The musician: Though he’s best known for being the member of the Eurythmics that isn’t Annie Lennox, Dave Stewart—or David A. Stewart, if you want to be proper about it—had a career before he first teamed up with Lennox, serving as a member of the ’70s folk-rock band Longdancer. In the post-Eurythmics era, not only has Stewart continued to write, record, and perform as a solo artist, but he’s also recently found himself back in a band, joining forces with Mick Jagger, Joss Stone, Damian Marley, and A.R. Rahman to form SuperHeavy. In the midst of all of this music-making, Stewart has also carved himself a solid career as a producer and songwriter for other artists. With his latest solo effort, The Blackbird Diaries, now in stores, The A.V. Club steered Stewart through some key moments from the various aspects of his career.
“The Gypsy Girl And Me” (from 2011’s The Blackbird Diaries)
The A.V. Club: What led you to do The Blackbird Diaries? You hadn’t done a proper solo album in quite some time.
Dave Stewart: That’s right. It’d been about 13 or 14 years. But you know, I hadn’t actually thought about it, because for some reason, I didn’t ever think of myself as a solo artist, you know? When the Eurythmics first broke up, I had another band called The Spiritual Cowboys, and I lived in France at that time, and we played all around there and made albums. We had gold albums in France, and that was just… actually, it was one of the great times, because I had an old painted Rolls Royce that I’d jump in with a picnic basket, and we’d go play these little Roman amphitheaters, like in Arles and places like that. I actually sing about it on my album, in a song called “The Gypsy Girl And Me.” They hold about 2,000, we’re outside in this ancient crumbling amphitheater, and that was great fun. And then I did a solo album called Greetings From The Gutter, and I had great fun doing it, but I never looked at it as if, “Oh, I’m having a solo career!” But then I got married and had more children—I’ve got four children now—and started doing all sorts of things with photography, film stuff, doing music for movies and writing songs with and for other people. This only came about because there was this big volcanic ash storm that hit Britain from Eyjafjallajökull, the Icelandic volcano. I was grounded and I didn’t have a guitar, and I wanted to buy one, and it turned out to belong to this guy called Red River Dave. I bought it in the guitar case with all of his songbooks that he’d written his songs in, and some photographers. Did you get the actual CD, with the liner notes?
AVC: No, unfortunately, all I have is the download version.
DS: Yeah, ’cause I explained a bit in my hugely long liner notes, which a lot of people don’t do anymore on records. But in mine, there’s these huge liner notes explaining all this. But, anyway, that next day, I got a phone call saying, “Can you meet Martina McBride in Nashville?” I thought, “That’s weird: I’ve got this country-and-western singer’s guitar, and now I’m on a plane to Nashville!” And when I got there, I ended up in John McBride’s Blackbird Studios and suddenly just felt really weirdly like I’d gone home or something. And I decided to make a record there, like, instantly. And I wrote and recorded all the songs in five days with some great players. And that was it! So I made the record, I got back home and listened to it, and I went, “Oh! This is me as a singer-songwriter solo artist!” And it was kind of really good, because I wasn’t thinking it when I was doing it. I wasn’t being too analytical. But I loved it so much that I’ve been back to Nashville just two weeks ago and recorded another 12 songs with the same guys. So now I’m really enjoying coming to the front and being here.
“Cheaper Than Free,” with Stevie Nicks (from 2011’s The Blackbird Diaries)
AVC: You have a few guest vocalists on the album. How did they come to participate? Did you have a list of folks you wanted to work with?
DS: Well, it’s only just three duets, really: one with Martina McBride, one with Stevie Nicks, and one with Colbie Caillat. Martina, that was ’cause she was coming down to the studio and listening to what we were doing most days, and she fell in love with this song, but… I was singing it, and I had backing vocalists, and the chorus was, “All fucked up on love.” And it was kind of mentioned, like, “That could be difficult on the radio, that ‘all fucked up on love.’” But I was, like, “Oh, it’ll be fine. No one will be playing it on the radio, anyway.” But then her husband said, “You know, I think Martina, like, really likes the song.” And I was, like, “Oh. Oh. I see!” So I called her up, and I said, “Hey, how ’bout we make it ‘All Messed Up’? And she said, “I’m in!” [Laughs.] And truth be told, it sounds much better as “Messed,” anyway.
With Stevie, I was in the middle of producing her album [In Your Dreams], and we were sitting on a sofa in the studio in L.A. the night before I flew back to Nashville, and I was really excited. It was just me, Stevie, and Reese Witherspoon. I was sitting next to Reese Witherspoon and talking about Nashville, and she said, “Oh, you can stay in my condo, if you like.” And I was, like, “Oh, you have one in Nashville?” She says, “Yeah.” Stevie leans forward and says, “Well, that’ll be cheap!” And Reese says, “Well, what’s cheaper than free?” And I looked at Stevie and I went, “Hey…” I’ve got this all on film, actually, ’cause I made a documentary about the making of Stevie’s album and the making of mine. That moment’s actually on film when I said that, and Stevie and I looked at each other, and we kind of knew instantly that we were going to write a song. So I recorded it in Nashville, but the words weren’t finished, so I rang up Stevie and said, “I haven’t finished the words for this bit.” And she did. Normally, Stevie takes a bit longer, but she was kind of inspired and in the middle of her album, and everything was exciting. And she sent me back some words, and I said, “Right, they’re really good.” So I just sang them with the Nashville band and sent them to her, and she just loved it. She said, “Oh, that’s fantastic!” And we did it as a duet. And then she said she wanted it on her album, so I said, “Okay.” [Laughs.] It was made originally for my album. That’s why it’s the only one on her album with all different players. They’re all players from Nashville, ’cause it was during my sessions.
