Musician, producer, songwriter, entrepreneur and Eurythmic Dave Stewart was in town last week to promote Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This: A Life in Music, his superb new memoir. I sat down with him in his suite in The Hospital Club in London (a place he co-founded with former Microsoft boss Paul Allen) to discuss this memoir and also to raise the subject of Eurythmics back catalogue and reissues in general…
SuperDeluxeEdition: What made you write the book?
Dave Stewart: Well, throughout the last 30 years or so, whether I was at dinner, or chatting with a friend, they would go “bloody hell you should write a book, because it’s so nuts”. But my response would be “not really, I’m only 42”, or whatever.. But about a year and a half ago, two years ago, I was sat on the top floor of Penguin’s offices talking about somebody else’s book and I was chatting and they said “never mind that, you should write a memoir” because whatever I was talking about – they said – was ’memoir worthy’. So for the first time, I was in a publisher, with books everywhere and they’re saying “you should write one” so I’m thinking “I’m probably in the right place right now”. So it just seemed like “right place, right time” but I didn’t realise how painfully hard it was going to be, like turning a ship around and looking backwards. Going back was such a pain in the arse. I don’t advise anybody to do it.
SDE: Was it all just recollection? You didn’t keep any diaries, or anything?
DS: I didn’t keep any diaries, that was the problem. The first thing as soon as I walked out was it that it dawned on me that I couldn’t remember anything, which is not good for a memoir. And then also I did a ridiculous thing of… ah, I must be a writer now, so I’ll go off to Jamaica, on the edge of the sea, with a nice powder blue little room with a wooden table, all minimal and ‘write my memoir’! Of course, I sat there for about five days not writing a thing. And going up to the cocktail bars as soon as the sun was going down. I think like everything I was just trying to think of a method first, because anybody’s life – a guy who works in the fish market, or you or a taxi driver.. everybody’s life is so full of unexpected twists and turns. I panicked at the end of my Jamaica trip because I’d left my wife and kids for some quiet to be ‘a writer’ but I thought shit, there’s no way. I better go back to my oblique strategy and I went to the reception of the hotel and asked her for some sticky notes, and I stuck them on the wall and I wrote, important [events]… or epiphanies. You know, things that happened this year, that year. I had about 16 in a square. Then I stood back and took a picture of it – in case I lost them – and that was a kind of beginning, but it didn’t really help me remember what happened exactly, so then I spent a couple of weeks ringing friends around the world or inviting people round to dinner to remind me about 1984 in Australia, or whatever it was. But it was just bits and pieces, so then I was getting a bit down about it. But then a great thing happened, when I realised that I had taken photographs. Relatives and friends sent photographs from the past, and I had mountains of photographs… in storage, in boxes. I drove my family mad and all the people I work with mad, getting them out, with dust coming off them…
SDE: So they triggered all the memories…
DS: Then it was easy. I’d take one picture of me and Annie in a squat and look at it and go “oh, fucking hell, yeah. That was the kitchen and we’d have to climb over the rubble to get to the bathroom…”. You know, like they say ‘every picture tells a story’ but it definitely is true.
SDE: The period in the 1970s I find incredibly interesting because you did so much in that period that most people wouldn’t know too much about. They’d just think of Eurythmics as the start of everything. How did you cope with all the ups and downs, because at the beginning you were signed [as Longdancer] to Elton John’s record company, went on tour – it looked like you’d hit the jackpot…
DS: Well, you know what, we were so sort of naive, we didn’t even think there was a jackpot. We thought we’d already done it when we were in Elton’s offices and hanging around Wardour Street, which is where it was, and Island Music.. and look, there’s so and so from Traffic. That was the jackpot and the accountant would give us a weekly retainer in either grass or coke, or whatever. Oh and we’re going to get a van. That to us was mind boggling. We didn’t really think much about how to get into the charts. When the record company panicked after a bit, they thought or you must try and get a [hit] single and of course none of us know how to write one. I didn’t even write songs, anyway. Both crap, my songs on Longdancer albums, really bad. But then when it all broke up it was just, okay, that was the end of the music world, now I’m going to go off and sell Trojan dub records…
SDE: But you didn’t get all depressed that you’d been on some great high and now..
DS: No, but partly because it was diffused by a cloud of smoke and drugs. By then I’d started taking speed and smoking grass and you know…
SDE: That was the other thing I wanted to ask you about because the book is refreshingly unapologetic about drug usage. Any regrets about how much you indulged and did you have any hesitation about talking about that so frankly in the book?
