Dave Stewart – Interview

Ultimate Eurythmics 


Interview With Dave Stewart

20th July 2011


UE: Hi Dave, you’ve been in London for a week now, and this week you’ve ended up with 4 albums in Amazon’s top 100, that’s a pretty good achievement isn’t it?



DS: I hadn’t really thought of it like that until you mentioned, but the funny thing is a lot of people will think alright, he must have done all of these at the same time, but as you know, Ghost started 5 years ago, SuperHeavy, 2 ½ Years ago, my own album and Stevie’s album last year, Joss Stone’s this year.


UE: So let’s start with the Blackbird Diaries, there’s a great story behind it and you seem to have had such good fun making this album, your first solo for 14 years.


DS: The highlights have been working in the studio and those amazing players. Working with these people have been pinch yourself moments.  They are the crème de la crème of Nashville players and singing with Martina McBride, Stevie Nicks, Colbie Caillet and Secret Sister  on my solo album has been amazing.  The whole experience with the players was probably my highlight.

UE: The whole album seems very autobiographical, yet they seem to connect to the listener on a personal level as well, was that intentional?


DS: I hadn’t really intended anything, the reason the album is called the Blackbird Diaries is that I literally wrote each song in my journal, but instead of writing about today or yesterday, I ended up writing about something that happened a long time ago.  Many of the songs have ended up being a splice of time at a particular moment.   A Beast Called Fame for example is all about 1 split second on stage with Annie where we looked at each other and both of us saw something in each other’s eyes.  I compared it to that Bonnie and Clyde movie.  Magic In The Blues, I go back to when I was a kid and I’m talking about one day in the house and my parents had broken up, and I was wandering around in an empty house.  So I jumped backwards and forwards all the time when I was writing the songs.


UE: Can you tell us about One Way Ticket To The Moon.  It’s a very sublime track featuring the Secret Sisters.


DS: It’s a trippy song, it’s about when I lived in a tiny one bedroom room in London, and there was a guy next door who was obviously a loner, never going out and there was always strange noises coming from his room, and you know it was just me on the other side of the wall wandering what he was doing and also having that feeling of being so alone in a huge city.


UE: And you’ve filmed a BBD documentary, what are the plans for that to be shown?


DS: At the moment we are working on a plan for it to be shown in small independent cinemas in America, possibly others around the world, it will be on TV, DVD and we’re still working on it.  The film is all about going to Nashville, being in Nashville, but it’s also impressionistic things about song writing and about where I am and who I am within the Blackbird Diaries.

The Blackbird Diaries Trailer

UE: And you’ve mentioned that you are heading back to Nashville to do it all again, is this The Blackbird Diaries II?


DS: I’m going back there at the end of July, me and the guys have been back in touch, and they all loved the experience so much, so yes, were doing it all again. It is the Blackbird Diaries 2, but what I’m doing is capturing the moments again, I’m planning on doing the same scary thing again and going with no songs written before I get there and see what happens.


UE: Let’s move onto Ghost now, last night was the premiere in London, it was a crazy evening, fantastic performances, celebrity audience, people clambering to get on old London Routemaster busses and a huge after show party at the Corinthea.


DS: It was so chaotic, not only have you got all the audience, lots of people from New York and Broadway, then a mixture of fans and family and friends, and everyone wants a piece of you.  But the reactions were the same as in Manchester, clapping, cheering, crying and a huge standing ovation.  It was great, but I was stressed out having family and friends there, which is always weird.  The weirdest thing though for me is sitting there watching music that I’ve done and not actually standing up there performing it.


And then of course we all went off in those old London buses, the kids were very excited, and then when I got to the party, it was bedlam, and I first walked in, it was such an avalanche of people I had to find an escape route to a secret private bar that nobody knew, well you saw me there!

UE: You spoken in the past how Bruce provided you with snippets of words he’d written, poems and other verse, and you’ve described Bruce as The Master Of Words.  Has the production of Ghost ended up how you both first envisaged it?


DS: There are elements there that were from the very beginning of our conversations that led to lots of others ideas and elements that are in the production from the first month of talking, and then there are things that have gone through huge changes that were included much later on.

