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The 'best' is yet to come for Stevie Nicks
The singer, who performs Aug. 4 in S.B.,
has high hopes for her
By Marjorie Hernandez
Multiple Grammy Award winner Stevie Nicks, while digging through her old journals, found pages of poems she penned as a teenager and throughout her career. Now 62, the Fleetwood Mac frontwoman and accomplished solo artist said that many of those poems, and a few new songs, will appear in her upcoming, untitled seventh solo studio album.
As fans eagerly await the new album (no release date yet), Nicks will hit the road with her band at five venues, starting with the Santa Barbara Bowl on Aug. 4. Proceeds from the concert will help pay the medical bills of an 8-year-old girl with cancer, Cecelia, the daughter of a family friend.
In a phone interview with The Star, Nicks talked about her song and art “vaults,” Cecelia, Edgar Allen Poe, writing with a partner for the first time, and the upcoming album, which the singer calls “the best thing” she has ever done.
You just came back from a whirlwind tour with Fleetwood Mac last year. Why did you decide to take on another, smaller tour in the middle of recording your new album?
This isn’t really a tour. I’ve been doing a record since February. Right after the Grammys, I started doing a record with Dave Stewart (of the Eurythmics) as producer. I got a call a month and a half ago from my manager and he said, “Well, you’ve had five offers to do some shows in August. I think you should do them. I know you are doing a record but it is only a month. If you do these shows it will feel like you’ve worked all year.” And in this world of financial woe, it’s never a bad thing to spend a month and it will be like you’ve worked a year.
Is this going to be a respite from being in the studio?
I am having such a ball, I don’t need a respite. It’s always good to put some money in the bank, so it’s a good thing. It’s always good to reconnect with everybody, and it is only five shows. I just did 83 shows for Fleetwood Mac. Our last show was on the 21st of December, so it’s like I just got off the road. For me, this is a breeze. I am really excited about it. We only have three days of rehearsal and we haven’t played in almost two years, but my band is so great that we kind of don’t have to. This is not a tour, but just a few shows. I don’t know what they are going to call it — the “This Is Not a Tour” Tour?
You have a plethora of hits to include in your set list. What can fans expect from your shows?
Well, since this is not a tour, you kind of do what you do. You do all of your hits and then you throw a couple of new things in that you don’t want to tell anybody about because it’s fun. We’re going to try to do three songs that we don’t usually do, two of which are not my songs, and one that I haven’t done in a long time.
I am doing (the Santa Barbara show) because I have a little friend who is 8 years old. Her name is Cecelia and she has a very rare form of cancer. It’s called rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare soft tissue cancer. It was a mass hiding behind her cheekbone and it extended to her cranium and down to her naval cavity. She has 45 straight weeks of chemotherapy and six weeks of daily radiation.
I am very good friends with her parents, from Los Angeles, and she has three sisters. It is very painful, and how in the world she has managed to get though it as well as she has is just mind-blowing.
We are giving her the proceeds from the show — it is not a benefit. This is basically my salary and that’s what she is getting. I am also doing a T-shirt. I have been drawing since 1981 because my best friend died of leukemia in 1981. I started to draw her little things just little drawings to put on her wall. I certainly would not have started to draw if she had not gotten cancer and died of it. So, I am going back to my vault of drawings and pulling out a really special one and we’re going to have it printed on T-shirts and sell it. Not only will it be great because some money will go to Cecelia, but the fans will get one of my drawings that they would not otherwise get.
Have you always painted?
I have kept my art close to me. I figure when I’m way too old to do all that I am doing now, I will just flip to the art world. It (my art) is in bags in my closet and I work on it all the time. I draw all the time, but I take one with me when I go on a three-month tour. When I come home, I put that one back in the bag and take another one out and work on that for three months. They are never finished and I would never sell them.
So this one is from the vault?
This is one from the Stevie art vault. It has a bunny in it. I picked it specifically because I though it would be perfect for Cecelia. I really hope people will come, not just to see me, but because this is going to be wonderful for Cecelia and she knows about it. I’m hoping she might be able to come.
People are dying to hear about your album. Are you going to perform songs from it at the show?
No, because it would be filmed and recorded and on YouTube the next day. So this record, just like my art, will be held very close to the heart. No one is going to hear it until it comes out because I want people to be surprised. I want people to hear it in its finished form. We filmed the whole thing and we had two photographers with us the whole time.
Is Dave Stewart shooting the film?
It’s his two film people filming it, but he is an amazing photographer and an amazing cinematographer, so he has his own films. In fact, everybody films because we all have good cameras. We are filming all the time. We realized we are doing something that I have never done before — writing songs with Dave Stewart. I’ve never written a song with anyone in my whole life. People send me tracks, which mean they just send me the instrumental of the song. Like Michael Campbell. I have written many songs to Michael Campbell’s tracks and he has two on this record. But I don’t write songs sitting in the same room looking at a person because I just never wanted to. It’s always been a very solitary experience for me.