DS: No hesitation. Really regret taking amphetamine sulphate for so long and the effect it had on me physically – I ended up in hospital and all sorts of things – and really wish I’d never seen the stuff. Or, my other regret is that while I was taking it I [should have] sat down and wrote songs, like Dylan did. But instead I just went around trying to get more of it. Fortunately, Annie understood something was wrong and she helped wean me off it quite cleverly without understanding anything about drugs or rehab.
SDE: Let’s talk about Eurythmics because I don’t think I’ve got quite as much time as I was hoping for…. I’m a big fan of the 1984 soundtrack…
DS: Me too!
SDE: …It’s an amazing album. One of the things I’ve noticed is that it always says ‘derived from Eurythmics original score from the film’. Does that mean that somewhere there is a longer more expanded piece of music that might see release at some point?
DS: What happened there was very interesting because Annie and I were in Nassau in the Bahamas, diverted there from a call from Richard Branson, saying “hey, I can book you into this studio and would you mind working on the score to this film”, without telling the Director, which caused this big hoo-ha, but which later the director realised wasn’t our fault. But we were really excited about this, because at the beginning we were doing all these weird experiments like Monkey, Monkey and all this weird shit. And we were going to get to do all this weird stuff again. We kept asking for the reels of the movie and kept asking for things, but of course we didn’t have cell phones, email. So it was like long distance calls from the Bahamas and sending packages. So anyway, we thought we’ve really got some great stuff going on and we recorded it in a weird way: we went outside with the junkanoo drummers who lit fires in their drums and we played weird instruments ourselves and went crazy about it. And yes, we made long weird twisted pieces. Like Julia, that’s got hardly anything, just Annie’s voice going backwards and forwards.
And for the job of recording and experimenting, in the mixing, I’d been pretty obsessed with some of those Sugar Hill records [Dave sings a bit of White Lines] and I looked up this guy called E.T. Thorngren and he’d worked with Talking Heads and a few other people. I asked him if he could do it and he said “I can, but at the same time I have to mix some of these tracks – Bob Marley: Legend”. So I used to nip in when he was doing that and he’d play me the most incredible stuff where he’d say “just listen to this” and he’d ‘solo’ one of the tracks [on the multi-track tapes] that was meant to be the horn players or whatever, and you’d hear them all talking [Dave adopts a Jamaican accent] “Yeah man, where dat spliff…” [laughs]. Every track you pressed there were people talking, but when you put it all together it sounded amazing. So the whole experience was great, until we found out that about Michael Radford who said “we didn’t ask for this soundtrack. I already have a score from this guy…” So we were like “oh shit. Well, whatever…”. Richard Branson – I don’t know how he got to do this, because we were signed to RCA/BMG – very cleverly got to put it out on Virgin. Why they agreed, I don’t know. But they did, and he put out the first single Sexcrime which was a big hit – banned in America, which made it even better for him, because everybody wanted it…
SDE: But is there somewhere a ‘director’s cut’ version of the soundtrack
DS: Well… there will be yes. Oh, to go with the movie? Well there are two versions of the movie. But there are tapes of extended weirdness.
SDE: This is the thing, you see. Because SuperDeluxeEdition is primarily about reissues and box sets, so I’m quite interested in the fact that you dipped your toe in the water in 2005 where you did those expanded single disc reissues, of all your albums – which were great – but time moves on and people are now releasing quite big box sets now…
DS: I know, well you see, our box set… we always did this kind of thing wrong. We had a greatest hits album and put 24 hits on it, so that’s that done. And then we did a boxed set called ‘Boxed’ it had all the albums in it and liner notes and every album had five or six extra tracks.. and put it all in a black box with the word ‘boxed’ on it and never released it anywhere, apart from England as a limited edition. Whereas myself personally…. well, there’s loads of things you could do, right?
SDE: Well, what you could do is go album-by-album and treat it as one piece of work and make a three or four disc set out of…
DS: Out of an album, I know…
SDE: Do you think that will ever happen?
DS: You know, we, inadvertently, are signed to Sony records. We don’t know anybody there, never talked to them. They’re a huge corporation and if you try to find Eurythmics on their website, you can’t find us. We seemed to have disappeared off the face of the earth. If it was just me and I was in control and I had a distribution deal, or something I’d be doing all sorts of fun things. I’d be pulling up remixes and everything…
SDE: Is that what puts you off, the fact you have to go back and re-engage with a big…
DS: … corporate company who along the way have lost masters, they didn’t care less. People changed jobs in the record label. I don’t think they understood for years, apart from some people. Interestingly enough, I was in the Motown archive and they understood, Warner Brothers, Mo Ostin and people like that, they’d go “this is art”. In our world – RCA turning into BMG turning into Sony – they probably had boxes of things. “This must be rubbish, throw this out”. I’m going “can I have the original photo from this In The Garden period?” [and the answer was] “Oh, we don’t know where it is”. So luckily, there was a boy called Laurence Stevens who’d just come out of college and we got him to work on all our album covers and he saved an image archive. But if I was to go to Sony now, which I might do as a test, because we have to deliver all the masters to them – and said “hey, I’d like to have back the multi-tracks of Be Yourself Tonight, I could probably find loads of things – songs we rejected etc… With 1984, Virgin might have actually done a better job. That’s one where we might be able to…
SDE: Yes, especially since that one was missed out, wasn’t it, in the original reissues?
