Stevie Nicks on Her New Concert Film, the ‘Crazy’ Resurgence of ‘Dreams’ and Staying in Touch With the Spirits of Prince and Tom Petty
In a wide-ranging Q&A, the singer discusses everything from a life-changing moment seeing the "Woodstock" movie at a drive-in to having her own new "24 Karat Gold: The Concert" film play at outdoor and indoor theaters.
By Chris Willman - Variety
Not that it ever was far from rock fans’ consciousness, but Stevie Nicks’ voice is suddenly a ubiquitous part of popular culture again, thanks to a viral video of a skateboarding man singing along to Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” that has become the feel-good hit of a feel-bad fall season. Naturally, the snippet of it has made a hungry world ready again to consume more of “Dreams” than can fit in a TikTok video, which is why “Dreams” and the “Rumours” album have both returned to the top 10, 43 years later.
But if the resurgence has led you to want to hear not just “Dreams” but two hours and 10 minutes of unexpurgated Stevie, the universe has conspired to accommodate that. Sunday night, Nicks’ film, “24 Karat Gold: The Movie,” will be playing at theaters and drive-ins across the country. It’ll be followed Friday by the release of a full soundtrack on CD (as a Target exclusive), on vinyl (at Barnes & Noble) and for download, further capturing a 2017 show in Pittsburgh that found Nicks at what she considers her well-oiled performing peak. Its rendering of something that seems impossible now — an arena gig — really does feel like a dream.
Nicks got on the phone with Variety earlier this month, just as the “Dreams” phenomenon was starting to take off, to discuss the making of the new concert movie, a new studio single (“Show Them the Way”), her Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction last year, feeling like she’s still in touch with Tom Petty and Prince, how the “Woodstock” film changed her life, hopes and fears about the coronavirus crisis, and the importance of suede boots on the ground.
VARIETY: One of the songs in this concert film is “Dreams.” As you know, there’s this whole TikTok video tie-in, and suddenly “Dreams” is on the chart again.
NICKS: From the skateboarder? I know. How crazy is that? My assistant showed it to me — he’s drinking his juice and just skateboarding along and just filming himself and singing “Dreams.” It’s so funny, and so great, because “Dreams” is a fun song to sing. I’m thrilled that people still love it, and that it does still make people happy. And who knows even why? But it does. But “Dreams” came out how many years ago? Like in 1975, right? [Editor’s note: early 1977.] My assistant just told me there’s a lot of young kids who don’t even know the song, but they like it, and its streaming is massive. It’s fantastic.
You were inducted into the Rock and Roll of Fame as a solo artist last year. I was thinking about how people who are being inducted this year are missing out on the live induction experience. I was talking with Trent Reznor and kind of joking with him, like, “Oh, you must be happy, you don’t have to show up.” But he made it very clear he wasn’t happy — that he’d looked forward to it and had wanted to get some of his old cohorts together for it. So you must be really happy that your induction was last year, not in the middle of this no man’s land.
So happy. Do you know what I would have done if I ran the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? I would have just said, “We’re going to take a pass this year. Hopefully it’s just a year. So we’re going to do it next year, and hopefully everything will be back to normal enough where we can do it the way it’s supposed to be done.” Because going into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame without being able to do it at either Staples or at Madison Square Garden or somewhere like that… I mean, it’s the biggest deal in the world. The only people that think it isn’t a big deal are the people who don’t get in. The second that your name goes up, you’re like, “Oh my God, it’s a really big deal.” And so I’m very sorry that it’s going to be done in some sort of a weird (virtual) reality way, because it’s like not going to the ball.
You’ve pointed out that you’re the only woman who’s ever been inducted twice, even though it’s happened for a lot of guys.
Twenty-two. Twenty-two men to zero women… until me.
So you did count. The fact that it hadn’t happened that way for women was a matter of pride, aside from just your individual pride, at getting in a second time?
It was fantastic. It really was a memorable night for me, and I got to play four songs, and Harry (Styles) introduced me, which was great. I gave the longest speech probably ever given, and nobody threw anything at me or yelled at me, so I just said, “Well, I’m just going to (keep doing) my speech.” And I talked way too long. But I was just so happy that, first of all, I got to open the show, and then do the “Here’s your statue” thing, which was great, because I got to actually show people how good we still played. It was much cooler to then get your award — you are now in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for the second time. I’ll never forget it. It was an incredibly memorable night.
