‘I lived that song many times’: In conversation with Stevie Nicks
Stevie Nicks talks with Elio Iannacci on a recent cameo, a Fleetwood Mac reunion and a new solo album decades in the making.
Q (Elio Iannacci): Your album 24 Karat Gold took more than 30 years to make. Has there been some sort of cathartic release now that the demos are re-recorded?
A (Stevie Nicks): I haven’t gotten to enjoy it at all. Rehearsal for the Fleetwood Mac tour started the sixth of August, and we made 24 Karat Gold in three five-day weeks in Nashville, and then came back to my house in Los Angeles and did three more five-day weeks.
Q: Rather than have a current photo of yourself taken for the album cover, why did you choose to use a photograph from the ’70s?
A: It takes away the conceptual thing of finding a photographer that you like, that’s going to shoot you right, that’s going to get a picture where you don’t look 9,000 years old. I have all these old Polaroids smashed together in shoeboxes. I pulled out one [photo] and said, “This is the cover; it’s a golden picture. That’s solved.”
Q: Who took them?
A: I took all of them. In those days, Polaroids came with a little [self-shooting] plug that had a button on the end of it. So I can be sitting here and build my set around this couch if I wanted to. I’d usually put flowers or found a lamp to put a shawl over and then start shooting.
Q: Would you consider them your version of selfies?
A: It’s not a selfie at all. It’s a self-portrait. I did most of those Polaroids on the road. I’d read something by Horst, the photographer. He said, “Don’t take a lot of pictures. Pretend like you have no film.” With phone cameras, you take millions of shots. This was carefully planned. An exhibit of them already showed in L.A. and Art Basel in Miami. I’ve made a lot of money.
Q: You’ve also sketched quite a bit. Are there plans to exhibit your drawings?
A: Yes, at some point. Strangely enough, I’ve been drawing all afternoon. I’ve just been working on a drawing I drew in 2007 when Mick [Fleetwood]‘s little girl [Ruby]—who has a twin [sister, Tessa]—almost drowned. I started with a drawing of [Tessa], who felt responsible. Then I drew another girl next to her and she became like the fairy queen. I called it the Fairy Guardians. I sketch the faces upside down because it’s like drawing from the left side of the brain or the right side of the brain. I never took an art lesson in my life.
Q: A song on 24 Karat Gold called Belle Fleur—originally from your debut disc—mines the memories of people you called “canyon ladies.” Joni Mitchell defined these women as people who were domestic and in traditional relationships in her song Ladies of the Canyon. Is there a connection?
A: This song wasn’t about that. Belle Fleur was about not being able to have a relationship because you were a rock ’n’ roll star. Those women are me, [my sister] Lori … and friends I had from 1975 to 1978. The [lyric] “When you come to the door of the long black car”—that’s the limousine that’s coming to take you away. Then your boyfriend is standing on the porch waving at you, like, “When are you going to be back?” And you’re like, “I don’t know, maybe three months?” But then we would add shows to a tour and I could end up not being back for six months. It was difficult for the men in my life. I lived that song so many times.
Q: The songs also implies there is a joy to that kind of unbridled freedom.
A: The [experience] causes you to become one with the road. I’m comparing it to the witches in the mountains. That’s just my metaphor with the [lyric] “Mountain women live in the canyon / dancing all night long.” That’s just us coming back from shows and taking Polaroids all night long.
Q: Many of your songs have been able to foresee your own future.
A: The real premonition songs were I Never Promised You a Rose Garden and After the Glitter Fades, which starts with the line “I never thought I’d make it here in Hollywood.” They were poems I wrote before I joined Fleetwood Mac. The lyrics are so telling: “Now I have a big house with pillars standing tall all around / I’ve got a garden with roses dangling down to the ground / and I’ve got money, men to love me / and acres of land / I’ve got all these things / I’ve got all these things but a small gold band on my finger on my left hand.” I think that’s probably the most astute premonition I ever had.
Q: A lyric from the song I Don’t Care from 24 Karat Gold reveals your disdain for getting a proposal with a diamond ring. At what point did you know that you couldn’t get married?
A: Right away! In the beginning of my relationship with Lindsey, I realized that being in a relationship with a very powerful, controlling man probably wouldn’t work out for me in the future as an artist. Something in my little songwriter’s heart said, “This is what I’m always going to do. I’m going to do that whether I’m with Lindsey or whether I go and find another guitar player to play music for me and we go play at Chuck’s Steak House.”
Q: Were you ever close to having a husband?
A: If I look back over all the men in my life, there’s the first category: those are the great loves. They didn’t understand. Even if they were in the business, they were jealous and they were resentful and had a hard time with my life and they didn’t like all my friends. They didn’t like the fact that the witches of the canyon were around all the time. The next category were men who really liked me, guys who trusted me—they were not the least bit resentful of what I did when I was on tour. They would say, “Bye, keep in touch, have a good time, be great on stage and maybe I’ll fly out and see you some weekend,” but we didn’t connect in other ways because my life, my career, just got bigger.
Q: They couldn’t keep up?
A: Guess what: I had two full-on careers going! [My solo record] Bella Donna took three months to [record]—which was not very long. When it was put out, it went to No. 1. I did a very short six-week tour for it and then went straight back to Fleetwood Mac. My [close] friend Robin had leukemia and was dying all the way through the making of Bella Donna.
Q: Yet so many of 24 Karat Gold’s songs are not about affairs but of what you call “the great loves.”
