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Stevie Nicks: Wild angel on the wing

The Faces Interview of the Month

This is VJ Mark Goodman’s second interview with Stevie Nicks. The first was conducted in California just as Nicks, the most successful of the freewheeling Fleetwoods, was leaving the nest, and just prior to the release of her first solo album, Bella Donna. In the interim, her star has soared.

Nicks has seen her first album sell three million worldwide and has received considerable personal acclaim. She contributed the song “Gypsy” to the platinum-plus, Fleetwood Mac Mirage of 1982 and starred in the award-winning video of the song. Her second solo effort, The Wild Heart, stayed high on the summer charts, launched by her mesmerizing appearance at the controversial US Festival.

At 35, and the height of her powers, Nicks still writes poignant, tender songs of adolescent yearning–not for nothing was “The Edge of Seventeen” her hottest solo hit. An arch-romantic, she has become a rock style-setter with her trailing scarf-dresses and witch’s boots. Physically, she is still the stuff of dreams. Emotionally, she still seems to be the wide-eyed rock ingénue who first “arrived” in 1974 with her boyfriend, Lindsay Buckingham, after having her musical efforts rejected by every label in existence. Her poetic lyrics, still among the most intensely personal (some might even say obscure) in rock music, remain entrancing. But the most amazing thing about Stevie Nicks is that she really appears to be exactly what you hoped she would be. Her lovely whimsy, after all, would probably be impossible to fake.

MTV: Looking around your [hotel] room here, I see you’ve done a lot to make it your own. There’s a lot of drawings. Where did they come from?

NICKS: I drew them. And all the things on the lamps and stuff.  It’s kind of fun to fix up a hotel room, your way, make it a little bit yours. ‘Cause you have to live there. I just have a little suitcase full of stuff — my drawings and my tapestries and shawls — and they can make me almost comfortable anywhere. If I don’t have my things, I’m miserable.

MTV: And your fans give you drawings and gifts. People seem to want to give you a lot, don’t they?

NICKS: Yeah, they give me wonderful things.

MTV: What kind of gifts do you get?

NICKS: Dear ones…threadbare teddy bears…nobody gives me new stuffed animals. These are old, beloved. And beads and necklaces…this beautiful necklace.

MTV: That was passed to you onstage?

NICKS: Yeah, and this ring. I made quite a haul in New York! But I never take a thing unless I want it. I don’t want to take someone’s special thing…if I’m just going to drop it somewhere.

MTV: It’s hard to turn down those teddy bears, I guess.

NICKS: Well, especially when they come flying out of the balcony at your feet! And I want them, too, you know?

MTV: Let’s talk about your album. It seems a little different for you than the last one.

NICKS: It’s wild.

MTV: We were talking about that a bit in California — did you set out to do something very different?

NICKS: No. I’d already written the first part of The Wild Heart when we did that interview. The song itself was settled in my head.

MTV: And that was more than two and a half years ago.

NICKS: And I’m, like, seven songs into the next album I’ll do, the title, and the title song. I’m always one ahead of the last one.

MTV: The feel, the vibe of this record does seem different from Bella Donna, though.

NICKS: With The Wild Heart…it’s probably the one time in my life where I’m really going through the “edge of seventeen,” the edge of getting enough older that I might not be as wild as I am now. But now, it’s a special time, ’cause I feel wild. And with my audiences…I feel we’re all in love. I feel it when I walk onstage. To me, that’s very rare and very deep.

MTV: How do you translate that feeling onto wax? Writing the songs and processing them through all that technology and, somehow, making all that emotion come out?

NICKS: “Wild Heart” was a live cut from beginning to end. Sandy [Stewart] played piano, and a man from Texas — his name is Brad [Smith] — played drums, and I sang live. I didn’t plan it a certain way; I just wrote what I felt. The album just…happened: We all knew that this would be…kind of a year of all our wild hearts.

MTV: Why did you decide on Jimmy Iovine as a producer, rather than, say, Richard Dashut [who produced Bella Donna]?

NICKS: I already drove Richard completely crazy, so [laughs] now I’m working on Jimmy. But he is my dear friend, and I love him. He pulled me out of the depths of darkness, and I’m loyal to him.