“Too Much Too Soon” (from Longdancer’s 1973 album If It Was So Simple)
AVC: Jumping from your current project to your very first project, let’s talk briefly about Longdancer.
DS: [Laughs.] Actually, you know, it’s funny: For the first time ever, someone sent me a link on the web, on YouTube, of a tiny little clip of us on film. I’d never seen anything of us before. It’s black and white, and it’s just us rehearsing on camera. The song’s called “Too Much Too Soon,” and it’s from that album.
AVC: You’re from Sunderland, England. Is that where Longdancer formed?
DS: Yeah, we were all from Sunderland, and we all went from there to London. This song is literally perfect, ’cause it’s called “Too Much Too Soon.” It was really prophetic. [Laughs.] We got signed by Chris Blackwell to Elton John’s label [Rocket Records], and none of us really could handle it or had any experience of dealing with this. You know, we were on tour supporting Elton John, and we’d only ever played in a folk club before.
AVC: How did you find your way onto Rocket Records?
DS: Well, as I say, we got signed by Chris Blackwell to Island Music first, and Island Records wanted to sign us, but I think Lionel Conway at Island Music played Elton John our music, who was just starting a label, and he said he wanted to sign us. And there was a funny connection, because the singer, Kai Olsson, his brother played drums for Elton John—Nigel Olsson—so I think he’d also given a demo to Nigel, but I don’t know if it ever got through to Elton that way. I think it was Lionel Conway.
AVC: You said you and the rest of the guys weren’t prepared for where you found yourselves.
DS: Oh, God, no. [Laughs.] From Sunderland and folk clubs to Elton John’s world when he was at the peak of excess. There’s a little bit of footage of us singing backup on “Rocket Man” and, I dunno, “Bennie And The Jets” or whatever. But when I look back, it’s such a blur, ’cause, you know, playing in massive arenas and stadiums, we had no idea what was going on. So we kind of… imploded. We split up. But then we ended up making another record for Rocket [Trailer For A Good Life] with a different lineup, which was a bit crazy. And then it became really dysfunctional. Drugs. Everything went pear-shaped, and we split up. For good.
“Borderline” (1977 single by The Catch)
AVC: The next time you released something was in 1977, as part of The Catch.
DS: Yeah, it was literally just one single. It was me, Annie [Lennox], and Peet Coombes. We all later became The Tourists. It was just that we hadn’t really decided how to do it yet, and this company heard us and really loved the sound of us, but then they immediately started to try and change it. [Laughs.] That single is the sound of them changing it and bringing in session players and trying to make a sort of pop song, and we didn’t really like it. So we became The Tourists and created our own sound.
“The Loneliest Man In The World” (from The Tourists’ 1979 self-titled album)
AVC: The Tourists only made three studio albums—the self-titled debut, Reality Effect, and Luminous Basement—yet the band has managed almost as many greatest-hits discs.
DS: Yeah, you see, when the Eurythmics had our first hit, suddenly these Tourists collection albums started to appear, as they do. Look at Joss Stone. I just produced Joss Stone’s newest album, it’s doing pretty well, and then two weeks later, EMI announce that they’ve hastily got together Joss Stone’s hits, pasted together from the previous albums. That’s what they do.
AVC: From those three studio albums, is there any one record that you’d say is a definitive encapsulation of the band’s sound?
DS: Yeah, I think “All Life’s Tragedies” is good. Or… actually, one that’s really good, and it was the first hit we had in England and the first time I’d ever produced anything, was called “The Loneliest Man In The World.” And that’s all over YouTube. You can see us performing it on Top Of The Pops or whatever.
AVC: A cover of a Dusty Springfield song no doubt seemed ripe for UK success, but were you surprised when “I Only Want To Be With You” actually managed to crawl into the lower reaches of the U.S. Top 100?
DS: Oh, we hated that song. We didn’t want to do that song. We didn’t actually want to put it out. All of our other songs sound a bit like speeded-up San Francisco jangly Rickenbacker guitars, and the words were all very strange and druggy and impressionistic. And then one night we were having a laugh and a drink in the studio, and we just played it. Just like that. And, of course, biggest mistake ever. The record label was, like, “Oh, yes, that’s it!” And we were kind of put into that awkward position of having this hit that we all hated. You know, we’d already been successful in Britain before that. We had a gold album, and we were doing good. And what’s annoying about “I Only Want To Be With You” is that if I do interviews and they mention The Tourists, they always mention that track, and it’s the one track that had nothing to do with anything else we ever did, and it’s the only song that wasn’t written by us.
AVC: Peet Coombes was also from Sunderland. I presume you knew him before you knew Annie Lennox.
DS: Yeah, me and him used to just play around on acoustic guitars, and…Peet was a very, very prolific songwriter. Literally, he’d write two songs a day. So all during the Tourists, Annie and I never attempted to write a song together. It was weird. I mean, we were a band, we made three albums, and Annie and I lived together, but we never wrote a song together when we were in The Tourists. Well, we wrote one weird instrumental called “From The Middle Room,” which came out on, like, the vinyl version of Luminous Basement. It was so strange: We just played all of Peet’s songs. And then Peet also became a victim of drugs, and we just couldn’t carry on because he was so bad with his addiction and stuff. We were in the middle of Australia, just starting a tour there, and we just couldn’t do it. So we were just, like, “Well, what are we going to do?” And then Annie’s and my relationship started to fall apart, which—I was telling The Secret Sisters yesterday, ’cause they were talking about being siblings in a duo, I said, “Try living with someone for five years, breaking up, then deciding to start a duo with them.” [Laughs.]
AVC: As a plan for long-term success, it seems little counter-intuitive.
