Will you write this for me? He says, ‘No, you write your songs yourself,’” sings Stevie Nicks in “That Made Me Stronger” on her soon-to-be-released Trouble In Shangri-La. The line references a conversation she had with her longtime friend Tom Petty, and it’s interesting on a couple of levels. First and foremost, it was the kick that Nicks seemed to need to finish writing “Trouble In Shangri-La.” Stevie tells the story of how, when this exchange actually happened, Petty told her that she was a premier songwriter and didn’t need any help. As far back as 1973’s Buckingham Nicks album, Stevie Nicks has had one of the more unique and recognizable voices in rock & roll, but she’s also written some of the most memorable songs of our generation. “Rhiannon,” “Landslide,” “Dreams,” “Gold Dust Woman,” “Edge Of Seventeen,” “Leather And Lace,” “I Can’t Wait”…for more than a quarter-century her relevance in the rock canon has never been in question. Apparently, Nicks needed to be reminded of this.
Trouble In Shangri-La was predominantly recorded in and around Los Angeles (the album’s closing number, “Love Is,” was done in Vancouver). Stevie wrote nine of the 13 cuts, and co-wrote one other. No less than seven different producers are credited, with Sheryl Crow’s, John Shanks’ and Nicks’ names appearing most often. The short list of performers includes Crow, Lindsey Buckingham, Mike Campbell, Sarah McLachlan, Waddy Wachtel, Benmont Tench, Macy Gray, Natalie Mains of the Dixie Chicks, Patrick Warren, Rami Jaffee of The Wallflowers and Steve Ferrone. And yet, despite the relative disjointedness all that implies, Trouble In Shangri-La is a cohesive work that is both timeless and current. In short, it’s a robust reintroduction from an artist who, save for Fleetwood Mac’s 1997/’98 world tour and The Dance, has been noticeably absent since 1993’s Street Angel.
It was the kind of clear, windy March day that follows an L.A. storm when Stevie called to discuss Trouble In Shangri-La. She’d been decorating her house near scenic Pacific Coast Highway, but for nearly an hour she put that task aside in favor of chitchatting about everything from Fleetwood Mac (they plan to record a new album next year) to her eight-year battle with drugs to her upcoming tour.
Is this nail-biting time or is this calm time for you, waiting for the CD to actually come out?
“When I gave it up, I gave it up. I handed the record in right before the end of the year and it was like, ‘This is it—I’m not gonna touch it now, it’s finished.’ A record is like a painting—you could certainly go on for a hundred years.”
So how do you know when a record is done?
“You just feel it. You just know that it’s done.”
Some of these songs have been around for years, haven’t they?
“The old ones are ‘Candlebright,’ ‘Sorcerer’ and ‘Planets Of The Universe.’ ‘Sorcerer’ was written in ’74, ‘Planets Of The Universe’ was written in the end of 1976 and ‘Candlebright’ in 1970. Those were in the Rumours group of songs—it’s not that they weren’t considered or that they weren’t really good, it was just that there was not room. That’s why I did a solo career. Bella Donna was simply the songs that could not fit on the first three Fleetwood Mac records.
“And these were really, really precious songs to me, too, so I waited for the right time.”
Were “Candlebright,” “Sorcerer” and “Planets” considered for every solo album since then?
“Uh-huh. ‘Planets Of The Universe’ and ‘Sorcerer’ were bootlegged 25 years ago, so the fans are going to be very interested to hear these songs.”
Are the versions on this album completely new since then?
“Completely new and redone.”
The opening guitar line in “Planets” is a nod to Lindsey’s guitar part from “Rhiannon.” Did you write it that way back in ’76?
“Well, it’s the same chords basically as ‘Rhiannon’; it’s not exactly the same, but there are parts of it that are the same. ‘Planets Of The Universe’ was one of the ‘Rhiannon’ songs—I have 11 songs over all of these years that if I ever wanted to [I could] do a movie or something built around the story of ‘Rhiannon.’ Those songs are all continuations of each other—‘Planets,’ ‘Rhiannon’ and ‘Sorcerer.’ I have recorded all 11 of them, just sat and played them all in a row to see what my line was through the whole thing, and for a long time I didn’t want to separate them.”
