Stevie Nicks is still dreaming
October 20, 2020
She’s just released her first solo single in six years. A new concert film is about to hit cinemas. And a viral TikTok has put the Fleetwood Mac classic Rumours back in the Top 10. Even in quarantine, the rock and roll icon is not slowing down.
Stevie Nicks has had “a hell of a day”. Not only is it 3am at her home in Los Angeles when we first speak on the phone, the power has gone out in her house. “It was out all day until about nine o’clock (in the evening), but we’ve not been here,” she laments. “We got home and it was on. I came in, got ready to do this interview, and the power went out again.”
Nicks, the 72-year-old Fleetwood Mac singer and solo star, is almost entirely nocturnal these days. The coronavirus pandemic and subsequent quarantine has locked her into a diet of rolling news and perpetual worry, and being awake and active during the witching hour has become her normal. Her current lack of electricity, however, is somewhat less so. “We are prepared here, just in case there’s an earthquake,” she continues (the ‘we’ referring to her assistant and two goddaughters, who Nicks has been holed up with ever since the pandemic struck). “We have a lot of lanterns. I’m in a window seat in a swing. We’ve lit the area so at least I can see the papers in front of me.” Our conversation unfurls to breaking news that Donald Trump has tested positive for COVID-19. “When everyone wakes up in the morning and discovers that the whole government has possibly been exposed to the virus, they’re gonna go crazy,” she remarks, adding that Trump contracting the virus proves that wearing a mask is “not political... it’s contagious and it’s dangerous”.
To speak with Stevie Nicks is to spend time with one of music’s true greats. Not only is she responsible for writing some of the rock and pop canon’s greatest standards – “Dreams”, “Landslide”, “Edge of Seventeen” – her life has been so eventful that it can include opening up for Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, to turning down Prince’s offer to record “Purple Rain” among its many, many tales. When we talk, she’s just arrived home from the edit suite, where she’s been busy applying the finishing touches to the video for “Show Them the Way”, her first solo single in six years.
The video, released earlier this month, deptics Nicks in silhouette pacing the corridors of a large house before a series of historical photographs flood the frame. John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King feature strongly, and the video culminates with a still of Stevie Nicks stood alone atop Capitol Hill, her image giving way to a single instruction: ‘Vote’. The video was helmed by Almost Famous director Cameron Crowe, whose history with Fleetwood Mac dates all the way back to the early 70s, when he first started chronicling the band as a writer for Rolling Stone. The song itself has an equally storied history, too. Nicks first wrote “Show Them the Way” back in 2008, but says she “knew it wasn’t the time for it then. It’s ‘right now’, with what’s going on in our country. This is the time for this song.”
There are two versions of “Show Them the Way”: a rock and roll number, and a stripped-back piano ballad. In both cases, the song unravels cinematically, taking the listener on a trip into a “grey house in the Hamptons”, where Nicks has been asked to play piano for JFK and the Kennedys. “Everything was timeless, even me,” she sings, lost in her dream. The message implores peace. It is urgent, hopeful, and quietly political. When we talk, however, I haven’t yet had a chance to hear the song. In order to compensate, Nicks offers to read her words, which tumble out with an adept orator’s masterful touch. When she’s done, I suggest this could be her protest song. She’s emphatic: “It is. It absolutely is.”
As the conversation moves on, Nicks then makes an unusual proposal: “I would love to talk again after you’ve heard the song,” she suggests. And so, a couple of weeks later (and after our first interview was published by NME), we reconvene. By the time of our second conversation, the news that Dave Grohl laid down the drums on the uptempo version of “Show Them the Way” has come out – she hadn’t mentioned it before. So how did his involvement come about? “I didn’t actually send him the song to play drums on,” she confesses. The previous year, Greg Kurstin, the producer of “Show Them the Way”, worked on a new record with the Foo Fighters (“It would have been out now had we not had this pandemic,” Nicks adds by way of an aside). “Greg and Dave are really good friends. He just sent it to Dave and said, ‘Can you play drums on this?’”