MTV: What exactly does he do for your music as a producer?

NICKS: I call him Mr. “Because the Night” — he makes things sound like that song, a grand sound that I love. I love Tom Petty’s records, and so in the beginning, I felt, well, I’d probably love Jimmy, too, because they work together. So I never gave it another thought; I just asked, “Do you want to do this?” I never even called anyone else.

MTV: Do you work with him on arrangements? You don’t cut all your tracks live.

NICKS: Well, we do cut our tracks live, yeah — all in a room. Some of the vocals we do over, but most, we don’t. “Stand Back” is one [take]; Sandy played, the drum machine played, and I sang — we never did it again. I think we might have done the vocal on “Blonde on Blonde” (“Sable on Blond”) again — but not very many times. I feel there’s no way to redo the vocal on “The Wild Heart,” so why bother? And we have a lot of fun recording — because of that. Everybody gets dressed up, and we video it. It’s…wild!

MTV:  Why do you video it?

NICKS: So I can have it when I’m old. You couldn’t possibly explain it to anyone. But now you can see us recording “The Edge of Seventeen” and “Highwayman” with Don Henley playing drums. You just turn on the TV, and there it is.

MTV: You mentioned that Prince is on the wax…but he doesn’t get credit. Why is that?

NICKS: Well…Prince leaves no clues. We have an understanding, we’re friends, and whatever he wants is fine. I just wanted him to play.

MTV: Did he say, “Stevie, I don’t want credit, I just want to play piano with you”?

NICKS: Uh-huh. We did…just one track. I’d never met him. He was in L.A., and I just called him up and said, “I’d like it if you came.” He said, “Yes, ma’am,” and he actually showed up, not long after, and put on this…awesome part. He’s quite amazing, actually. He picked me up at 9:00 in the morning, and we went to his house and recorded a song, and I was back at 2:30 to get on a plane. We made, like, a 45-minute drive in 20 minutes, going about 110 miles an hour.

MTV:  In a little red Corvette?

NICKS: No, a black, sporty car. And the two of us aren’t miserable, either. Once we’re there, he just wrote the song, playing the piano, saying to me, “You’re writing the words.” It was amazing. Then the air conditioning broke down, and I’m sitting in front of a fan telling him, “You have to make me a cassette — I’m not going back without it.” He did, we left, and the recording studio broke down completely. But the song was really neat. It was interesting because it was real…disciplined. Neither of us felt like rocking and rolling at 9:00 o’clock in the morning with no air conditioning, but we just…did it, and we’re real proud of ourselves.

MTV:  How long, actually, have you been writing songs?

NICKS: Since my 16th birthday, the day I got my Goya guitar. I wrote a song that day.

MTV: Was it good?

NICKS: Well, yeah — it had “potential.”  The words were incredibly trite, but it had a good melody. I actually sat and played it for my friend Robin, and she said, “This could be…happening.” From that moment onward, I had the guitar under one arm all the time.

MTV: How do you feel your style has changed over the years?

NICKS: Well, it’s probably changed, outwardly, to everyone. But to me, if I just sit down at the piano and play, it doesn’t seem much different from when I played that “I’ve Loved and I’ve Lost” for Robin back then. My style really doesn’t change much, except in performance. I grow, I progress in music…but it’s…kind of not my fault.

MTV: And your lyrics always come from your own experiences or…

NICKS: Or those of somebody real close to me. I’ve certainly got enough people around me with…wild life to write about, so I have no…information block up! Whether or not it touches me enough to influence me to write is another thing. But there’s certainly been no lack of…dramatic experiences.

MTV: On the new album, some people have felt that you were a little too cryptic with your lyrics.

NICKS: Cryptic?

MTV: It’s so personal that…only you and probably whoever you…

NICKS: I don’t agree. A long time ago, I decided I was not going to hedge. I was going to write down the truth. I wasn’t going to be unkind, I wasn’t going to name names. I wasn’t going to make the songs experiences that I know every one of you has had. And…those are the only people I care about, the people who understand that. Those are the people I really write for.

MTV:  Tell me about your collaborator on this album, Sandy Stewart.