 We’re still changing little things like all musicals do, it’s like you just wearing in a new suit and you have to make small adjustments to get it how you want it.


UE: You’ve been very successful with writing music for film and TV throughout your career, but perhaps what a lot of readers may not know is that you have already had one successful musical, Barbarella, under your belt.


DS: Barbarella was a good thing for me, it was a very tongue in cheek satire, comedic version of Barbarella, but it was very complicated and of course it was all in German.  It had its run extended a couple of times and ran for over a year in Vienna.  The theatres there are run by the Government, at least the top 5 theatres are.  But for me it was an amazing learning curve, and I’m very thankful to all the people there, I was busy being just like a student really taking it all in.

UE: We know that you created The Blackbird Diaries in just 5 days and its recorded, produced and sent off the press, but you’ve spoken to me before about how Ghost has been so different.  If there’s a small change in the script then a song has to be changed, or it lasts a bar or 2 too long because of another change that then has to be removed.  Has this process been a challenge to the way you normally record?


ghost-photos-15DS: It’s been a huge challenge and when you are dealing with things that aren’t on celluloid on paper or digital, you are dealing with a mixture of things, like real people on a real stage with some of the set filmed and then projected on huge screens and some are real and moving about and then belts moving on the stage that actors have to avoid falling down, while singing and dancing and interacting with others. If you analyse one minute of the production it’s so complicated it’s like trying to do a Rubik’s Cube.


UE: One of the iconic moments in the film is the use of the song Unchained Melody.  Was it easy to get the rights to the song for the production?


ghost-photos-01DS: It wasn’t my job, it was the producers’ job, but no it wasn’t easy.  When it was put forward to them though and we showed them how the song was going to be used in different ways, and very clever ways, I think it became a lot easier.

UE: Musically, the album contains a huge range of styles, something you are used to doing from your soundtrack work, working with artists like Deepak Chopra to recording with Annie and Eurythmics.  Which are the stand out tracks for you on Ghost, the ones you listen back to now and go yeah, that’s really captured that moment.


DS: When you write a musical, obviously the music has to match with what is happening on the stage, so when you have a voodoo queen and psychic as an African American, she’s not going to be sounding like Molly who’s just lost her boyfriend and is standing desperate and lonely in her apartment.  You have very extreme things going on around you, one moment there’s a New York subway and then you have a bank, so there are certain sounds that are needed to capture the mood.  When Sharon Clarke bursts onto the stage out of the wardrobe and says Mrs Sandiago I’m Oda Mae Brown and bursts into this gospel, James Brown voodoo stomp, that song stands out, it goes through so many changes.


UE: Two of my favourite tracks are Here Right Now and Rain that opens Act 2, the Overture as mentioned earlier is a strong musical opener, but Rain is equally as strong in my opinion.  When Ghost first had a website almost 2 years ago, Rain was the teaser piece of music back then.


ghost-photos-12DS:  I think Here Right Now, which keeps reappearing  as a theme, is a strong song, and the opening overture, and what people will notice if they see it a few times, is that those big opening chords is the same music that appear in many of the other ghostly sequences. They appear in different and ethereal ways.

With You is very powerful, when Caissie who plays Molly is in the apartment on her own and is just realising what’s happened, she’s just been to pick up the dry cleaning, and now she should forget that, what’s the point.

Rain is a strong opener, but last night I was going nuts in the audience, everything is mixed live and they had the guitars turned down, everything is played live in the pit, and they have to mix a real live soundtrack every single performance.  That opening is meant to really go ching ching ching ching, on the guitars and it didn’t come out as loud as it should of, but you know when something is live, you really do have to cope with so many different things.


UE: Musicals seem to be a direction that you are really enjoying right now, there’s talk about Barbarella coming to London, Bar Italia, Zombie Broadway and even with Ringo Starr.  Is this a genre that you will be focussing on in the future?


DS: The work with Ringo is not a musical at the moment, it’s a movie with Paramount that we are making, but it might go to the stage in the future.  I’m really interested in the genre and working on it with great people, and I think that anything is possible.