DS: Yes, that’s because they wouldn’t put it in, BMG, because it was on Virgin. Stupid. We could have easily worked an agreement out with them. The problem is that Annie is married to a very nice man, a doctor, and she goes between South Africa and here and she’s working on all this other stuff and I’m in America and neither of us know anybody at Sony – they’ve all changed 100 times. It would have to be somebody’s…. plight. Things at labels have always been devious and dubious, but at least I used to know the gangsters back in the day, and they were good fun. You know, they’d put the gun on the table, they’d have a spliff, and they liked music. But now the world, really, is governed by corporations like Sony and then you’ve got Google… I actually made a funny tape, that will make you laugh of my phone call to YouTube to try and work out two things; why I never get a penny and why they keep taking down my own videos when I put them up, saying ‘these belong to Sony’. I’m going “yeah, but I made them, and I’m in them!”. The actual answer is hilarious. So hilarious that when I do talks I use it as an example of how bonkers everything has got. Then I started to put music to it, live, while the person’s talking.
[Dave plays me some the recording of the conversation he had with the person at YouTube, to which he’s added music!]
SDE: It’s a pity isn’t it, because in the book you talk about how you went and got the £5,000 bank loan post-In the Garden. When I was reading that I was thinking ‘you recorded it, you paid for it’ and in an ideal world you would have licensed it back to the record company.
DS: We were already stuck in a deal that started with The Tourists. It’s like a lot of bands, like the Beatles… you know you’re getting a penny in the pound. So yeah, getting the rights back… there is nothing I’d like more. It would be amazing. They’ve made more than half a billion over the years, I’m sure.
SDE: One thing that comes across in the book is spontaneity – you embracing an idea and running off with it. How important is spontaneity and is that a life lesson for people…. to be more spontaneous?
DS: Here’s the interesting thing, that people are slowly realising about me – people that have any interest at all – is that, yeah, Dave’s a bit crackers and a bit spontaneous, but then I actually do everything right to the end and finish it. Whether it’s a big building, or producing an album or whatever it is, but the idea – I never lose sight of what it was about. It’s very easy to lose sight and get dragged off. And that’s why I said that Annie and I didn’t really make demos. We we’re just like “this is the song – bang!”. When I go in the studio with people, I hate it when they say “this is my demo..” – “I don’t want to hear it!”. It’s that initial idea you have, that spark in the middle of the night, where you go “hey, every time it turns green on a traffic light, it should say ‘recycle’” – that wouldn’t cost much and it would get into people’s brain. My daughter thought of that when she was about eight. I still like that idea, so it’s like a Yorkshire Terrier for me, an idea, it keeps biting your ankle. Every now and again they rise to the surface and they get done, but it’s never a convoluted version, it’s always the spontaneous idea, [that was] written down on the scrap of paper, or whatever and you go back to it and say “I’ve got to try doing that one now”.
SDE: That’s what Mick Jagger says in the book, he gets annoyed because you always make him finish things…
DS: Yeah, he gets so annoyed.. he goes [Dave does Jagger voice] “Dave, no, it goes like that” and I go [gestures playing some audio back] “No actually, it goes like this”. I’ll show you something that will blow your mind, actually.
[At this point in the interview, Dave beckons me round to watch what’s on his laptop and types “mick” his personal video archive and shows me some great footage of him and Dave writing together in the 1980s.]
SDE: While we’re talking of videos, It’s crazy that Savage, the video album, came out on VHS, but it’s never been out on DVD!
DS: I know. So many people complain about that on the Eurythmics Facebook page…
SDE: Why didn’t it come out in 2005? It could have been a bonus disc on the Savage reissue?
DS: It’s all to do with the not caring, or understanding of the record label. We made video albums like We Too Are One, Savage… yeah, should be on blu-ray, should be on Netflix. It should be wherever you want it to be. They could be making income from it. I don’t know. They don’t care, really. Weird.
SDE: You have this amazing ability to get on with people, that’s clear from the book, which is a bit of a gift, really, because you can be as talented as you want in terms of music, but to be able to actually connect with and inspire other musicians, that’s another matter.