DS: Well, it was actually much more effective, in a way, because we ended up writing 120 songs about it. [Laughs.] You see, Stevie and Lindsey Buckingham, they were a duo, then they joined Fleetwood Mac, then they broke up. We’d already broken up when we decided to start a duo. So it was kind of back-to-front, but it worked out all right. [Laughs.] It all got very bizarre, Annie’s and my adventure into the world of fame and stuff like that. I write about it on a song called “Beast Called Fame,” on my new album, and…I kind of liken it a bit to Bonnie and Clyde. She was in love with him, but they were just, like, unrequited. But then they became incredibly famous and, as I sing in the song, “We were hounded, just like Bonnie and Clyde.” You know that look they give each other in the movie, just before they die? His glasses are broken, and she goes, like, “Uh-oh, we’re gonna get killed, man.” We had that look together. It was a bit like that onstage, like when we were at Wembley, in front of a 100,000 people or whatever, and we were, like, “This is ’cause we used to live together as a couple, and now we’re not, but now we’re hugely famous.”
“Never Gonna Cry Again” (from Eurythmics’ 1981 album In The Garden)
AVC: How did you and Annie come to work with producer Conny Plank?
DS: That’s interesting, ’cause me and Annie, we were really broke. So was Peet. We all lived in squats, and we had about £8 between us. And there was this guy called Creepy John Thomas, who was an Australian guy that was going to make an album in Conny Plank’s studio, and we knew him, and he asked if we would come and play on it. That’s how we met Conny. And then when Conny met us and Peet, he thought, “Well, these kids are really good.” We loved Conny and his wife, Crystal, and their studio in the middle of this farmland in Northern Germany—a place called Neunkirchen, near Cologne—and we struck up a great friendship. As soon as we got money to make a record, we would say, “No, we want to do it with him!” But the record label said, “No, he’s this weird German guy,” ’cause this was with The Tourists. But when we had money to make the first Eurythmics record, In The Garden, it was straight over to work with Conny and Holger Czukay, who I would become great friends with.
AVC: And the first single from the album was “Never Gonna Cry Again,” correct?
DS: Yeah, and it’s great. It’s Jaki Liebezeit on drums—the drummer from Can—and Holger, you know. It was just an amazing, mind-blowing introduction for me in how to record sound and produce, basically.
AVC: Just by virtue of the cast of characters, you probably knew that In The Garden was never going to be a huge commercial success, but were you happy with its reception?
DS: Well, it did exactly what we wanted it to do, because “I Only Want To Be With You” completely fucked us all up. Like, screwed everybody’s perceptions of who we were. So we wanted to do something that was so far away from anything to do with that and just not worry what the singles were or anything like that. And, obviously, the choice of working with Conny, Holger Czukay, and Jaki Liebezeit, and Markus Stockhausen. And the songs we were writing were kind of strangely dark. What happened was that it was really well-received critically, but it only sold about 10,000 albums or something. But we were kind of excited about it, because we were into the experimental thing, but we knew we could potentially do something great.
“Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)” (from Eurythmics’ 1983 album, Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This))
AVC: After working with Conny Plank, you and Annie kind of set off on your own for the next record. How did that feel?
DS: [Laughs.] It was funny, ’cause it was like freedom. After In The Garden, Conny kind of taught me how to record, so we went back to London, and I was all, like, “Let’s just get a little studio and do it ourselves, ’cause we just don’t need a lot. There’s only two of us.” And we got these sequencers, which had just started to come out. I met Adam Williams, a guy who was the bass player in the band The Selecter, and he knew how to put a studio together and how to engineer, so we invited him and said, “Well, why don’t you help us put it together and then record us?” And that was the beginning of the Sweet Dreams album, although we were making it in a picture-framing factory, right up in the attic in a little place, and we had to keep stopping every time a machine chopped a big frame. Ka-CHOOM! It’d go on Annie’s vocals, like she was recording while a guillotine was going off. [Laughs.] But then I really had the bug, so with the money that Sweet Dreams made, me and Annie bought, like, a 24-track tape machine—the cheapest you could get—and a cheap sort of sound board, ’cause I’d learned very quickly that, hey, it’s all about how you move the mics around and record it. And then we made the next album in this little church that we first rented and eventually bought. We recorded orchestras in there and all sorts of things. And that became our base for ages, and it was great. We could rehearse there, we could put our wardrobe for the tour there, and everything.
AVC: “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)” was certainly Eurythmics’ commercial breakthrough, yet as a song, it isn’t necessarily what you’d call overtly commercial.
DS: No, it was kind of one of those songs that comes out of nowhere. Every now and then, one of those comes. Like Beck’s “Loser.” You’re, like, “What?!?” I remember a lot of people in America, when it was on the radio, they were, like, “What is that? A black girl singing atop a drum machine…?” They just couldn’t work it out. And what happened was that we just got fans from everywhere. We got people who listened to experimental music, to Grandmaster Flash or whoever, we got an R&B audience, and then we also got into the pop mainstream. MTV had just got launched, and we were very experimental in making little films, so we were, like, “Oh, great, we can put our little films on here,” whereas a lot of bands were, like, “What? We have to make a video? What’s that?” And then they had to hire a video director and all that. Whereas I was working with a great cinematographer and co-directing these little films myself, writing the storyboards. And they were all kind of quirky, so that made people look and go, “What is that? Is that a cow wandering around there?” [Laughs.]
AVC: It’s gone on to be covered several times, but Marilyn Manson’s creepy take is probably the best known.
DS: Yeah, that was a huge hit around the world, and then all of a sudden everybody started using it in all different ways. It’s non-stop. Beyoncé just performed a bit of it at Glastonbury. And, you know, Madonna, Pink, Kanye West, Jay-Z… it just goes on and on.
AVC: How was it for Annie to suddenly become an icon after that video? She instantly became one of the signature images on MTV.