Bar Italia I already have loads of great ideas and music experiments that are ready, Zombie Broadway which is already written as a graphic novel, it will be a hilarious Rocky Horror type show.  In fact Richard O Brien was in the audience in Ghost last night as well.

UE: You seem to have this ability of surrounding yourself with some amazing talent, and you’ve achieved great success already with Stevie Nick’s album Secret Love and the new Joss Stone LP1 which will be released when we publish this interview, You seem to connect with female artists very well, how do you set about getting the best out of who you are working with?


DS: I think it’s just a hell of a lot of practice, every person I work with is different whether they are female or male, so  it’s a matter of just understanding the whole world of that person and helping them through writing, singing, producing and helping to manifest what they are wanting to achieve and what they want to put across at that moment in their lives, so that’s what I do, and it’s also being great friends with these different characters  and personas, who for me are just like normal living people , like anyone else, but who just happen to have a magnificent gift.


UE: Before you started working with Stevie, were you aware that she had never co-written a song with anyone before, not even with the members of Fleetwood Mac?


DS: I wasn’t aware, and I was totally shocked when she told me that, but it wasn’t until the fourth song in that she told me. She really embraced it, it was new to her, but for me it was just normal that we were doing that.  I’ve written now with so many people.


UE: Do you think this new found method of writing could work itself into a new Fleetwood Mac album if they decide to write again?


DS: I think she is very up for that now, yes.

UE: You’ve always liked to document everything you do through film, you always seem to have some sort of recording equipment, cameras and video with you, you’ve filmed a documentary for Blackbird Diaries, but also one for Stevie.


DS: Yes, they become great visual diaries of what happened, we’ve done one for Stevie, one for Joss and also one for SuperHeavy.


UE: SuperHeavy sounds like a very ambitious project, you’ve hinted at the super group to your twitter followers over the couple of years, and finally it’s all in the public and Miracle Worker has just been serviced to radio and is on sale on ITunes.  Was the work you did with Da Univerzal Playaz the foundation you have based SuperHeavy on, DUP had different artists with differing cultures and musical styles and SuperHeavy seems to be similar?


DS: I’ve always hinted at this idea, many times.  DUP was well before The Black Eyed Peas.  I like the mix of ideas that working with different people brings, cross genre opens so many possibilities.  I must say that working with Joss on everything in SuperHeavy and her album, and there are things we write for ourselves.  She is such a great spirit and such an Up person and brilliant singer and great to work with.  I’m so lucky to work with her on her album and in SuperHeavy.

UE: The group itself is an interesting mix of 5 very successful musicians who in the main part are used to being in control of all of their work themselves, was it difficult for the 5 of you working together to sometimes say hey that didn’t work or even admit, you know what I’m wrong you were right, your idea was better?


DS: Everybody seemed to be very good about that actually, in fact I think it was also a relief that we weren’t having to do everything on our own, ideas could be worked on between a couple of us, or Damien would go off and come back with something he’d worked on his own.  It was like a project that was fun where we could all experiment and feel that we could experiment without success or failure being on the shoulders of one person.


UE: The album has been recorded in some amazing places, on AR Rahmans yacht and other incredible studios and locations, does that add to the creative feel and the spontaneity of the work produced.


DS: Well you know we’ve recorded hours and hours worth of material, but some of the best spontaneity stuff actually came from a really big studio where we all played live in a big circle together, the room was full of instruments and equipment and cameras, and we’ve managed to capture all of these sparks.

UE: The artwork imagery that we’ve seen so far is very strong, Shepard Fairey designed that for you, how did you get him involved?


DS: I spoke to Shepard and asked him to come over and listen to some of the work we’d done, and he saw video and heard music that isn’t out there yet and then he was very keen to work with us, and he went away for a month and has come up with some amazing imagery for us. It’s all very exciting.


UE: So 2011 is only 2/3rd through but this really been your year Dave, I just want to end by thanking you for your time today, enjoy the rest of your stay in London with your family!


DS: Thanks Steve, and I can’t wait to get back to Nashville to do it all over again!