Not that Nicks and Grohl are strangers. In 2013, Nicks appeared in the Foos frontman’s documentary Sound City, and they recorded a track together, “You Can’t Fix This”, for the soundtrack. Upon discovery that Grohl returned the favour for her new single, she says she “couldn’t be happier”, calling the former Nirvana musician “one of the best drummers in the world” and “a good friend”. Grohl also told Nicks about the challenge of recording drums remotely. “When I talked to Dave the other day, he told me it was the first time he has done it (recorded drums) in his actual house. He said, ‘I’ve never done this before, but I thought, you know what? I can do it.’ And so he mic’d all the drums, used ProTools, and recorded the drums himself.” Nicks lets out a laugh. “Probably much to the chagrin of his entirely family, especially his three daughters!”
Besides the new song, Nicks is also releasing a concert film, titled 24 Karat Gold The Concert. Due to arrive in cinemas for two nights only on October 21 and 25, the film was shot with director Joe Thomas (whose resumé includes concert films for the likes of the Beach Boys, Chaka Khan, and Regina Spektor) over two nights in Pittsburgh at the back end of her 24 Karat Gold solo tour in 2017. Nicks is excited about the project. “I’m very proud of it,” she says. As she should be – her backing band, featuring old friends and musical cohorts such as backing vocalist Sharon Celani and guitarist Waddy Wachtel, cook up a storm. “We had been playing for almost a year by that point, so when we went onstage in Pittsburgh I just knew that that was the night,” Nicks says. “I walked on-stage like a woman on a mission.” The concert digs deep into what Nicks calls her “dark, gothic trunk of lost songs”. Personal stories are shared between songs, sometimes lasting many minutes at a time. It makes for an insightful and touching viewing experience. Celebratory, too.
Nicks’s tempestuous relationship with guitarist and one-time boyfriend Lindsey Buckingham has long been described as a perennial source of inspiration and discomfort for the musician. After first meeting in high school at the tail-end of the 60s, Buckingham – a talented guitarist with a unique style, the product of being entirely self-taught – became quickly entwined with Nicks, both romantically and musically. Together, they recorded one eponymous album, Buckingham Nicks, released in 1973. But despite garnering positive reviews, the record flopped, and the pair were dropped by their label. However, it had caught the ear of Mick Fleetwood of British blues band Fleetwood Mac, who was on the lookout for a new guitarist. Buckingham fit the bill, but he issued a warning that he and Nicks came as a “package deal”. Both joined in 1974, and this iteration of Fleetwood Mac became a phenomenon. Early compositions such as the Nicks-penned “Rhiannon” and “Landslide” remain evergreen classics, and both appear in 24 Karat Gold The Concert.
When she sings older songs like these, do they still resonate on a personal level? “They all still really resonate with me,” she says. “All the songs that became my really famous songs that you’ve heard a million times are like a poetic story of my life.”
For many, Fleetwood Mac’s apogee remains their 1977 pop masterstroke, Rumours. One of the biggest selling LPs of all time, it was recorded amid extreme emotional turmoil. Various romantic intra-band relationships were imploding – not least Buckingham and Nicks – and the acrimony that fuelled much of the material is nearly as famous as the songs themselves. Away from the soap opera drama, however, the tunes continue to seduce subsequent generations – this week, the album returned to the Billboard Top 10, 42 years after it last appeared near the top of the chart.
The reason for this is somewhat unusual. On TikTok, a video of a man, Nathan Apodaca (under the username @420doggface208), longboarding while sipping a bottle of cranberry Ocean Spray to the mellifluous strains of “Dreams” recently went viral, which saw Fleetwood Mac experience a huge surge in streams as a result. Although Nicks has official social media accounts, her input into these channels is done from afar. “I don’t live in that world,” she says. “I am not on TikTok. I am not on Instagram. I am not on social media. I don’t have a computer. I still write everything by hand. I don’t even have a typewriter.” (Not long after our conversation, she would inaugurate a TikTok account, posting a video in which she roller skates while singing the hit.)