DS: Yeah, well, we built toward it, you know. It was really weird, ’cause we were just attached at the hip, so I would be, like, “Hey, you know, how about if you had your hair cropped, and we both wear the same suits?” We really weren’t thinking, like, “Oh, this is how you become an icon.” We were trying to express musically and visually something that was away from the pack. We wanted to be the black sheep. But then very quickly I learned about imagery and iconism and all this stuff, so I would be steering it in that way. For the cover of Touch, for instance, I was dictating everything to the record label. “This is the poster, this is the billboard…” And that’s what I did right ’til the end of the band.
“Here Comes The Rain Again” (from Eurythmics’ 1983 album Touch)
AVC: Would you say that “Here Comes The Rain Again” is the signature song from Touch? It actually didn’t chart as high as “Who’s That Girl” in the UK, but…
DS: Yeah, “Here Comes The Rain” is a great choice, because…you see, people didn’t realize at first what we were. They were, like, “Oh, ‘Sweet Dreams’ is electronic,” but when you got the album, yeah, some of it’s electronic, but then there’s a song called “The City Never Sleeps,” which was also on the soundtrack to 9 1/2 Weeks, and it’s got me playing slide guitar, and we recorded sounds in the underground and mixed it in. It’s a very experimental mixture of collage and sound. By the time we did Touch, on “Here Comes The Rain Again,” I’m playing an old Gretsch country gent guitar with a whammy bar, and we had real strings, a real orchestra, mixed with sequencers. So we’d really created a landscape where we could do anything. And we carried on with it, obviously, ’cause the next thing we said was, “Oh, now we’re going to be a Stax R&B band,” and we did “Missionary Man” and “Would I Lie To You?”
AVC: You had Michael Kamen handle the orchestration on “Here Comes The Rain Again.”
DS: Yeah, and you know, it’s really funny that people don’t understand how things go together, but nearly all of it was the way I am as a person and how my brain works and connects things. The guy who shot the cover of Touch, he was a guy who was a friend and working at the picture-framing factory. He wasn’t some big, fancy, famous photographer at all, but he kind of knew what we wanted. The same goes for Michael Kamen. I had no idea who he was and didn’t contact him because I’d read or heard about his string arrangements. I just met him through my ex-wife, and we were talking about music, and when he said he did strings, I said, “Oh, great! We’re writing this song called ‘Here Comes The Rain,’ and it goes like this…” [Does a vocal imitation of the string arrangement.] “Can you write a string arrangement?” And he said to me, “Well, how many pieces in the orchestra?” And I’m like, “I don’t know.” I just said a random thing. It was like, “Anything, just make these melodies work,” not realizing how brilliant he was. And then he turned up with a string arrangement that was just classic. Epic, really. He’d obviously really thought about it. But all of those strings at the beginning, that’s us. We were playing it on a sequencer. Then he came in with all of these amazing things. And he arrived at our church to record the strings, and I forgot to tell him that we hadn’t actually finished building it yet, so all these guys are climbing through rubble and bricks with, like, double basses. We had to record some of them in the corridor, some others in the toilet, and he was sweating a bit. [Laughs.] But he was really sweet and was just, like, “Okay, we’re going to make this work.” And we did it, and it created a unique sound.
“Sexcrime (Nineteen Eighty-Four)” (from Eurythmics’ 1984 album 1984 (For The Love Of Big Brother))
AVC: How did Eurythmics get involved with Michael Radford’s film adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984?
DS: We were approached by Richard Branson, and… it was kind of interesting, because he was producing the movie, and he thought we were a perfect fit, with the sort of icy-cold feeling of our stuff, and yet we could still have some sort of soundtrack songs and stuff like that. The director wanted an all-orchestral score and didn’t want anything to do with that, but Richard Branson thought, “Well, the film’s so bleak, anyway,” and they were in a fight over it. So we said, “Whatever. We’ll just go away and come back 10 days later with what we think is right.” And of course Richard, being a smart businessman, had negotiated this one album away from RCA, envisioning that it was going to have this huge hit on it for him, and he’d sell millions of albums with it. And then we did this song called “Sexcrime” which was actually banned from the radio in America. [Laughs.] I think we ended up selling about 2 million albums of the soundtrack, though. The song was all over the radio in Europe, Australia, England… Everywhere else, really.
"Howling At The Moon (Sha-La-La)" (from the Ramones’ 1984 album Too Tough To Die)
DS: We were being managed in America by Gary Kurfirst, who was also managing the Ramones and the B-52s, and he said, “Hey, you know, you should go into the studio and try to make a record with the Ramones.” And I said, “Uh, I dunno…” I mean, this was very early on, so the Eurythmics were all about sequencers and drum machines, and the Ramones were full-out punk, guitars and drums. I was, like, “It might not fit together very well.” He says, “Ah, why don’t you have a try?” So I went down to the studio, and I’m thinking, “Well, what can I add?” ’Cause every time they play something, they play it the same… and that’s what they are. That’s how it is. So I had this idea, “Well, what about doing exactly what you’re doing, but in the middle, we have a harpsichord solo by a real classical musician?” And they reacted about like you’d expect, but when I played it back, I think it was Johnny Ramone who said, “Hey, that’s pretty good!” [Laughs.] So it came out that way, and I think it was the only Ramones track that was [popular] in England. It got ’em on Top Of The Pops, much to my surprise. It’s got a weird mixture of Eurythmics-type sequences and their full-on guitars, and then the harpsichord solo, so it probably messed up the Ramones fans for a second, but it got them a lot of attention from different places.
“Don’t Come Around Here No More” (from Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers’ 1985 album Southern Accents)
AVC: How did you come to collaborate with Tom Petty? In1985, the name “Dave Stewart” was not exactly synonymous with Americana.