When I got together with him (Dave) and asked if he would produce this record, I gave him a book of poetry that had been pulled by my best friend Rebecca out of the last seven to eight years of journals, which was something I would never do.
He came the first day to my house and said, “All right, I like this poem. Why don’t we start with this poem?”
So we had a little recording thing set up hanging over the coffee table and in front of the couch. He’s sitting across from me and starts playing the guitar. He just says, “OK. Go,” and I start reciting my poem. By the end of a half an hour, we had written a great song. I was completely amazed.
How many songs/poems do you have in those journals?
Well, probably 60 pages. Usually when you are writing songs from a formal, long poem, you use a few lines from this poem and a few lines from that poem. But because of the way we wrote these songs, we really used the full formal form. The songs are kind of long, but they can always be edited and that’s how we looked at it. For me, to be able to get all of my words in was just the best thing ever.
Was this a huge departure from your regular process?
Very much. I also dug out a lot of songs from the song vault. I pulled songs from 1976 that I don’t know why in the world did not go in the first Fleetwood Mac album. I must’ve misplaced the cassette. I had one of my backup singers, my sister-in-law Laurie, go to Phoenix and the storage vault where all of our old cassettes are. She found the cassette and I played it for Glen Ballard and Dave Stewart at the studio just a few days ago. It’s kind of been lost for 30 years.
This is a song you penned yourself?
Yes, it was just me and a little piano. I think I wrote it in 1976, maybe even ’75. It sounds like I’m 5. Glen Ballard said, “So where has this little gem been hiding?”
I was able to pull four or five songs out of my song vault, and then a song I wrote about the “Twilight” movies and a song about Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans. So I came into this record with only two new songs. I had no idea I was going to write songs with Dave.
At first I wanted to go in front of the piano and suffer and try to write songs from this poetry. I kind of felt like a part of a great writing team, like Rodgers and Hammerstein or Lennon and McCartney. I finally understood what that was and why they did it because it is amazing to share this experience. And it’s WAY faster. Sometimes sitting over your piano, in tears, for month after month, trying to get this one song to work, is almost soul-destroying.
So the songwriting process was easier this time around?
Totally easier and way more fun. I have really never felt as in control of a situation, because Dave respects me totally as a writer and as a lyricist and as a poet. We have a song I wrote when I was 17 that is the words to an Edgar Allan Poem called “Annabel Lee.” It’s just lived in my head since I was 17. I didn’t record it about until 10 years ago. We found the demo and I’m not sure why I didn’t put it in “Trouble in Shangri-la,” but I guess things got misplaced.
Dave and Glen loved it, so we recorded it. It’s all my song except they wrote this 30-second English minuet thing that goes in the middle that is very Annabel Lee-esque. It’s fantastic. That was a good song without Dave, but with Dave and my musical director and lead guitarist Waddy Wachtel, between all of them they wrote this amazingly beautiful little piece of music. It just enhanced the song. I only know four chords so I could never write that. I took a month of guitar lessons when I was 15. I play with one note. I play well enough to write, but I don’t play enough to really play.
I know you have worked with Waddy for a long time, but how has working with Glen and Dave helped you as an artist as well?
I think it has made me a way more confident and powerful artist. I don’t think I will ever feel the same. I played (music from the new album) one night at the studio for Reese Witherspoon, who is a friend and has never heard any of it. She was completely blown away.
We played it for David Wild, the writer, and he said, “Wow, Stevie, you’ve gone and turned into Bob Dylan.”
He made a little comment: “There is blood in these tracks.” I thought that was the most amazing compliment anyone can pay me as an artist. I played it, of course, to the president of my record company, Tom Wally. He is not someone who jumps up and down about anything unless he is really knocked out and he was thrilled. Three different people from three different walks of life loved it. This is like a spattering of humanity here. I feel that this, in my heart this might be the best thing I have ever done.
You mentioned that a lot of the songs on the album have been in your “song vault” for years. Did making the album conjure up old memories?
Well, sure! Every song was and is written about an experience. With “Annabel Lee,” I remember sitting on my bed, in my mom and dad’s house, writing that song and being so overwhelmed with the romanticism of it. All of my songs are windows into my past, for sure, since they all basically come out of my journals. If something cool happens I write about it. If nothing happens then I don’t write.
Do you write every day?
I write four or five times a week. I write a page or two and that’s where my poems come. If I have a day when all I do is drink coffee and read magazines and read Vogue and watch mindless TV that I love, I don’t write. I write the important stuff down.
