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Interviews

Sweet Dreams Are Made of This: An Interview With Dave Stewart

With his new memoir Sweet Dreams Are Made of This in mind, Stewart joins PopMatters for an in-depth discussion about his new book and his influential catalog of music.

Dave Stewart could have hardly picked a better name for his new autobiography, Sweet Dreams are Made of This: A Life in Music, which hits retailers on 9 February, via New American Library (NAL), an imprint of Penguin Random House. Stewart’s life has indeed been one of music, as he explores in his book. He had his first record deal as a teenager, which eventually led to an incredibly accomplished career that includes over 100 million albums sold, and is still going strong.

Stewart is best known for his enormously influential tenure with Annie Lennox in Eurythmics, with their nine acclaimed albums and hits such as “Here Comes the Rain Again”, “Would I Lie To You?”, “Missionary Man”, “Love is a Stranger”, the British chart-topper “There Must Be an Angel (Playing With My Heart)”, and of course their iconic #1 single in America, “Sweet Dreams (are made of this)”. Stewart has also enjoyed a fruitful post-Eurythmics career recording his own material in addition to collaborating with a wide range of artists from Mick Jagger, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, No Doubt, Sinéad O’Connor, Stevie Nicks, Bryan Ferry, Ringo Starr, Joss Stone, Daryl Hall and many others.

Stewart recently joined me for an in-depth interview that touches on all aspects of his life in music, including the early days with the Tourists, an album-by-album exploration of his work with Eurythmics, some of his most notable collaborations, his ventures into composing for films and television, and of course his highly anticipated new memoir. As a musician, composer, producer and artist, Stewart has been one of rock music’s most versatile and important figures of the past 35 years. His new memoir should solidify his tremendous legacy, which doesn’t always get the recognition it deserves. (Including from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame selection committee, which has inexplicably failed to even nominate Eurythmics for Hall of Fame induction thus far -- that needs to change).

Stewart was gracious and reflective during our lengthy conversation, and clearly excited about telling his story via his new memoir. The interview is a taste of what you can expect from the book, which includes many fascinating nuggets and anecdotes about his work and about many of the famous artists he’s crossed paths with over his career.

* * *

It’s great to talk to you. So your new book coming out, Sweet Dreams Are Made of This, is very exciting. When did you decide to do a memoir?

It was kind of decided for me in a way. I was in a meeting about somebody else’s book at Penguin / Random House, and they were the ones that said, “Hey, you know, you should write a memoir.” Because basically I was going around the table telling stories about things that happened in a kind of fun way, like you do when you’re with a group of people. They pulled me aside and said, “You should actually do a memoir, because all of this stuff, and all the collaborations, and all the things you’ve been through in your life.” I was like, oh god, cause I always think, oh god, writing an autobiography…

People I know who’ve done it said it nearly killed them. Because if you’re a kind of person like me that likes to only look forward into the next day, or the next song that I’m writing, or the next project, then a whole load of time looking backwards is really weird and exhausting in a way.

Yeah, I can imagine. How long did it take you to put it together?

Ahh, probably, you know, not all the time, cause I would just keep dipping on and off. But you know, nine months or something like that, but in between cause I’d already been committed to do lots of other things, so I’d have to take four weeks and just do that. Then stop and then go back to it, and stop, and then find photographs and work out who took them and all the fun things that you have to do.

I assume you probably went went back and listened to a lot of old albums to refresh your memory?

Yeah, well, I mean the book starts basically with my first memory of a sound. I was about one year old, or whatever. Then me remembering stuff that my dad did that must have blown my mind about music, and then my brother going to college and him having some blues albums, and my cousin sending blues albums from Memphis. Then, you know, being at a ridiculously perfect age for music, which was being 16 in 1968.

Right. It doesn’t get much better than that.

No, just when you’re discovering girls, drugs and everything, the soundtrack to your life is just unbelievable.

Yeah, The White Album and Beggar’s Banquet, not bad.

Yeah, and all sorts of imported American music, like Neil Young and people that had took off and had arrived in England. I have children who are all into music and there are all sorts of music bombarding them from left, right and center. They dip into the world of music via their phone or the Internet, and one will listen to Aretha Franklin and the next will be listening to FKA twigs, and they jump around all the musical genres. They’ll just jump 50 years in one go. So like Etta James followed by Björk’s new tune.

We didn’t do that, you know? Everything was coming out and you queued at the local record shop for the door to open and get the first import of Buffalo Springfield, or whatever it was.

Yeah that’s funny. When I first heard In The Garden [Eurythmics first album] it had not been released in the US and I got that as an import. So I can kind of understand.