DS: [Laughs.] Well, what happened was, Annie and I played the Wiltern Theater—“Sweet Dreams” was No. 1 at the time, I think—and Stevie Nicks came upstairs and asked me to her house for a party they were having that night. And I got in a limousine with her and her backing singers and went to the house for a party, and I got there and… There was no party. [Laughs.] And I’d broken away from the tour manager and the tour, and there were no cell phones, so there was no way for them to know where I was. So that was weird. The next day, I had to get to San Francisco, and I had to jet down myself, ’cause everybody else had picked up and left, as they should’ve done. But I wrote this song in my hotel room with a tape recorder I had bought, and it went, “Don’t come around here no more…” And I went back and played it to Stevie and Jimmy Iovine. Jimmy was going, “Oh my God, this is a smash. Stevie, you should sing it!” But they were having a row, something personal that was going on that I didn’t know about. And Jimmy had invited Tom Petty down, and he was saying, “I like this song, I should do it,” then he and Stevie started arguing about “Stop Dragging My Heart Around” and how it ended up on Stevie’s album, and… I’m from England, so I didn’t know what was going on! [Laughs.] Anyway, I ended up making it in Tom’s garage, and then I changed the ending, ’cause mine was all a loop, something I’d made with a drum machine in my hotel room. I got the band to come in at double-time at the end and all that stuff. So we made the record, and Jimmy came down to the garage and produced it with us. It was all in Tom’s garage. Then I suggested that the video should be like the Mad Hatter’s tea party. ’Cause that’s what Stevie’s party reminded me of. [Laughs.]
“Would I Lie To You?” (from Eurythmics’ 1985 album Be Yourself Tonight)
AVC: Be Yourself Tonight is generally described as being a step toward Eurythmics sounding more like a band and less like it was just you and Annie locked in the studio.
DS: [Laughs.] Well, it was just us writing in a different way because we wanted to. We started to play loads of gigs live from Sweet Dreams onwards, and when you play live, you realize, “Okay, we need some songs that we can really let rip, that will make the audience go bonkers.” And “Would I Lie To You?” was one of those songs. We were taking ourselves out of the box that we’d been put in, and we did things that were kind of bluesy, like "I Love You Like A Ball and Chain,” which is a weird kind of blues song. “Would I Lie To You?” is like a Stax song. We recorded it in a tiny little room. I decided that we should do it in the suburbs of Paris and had people looking for a place that might work, and we ended up doing it in a little youth club. The people at the club couldn’t believe it. They thought we were joking when we told them that we were going to make a record there, until people like Elvis Costello started turning up. Then they were like, “Oh, they really are making a record!” [Laughs.] Unfortunately, toward the end, we had to get out of there, but then we went to L.A., and I suggested… By then I’d worked on “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” so I suggested, “Hey, let’s get Mike Campbell to play on guitar, and let’s get Don Smith to mix.” And it started to become more like a record that was being polished rather than played on, with players like Benmont Tench on keyboard, and it started to be… not really Americanized, but just more rock.
DS: Yeah. “Sisters,” actually, we were thinking about quite a few singers. Tina was definitely one of them. And then, I can’t remember, it might’ve been Clive Davis who said, “Hey, this should be Aretha Franklin!” And when Annie met with Aretha, it was, like, “Who’s this skinny white girl with cropped white hair and this weird kid in the suit?” I got on really well with her, but I remember one time she was looking at Annie and she said, “Can I have a word with you?” She was trying to ask if Annie was gay, but she did it by like, asking suspiciously about the line, “We’re ringing on our own bells.” [Laughs.]
“I Wasn’t Born Yesterday” (from Daryl Hall’s 1986 album Three Hearts In The Happy Ending Machine)
DS: That was a great thing where Daryl came to see me and asked me to work with him, and I kind of co-produced the whole album with him and wrote some of the songs with him. We had a great time. I took him to Paris. [Laughs.] You know, my whole thing is that I take people on adventures and see what happens. And that was a big adventure. We made this solo album that had some great moments on it, and it took him out of some of the things he’d normally do. Like, there’s the song “Dreamtime,” which actually became a big hit in America. So, yeah, we had a great time. In fact, we did an episode of Live From Daryl’s House about two months ago, and we were laughing and talking about it, because…we did all sorts of things. Like, we took psychedelic mushrooms. [Laughs.] All sorts of things that were away from his normal Hall & Oates world. And I think we did some good stuff.
“Thorn In My Side” (from Eurythmics’ 1986 album, Revenge)
DS: I was down in Nashville not long ago, and I think I was playing that song for Martina, and she was going, “That’s a country song!” [Laughs.] And I thought, “Oh, geez, yeah, it is kind of, in a way.” [Sings.] “Thorn in my siiiiiiiide!” You can imagine a country singer doing that. But we didn’t think that at the time. We were just on such an exciting roll of writing songs that virtually any time I would play or make something up, Annie would sing along, and in return we had a song. That was one where I was just kind of playing with my 12-string, Annie was writing about a particular situation, and we started putting together these lines which were kind of tongue-in-cheek, like, “You give me such a hard time.” We kind of played with a country twang a bit, but then we brought Mike’s saxophone, which was like, so not country. [Laughs.] But what we did was, we kept the drum sound, so it had kind of a trashy sound about it in the background, then we put a sequencer bit in, and… I dunno, it’s funny when you analyze the song now, ’cause at the time, you’re just doing it. Like, “Oh, let’s put this here, and let’s do that,” until what you want from the song becomes crystal clear. I still like hearing it on the radio. It always comes out at me like a sparkling moment in time.
AVC: The band continued its sonic evolution with Revenge. Some have described it as the band’s flirtation with an AOR sound.