Are we familiar with any of those other tracks or are they songs that haven’t been released yet?
“There’s two or three on all the solo albums all the way back, but there’s probably seven left.”
When did you start working on this CD?
“The first song was written in the last month of 1994; the very end of that year I wrote ‘Love Is,’ which is the last song on the record—one year later I wrote ‘Trouble In Shangri-La,’ and that’s when I named the record. In my heart I believed that this record was gonna be important when I wrote ‘Love Is.’ At that point I set out to make my little dream come true; then the Fleetwood Mac thing happened and for two solid years I was pretty much stopped, but when I went out on the road with Fleetwood Mac I wrote a lot of the poetry that ended up in the Trouble In Shangri-La songs.”
And when did you actually enter the studio?
“Sheryl and I recorded ‘Candlebright’ and ‘Sorcerer’ about two-and-a-half years ago. She really wanted to produce the record, and I wanted her to, but she had just released The Globe Sessions and it was like, ‘Are we crazy? You can’t produce my record right after you just released your own record.’ So I went into a little bit of shock, where I didn’t know exactly what to do, you know? I kind of worked around and I went back to writing at that point. I worked with a couple of other people, but it didn’t really work out. I came into the studio January a year ago and started. This record, except for ‘Sorcerer’ and ‘Candlebright,’ really was just about completely done between last January and December, so it didn’t really take near as long as everybody thinks. We weren’t working constantly, either. If we went back and checked through all of my journals and all of my assistant’s journals of what we did, I bet you this record took four months—except for the two songs that I did with Sheryl two years before…and they only took four days.”
Those weren’t the only two songs you did with her, right?
“We did the two songs for [the movie] Practical Magic a little before that, and that’s when we realized that we could work together.”
And what about “Touched By An Angel,” which is on the new Sweet November soundtrack?
“That was one of my very favorite songs and when they told me I had to cut down from 16 songs to 12 [for this CD] I was horrified. The only reason I let ‘Touched By An Angel’ go was because they said, ‘We have a great movie that it could go in and it’ll have its own little starring role.’ It’s about AIDS and about the angel that I believe is with us all that takes you through to the next side. And so it was a very precious song to me. And the other three that didn’t make the record I pulled back to redo next year with Fleetwood Mac.”
Okay, let’s go there for a moment: you’ve said that you think Christine McVie has had enough, that she probably won’t ever tour again. Will she be on the Fleetwood Mac album?
“Well, it’s a choice that we’ll have to make then because she will not ever tour again. If she participates fully on the record then what do we do if we have a big hit single and no Christine? So if we’re gonna do it we’ve got to go on without her—and she wants us to go on without her. We waited for three years for her to change her mind. Bless her little heart, she is fine and having a fabulous life in England. She doesn’t want to be a rock star anymore. she wants to be an artist. She was an artist before she joined Chicken Shack [the band she was in prior to joining Fleetwood Mac in 1970]. She paints and draws, and she’s an incredible chef. She wants to do other things. She’s been doing this since she was 16 years old. I didn’t join Fleetwood Mac until I was 28, so my life was very normal until I was 28; Christine was on the road at 17. She has every right to say no. She’s not gonna change her mind and I don’t want her to change her mind if she doesn’t want to.”
So then that begs the question in 2001, 2002, who’s Fleetwood Mac?
“Fleetwood Mac is a power trio.”
A power trio? Who? You, Mick and Lindsey or Mick, you and John?
“Mick and John and me and Lindsey, but you know I don’t play.”
Oh, okay; the Led Zeppelin/Who format. So are you gonna play Robert Plant or Roger Daltrey?
