Dave Stewart – The Producer by Chris Wik

“Writing songs with other people is like falling in love over and over again” – Dave Stewart


As a producer his real mastery is people. He just, it doesn’t matter who walks in through the door, what mood they’re in, they will be having a good time by the end of it. He’s just, you know, a nice guy. He doesn’t take himself too seriously“ – Alex Silva, Producer

It is a well-known fact Dave Stewart produced or co-produced all of Eurythmics’ albums. It is also a well-known fact Dave Stewart is a renowned record producer of other artists, as well as co-writer. In recent years Stewart has been busy producing and co-writing Stevie Nicks acclaimed album “In Your Dreams” (and also her fifth top ten album on the Billboard 200) and Joss Stone’s album “LP1” which was put together in just six days in Nashville, Tennessee.

When looking back at Stewart’s impressive production list we find some of rock giant’s big names including Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, Marianne Faithfull, Katy Perry, No Doubt and Bryan Ferry to name only a few.

In a new series we are going to take a look at some of the memorable collaborations Dave Stewart has been involved in throughout the years and in this first feature we are going to discuss Stewart’s role in Sinead O’ Connor’s album “Faith and Courage” (2000) and Hothouse Flowers album “Songs from the Rain” (1993), but first a word or two about Stewart’s early influences.


Stewart, influential Germans and How to Grow a Garden

Persian love Song - HolgarA few years ago Stewart posted the groundbreaking masterpiece “Persian Love Song” by Holger Czukay on his Twitter account. Stewart also declared the impact Holger Czukay and Connie Plank – two musicians/producers he and Annie Lennox recorded with in Germany in the late 70’s and early 80’s – had played on him on how to record and produce records.  The most notably recording they did together is of course Eurythmics debut album “In the Garden”, but Conny Plank also worked as a producer for The Tourists.

It is noteworthy that Stewart some thirty years after he became friends with these two musical legends still talks so fondly about the influence they’ve had on him as a musician and record producer. What was it then that made Stewart so fascinated with Holger Czukay and Conny Plank? In magazine The Idler (issue 31, 2002) he explains:

“In studios you’re always made to feel like you’re a dunce by the engineer and you’re not allowed to touch the board. They were the opposite: ‘Let’s get the tape and cut it all up, stitch it backwards’. They were sampling things ages before people were sampling. I went back to England with the confidence of having an eight track and making the “Sweet Dreams” album. But it wasn’t just about the music. It was their attitude towards everything; they just couldn’t care less about most of the things people were worried about”.


In this new series I think it is going to be evident that this attitude – or “work philosophy” if you so like – was something Dave Stewart “adopted” successfully and has since been a constant throughout his creative career.

Sinead O’Connor – “Faith and Courage”

Sinead O Connor and Dave Stewart - Faith And CourageIn June of 2000 Sinead O’Connor released her long-awaited album “Faith and Courage”. A week before the actual album release Time Magazine’s Christopher John Farley claimed the album was “one of the best CDs of the year”. Quite a lot of media publicity had preceded the release; media reported about the wide range of “star producers” O’Connor had engaged: Dave Stewart, Brian Eno, Wyclef Jean and Adrian Sherwood. And regarding the input from these men O’Connor said in an interview in Curve Magazine: “This album has been made with me by a lot of men who’ve poured their beautiful souls into this record….”

O’Connor had written three of the songs together with Stewart – “Jealous”, “Daddy I’m Fine”, “‘Til I Whisper U Something”. Stewart was also responsible for the production of these three songs and also the haunting song “Hold Back the Night”, written by Robert Hodgens (aka Bobby Bluebell of The Bluebells fame).

In an interview with ShowBiz Ireland News Sinead O’Connor recalled how her collaboration with Dave Stewart came about:

“Through Brian Eno. I sent him a demo of “Emma’s Song” and himself and Dave were together when they heard it and they both cried their eyes out when they heard it and really liked it. Brian told me this and I told him that I was a big Dave-fan and told Brian to get him to ring me. So, Dave rang and offered to help me with the album, which was pretty amazing”.