Fortunately, you didn’t have a full-on tour you had to cancel this year, like so many, but you did have a few dates booked.
Waddy (Wachtel, her guitarist and band leader) is going crazy, like, “Is this ever going to end?” And I’m like, I don’t know! We have to believe it is going to end. But it’s hard for us. We had a bunch of really big festivals that we were doing, so it’s a bummer.
You’ve been very strongly pro-mask on your social media, pointing out that you are in a high-risk group, and holding out your own future touring as a sort of incentive to fans to take the precautions of masks and social isolation. You’ve said, “I have put a magical shield around me, because I am not going to give up the last eight years — what I call my last youthful years — of doing this… I want to be able to pull up those black velvet platform boots and put on my black chiffon outfit and twirl onto a stage again.” You played the boots card, which is a powerful one.
Exactly. Well, that really is true for me. Because that’s the last thing that I change out of: I change from my tennies — my Gucci tennies — into my high heels. And as my foot goes into that boot, I feel like Cinderella. Since that boot was made for my foot, it’s an amazing boot. Then I stand up and all of a sudden, instead of being five-foot-one, I’m five-foot-seven. And I see the world differently. I’m tall, all of a sudden. And it’s very different than being five-foot-one. So that’s when I really become who I actually am out there. And it’s really fun and I miss it, you know?
I wondered if the boots felt like putting on combat boots, in some way, even though it’s still part of a feminine look. But your Cinderella analogy is probably better than combat boots.
Well, they’re Cinderella combat boots. [Laughs.] The reason I chose that kind of a platform boot was because the rest of my outfit is so filmy and floaty that I thought: If you’re going to wear that outfit, if you just wore a pair of stiletto high heels with ankle straps, it would look really pretty, but it would be way too airy-fairy. But if you put on a pair of really strong suede boots to your knee, that have got a substantial little platform and a really good heel, then if somebody tries to drag you off that stage, you can seriously kick them with that boot. And so those boots are not just a fashion statement. They are to make people understand that I’m not a ballerina. As much as I would have loved to be a ballerina, I’m not a ballerina — I’m a rock ‘n’ roll singer. And so when people get too close to me, I can just feel my foot starting to raise, you know? It’s like my karate moment. A few times I’ve said, “Let go of my hand,” and some people don’t. And my foot starts to raise, and they get it, like, “I don’t want to be kicked with that boot. So I better back off.” So they have their moments where I feel like they’re a weapon.
So you haven’t had to employ the kick? Just the threat of it?
No, but they know. Because sometimes your fans just get out of control, and they’re so happy and so excited that they grab your hand — and you’re at a bad angle when you’re bending over to shake hands. They could just pull you off, and it would be really easy to do. So that’s the point where you have to look at them like, “Don’t even think about it.” My fans are great, but every once in a while, I’m happy to have my boots on. [Laughs.]
The new film and live album were recorded and filmed in 2017 but not released until now. Were you still doing any work on it after the pandemic started?
I was taking off this year, and it was in my plan to work on my “Rhiannon” miniseries. That didn’t mean I couldn’t go out and do like separate shows; I already had like six shows booked. But we realized by the end of February that that was not going to happen, so between us and the promoters, we basically canceled all the shows. For the film, we had edited all the musical performances quite a while ago, but not the other parts. So in May, we rented a private plane — made sure that they fogged it to death, so it was totally safe — flew back to Chicago and stayed in a house on a golf course where nobody had been since late October. Then we went into Joe’s studio (Joe Thomas of Trafalgar Releasing, the film’s distributor) and were there for, like, a month, editing the stories and anything else around the songs that needed to be edited.
Was there anything challenging about editing the stories, since it was such a “storytellers” kind of a tour you’d filmed?
You heard how I just said “like.” Well, we took out a million “likes” — as many “likes” as we could possibly take out. [Laughs.] I was really happy about that, because that’s kind of that Valley girl thing that I get. When I start talking fast and telling stories, I start saying “like” way too much. It took us four weeks to do that, because when you take a word out of a sentence, it [leaves an odd sound], so you have to be really adept at pulling that together, that little bit of a sound thing. So that took us four weeks.
But in the music itself, there were no mistakes. I did read in one line because I forgot to go up to the higher part, and I said, “Well, I need to do that line over, because I stayed down, and I need to go up.” So I went to the microphone and re-sang one line. That’s the only thing that was changed in the music part.