DS: I think what happened was, we’d been playing and getting bigger and bigger audiences and started playing huge places, but our albums before that album had been, in a way, less sort of rock live. There were some ones like that, and there were different kinds of songs we could play, but there wasn’t that breakout moment where you could imagine yourself playing it in Wembley Stadium. This album started to have the feeling of that, and I think it was ’cause we’d just come off a tour where we’d played for a year and two months or something, all around the world. I think it was the energy and the feeling of the whole thing, plus the addition of a drummer and sax player, and we were about to go on another huge tour. It was kind of captured in-between, and it kept the energy up.
“This Is The World Calling” (from Bob Geldof’s 1986 album Deep In The Heart Of Nowhere)
DS: That was crazy. Bob was crashing in my house. He was exhausted from Live Aid and all that, and he was really kind of down as well, as you do when you get that exhausted. He thought he’d lost touch with his music ’cause he was so busy trying to argue with politicians. So he was in my house, and I woke up, I was my underpants, and he was sitting his underpants, too, but he was playing this out-of-tune piano in the house. I said, “That’s pretty good,” and I picked up the guitar and said, “Why don’t you add this to that?” And we started doing this song. [Sings.] “This is the world calling!” It was the same day that I was going to be shooting the video for “Missionary Man,” but I went ahead and booked the studio next door, anyway—the same studio where SuperHeavy recorded, actually—and I said, “Let’s get some musicians together and just put it down as a demo.”
It turned into a mad day, ’cause everybody was coming to shoot the “Missionary Man” video, and then the Edge came to play guitar along with me, Larry [Mullen, Jr.] came to play the drums, and Bono was passing by, but… [Laughs.] Me and Bob had agreed to play the Amnesty International show that was happening that night at the Forum with all these people—Jackson Browne, Springsteen, everybody—and we said we’d call ourselves the Brothers Of Doom, that we’d come on as a duo and perform. But we forgot! And at about 7 o’clock, a car pulled up to take us there, but we missed it, and we had to get a taxi. We drove down there really quick, but when we got there, the cab driver drove off with my guitar in the back, and we had about five minutes to get onstage. And then I saw Jackson Browne’s guitar. [Laughs.] I just picked one of the guitars up and said to the tech, “Can I borrow this?” And I went on… and it was a bloody left-handed guitar! And Bob and I are on the stage, and Bob’s going, “Come on, play the fucking intro!” We were supposed to be singing “Redemption Song,” by Bob Marley, and he’s looking at me and wondering why I’m looking puzzled. It’s ’cause I’m trying to work the chords out upside down!
It was just one of those days. Oh, and when we were in the studio recording “This Is The World Calling,” a guy comes to the studio, and we all thought he was the police, because you could see him talking through the glass, and he needed to talk to Bob alone and officially. And I thought, “Oh, fuck, what’s happened?” ’Cause about two days before, Bob had chopped my front door down with an axe in L.A. because the alarm had gone off. I thought they’d called the police! Anyway, Bob comes back in the room looking bright red, he’s with the guy, and it turned out that he’d come to tell him that he was going to be knighted. [Laughs.] All of that happened the same day!
“Beethoven (I Love To Listen To)” (from Eurythmics’ 1987 album Savage)
AVC: The flip side of that, though, came with Savage, which, as Eurythmics albums go, was the least commercial record you’d released since your debut.
DS: [Laughs.] Yeah, it was very contrary, which is how both Annie and I have been, I think, for a while, both individually and together. If everyone goes right, that’s it for us, time to go left. Eurythmics are a full-on band now and the record company’s saying, “We’re interested in you doing that,” we go, “Oh, no, now we’re making a totally introspective electronic album and going back to our electronic experiments.” [Laughs.] I made nearly all of that album on my own in the smoking room of a French chateau. A lot of Synclavier.
AVC: If nothing else, the first single from the album was representative of the rest of the record.
DS: We also made the most uncommercial video we could. We chose the first single ourselves. We said, “We want the first single to be ‘Beethoven (I Love To Listen To),’” and they were, like, “What?!” [Laughs.] There’s not even any singing. It’s Annie talking. And it’s just so weird. The video, I don’t know if you remember it, but it’s quite good. We created a thing where I would talk with the label but Annie would very rarely ever meet with them, and at the very beginning, I would dictate, “This is the way it is.” Like, “This is the artwork, this is the marketing plan, this is the look…” I’d be sort of in control of everything, including singles and videos, and they just kind of got used to that. So by this time, they didn’t really have any say in it. So it was like, “This is the single, it’s called ‘Beethoven (I Love To Listen To),’ it’s really weird, and we’re gonna do the video in a really weird way. In fact, we’re gonna do a whole video album.” And they were, like, “What’s a video album?” They didn’t really understand. And, funnily enough, they’ve still never really released it. We’ve made so many great video albums that were ahead of their time that they’ve never exploited or released. I get loads of people sending me messages, asking me when or how they can get them, be it on Netflix or DVD or anywhere. It’s a bit crazy, really.
“The King And Queen Of America” (from Eurythmics’ 1989 album We Too Are One)
DS: The video was really funny. We had a lot of fun that day. We did it with my friend Willy Smack, who I’ve been friends with since I was 19, and Annie and I were just, like, trying to get all the archetypal costumes and hairdos by which American gets perceived in Europe on TV. These are the characters: cheerleaders, limousines pulling up outside of premières, Elvis-like characters, couples wearing nylon jogging suits in shopping malls. We tried to cover as many people as we could, and in the video, it’s in a shopping mall, and the cheerleaders are cheerleading, Mickey and Minnie Mouse are boxing each other, a TV preacher is preaching, and all the while I’m having a heart attack in a supermarket. It’s pretty weird. And we’re basically singing about the pomp and circumstance that comes across from America, like a huge chocolate cake with nothing inside it. There’s no sort of history or culture that’s behind it. It’s like, even though in Europe we’ve got a terrible history of people going around killing people or sailing off to other territories and raiding them and blah blah blah, there’s some kind of history. So when you see pomp and circumstance looking at a cathedral in Rome or this or that, you’ve got this feeling of ancient civilizations. But in America, you have… Well, you’ve just witnessed it, where the media tried desperately to make the Kardashian wedding an important event to compare to the Prince and Princess in England. Not that I think that the Prince and Princess Of England getting married was anything, anyway, but it’s just funny how American media tried to create some kind of false royalty.