“I’m gonna be Robert Plant. It’s very exciting and actually we just had a great meeting—Mick and Lindsey and I—and I gave Lindsey 17 more songs. It’ll happen.”
Getting back to your new CD, one of the things I noticed that’s dramatically different from your earlier albums is that where those albums had a lot of keyboards and synthesizer sounds, this one is…
…more guitars and percussion. Was that the plan early on or did it just kind of organically come out that way?
“It just organically happened. My first bands were very heavy, two keyboard players that played really, really good and really full. This wasn’t an album that I did with all of my own people. Sheryl used her people, Pierre Marchand used his people, John Shanks used his people, Rick Nowels used his people.”
“Silver Springs” finally became a hit 22 years after it got pulled from the Rumours album. How gratifying was it for you to finally have that song see the light of day?
“First of all, when I first recorded it I gave it to my mother as a present. My mother would never take a penny from me, so I figured the only way I could actually give her some money would be to give her a song. ‘Silver Springs’ was her favorite song; she named her antique store The Silver Springs Emporium. Then they took it off the record, so it was very much of a dud gift.”
You gave her the royalties?
“The whole thing. Writer’s [royalties] and publishing—everything. So then it was like, ‘Well, mom, guess what? It’s not going on the record and I’m really sorry.’ But she continued to own it.
“And they are getting ready to release a 5.1 DVD mix of Rumours that is stunning. I went out to hear it and I started to cry three times. You can only hear so much out of two speakers. In the 5.1, stuff that the band did that you never heard is all there now. It’s outrageous.”
Is there video on the DVD as well?
“There’s an interview, there’s stuff from the past and there’s pictures from the recording of Rumours. It’s a really nice interview from before, and it’s incredible. So my mom stands to totally rule one more time because they’ve put ‘Silver Springs’ onto Rumours as if it were always there.”
You’ve done a lot of duets: Don Henley, Kenny Loggins, Bruce Hornsby, John Stewart, Tom Petty, and now Natalie Mains of the Dixie Chicks. What’s the appeal to duet?
“Because I’m really a harmony singer. That’s why Lindsey and I came to this town as a package. I love to sing harmony. I love to sing with people. That’s why I have Lori [Nicks] and Sharon [Celani], who are not just background singers. When we sing, the three of us, it’s amazing, just like when Chris and Lindsey and I sing. Since I first started singing in the fourth grade, I can remember always going to a harmony. I very seldom ever sang melody.
“That’s why it was very hard when Christine came into Lindsey’s and my thing, because we were so practiced and we were such a good duo. As soon as we had to sing with a third person, our duo singing became less and less and we became more trio singers. I loved singing with the three of us, but I also was very sad to see the Lindsey/Stevie thing start to go.”
What have you heard about Lindsey’s next record?
“He has a double-album and he’s in the midst of making a decision whether or not he wants to turn it around and make it into a Fleetwood Mac record. He’s got way too many songs for one record, so even if he puts a record out, he’s still gonna have another 15 songs left that aren’t chopped-liver songs. So we don’t really know exactly what he’s gonna do yet.
“And you know Lindsey, he’s worse than me moving furniture—he changes stuff constantly. That artist thing, when you have to say, ‘I’m done,’ is hard for him.
“So anyway, I really don’t know exactly what he’s gonna do, but he’s very much thinking about it right now. I mean, Tango In The Night was [going to be] a solo record and he decided to flip it to a Fleetwood Mac record. And we’re all behind him—we just want him to do whatever will make him happy. I’m gonna be gone for a year, so we really can’t start this until the end of this year. So even though I did give Lindsey 17 songs, who knows? What I basically feel, Jim, is that there’s a good feeling around everything, so I’m not worried about anything.”
You’re gonna be gone for a year, covering, I would imagine, most of the world?
Are you geared up for that?
“I’m geared up for it. I’ve been working out for two years and have a little of my strength back. I figure I’m not gonna wait for 10 years to do it because I’m not gonna want to do it in 10 years, you know? So it’s like if we’re gonna get out and really do this in a big way one more time, we need to do it.”