Dave Stewart and Sinead O Connor - JealousThe song “Jealous” – the second single form the album – was actually written during a break when Stewart worked with a conceptual art piece (a fake commercial for chocolate brand Picorette) for Paris Museum of Modern Art. Stewart recalls how the song came about:

“… I had a little set up where I could play live and rehearse with the band and I said come on Sinead let’s spontaneously sort of free flow what we’re feeling like and I started playing some chords and singing a melody to her and then she started joining in and we recorded it live and basically we came out with this great little demo acoustically and Sinead went away and then we were talking about various things to do with relationships and couples. We talked for about half an hour and she kind of came back the next day and she had the lyrics and we went into the studio and she put down a vocal, it was just like amazing, really sort of sensitive and edgy….”

The album was very well-received by music critics and Metro’s Michelle Goldberg even ranked “Jealous” and “Daddy, I’m Fine” among the best music Sinead had ever made. Lois Maffeo of The Boston Phoenix (July 13, 2000) wrote: “Credit former Eurythmic Dave Stewart with the seductive arrangement of Jealous (a sultry ballad in the mood of 10cc’s ‘I’m Not in Love’) and the delicate ‘’Til I Whisper You U Something’ where swirling Irish pipes and regals strings emphasize the melancholic lyrics”.

Music journalist Jim Walsh wrote the following about the album: “Sinead O’Connor’s important, huge record “Faith and Courage” was the most intimate listening experience I had all year /…/ She sang about praying, about striving for inner peace, and in doing so, she sounded like a prophet in the eye of chaos. But she also sounded desperate, like she had figured out some important stuff that she wanted to share with us….”

In Telemundo Chicago Nancy Bresson wrote the following:

“There’s a new sound to Sinead O’Connor’s latest album “Faith and Courage” /—/ This modern sound, consisting of deep bass beats mixed with traditional Irish whistles, is a great symbol for O’Connor’s evolved messages in both her music and her personal life. O’Connor evolved messages in both her music and her personal life. O’Connor is obviously not afraid of change, and she acknowledges where she’s been and where she’s going /—/ In “Daddy I’m Fine”, O’Connor and Stewart boldly declare how she embraces her musical and public life, singing “And I feel real cool and I feel real good/Got my hair shaved off and my black thigh boots/I stand up tall with my pride upright”. Stewart contributes a heavy guitar when he speeds the song up on those lines, bringing home the “I’m happy to be a rock star” message. /—/ There’s a lot of heart on ‘Faith and Courage’”.

Barry Walters of Rolling Stone Magazine (June 22, 2000) also praised the album and “Daddy I’m Fine” in particular. He wrote the following: “Another compact doozy, ‘Daddy I’m Fine’, flips from looping reggae to double-time punk trash while neatly encapsulating the singer’s transformation from frustrated Dublin girl to world-class, ass-kickin’ mom. /—/ This is the Sinead album you’ve been wanting for years”.  BBC’s Nigel Packer praised the album and again the track “Daddy I’m Fine” was mentioned: “ Together with a heavyweight team of co-writers and producers – including Wyclef Jean, Brian Eno and Dave Stewart – she has come up with her strongest and most accessible work in a decade. /—/ ‘Daddy I’m Fine, meanwhile, is a playful and unsentimental recollection of her early days as a would-be rock star – based around a schizophrenic melody which switches smoothly from relaxed reggae verse to speed-punk chorus”. In The Pitch (July 06, 2000) Scott Wilson wrote: “Collaborating with Wyclef Jean and Dave Stewart, among others, O’Connor finds an unlikely balance as she spreads herself like a random banshee across soundscapes ranging from traditional Irish reggae-fied hip-hop /—/ ‘Jealous’ sends O’Connor floating on Stewart’s keyboard surf, clinging to her best sucker punch I-love-you-so-much-I-could-kill-you lyric since ‘Jump in the River’”. In Orlando Sentinel (June 23, 2000) Sonia Murray wrote: “Before you know it, Sinead O’Connor has eased you into the rumbling drums of ‘Daddy I’m Fine’ – or almost any of the other elegant tracks producer Dave Stewart could have given to O’Connor or Eurythmics partner Annie Lennox – and slowly, the lyrical knives dig in. The guitar kick up. Her deceptively fragile voice grows biceps. But the scariest thing about this affirming, reggae-fond production is its ability to draw you in – song after song – for another unpredictable episode of O’Connor’s mood swings”.


Hothouse Flowers – Songs from the Rain (1993)

Songs from the rain - dave stewart and the hothouse flowersIn 1993 Irish rock group Hothouse Flowers released their third studio album “Songs from the Rain”. The album received a lot of critical acclaim and reached #7 on the UK album chart. It also achieved chart success in Australia, but failed to make it big in the States, even though the band was on the road for almost a year.