And now it’s done, and I’ve watched it 3,000 times, listening to every different type of mix. Surround sound you don’t hear it all that often, but when you do, it’s pretty great. That’s for theaters, and then we made stereo mixes in case you’re in your car at a drive-in. We got it to the point where we thought it was as close to sounding like you were there in Pittsburgh that night as possible.
You probably didn’t imagine until fairly recently that a significant percentage of the showings of this film would be in drive-ins. So that’s a new wrinkle.
I never in a million years did. And you know, I just remember from being a little girl how much I used to love drive-ins. I just used to think they were the best thing ever. And I actually saw “Woodstock,” the movie, in my Corvair Monza Spyder five-speed convertible. I went to see that movie in that little car with the top down, right? And when that movie ended, I was like, “Well, this is going to be my life.” When I drove out of there, I was totally crying. I was just like, “That’s it. I’m never going to walk in through the front of an outdoor concert. I am always going to fly in in a helicopter.” [Laughs.] And I mean, I made that statement, and it was like written in gold, you know? Anyway, so when I thought of drive-ins, I thought, well, that would certainly be fun for people, I think.
The film runs over two hours — you definitely wanted people to get the gist of the full concert experience and not cut it to the core.
And notice that we didn’t cut any songs out. Because sequencing is very important, whether you’re sequencing an album or whether you’re sequencing the show. And I do the sequences, and I’m a really good sequencer. I actually sequenced “Rumours.” People in Fleetwood Mac will probably disagree with me about that, but the fact is that I did sequence “Rumours” and I think it was a better album because of the sequence. And I think on stage, it’s the same thing. If you have a really good sequence, people aren’t going to run to the bathroom or run to get something to drink. Because they’re in it, as the girls in Haim would say. And that’s what you want. You want people to not be able to walk away.
I was thinking about the “Rumours” sequence the other day, listening to the alternate version of the LP that just album that came out for Record Store Day. That alternate version keeps the sequence, and listening to that, it’s easy to see why you’d. be proud of that.
What is the alternate?
Oh, it’s “Alternate Rumours,” a limited-edition LP put out for Record Store Day that takes some of the alternate takes and demos that were included earlier in the “Rumours” CD boxed set and makes an alternative-reality sort of version of the album out of them.
Oh. You know, I was in the car waiting for my assistant to get something a couple of days ago, and a version of “The Chain” came on. And it was just me sitting in the car by myself, and I’m like, what is this? And it was (the home demo of) “The Chain” before Lindsey [got ahold of it]. Lindsey asked me, “You know that song that you wrote about ‘If you don’t love me now, you will never love me again’ — can we have that? Because we have this amazing solo” that’s at the end of it, when John McVie comes in and goes [she sings the famous bass part]. He said, “We have that, and it’s amazing, but we don’t really have a song. Would you consider letting us have that song that I know you have, because I’ve known you a long time and I’ve heard it?” And I thought to myself, “Well, okay. I will take one for the team here. And I will give you the song with all the words and the verses and everything, so you can use your solo.” But I was listening to (the demo) and it was just me singing, and then it goes into a song that I did with Sheryl Crow for the “Practical Magic” soundtrack [“If You Ever Did Believe”] —out of the words of “The Chain,” it’s going into that song. And I thought, wow, I had full-on plans for the original “Chain” song before I gave it to Fleetwood Mac. I mean, I’m really glad that I gave it to Fleetwood Mac because it turned into one of the best songs. But it was holding its own before they recorded it.
It’s a good way to see where songwriters go, you know, and how they can have something that’s really pretty on its way to being complete, and then something else comes along and they need part of it. And if you’re in a band, you’re part of a team, so you willingly say, “Of course you can have it.” Anyway, it kind of blew my mind, and I was thinking how people would laugh if they had a little camera and saw me sitting in front of a market [rediscovering this recording] while my assistant was in buying food. I was thinking, somebody needs to hear this because it’s fantastic. I’m glad that you guys are out getting to hear all that stuff, because it’s pretty interesting.
You’ve done your own raiding of the archives, and that ties back into this film. The “24 Karat Gold” tour and now film were named after the album of that name that you put out in 2014, which consisted of you recording some songs you’d written a long time ago that had either never been released or that you thought you could do better now.
