Rock goddess Stevie Nicks opens up about unexpected inspiration, a fruitful new partnership and the future of Fleetwood Mac
It is December 2009, and Stevie Nicks is sitting in a movie theater in Melbourne, Australia, watching The Twilight Saga: New Moon, the second in the popular gothic romance series. The movie’s protagonist, teenaged Bella, is feeling lost and alone without her paramour, a vampire named Edward — and something about her reminds Nicks of a song she began writing, but did not quite complete, in 1976. “I started reciting these words during the movie,” she recalls. “I was spellbound. It was almost like I’d written these words about what was going on in this movie.” Nicks’ original song fragment had been inspired by the alienation she felt after moving from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 1972 with then-boyfriend Lindsey Buckingham, two years before both of them joined legendary rock band Fleetwood Mac. After the movie she returned to her hotel room and, after 33 years, finally completed the song that would inspire her to make her first solo album in a decade. When she finished writing “Moonlight (A Vampire’s Dream),” Nicks stood up and announced to her assistant, Karen Johnston: “I’m ready to do a record now.
And she knew just who she wanted to help her. Nicks had performed with musician, songwriter and producer Dave Stewart (formerly half of the Eurythmics) on a pilot for a planned TV interview series. The show didn’t fly, but the collaboration did — Nicks says she knew on the spot that she wanted to work with him. She gave him a call. The two met up at Nicks’ home in the Pacific Palisades area of Los Angeles and set about doing something the singer had never done before: writing a song with a partner who was actually in the same room. While Nicks has shared many co-writing credits in the past, she and her collaborators always worked separately — Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell, one of her most frequent songwriting partners, has for three decades sent her instrumental demos to which she adds lyrics. She and Stewart used a set of 40 typewritten Nicks’ poems as a basis, eventually spinning out seven new songs in quick succession. “We sat down with an acoustic guitar, which I’m used to doing and she’s not,” says Stewart. “We had a song in 10 minutes. We did that a few times, and eventually this album started to appear.”
Nicks, Stewart and Glen Ballard (noted producer and Stewart’s longtime production partner) set up recording equipment in her home to capture the songs that now make up In Your Dreams, Nicks’ first solo album since 2001’s Trouble in Shangri-La. They assembled a set of musicians that included longtime Nicks’ guitarist and bandleader Waddy Wachtel and backup singers Sharon Celani and former sister-in-law Lori Nicks —all of whom she has worked with since kicking off her solo career with 1981’s classic Bella Donna. Other familiar faces were present as well: Buckingham played guitar and sang on “Soldier’s Angel,” and Fleetwood Mac co-founder Mick Fleetwood played drums on several songs.
Recording continued for several months at Nicks’ home, followed by 10 days of overdubbing at the Village’s Studio D — the very room in which Fleetwood Mac famously spent two tumultuous years and a million dollars recording 1979’s Tusk. The making of the most recent Mac effort, 2004’s Say You Will, was also difficult — which is why Nicks insists that she wants Stewart and Ballard behind the board for the group’s next studio effort. She reports that Buckingham, who has typically held sway over the group’s productions, has already endorsed the idea. “Lindsey doesn’t want to produce the next Fleetwood Mac record,” she says. “He is absolutely not into that. I think it would be a pleasure for him to be able to sit back, play his parts, write his songs, have fun and not be worried all the time.”
But for now Nicks’ focus is on In Your Dreams. Like “Moonlight,” the first single, “Secret Love,” was also rescued from Nicks’ vaults — she made a demo of the song in 1975, but didn’t present it to Fleetwood Mac because she deemed it too personal. “My songwriting never changes,” she says with a chuckle. “Waddy laughingly says, ‘She just writes one long song.’” That song now stretches back more than three and a half decades, and its influence on at least two generations of female singer-songwriters has been profound. “And I love that,” says the Arizona native. “I love that all these young women who are really good are interested and feel I have created a world for them to come into.”
Nicks, 62, isn’t finished building that world just yet. She’s eager to collaborate with Stewart again, whether on a solo project or with Fleetwood Mac, and she has plans to exhibit her drawings and to write a screenplay based on her 1975 Mac classic “Rhiannon.” “I can’t wait to rent a castle somewhere in Wales, lock myself away for two months and write this whole story,” she says. Nicks spoke to us at her L.A. home about her new songs, her astounding history, her views on the modern music industry and her still vital creativity. “I’m forever inspired and tickled about what’s to come,” she says. “I’m just going to keep doing this, because this is what I love.”