A: Those are the glory songs. I couldn’t write that album today. None of those songs were written after a one-night stand because there weren’t very many of those in my life. Those are all about relationships that lasted. All my relationships lasted.
Q: 24 Karat Gold could easily have a Part 2 or 3 because of the number of demos you have. What would you include on it?
A: I think that this is one of the best records I’ve ever made. So I can’t just let this record go. When the Fleetwood Mac tour is over, I might go straight back to Nashville and record eight or nine songs, and Warner Brothers can take it and repackage the album. I have another 10 demos. There’s a song that’s called City of Hope that I love that needs to go out because that’s [the name of the California-based hospital] Robin was in. I spent a lot of time driving through the big sign that says “City of Hope” when there was no hope. With a bottle of brandy and a gram of cocaine, thinking, “Please God, don’t let her die.”
Q: You also have a song about JFK. Is it on your list of possibilities to record for the second volume of 24 Karat Gold?
A: I’ll probably do that, too. It’s called The Kennedys. That was about a strange dream I had about meeting the Kennedy men, at a cocktail party benefit in the Hamptons. I went in to play the piano and sing [for the party] and Martin Luther King walked me down the hallway. It has this amazing part that I just think would fit with the world right now: “Please God, show them the way. Please God, on this day. Spirits all gather round. Peace will come if you really want it. Peace will come if you fight harder. I think we’re just in time to save it.” I’m ready for Jack Kennedy’s dreams. I’m ready for there to be somebody leading the country that somehow puts some kind of a respect and charisma into things … basically the same thing that Clinton had.
Q: When I interviewed Cher last year, she said was 100 per cent behind Hillary Clinton becoming the next U.S. president.
A: Well I am, too. Hillary is experienced. Bill Clinton will tell you that he was in college with her and she was so much more motivated than he was. She’s the one. When I first met her with her [daughter] Chelsea, it was such a moment. She’s funny and she’s really nice. You don’t think that when you meet her but she is really sweet.
Q: Why is she the best choice?
A: She’s so damn smart. As far as the Republicans go—and my parents were both Republicans—there is no rising star. If you think of the great Republican presidents, there is no that guy. There is no John Kennedy rising in the Republican world. There is no Ronald Reagan. In the Democratic world, there is no that guy either. There is Hillary. Period. She’s my around age, and I’m 66 and a half years old. I hope that she doesn’t go like [whispers]: “I just can’t do it,” because she has a daughter, a granddaughter and a life and Bill. You have to forget about your life and determinedly and totally throw yourself into being the leader of this country.
Q: You know something about being determined. You’ve had to fight for many of your songs to get recorded. Which song would you identify as being the toughest one to release?
A: The battle of Silver Springs was pretty bad. [Fleetwood Mac] took that off [Fleetwood Mac’s 11th studio album, Rumors] and they didn’t even ask me. They replaced it with I Don’t Want to Know—which was a good song, but it was short. They took Silver Springs off because they thought it was too long on the record and there was no way to cut it down. I was told in the parking lot after it had already been done.
Q: You must have felt avenged when it finally hit the charts 20 years later.
A: I had given that song to my mother so it was kind of a bummer, because it ended up being kind of a dead gift. What was great was that when we went back together to do [a live album, 1996’s The Dance] it was the single. My mom ended up getting a $50,000 cheque two months after The Dance went out. To my mother, it had been a million-dollar cheque.
Q: Regarding the Fleetwood Mac tour, does it get any easier to share a stage with an ex who is singing about a soured relationship you had decades ago?
A: I just try to sink back into it and that’s not the hard part for me. The hard part for me is how physically difficult the three-hour set is. I walk off stage and I get into the hallways, and the first thing that comes out of my mouth is “This is too much for me!” It’s too hard, it’s too long, this set should only be an hour and a half long—we are all over 65! This is 40 shows! I feel like my bones are breaking.
Q: On tour, you thank American Horror Story for giving your song Seven Wonders a new life. Was appearing on the show an easy thing to do?
A: It could have been corny . . . but I thought it was just awesome. We really did just make a music video with me singing parts of Seven Wonders and Has Anyone Ever Written Anything For You. I must have sung it [for the series’ star, Jessica Lange] 20 times because they had to film it from every possible vantage point. Jessica Lange is not an easy girl to get to know, but after singing to her for 10 hours, I think we made a connection. Afterward, I wrote her a long letter. In the scenes [we shared], she helped me by doing her part perfect every time.
Q: What would you say has been the most emotional moment you’ve experienced while being on tour with the band?
A: When I finish [performing] Silver Springs [with Lindsey Buckingham], Christine [McVie, Fleetwood Mac’s keyboardist and vocalist] waits for me and takes my hand. We walk off and we never let go of each other until we get to our tent. In that 30 seconds, it’s like my heart just comes out of my body.
Q: Do you feel that putting your solo work and art on hold for Fleetwood Mac has been worth it?
A: You get to a point in your life where some things have got to go if anything else new is going to come in. Then you face the fact that the Fleetwood Mac tickets sold out in three weeks for 80 shows. I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. I don’t want the audiences to be disappointed. I want everybody to be happy. I want the people in Fleetwood Mac to be happy. I do adore being back with Christine. She’s had a 16-year rest [McVie took a 16-year touring hiatus from the band]. She’s like ready to rock. I had forgotten how wonderful that was. I had forgotten how close we were.