The reason that these songs didn’t go on any of those records, be they Fleetwood Mac or Stevie Nicks — and they were recorded many times — was because, getting to that final hour, I would walk into the studio and say, “Please don’t take it personally. I just don’t like it,” whether it was Fleetwood Mac or Jimmy Iovine or Rick Nowels or any of my producers. Nobody ever records them like my demos. So I went to Nashville and said, “If you would just listen to them and then just play them, except with your expertise, exactly the way that I played them. And then we’ll sing them, me and the girls.” And they did, and they work fast, those people in Nashville, so we did in six or seven weeks what normally takes a year. I did that record, and then, as I like to say, I put in a box, tied with a bow, drove past Warner Brothers, threw it out the window at them, and said, “I’m done now, here’s your record. I’m off your label.” And I kept driving to Culver City to go into rehearsal with Fleetwood Mac.
And then it took another three years for you to tour behind that album.
It’s because we were just finishing up that Fleetwood Mac tour when Christine (McVie) called me and said, “I’d like to come back to the band.” And I’m like, “Really, after 16 years?” And she said, in her English, [Nicks affects the high voice and British accent] “Yes, I’d love to do it. I’d like to come back to the band.” And I’m like, “Okay, well, I think you better come and see our life. We’re coming to London. You better come and stand on the side of the stage and see what you’re getting back into, because you’ve been gone a long time, Chris, and this like an athletes’ show.” And she did, and she said, “I can do it.” So we did one Fleetwood Mac tour without her, and we took a break, and then because she wanted to come back, it gave us a reason to say to the world, “We’re going back on the road because Christine McVie has returned.” So when we got home from that tour — it had been a year a year and six or seven months — I called up my manager, Howard Kaufman, whom I loved so much — he passed away, and I said, “Has it been too long for me to go and promote the ‘24 Karat Gold’ record with a tour?” And Howard said, “Stevie, you can do whatever you want. If you have a good idea for this tour and you want to go out and sing these songs that you always wanted to sing, of course you can.”
It ended up to be about 70, 73 shows, something like that, and it was the biggest tour I ever did. We played all the really big venues, just like Fleetwood Mac does, so I finally felt like I stepped up into that higher echelon of being able to play in the really big places; instead of 10,000 people, I got to play for like 15,000 people. And when we were getting toward the end of it, I turned to Waddy and said, “We can’t not film this. This will never happen again.”
Somehow adding those six or seven songs — adding them into the other songs that you have to do every time you go out on the road, like “Dreams,” “Landslide,” “Edge of Seventeen” and “Stand Back” — that the audience isn’t familiar with, even though they’re really old, it changes everything. It makes you feel like you’re doing a brand new set.
And come on, could I ever, ever have done 46 minutes of stories on stage with Fleetwood Mac? Never in a million years. So I actually got to do two hours of music and 46 minutes of stories. And sometimes, as we were down the road with this, my stories went a little longer than 46 minutes. [Laughs.] People would be on the side of the stage, waving at me, like “wrap it up, wrap it up!” But with each one of those stories, there’s so much more than I told. So next time I can tell more stories.
One of the songs in the tour and film is “Crying in the Night,” which was on the 1973 “Buckingham Nicks” duo album you did with Lindsey. You’d never performed it live till this 2017 tour.
“Crying in the Night” was probably written in 1970, maybe even before we got to Los Angeles. It’s one of the few songs from my way, way back past that I honestly don’t remember what it was about. I almost think I made up that story, because it kind of sounds like it’s written about like a streetwalker lady or some kind of a woman that’s homeless and living in the streets, but she’s still got people. As I’m singing that every night, when it goes, “Come on, baby… she’s a come-on girl,” it’s like, well, who is she? I think she was just a fantasy character that I made up.
You do “Starshine,” a song you co-wrote with Tom Petty, as well as “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.” When you filmed the movie, he was still alive, right? It must make you glad you were able to pay as much tribute to him in the film as you did, without knowing we were about to lose him.
Absolutely. You know, the first time I was watching it here in my house, sitting in a director’s chair in front of my big screen TV, all of a sudden it just hit me and I went, “Tom was still alive when we did this show.” And that made me have to sit there for a minute and have a moment of silence. Because the way I’m talking about him…. Whenever you talk about somebody that’s passed away, it’s like when I talk about Prince; I talk about Prince as if he’s not gone. [Nicks tells the story in the film of meeting Prince after telling him she’d modeled her song “Stand Back” on the music of “Little Red Corvette.”] I just take that attitude and try not to get into a big, sad thing about it. I just talk about him as if he was at his house in Paisley Park and we’re still talking and having fun, because I don’t want to bring the audience down, and I want them to enjoy it. I want them to enjoy the stories of Tom and of Prince. I try to be buoyant about it.