Why so long since the last solo record?
I came off the road in 2005 after doing 135 shows and a record with Fleetwood Mac, and I was completely prepared to do a solo album. But I was told by the powers that be in the industry that doing a record would be a mistake — because of piracy. For somebody who loves their records as much as I do and puts as much work into them as I do, it was such a horrible scenario to put a record out and have 300,000 of your diehard fans buy it — and then those 300,000 people send it out to another 10 million people. I wasn’t a computer person and I’m still not today. I don’t follow all that, so I don’t have all that knowledge. But I do understand that the piracy thing has cut our publishing royalties down to a fourth of what they used to be, which is devastating and violating.
Yet you made the new album.
Because I’m not really making it for anybody else. I don’t care who says what about it. The fact was I’d written a song [“Moonlight”] that I thought was great and that the world would love. So I said, “I don’t care, I’m making a record.”
How did you and Dave get started?
He sent me a song — he’d written the chorus and asked me to write the verses, so I did. Then right after the Grammys he came to the house. We sat and listened to what I had written on his song [“Everybody Loves You”], and he liked it. Before the Grammys I had already sent him a binder with 40 poems in it. I had never actually expected him to read them — who would? But he did, and he said, “You know what, I like this poem, let’s do something with it.”
Were you nervous?
I was like, “Uh, OK … ” Because I’ve never written a song with anybody in my life. We’re in my living room, we have a Pro Tools unit, we have a microphone hanging down over the coffee table, he’s on the chair next to the fi replace, I’m on the couch and we’re looking at each other. He’s playing his guitar, he gives me the “Let’s go” signal, and in an hour we had written a good song from one of my ancient poems. At that moment the golden doors opened. I realized why Lennon and McCartney wrote together, or why Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote together. Dave knows thousands of chords and I don’t. I had all these long poems and he didn’t. What we gave to each other was an amazing trade-off. So we wrote seven songs. If I wanted to write seven songs by myself it would take me a year and a half. I know about five chords, so I would just sit at my piano and grieve and cry.
What’s Dave like as a producer?
He loves it — and when somebody loves what they do, you can’t help but be drawn in. He doesn’t have an ego. He can tell if you don’t like something or if a song is going in a way that you’re not crazy about, and he’ll say, “Let’s stop, let’s go another way.” You never have to worry with Dave that you’re going to get talked into using something you hate.
How was the atmosphere?
Everybody was very funny — when you put 10 people like that together every day for five days a week, it was an amazing experience. My goddaughter Kellianne [Murphy] catered for 10 to 12 people every night. We broke at 7:30 and sat down for an hour and a half and talked about the world and politics. It reminded me of Paris in the ’20s, when all the famous artists would gather on Sunday nights and talk about the world. And we did that for nine months.
How have you kept so many long-term collaborations intact?
I think it’s very comforting to my audience to know that we as friends have hung together. I could have changed background singers every other year, but I’d rather have Lori and Sharon, who I started working with in 1980. I love the way these girls sound and love the way the three of us sound together. I don’t want generic background singers, I want girls with specific, unique voices—and they have them. And there’s nobody better than Waddy when it comes to jamming guitar onstage and being a kick-ass musical director. So I brought those people in, and Dave brought a lot of other people in. It was a really great grouping, and even the people I didn’t know I got to know very fast. Everybody had a great amount of respect for each other. You know, making an album with Fleetwood Mac is angst-ridden. This was not angst-ridden. This was a lot of fun, and if it ever started to roll off into that angst-ridden place, we all went, “Oh no, not going there.” Life is too short.
It doesn’t discourage me from it, because I have already told Lindsey, “I am never making another record that isn’t as much fun as the record I just made with Dave and Glen Ballard.” He came in and worked with us on “Soldier’s Angel,” and he was fantastic. He saw the relationship between Dave and me, and the relationship between Glen and me. I’m more like Dave, and Glen is more like Lindsey, so that seems like a great combination. Dave and Glen would be the perfect guys to help us make a record.
Has Lindsey’s production involvement thrown off the balance before?
It makes him be a player, a writer and also the producer. That’s hard — sometimes all the weight of the world is on your shoulders. It’s more fun to not have to do that. I mean, I could produce a record, and I feel I produced a lot of this record we just did. But I’m not getting producer points for it, because I didn’t want to be the producer.
How did you rediscover “Secret Love”?