NICKS:  Sandy is a little girl from Houston, Texas, who is an incredible writer and an incredibly funny, nice person. She and I wrote “If Anyone Falls in Love.” A friend of mine gave me a tape of hers I really didn’t want to hear just as I was going into the studio. I was so inspired when I heard it, I wrote the lyrics to that and “Nothing Ever Changes” that night. From that day onward, Sandy and I considered ourselves…kind of the Rodgers and Hammerstein of rock. If someone can write a track that I really love, I’ll be glad to write a song to it, ’cause I’ve got about 800,000 pages of words. I’ve never really written with anyone before. But now…we wrote “Nightbird” in a couple of hours, sitting in my living room, with her synthesizer and me pacing. We don’t have…an ego thing between the two of us, because we’re so knocked out that there’s someone who can do the other part, that each of us would rather not do. I think it’s really neat that we have kind of established ourselves as a songwriting team, though — it’s a wonderful new part of our lives.

MTV: In your new lyrics, your themes, you talk a lot about shadows and about night.

NICKS: [Laughs] I’m only up at night. I don’t know anything about the day, so I can’t write about it. When the sun comes up, you’ll never see a girl move around so fast to close up this room! I’ve always like the night, ever since I was real little.

MTV:  A lot of people say the muse is about at nighttime.

NICKS:  And a lot of people are asleep, so there’s a lot of energy running around. So I hang around and wait for it. I sit at my piano and go, “Okay, I’m ready.” I’ll get an idea…or a melody–that’s how “Wild Heart” was. I wrote the chorus to the song a year before the first line.

MTV: A lot of your imagery is concerned with fairy tales. When we last talked you mentioned a German woman artist who had inspired you.

NICKS: Yeah. [Sulamith Wulfing] lives on the edge of the Black Forest in Germany. That’s how I learned to draw. When my friend Robin got sick, I wanted to send her something of myself to hang on the wall. For ten years, I’d had all these [Sulamith Wulfing] books. I draw like her — even though she is incredible and I’m not — but the initial spirit comes from her. All these years on the road, I’d look at her drawings, late after concerts, and get a lot of comfort from them. I think she’s probably a lot like me. The world kind of scares her and freaks her out, and she just wants to do this one thing, and she did it.

MTV: And you feel the world freaks you out as well?

NICKS: Sometimes, a little bit.

MTV: Do you think we have any power to make things better?

NICKS: I can sing to people and make them feel better. I can write songs and poems for them. I would not be good…in Lebanon, but I do think there’s something everyone could do. I don’t know what.

MTV: You’ve written so much about visions. Do you feel you have connections…elsewhere?

NICKS: Not bad connections.

MTV: You once said you were a witch.

NICKS: [Laughs] I lied. Or just in the funny sense…like the silly witch that crashes into your window on the broom.

MTV: A kitchen witch?

NICKS: Yeah. I have them everywhere in my house. And not one does dishes, either! No, for me, it was always just fun. Dressing up for a Halloween party is absolutely the most fun in the world. If I have any visions…it’s just to know what will happen with Bella Donna, what will become of The Wild Heart. If they weren’t good, I would disavow them. I don’t believe in astrology — and I don’t take bad visions seriously.

MTV: We once talked about the fact that you do believe in reincarnation. Do you ever try to contact other people?

NICKS: No. I think…you can summon things that you shouldn’t mess with. There are mischievous spirits around, and I don’t…I don’t even watch scary movies anymore. Because, then, for three days, I’m scared of the dark, and I have to walk around in a foreign place every single night. I can’t be afraid.

MTV: Can you compare your job now, as a solo artist, with your participation in Fleetwood Mac?

NICKS: Solo is more difficult because I have to sing every song. I have to be in really good shape all the time. I couldn’t go out there and be manic for two hours through those epic songs if I’d stayed up and partied the night before. With Fleetwood Mac, I was offstage for seven or eight songs, so I had lots of time — now, I have none. I can’t tell Christine or Mick or Lindsay, “Take it”— if I left the stage, no one in my band is…quite confident enough now to hit the front of the stage for me. Then there’s the studio, where I don’t like to be the boss. But when it comes down to anything real important, I am the boss.

Faces Rocks, Vol. 1, No. 9/ MTV / July 1984



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