In the film, though, you do acknowledge that Prince is gone. You say you feel him with you sometimes, and you say “Prince, walk with me.”
Right. And strangely enough, I put them in my journal. And if I have a really big, important show, I call in all my spirits, and I say, “Tom, stand behind me. Prince, stand with me.” I ask for their help, because I know they’re up there. The Prince thing started a long time ago, because sometimes even before Prince died, I would say that. I wish Prince was here and he could just walk with me out there; because of his performing ability and how good he was on stage, sometimes I’d just go, “Come with me.” And I really do feel the presence, you know. I mean, Tom and I were way, way better friends than I was friends with Prince, because I hardly ever saw Prince. When I did see Prince, we’d have some really important conversations, and we talked on the phone sometimes for a couple hours. But Tom was a different kind of friend. Tom was really my buddy friend. I spent a lot of time at Tom’s different houses, and a lot of time with his family when he was still married to Jane. And that was a very hard loss for me.
You just released your first single in quite a while, “Show Them the Way,” which is based on a dream you had that had JFK and Martin Luther King Jr. and some other historical figures in it. You had the dream during the 2008 election cycle and wrote the lyrics then but held onto them until now, right?
I did hold it back since 2008, and I just knew that right now with the presidential election and everything else that’s going on, that this was (the time). There’s two versions — an acoustic piano version with me and Greg Kurstin, my amazing producer, and then a rock ‘n’ roll version of it too, with Dave Grohl playing drums and Dave Stewart (of Eurythmics) playing lead guitar from the middle out. … I think it’s just a spectacular song. And I hope that it is a prayer for people. It’s nonpartisan — it’s not for Republicans, it’s not for Democrats, it’s for the world, to maybe to be a moment of peace for everyone. And a moment of… you know, the silly thing where people say “Can’t everybody just get along?” It’s like, can we just figure a way out of this horrific thing that we have walked into?
And by this horrific thing, you mean…
I just mean what’s happened to the country. The country is so divided. And racism in the last four years is so much worse than it was [back in the day]. I’m 72 years old. I’ve seen all this. I lived through the ‘60s. I’ve seen it. I fought for Roe vs. Wade. That was my generation’s fight. And I don’t want to live in a country that is divisive. And I go, well, if this starts over and there’s another four years of this, we’re not welcome anywhere, so where can I go? I’m thinking, “Oh — space. Maybe I can talk Elon Musk into giving us a jet and letting me pick 50 people, and we’re like the arc, and just take us and let us live on another planet until the next four years is over.”
And so I would never have put this song out if I didn’t hope that it might put some hope out into the world. Because everybody is very afraid and nervous, and we’re all locked in and can’t go anywhere and can’t do anything. And people aren’t paying attention with their masks, and other people are getting it. This virus has never going to go away if the whole world doesn’t get in the game and start wearing their masks and start doing everything you have to do. It’s like a creeping fungus. And it’s going to keep us all locked in our houses and it’s not going to help the economy. … And the whole thing to me has become so political. It’s a virus. It doesn’t care what side you’re on. It’s going to kill you. And I’ve said that for me, if I get it’ll kill me.
I have compromised lungs. I was really sick last year. The night of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I knew before I went on stage that something was wrong with me, so I had to really pull it together. The next day I got really sick, and I ended up going into the hospital in Philadelphia for a week in ICU with double pneumonia and human metapneumovirus and asthma. Talk about your oxygen levels going down; my oxygen levels were hardly existing. And if I was on a ventilator… My mom was on a ventilator for a month and she was hoarse for the rest of her life. All the other side effects that come along with this virus… You may get over it and just be like, “Great, great. I’m good. It’s gone.” It’s not gone. It comes back in little ways to attack you forever. You’ll never get rid of it. So you don’t want to get it. I’m like, I’ve built like a thin paper shield of magical plastic around me, you know? Because I don’t want my career to be over. I don’t want to not pull on those boots again.
You toured with the new version of Fleetwood Mac after your 2017 tour. When we do come out the other side of this, is it safe to say it’s a solo tour you’ll want to be doing next?
Absolutely. I’ve got more stories. [Laughs.] More layers. So get ready. Yeah, of course. I mean, by that time, every single band in the whole world is just going to be going, “hallelujah.” There are not going to not be enough stages in the world to hold all the bands that want to go on the road. So we’re going to have to all be very tricky to get into the venues.