AVC: We Too Are One wasn’t nearly as big for the Eurythmics as the albums prior to Savage. Do you think the relative weirdness of that record scared off some of the fans?
DS: It might’ve been that. But, you know, we didn’t really tour the album, if you remember. We’d been touring constantly from Sweet Dreams all the way through Touch, Be Yourself Tonight, and Revenge. Then we stopped touring. We didn’t tour at all for Savage. Then we did a small tour for We Too Are One. I think there were a number of things that happened. Mind you, it’s funny now, thank God, but then… I think We Too Are One sold 2.5 million albums. If we sold that now, we’d be going, “We’re the biggest band in the world!” [Laughs.] ’Cause nobody buys records now. I think what it was was, we were at the end of being able to still be constantly in each other’s company after breaking up as a couple before we even started the Eurythmics. So you’re now talking about a 15-year relationship—five living together, 10 as a successful duo—and the thought of going ’round and ’round the world on more tours wasn’t appealing. So we knew toward the end of We Too Are One. We made a great film of us actually parting and the last moments that we were onstage, which still hasn’t been released. But we kind of knew as we were doing it that We Too Are One was going to be the last album. Like, we’d been through all this, and we were able to say, “Right, we’ve done what we set out to do.”
The thing is, when you’ve got a legacy like ours and a catalog like the one we have, you know that at any point, if the two of us said, “We’re going to play as Eurythmics,” like any act that’s made as many albums and had that amount of success, we’d have a lot of people turn up, just because we were there at a certain point in their lives. It’s like George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass for me. When I was a certain age, certain records hit me. And that’s the thing about when you make recordings: If you put your best work out as best you can, and you work with other people who are all intent on making it the best they can… I mean, even though I always have my own criticisms about what I’ve done, I still enjoy hearing it when it comes on the radio, and I’ll say, “Hey, that’s pretty good, you know?”
“Algernon’s Simply Awfully Good At Algebra” (from Malcolm McLaren And The Bootzilla Orchestra’s 1989 album Waltz Darling)
DS: I had Malcolm McLaren recording at my home studio, and it was right around the time the Traveling Wilburys recorded there and Prince recorded. All these people. It was like a railway station, my house. [Laughs.] He gave me this awful, complicated thing to do. He wanted to do this album of waltz songs, and I liked the idea of it, and Jeff Beck was doing it, too, but the track he wanted me to do was the very first recording of a phonograph, and he wanted it to be a funk dance track, but it was like something from a musical. [Affects upper-crust accent.] “Algernon’s simply awfully good at algebra / At arithmetic, he really is a treat.” It was one of these impossible things that I had to work out. So I took on the challenge to work out how to do it. I’m not saying that it was any good. [Laughs.] But I managed somehow to do it.
“She” (from Vegas’ 1992 self-titled album)
DS: [Long pause.] Now how the hell did Terry Hall and I hook up? I don’t know how we got together in the first place. I can’t remember how! Anyway, we actually started to make this record, and the idea of calling ourselves Vegas was just me trying to be funny. Calling ourselves Vegas when we were so much the opposite, with Terry being so droll and having a very ironic sense of humor, and I’m doing all this electronic reggae stuff. What’s the opposite of that? Vegas! And then we made a video where were playing opposites of ourselves, walking around in fur coats, I’ve got a poodle, just having the craziest fun. We were in France, and we started singing songs to record, and Terry started singing “She,” by Charles Aznavour. So we did it, and then when it came time to do the video, since we were in Paris, we said, “Let’s see if we can get Charles Aznavour to be in the video!” And he did it. It’s a humorous video, where I’m walking in a park with the poodle at night, Terry’s hiding in the bushes. It’s crazy. And Terry goes, “Shhhh!” He gets me over to where he is and tells me to watch, and there’s Charles Aznavour over by this fountain. God knows what we were thinking, but we were laughing so much the whole time. And I like the record.
“I Saved The World Today” (from Eurythmics’ 1999 album, Peace)
AVC: By the time you and Annie reunited to record the Peace album in 1999, had enough time passed that it proved to be an enjoyable experience?
DS: Oh yeah, that was good! We just kind of had a moment when we decided to share between Amnesty International and Greenpeace anything we made from ticket sales, merchandise, and all of that stuff and go ’round the world and sort of spread a little Eurythmics vibe about, and we wrote these songs and did a record. Yeah, it was good, ’cause every night backstage, people from Amnesty and Greenpeace would turn up, and we would meet political prisoners who’d been recently freed, or we’d go out with the Greenpeace people in boats and see oil spills. It was quite a big adventure.