Nicks has always been single-minded. She puts a lot of this down to the influence of her mother, who readied her for a patriarchal society. “She would say, ‘I know you’re going to be a singer – and I think you’re very good, and I totally support you, Stevie – but you will go to college for five years. You can be in a band, that’s fine, but you’ll go to college because I will not have you stand in a room full of men unable to keep up with them. You are going to be independent.’ I thank God for my mum. Talk about pragmatic.” Nicks believes the purpose was so that when she was “released into the world”, she was going to “fly” and be “strong”. “I was going to get what I wanted,” she says. “I was never going to be ruled over by a man and I was never going to be supported by a man. That’s how she raised me.”
With this grounding, it was perhaps inevitable that Nicks would eventually strike out on her own. In 1981, after Rumours and its follow-up Tusk gobbled up the charts, she stepped into the light for her debut solo album. Boosted by the sultry strut of her hit Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers duet “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” and signature song “Edge of Seventeen”, the resultant record, Bella Donna, was a huge success, proving that Nicks had a voice on her own. Yet she still says that her own musicality is not something that she always has confidence in. “I’m not a very good keyboard player,” she confesses, casting her mind most recently to her demo of “Show Them the Way”. “It was always a little bit difficult in Fleetwood Mac because Christine (McVie) would say, (note-perfect impersonation), ‘I just don’t understand this timing!’ I would sit down and play the songs for her. For ‘Sara’ and ‘Dreams’, they even bled a little bit of my piano demo in (to the studio) for her. Once she got it, she got it, but getting it was really hard. I don’t really play like anybody else because I never took a piano lesson.”
It’s been well documented that Stevie Nicks has faced her demons with drug addictions, but she has emerged out the other side. When it comes to her art, she long ago surrendered herself to her muse, giving the world songs carved from the depths of her pain. The personal, the poetic, and the profound is her trident; her lyrics frequently sourced from the pages of her journal and brought to life by her versatile voice and gift for melody. Yet as much as she draws from inside for inspiration, she’s always looked outside for collaborations. Her one-time partner Don Henley of the Eagles featured on Bella Donna’s “Leather and Lace”, while over the years she’s appeared with everyone from bluesman BB King (“Can’t Get Enough”) to Sheryl Crow (“If You Ever Did Believe”, recorded for the 1998 drama Practical Magic). Then there are Tom Petty tracks too, of course. Yet there are some artists she never did approach to work with, even if they seemed like a natural fit. David Bowie, for instance.
“You know what, I don’t even know that I ever met David Bowie,” Nicks ponders. “Had I ever met him, I probably would have said the first thing I usually say whenever I meet somebody who is one of my heroes: ‘Maybe we could get together and work on a song or something?’ That’s usually my first line, because that’s all I really want from all these people – to be in their presence and study what they do.” Tinges of regret crackle perceptibly through the telephone line. “I missed out on that.” What was it she admired about him? “I loved a lot of his songs,” she says. “A great singer-songwriter. He was also a performance artist. He had a lot of talent and in a lot of different ways. He was a special guy. Really special. I am sorry, because you look back on your life and think, ‘Why didn’t I get on an airplane and go see David Bowie? Why didn’t I get on an airplane and go see a lot of people that I’ll never get to meet now?’”
For all the opportunities that Nicks might not have taken over the years, there is a younger generation who she has often worked with. Many look to Nicks as a mentor; someone who weathered personal storms and held a strong artistic course throughout. In recent years, a close friendship with Harry Styles has flourished, and she has worked with Lana Del Rey, co-writing “Beautiful People Beautiful Problems” for the singer’s 2017 album Lust for Life.
But for now, our interview time is up. Nicks says she looks forward to “the travels” that her new single will take her on in future, and hopes that she’ll “come up with some more stuff soon”. You wouldn’t bet against her – after all, there are more journal entries to write, more material to create, more planes to catch. Stevie Nicks is still dreaming. Power outage or not, her candle burns as bright as ever.
Stevie Nicks’ 24 Karat Gold The Concert is in cinemas on October 21 and 25. Find your screening here. A 2xCD and digital/streaming album follows on October 30.