Yeah, and you see, also that whole thing about, you know why vinyl is obviously making a comeback is when you get this oversaturated marketplace of music coming from everywhere, there's something great about honing in on one thing that you can hold and look at and read the liner notes and sort of understand. It’s a bit like it happens in the normal marketplace. Yeah, we can all go to these ginormous supermarkets and get all our vegetables, but it’s really nice going into a shop that just sells cheese, or homemade bread, you know what I mean?

[laughs] Of course back then it was like that all the time. Do you remember the movie High Fidelity?

Mmm-hmmm

Well, that was based on the record shop right opposite the Church where Annie and I recorded Sweet Dreams. Right across the road there was a shop called Harum Records. It was a record store and it was kinda what the High Fidelity movie was based on. You went in and it was like they knew everything about every record that you might pick up. It was really going into a sort of amazing library with a librarian.

In fact, you know, funny enough, there’s a few Amoeba Records like that, and Tower Records was a bit like that, ya know, people were just obsessed. I’ve never seen the Tower Record documentary, but you know the people that worked there were grilled about their music knowledge and stuff like that. And then, they were as obsessed as you were. So, “I need to find this album by German band Can, you know, like maybe 1960-whatever,” and they go, “Oh, you mean this one?” So that was so exciting and refreshing.

People would meet, it was almost like coffee shops, people met there and they had jukeboxes in them. This was the in ‘50s and ‘60s and still up to a little bit of the ‘70s. It was really great coffee machines that were imported, you know Jaguar espresso and cappuccino machines that made great coffee, and then the jukebox, and it was, you know, all the people hanging out in there. I suppose like in the folk scene in Greenwich Village and all that, the places where you would go, and this is what was going on and happening.

So I lived through all of that, and then I lived through all of it happening again, but it was then[punk clubs, you know. Annie and I lived above a record shop that my mate, our friend had, but it was a squat, but the people didn’t realize it was a squat because it had a painted sign called “Spanish Moon” named after a Little Feat song, I think. [laughs] It looked like a record store but actually it was a squat, and we lived upstairs.

In the basement, there were bands like the Adverts rehearsing. So we had dub music pounding through the floor from these Trojan, or import records, and then we had punk music blasting out of the basement. In the book there are photos of where we lived, and all this kinda stuff about the squat. Also, in the book I talk about how Annie and I lived together for four and a half years as a couple, and didn’t write one song together or apart, you know she didn’t write a song, I didn’t write a song, we didn’t write one together.

Just now, I think part of the reason was we couldn’t hear ourselves think! The music was so jumbled up because the basement was making completely different music than the record store was playing. [laughs] I had an acoustic guitar and Annie had a harmonium, so you could barely hear anything. But it was more to do with, like, we just didn’t think we were songwriters because in the band the Tourists, Pete Coombes wrote all the songs and he wrote literally ten a week. So were were just, “Okay, he’s the songwriter.”

In the book you talked about when you first met Annie you were impressed with her songwriting ability, she had the harmonium, and she had written some songs, and she was like, “Oh…”

Right. She hadn’t written a lot, she had written three or four songs, and she played this squeaky harmonium that you had to pedal and it was a big old thing. I don’t know how she got it down from Aberdeen. It nearly filled up the room, the room was a tiny… the size of a small bedroom, with a harmonium in it, a single bed and a wash-basin.

It was the Catch, “Borderline” / “Black Blood” was probably your first single… and that was with Pete Coombes as well, wasn’t it?

Well, that was sort of something that we really had no control over, and we just didn’t like it. What happened was we made this weird music -- me, Annie and Peet, at the beginning -- it was harmony and strange… Peet was very good at lyrics. It was kinda odd music. Then we got signed, and the record label immediately decided we should go to this studio and cut some tracks. Then when we got there, there were session musicians and a producer. We were like, hmmm?

Then they played, and we just didn’t really know what to think of it, cause it just sounds like very bland session-men music. So, we had no understanding or idea how to sort of counter-attack them and say, “Hey, no, that’s not what we do!” So then we decided the only way we could do this is get a bass player and a drummer, start playing electric guitars and things and saying, “No, we are a band, and we do this”.

You had a handful of hits there with the Tourists, the Dusty Springfield cover… [“I Only Want To Be With You”]

You see that one, that song was something that we did for a laugh at the end of the session, and of course the label were like, “That’s a hit!” [laughs] But you see, the other songs were all really strange and surreal lyrics and kinda depressing really, like songs like “All Life’s Tragedies”, and you know…

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