“Goddess Of Love” (from Bryan Ferry’s 2002 album, Frantic)
DS: I’ve written a bunch of stuff with Bryan. We tend to write songs together pretty well and pretty quick. But Bryan’s very anal-obsessive, and he’ll go through them in a thousand different ways and have so many different players on them, almost coming back to the beginning again, if you know what I mean. I think that was one of those songs from that period where… We wrote quite a few things in the space of a month, and it’s how I actually met my wife. We were in the South of France, and, in fact, I sing about it in the song “Can’t Get You Out of My Head,” off my new album. I go, “None of this would ever have happened if Bryan Ferry didn’t sleep in my bed / Ever since that day / Down in San Tropez / I can’t get you out of my head.” [Laughs.] That’s ’cause we went for dinner at this house, and we were sat at the table, and my wife was placed next to me, but Bryan kept sort of getting hit on by this woman that he wasn’t keen on, and he and I had been allotted a bedroom to share, so he took the key and locked himself in… and I couldn’t get in! So I ended up sitting up all night talking to Anoushka [Fisz], who eventually became my wife.
“Will You Be Around” (from Platinum Weird’s 2006 album, Make Believe)
AVC: When I interviewed you in conjunction with Platinum Weird, your collaboration with Kara DioGuardi, you were sticking with the story that Platinum Weird was your lost band from the ’70s. Were you happy with the eventual reception for that record?
DS: Funny thing is, the actual Platinum Weird record never actually came out! It was this big mistake where Interscope, within their press department, did this mad thing where… Kara and I recorded some versions of these songs as if it was the early ’70s and just had fun, and that music was for this documentary that we made. But the record label sent that out to reviewers to review as our album, and that wasn’t supposed to be our album! We were, like, “What have you done?” And it spiraled out of control, and the next thing we knew… Well, they released both albums as a double-pack at Best Buy, but our real album never got released by itself. But, you know, we’ve got this great album that’s never been released, we’ve got this great story that’s never really been told, and a film that’s about a singer called Erin Grace, who mysteriously disappeared. It’s a bit of an Almost Famous kind of movie. So the fact that we’ve still got it is always in the back of my mind. We were also playing on the way things explode today, where it’s, like, “Boom! Here’s the new thing by so-and-so,” and it explodes in just a few weeks, where you’ve never heard of it and then suddenly it’s everywhere in the culture. What we were doing was the opposite, saying, “This band was always there, but all these things happened in ’73 or ’74, and this girl singer disappeared and ran away,” and created this whole world, bringing the whole story up to today and making a new album, where I say, “Now I’ve reformed Platinum Weird, but Kara’s in it, ’cause she met Erin when she was growing up.” It all tied together as a story, and the idea was to kind of cross people’s barriers between what’s real and what’s not real. It was kind of an old-fashioned way at looking at celebrity.
“Miracle Worker” (from SuperHeavy’s 2011 self-titled album)
AVC: There are some who might theorize that you continue to work with Mick Jagger as penance for the critical drubbing he took for the 1987 single “Let’s Work,” which you co-wrote.
DS: [Laughs.] Not really. Actually, long before that, we just played and jammed on guitars and wrote lots of different songs that we did for fun—we have still some songs that you’ve never heard—we both have a healthy fascination for blues music and Jamaican music, and we get on really great. That song, though, it’s unfortunate what was happening when that record was released, ’cause we’d written and recorded the song about two years before that or something, but the mixture of things around it and the sound of it… It wasn’t to me a great choice to have that song lead an album. But on the other hand, he and I, we’ve written some great things together, particularly on the soundtrack of Alfie. There’s a song called “The Blind Leading The Blind,” and one called “Old Habits Die Hard,” and various other songs. Some of my favorites are songs we haven’t even recorded yet. There are some real gems. There’s also one on the SuperHeavy album called “Never Gonna Change.” Have you heard that yet?
AVC: No, I haven’t heard the whole album yet.
DS: People don’t really know what SuperHeavy is yet because they haven’t heard the 16-track album yet. We actually recorded 30 songs, but there’s all sorts of different types of moments that will bring different people to the record.
AVC: How did SuperHeavy come together as a group, and how do your different ages and musical styles work together in the studio?
DS: Well, we all came together because I had this idea when I was living in Jamaica. I was hearing all these different sound systems, and they were all clashing, but all of a sudden, in the middle of playing different records in different genres, I was in a sort of valley and it all started to make this weird sense. That was when I had a moment, and then I told Mick about it, and I loved the idea of fusing reggae music with some kind of Asian sound and some blues. And we talked about it quite a few times, but then we actually went and did a little experiment ourselves to see what it would sound like if we messed around with dobro guitars and dub bass or whatever. Then we started talking about who we could get to come in and do this and have a jam session and just have fun. You know, a lot of stuff is born without saying, “Let’s make a record.” Sometimes you just mess about, and this became a great messing-about. [Laughs.] It was, like, “Hey, let’s ring up Joss,” so I rang up Joss. And we had this huge room in what used to be Charlie Chaplin’s studio, sat everybody up in a circle with their instruments, had all the sound switched on so that the whole room was like a PA, and just started jamming and playing. And on the first day, we ended up composing about nine things. Obviously, they were unfinished and all raggedy, and some of them were an hour long. [Laughs.] But we had all this stuff, and we did it for eight days in a row before we all went off.
But then we all decided to come back and do it again and try to put some structure on some of these things we’d jammed out, and it slowly became apparent to us that we had the makings of something. We didn’t even know if it was going to be a record, because the record industry’s changed so much, we didn’t know if a label would even be interested. We were thinking that maybe it could be some kind of subscription thing, where we’d just keep putting stuff in that people would get until we got enough subscriptions to afford the studio time to record more, and then we’d keep on doing it. ’Cause without a label, it was just me and Mick paying for the time we worked in the studio, doing it for the sheer fun of doing it. But then it started to get more formal. Shepard Fairey came to hear the music and loved it, and he did this great artwork for the album. All of it started to come together, so we were like, “Well, we should put it out physically in one way or another.” Working together, though, it was all quite natural. And slow. This was over the course of two and a half years, remember. It definitely wasn’t, like, “Oh, let’s hit the studio and put out an album.”