You have been in the industry for many years. What are your inspirations?
In the beginning, when I was in the band Fritz, which was the band Lindsey Buckingham was in, we started playing pretty immediately. They already had a little bit of a reputation when I joined the band. We started opening for a lot of big shows. We opened for Janis Joplin at Stanford University. I got to be right next to her and watch her for an hour and a half and I was very impacted by her performance. I saw in her what I didn’t want to be and I also saw in her what I did want to be. She was in her silky bell-bottoms and her little slip-on high heels and a really beautiful silky outfit that I really loved.
And then she started to sing and it really didn’t matter what she was wearing. It was just all about her singing and how she held that audience in the palm of her little hands. It was really awe-inspiring to me to see this extremely powerful woman take that kind of control of the audience and just be with them like she was in her living room. From a singing standpoint and from a performance standpoint, she really touched me.
Another show that really knocked me out was Jimi Hendrix at San Jose State. It was huge. He was awesome. He was extremely humble and extremely nice to the audience. Janis was nice to the audience, but she had been kind of the ugly duckling and you could tell al little bit that she was like, “Neh, neh, neh , neh look at who I am now, all of you losers.”
She had a little bit of that arrogant thing, but that was OK because she was so great. You can be arrogant if you can back it up.
Jimi moved like an angel — like Prince. His feet never touched the ground. He just blew my mind. I came away from those two shows going, “Well, I have to remember to always be humble because I preferred his humbleness. I thought, “That’s going to be me on stage. I will be very humble on stage always.” And I will talk to the audience. Sometimes I will talk too much and sometimes I will be too gabby, but I will go that route and I will try not to be arrogant. It’s easy to be arrogant, especially in the beginning years when you are a rock ’n’ roll star. It’s easy to be arrogant because all of a sudden you were rich and a year and a half ago you were a waitress.
I would think, when putting yourself out there as a performer, sometimes you need some arrogance because you are constantly being judged.
And sometimes it is needed, but you can be extremely cool and fantastically gorgeous and still be humble. That’s what I learned. You want the people to leave really liking you and you want them to come back to see you because they really liked you.
What was the best advice you received when you were starting out?
Well, I didn’t know any rock stars until I joined Fleetwood Mac. When we met them in 1975 I ran right out and got their six or seven records and listened to all of them so I would have some idea of who they were and what they did. So as far as people giving us advice, we didn’t have anybody to give us advice. Everyone was just as crazy as we were, or crazier, really, because anyone that we did meet on the road or opening for, they were more famous than us. We never really got to talk to anybody. If we were opening for Peter Frampton, we barely got to say “hello” as he was on his way to his limo.
Do Lindsey Buckingham, Mick Fleetwood, Christine McVie or Peter Green appear on the upcoming album?
Mick actually does appear. He was there five or six days during the recording of the last two weeks. He had a lot of fun. He’s on half of it. He got to hang out with Dave — you know, the English have a great time together. They were double funny.
Will the film/DVD be a companion to the album?
We are documenting and filming it and I don’t really know what we are going to do with it, but we know it’s terrific. You have to put on makeup every day and you have to dress up, so it’s been kind of a nightmare on that side of it, but in the long run, it’s been so worth it.
When does the album drop?
It’s basically close to being done now. I can’t really tell you, but I know we are trying to move fast because we have places to go and people to see.”
What can fans expect from the new album?
It’s very diversified. There is an Italian love song I wrote when I was in Italy last summer. There is a crazy, wild rock ’n’ roll song called “The Ghosts Are Gone.” There is a song about a novel called “Wide Sargasso Sea,” the precursor to Jane Eyre. It was a crazy movie in the ’80s that I loved. There are two tracks that Michael Campbell wrote that I wrote songs on top of, and they are just magical. There are love songs, hard rock ’n’ roll songs, really contemplative songs and very Bob Dylan-y songs and there are lots of good poems. I think people will be really happy with this. And I think it will be a record people will listen to for a long time and they will be thrilled because I am thrilled. There is a part of your heart that knows. I think this could possibly be my best work.
What advice would you give young up-and-coming artists?
Most important, write your own songs. With the Internet piracy and stuff, if this is what you want to do, you have to put your nose to the grindstone and you cannot listen to anybody. You have to just write, write, write. Colbie Caillat jumped on it and started writing songs and put them on the Internet and said, “I know I’m the daughter of Ken Caillat and nobody is even going to throw me a bone because they think I am getting this free from my dad,” which is not true because nobody can make you a star. Nobody. She did it, so it’s possible.
You kind of have to create a phenomenon. That’s what Dave Stewart says. You have to really believe in yourself and you really have to work your butt off and never take no for an answer. Ever.