, I was knocked out. I really had to keep my mouth shut and do what I was told. And it worked. He wasn’t interested in a dull vocal.

HIGH TIMES: How does he get the performance out of you? Does he have to create a mood?

STEVIE NICKS: Yeah, that’s exactly what I do, I light a little incense. Jimmy did it for me too. If I get mad enough, he’ll say, “This is really uncool” over the talkback. We have the most hysterical video of him giving us a lecture telling us we were doing something wrong. We don’t answer him, we just talk to each other. He says it’s like tuning in on my mother’s poker game. He walks out carrying my little bottle of brandy that I use when I sing, which he hates because he doesn’t drink. I asked him for some and he’s swinging it at us as he’s talking. He said, “Okay, you want a little drink?” He goes into this incredible thing about us being magpies. And we’re totally ignoring him. We would turn to each other and forget what he said completely. He’d say, “Wait one second everybody, stop talking and listen to me.” Then someone would make some sly comment about little girls who have been caught doing something wrong, and then we’d get back on the track. That was basically what Kenny did too. He let me kind of tangent off to a point and then he’d say, “That’s it, now we have to start doing this for real.”

HIGH TIMES: When you were sixteen and received your first guitar, were you into singing?

STEVIE NICKS: I was into singing but not into being trained. I never studied music. I took a few guitar lessons.

HIGH TIMES: You never played guitar onstage?

STEVIE NICKS: I’m not good enough. There’s no reason. If I was terrific, then maybe they’d find a part for me, but I’m not, so it would be for the look of it, and I’d be too nervous. I’d be so nervous, it wouldn’t look or sound good and then everybody would be mad at me, and Lindsey would be screaming at me that it was out of tune. And I don’t need that for sure.

HIGH TIMES: How do you muster up the discipline it takes to do what you do?

STEVIE NICKS: If I have any discipline at all, it’s come slowly over the years. I was never trained. Nobody ever sat down and taught me how to play the guitar or write a song or play the piano. I love to do it to this day, it’s the greatest love of my life. That doesn’t take any discipline for me, that’s what I like to do. Where other people would rather go out and party, I would rather stay at home with my grand piano and candles and incense and a glass of wine and an idea.

HIGH TIMES: Does that come from upbringing?

STEVIE NICKS: I was always singing and they never told me not to sing. My granddad sang with me. We had a thing going always. By the time I got to be old enough for them to care, I was so heavily into music that they gave up. I mean, they knew I was on my way to something. The only thing my dad ever said to me was — because my dad was very successful and very ambitious — he said, “If you’re going to do this, you better be the very best.” That was the only thing he ever said to me. “I don’t want to see you being second.” And that was a pretty heavy thing to say to me. When I write my different songs and take them home, I’ll play them for him and he’ll say, “Well, that comes a little closer to what your potential as a songwriter is.” And then he’ll give me a big hug. My mother says he’s very cool, he’s like Jimmy. He strives to get the best out of me, and you don’t get the best out of me by hugging and kissing me and telling me how wonderful I am. That doesn’t work. The best thing to do is really be serious with me and I’ll work hard.

Liz Derringer / High Times / March 1982



Stevie Nicks

European Tour

JUL 24, 2024
Ovo Hydro
Glasgow, Scotland

SEP 24
Van Andel Arena
Grand Rapids, MI

SEP 28
Hersheypark Stadium
Philadelphia, PA