It just came into my head. I asked Lori to go to Phoenix [where Nicks also has a home] to look through all our vaults and she couldn’t find it. Then we found the demo on YouTube! Can you believe it? A lot of my cassettes got lost in those days. I apparently put that cassette away because I didn’t want anybody to know what it was about.
I don’t remember exactly, but it sounds to me like it’s a song about something that happened between me and somebody. Was that guy married? Did he have children? For whatever reason, I didn’t want anybody to find out about it. Even the people in my life who were around in 1975 can’t seem to remember exactly what that song was about. I obviously never played it for Fleetwood Mac, because had I offered that up to them they absolutely would have recorded it and put it on a record. It’s Lindsey’s kind of song: It’s simple, it’s precise and he would have loved it. But clearly I didn’t want to bring that song out. I think it’s timeless, because we’re all capable of doing secret things that we don’t tell anybody about. That is the beauty in that song.
How has your songwriting process changed?
My process is not different than it was when I was 15, when I wrote my first song. I just get an idea. I’ll meet somebody, then write a song about them. Or I’ll go somewhere — I went to Italy for four weeks and wrote “Italian Summer.” All I need is one magical, sparkly moment — and at 25 or at 62, the things that inspire me are still the same. Just because I’m an old lady now doesn’t mean that I’m not inspired by all the youthful, beautiful things around me. My new favorite song is Katy Perry’s “E.T.” I’m inspired by that, I’m inspired by her — and when I was 25 I was inspired by people who were much older than me. It all balances out.
How do you imagine your future?
It’s a never-ending road of creativity and fun that goes on forever, as long as you want to stay on it. I’m never going to want to get off the road and hole up in some house by myself for the rest of my life. This is the reason I didn’t get married or have children: so that I could be free and I could be a real artist in the true sense of the word. So that I could follow it and never have to explain to anybody, “I’m going to New York on Friday, then I’m going to Paris on Sunday and I’m going to Brussels on Wednesday,” and have somebody say to me, “When are you coming home?” I’d have to say, “I don’t know when I’m coming home, actually,” and then they’d be mad at me. I made that choice a long time ago, that I was not going to have somebody be mad at me because I was following my art. If that was selfish, I figured there are already lots of moms and lots of children. I figured that down the road if I absolutely had to have kids I could always adopt. I just said, “For now, I want to be an artist.”
Yet you’re a mother figure to so many young singers.
I love that. That I have said, “You can do it — and you don’t have to follow any guidelines, you can just do whatever you want.” It’s not as easy now, but if you want it and you work hard at it, hopefully you’ll come out the other end of it somewhat successful.
What do you hope people get out of this album?
I hope it takes them to a magical kingdom of feelings. I hope they treadmill to it and dance to it and drive their cars to it. I always wanted to write because I wanted to affect people, and that’s still the main thing. I want to make people feel better. In this world of chaotic turmoil, if you can give people an hour a day listening to something, that’s going to make them feel, then you’ve done your part. That’s all I can ask for ▪
Stevie Nicks won’t give up on a good song. She has a knack for rescuing years-old tunes from her vault when they’re right for a new project — witness these great songs that she wrote well before the public got to hear them.
Recorded and released: 1994
Recorded and released: 2001
Written: Early 1970s
Recorded and released: 1994
Recorded and released: 2003
Recorded and released: 1982
“Planets of the Universe”
Recorded and released: 2001
“I Sing for the Things”
Written: Late 1970s
Recorded and released: 1985
“Love is Like a River”
“Listen to the Rain”
Recorded and released: 1994
“Running Through the Garden”
Recorded and released: 2003
Recorded and released: 2003
When in your dreams producer Dave Stewart proposed filming the recording sessions, Stevie Nicks was skeptical. “My first answer to that was, ‘I don’t think so,’” she recalls. “That would mean I have to wear makeup every day, I have to dress up every day. But he said, ‘Darling, if you don’t like it we don’t have to use it.’ That made it all easy.” Stewart’s enthusiasm for documenting the process spread quickly. “We made music videos as we went, we had a fi lm crew here and we filmed each other with Flip cameras,” she says. The resulting footage will be released as a documentary at some point. “That means that it doesn’t become just memories and fade away,” Nicks says. “It’s going to exist for all time, and that’s what I wanted. I knew from the first week that this was going to be so magical the world would want to see how it was done.” The singer says she was comforted by Stewart’s experience filming female subjects, from his own daughters to the Eurythmics’ Annie Lennox. “He and the people who work with him are very aware of how to film women,” she says. “He knows how to make you look good.
Chris Neal / M: Music & Musicians / May 2011