DS: I think it’s just because I’m having fun. I genuinely am having fun. The weird thing is, I’m not taking much notice of them, I’m running doing my stuff around like Willy Wonka. I’ll be in the flat, then I pop up the stairs and [I seem to] musically relax them and they say “It’s good, I’m looking over London…” and it slowly turns into something, you know?
SDE: Are the collaborations always as organic as they sound in the book. It’s not ‘your people’ talking to ‘their people’ etc.
DS: Never happens. It doesn’t matter who it is… This is funny, this is Kaya stumbling around Quincy Jones’ place. She must be about two there and she’s 16 now.
[Dave again shows me some personal video, this time of his daughter Kaya in Quincy Jones’ house. The wall has a cabinet with an enormous amount of GRAMMY awards on it!. Dave then shows me some video of Kaya Stewart as she is today, on tour performing her songs]
SDE: The industry is so different now from the heyday when you were having hits in the 1980s with Eurythmics. How do all the new business models work? Do you worry about…
DS: I don’t worry about her [Kaya] because she’s doing the old-fashioned touring thing. That’s the only way to build up and make a living – from live. She knows this and my son’s know it. But I still meet kids all the time who say, “great, how many records will I sell?” And I say, “let’s put it this way, Jon Bon Jovi sells out arenas and stadiums and his last album sold 40,000. So if you imagine… it probably costs him ten times that to make it…
SDE: Is that ever going to change? Do you think we’re effectively locked into that situation…
DS: It’s this thing about free. How do you compete with free? All the new generations and my kids, they’re used to getting everything free. They just go like that [clicks on a mouse] – I just did it with Kaya. I just typed “Kaya Stewart” and you’ll probably find every song she’s ever written come up. Unfortunately the world we’re in, it’s the only time where technology for everything else has expanded; so we used to watch a little black and white TV set, then it became bigger, then colour, then it became a plasma screen with great speakers. But sound started off with nice vinyl, and speakers, and then it went, small, small and everyone’s listening out of here [lifts mobile phone].
SDE: Do you still buy physical music?
DS: Me and my daughter go down to Amoeba records every month and where I sit [at home] in the study in the evening with my martini, I play my 1950’s vinyl. In fact it’s a mono vinyl deck and I play all these mono blues records and gospel, bluegrass and some Ray Charles and this and that. And then I have, obviously, Sonos all around the house, and I can choose anything and play it anywhere, but my tendency is to go in there [the study].
SDE: Do you ever listen back to your old albums, or is it a bit like a movie director not watching his own films?
DS: I never listen to them, although sometimes they come on the radio when I’m in the car, like Here Comes The Rain Again will come on and that’s quite interesting because you immediately go back to “oh, shit I should have [changed this or that]” But I always remember everything instantly about it. Like that was the Gretsch Country Gent [I was playing] and the orchestra that had to record in the hallway and in the toilet… and this happened and that happened.
SDE: With the sad news of George Martin’s passing yesterday, what about the role of the record producer? Is is the same as it’s always been or has it morphed into something else?
DS: There’s loads of different types of record producer’s now. Okay, the history of the record producing was the conductor of the orchestra. He was the record producer because he had to make the orchestra swell and this and that. Between him and the engineer, who moved the mics about, they were mixing it. Then it became it bit more complicated: more microphones, 4-track, 8-tracks, 16, 32, etc. Then it was like way out of control, where with guitars, you’d put 17 guitar tracks down. I think what happened a lot of the time then was they lost that spontaneity thing, and said “we’ll fix it in the mix, later on”. Fortunately Eurythmics never did that. We used the 8-track, even on our fourth album, which was one of the biggest, right? But the role of the record producer… someone like Paul Epworth is a traditional record producer. He bought the Church Studios which me and Annie built. I could see how he could go and take any kind of indie band, or Adele or whatever.. he’s made about recording and microphones…. And then there’s a kid in some basement in Brooklyn with a laptop… I mean, one of my favourite stories recently was this kid, who was trying to make a record, but his computer died and he couldn’t afford to get it fixed. So he started again by going into Apple Stores and he would secretly go on the computer, for like 15 minutes and he would download beats and do a bit of this and that and then he’d quickly get it out on a card and go to another Apple Store and carry on. And he made his whole album in all these Apple Stores, and I embrace that too. So it’s two extremes, Paul Epworth in the huge Church and some kid stealing it from the Apple Stores.
Thanks to Dave Stewart was talking to Paul Sinclair for SuperDeluxeEdition.
Thanks also to Emma and Mark at Kruger Cowne. Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This: A Life In Music is out now.
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