You’ve said that you didn’t like Street Angel. I bet you’re feeling much better about this album, huh?
“This album is so much different because right before Street Angel came out, I was in rehab for 47 days—so I was totally clear when the record went out. So I really saw how not good it was.
“I tried to fix it in a couple of months’ time, but it was just not possible, and I was so depressed about it. When I left rehab and went back to Phoenix to write my songs, I knew this would be a whole new part of my life, so I can honestly give these [new] songs out to people, and say, ‘Not only do I think these are good songs, but I want you all to know that I’m okay now.’ Trouble In Shangri-La is saying a lot more than just, ‘Here’s some really nice songs for you to listen to.’ It’s saying, ‘My life was almost gone and what saved me is my music.’ That’s really what gave me the strength to say, ‘I don’t want to die, I want to be alive, I want to have fun, I want to write more songs, I want to tour, I want to do all of that.’”
Was it that bad?
“Yeah, it was that bad. And in another year I think I would have been dead because I would have OD’d on something really stupid, like a couple swigs of Nyquil or something. When you take Klonopin for eight years, it just takes away your good judgment, it takes away your soul. You don’t do anything well because you’re not really yourself.
“I talk about it in every interview so that in case somebody says to one of my fans, ‘We think you should go on this—let’s do a trial Klonopin run,’ they’ll run out of the room screaming. So I really try to mention it to everybody I talk to because it almost killed me. It makes you feel lousy; it makes you feel so blah and so bored that you just don’t care about anything, so you try to medicate yourself to make yourself feel a little better. Maybe you’ll take a couple of Pamprins or some Nyquil, or maybe you’ll take a whole bunch of Excedrin PMs because you can’t sleep. I would have done something really stupid. One day I woke up and said, ‘I’m going to the hospital.’”
I don’t bring up things like drug problems in interviews because I think it’s a private thing for people. Does it feel uncomfortable to you that we know all of these details about your drug problems?
“No. I want you to know in case some day you go to a psychiatrist and they try to put you on this stuff. Or at least you and everybody that I ever talk about is able to say, ‘Let me research this first.’”
Is that how you started?
“I went to a psychiatrist and he said, basically, ‘You’ve just given up cocaine and I think you should take this because it will calm your nerves. You’ll be better.’”
All it did was give you something else to be addicted to.
“Oh my God. If I could go back to that day and just get up from that chair and walk out, my life would be so different now. Now you’re gonna say, ‘Maybe you wouldn’t have written Trouble In Shangri-La,’ and, ‘Maybe you had to go through all of that to get to this place,’ and if so, that is a drag. I would have just as soon taken the eight years and not had to go through that.”
You and Lindsey released Buckingham Nicks back in 1973. At the time, when it was still full of potential and everybody was excited about it, you must have had a dream of how it might be if that album took off and was successful. So here we are 28 years later—does the here and now match up in any way to what you thought it might be like in ’73?
“I knew we were gonna be famous—I really believed that. I don’t think I ever thought it would be this huge because how could I relate to that? I didn’t know any rock stars, you know? So now as I sit here in my beautiful home that I thank God for every day, I think, ‘I knew I would be here.’
“We moved to L.A. in 1970; in 1973 we did Buckingham Nicks; in 1974 they dropped it. The last day of 1974 Mick called us, so we had that one bad year. Lindsey and I were both seriously not believing in us, wondering if we were going to be able to overcome this incredible town. That never entered our minds until they dropped that record. So then we were really strapped for money. That’s the only time I thought it wasn’t gonna work out.
“I’m really happy now. I’m feeling very creative again and after not being creative for a long time, it’s so wonderful that I can just sit down at the typewriter right now if I wanted. I could go and write a song about this conversation. I’m looking at my beautiful view and I’m enjoying talking to you—I am happy and it did work out great.”
Jim Nelson / Mix 96.9 in Phoenix / May 2001