In a review of the album in Australian Rolling Stone Magazine (May 1993, issue 483) Bruce Elder wrote the following: “If this album does not convert Hothouse Flowers into one of the world’s premier rock bands, there is no morality or fairness in this crazy business”. And indeed, when listening to songs like “An Emotional Time”, “This Is It (Your Soul)”, “One Tongue” and “Isn’t It Amazing” it is hard not to agree with Elder.

The atmospheric “Songs from the Rain” is an excellent album and it sure has stood the test of time. Two of the songs on the album – “An Emotional Time” and “This Is It (Your Soul)” – Hothouse Flowers wrote together with Dave Stewart. A third song titled “The Beginning” was also co-written with Stewart, but didn’t make it to the album and is, to this day, still unreleased.

DAve Stewart and The Hothouse Flowers - An Emotional TimeThe first single from the album – “An Emotional Time” –  was hailed by Q Magazine’s Peter Kane as “quietly impressive” (April, 1993). And in The Age they said the song was “gorgeous” (April 1, 1993). In Australian The Esperance Express music critic David Williams wrote (Feb 23, 1993): “’Songs from the Rain’ is a tender and uplifting album, exploring the band’s soul while reaching outward and imploring its listeners to do the same. It is a sublime creation….” Irish Voice Brian Kohan wrote the following (Feb 23, 1993): “An ‘Emotional Time’, which was co-written with former Eurythmic Dave Stewart, is another strong one…. it’s easy to tell that this album would be a great listen at a live concert”. And worth mentioning, this song is still being performed by Hothouse Flowers at concerts. Most recently at Roe Valley Arts & Cultural Center 2nd of November 2013 (see attached link).

In an interview guitarist Fiachna recalls how Hothouse Flowers got together with Dave Stewart in the first place and how they started writing songs together:

“We first met Dave in New York after a gig. It was crazy backstage with a million people trying to say hello to you at the same time and consequently we didn’t really get a chance to chat to him. When we met him again at a restaurant in London he thought we all hated him, which wasn’t true at all. So we went to his apartment, played some songs and he played us some stuff that he was working on. I suppose it was a taste of where both of us were coming from. He then agreed to come to Dublin and we wrote the song in The Factory”.

Liam on the one hand recalls their meeting as follows:

“Dave came to see us in the Beacon Theatre in New York and he really liked the gig. I got word – I was in a hotel and he wanted to do work. I didn’t know whether I wanted to or not but Dave Stewart….! “Why us?” He said, “If nothing else we’ll have a laugh”. That was the magic word! If you’re not coming with any serious agendas you’re coming to the right place.”

The dreamy, almost hypnotic, “An Emotional Time” became lead single for the album. Fiachna recalls:

“’An Emotional Time’ was the one that Dave came to us with the most wonderfully worked out idea, in terms of a chord structure. He had a picture in his mind about what type of song he felt we should write together and he had this idea of a very dreamy sort of groove with a lot of space in the song and a falsetto voice being kind of dreamy as it unfolded into a big sort of magical chorus, which I think we achieved”.

This Is It - Dave Stewart And The Hothouse FlowersThe second single from the album was “This Is It (Your Soul)”. According to Liam this song was written straight after “An Emotional Time”. In an interview Liam paints a picture of working with Dave Stewart in the studio:

He came to The Factory and wrote three songs, “Your soul”, “An Emotional Time” and “The Beginning” which hasn’t seen the light. His technique was for that particular session to find the hook first – the guitar riff and then “this is it” gave the identity. The guitar was a Duane Eddie effect, that kind of era. Then upon that hang the song – go completely different again.

We recorded in “Air” in the end of Oxford Street which is no longer there. That session had a great sense of industry. Dave brought in a constructive and playful atmosphere. No room to be critical. While everyone was sorting chords I could think of words. They came out quickly. No time to be laborious about them. The song knew what it was about before I did. Another part that Dave brought were these building blocks – The Stop – which I always love. I think it’s very good for a band. Everyone’s playing chord, beats, rhythms – when a stop comes it’s one. BANG! A complete ‘one’”.

Here’s a recent live performance of An Emotional Time from The Hothouse Flowers