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.

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I guess you could call We Too Are One a more sophisticated pop album.

Yeah, well that was kind of interesting, because that album was co-produced with Jimmy Iovine, and we were in America. By that point, we’d toured and made all these other albums, and it became -- it was the only album that was like, “Oh, we’re making an album”, you know what I mean? ... People turned up to make the album, and there's this great bass player, and here’s a drummer doing an overdub. Before it was always just me and Annie really conspiring together, and this one was more like, well, we have these songs and here are these players, and it’s more traditional.

The songwriting was great. We were doing them in hotel rooms, like the Mayflower, and we just had an eighth-track in this room, and we were writing weird things like “Angel”, that song with the strange video. We were like, yeah, this is going to be great. But when we went to do the album, it became very straight and traditional. That was the first time actually, stupidly, that we made demos. The other albums we didn’t make any demos for, and now I still say, “Don’t make demos!”

So when you go in to record, do you have a lot of leftover material, like outtakes and songs that you had worked up?

We didn’t really a lot, because we actually, as I said, didn’t make demos, and so we would just go and make the record, and this is it, you know? Here’s the 12 or 14 tracks, and then we're on tour. I’ve got thousands of songs and tracks in the archives that I’ve written with tons of people, from Mick Jagger, to Sinéad ... and a lot of them we weren’t really doing anything apart from messing about and making songs. Nobody was trying to make an album, we were just having a good time and yet it turned out to be great.

Yeah, you’ve worked with ... Mick Jagger, Primitive Cool, “Let’s Work” -- great single. “Don’t Come Around Here No More”, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. Was “Don’t Come Around Here No More” the first one where you had a big hit with another artist, and did that open the door for other people to want to work with you?

Not so much, 'cause in England you see, I was always doing things… It’s hard to say 'cause it was all around the same time. I changed my name to different names, like pseudonyms, and wrote with Alison Moyet -- a huge hit -- and then I would write with another act ... you know what I mean? But yeah, that was my first big American adventure.

With Mick Jagger we carried on writing songs all the time. At that point of, with Primitive Cool and “Let’s Work”, it didn’t really… He was making a solo album, but with lots of different people. When we started working on our own together, and just writing songs, they’re my favorites. A lot of my favorites are on the soundtrack album. You know we won the Golden Globe for “Old Habits Die Hard”. There’s one called “Blind Leading the Blind” on that album -- that’s one of my favorites.

Wasn’t “Blind Leading the Blind” originally a b-side on one of your solo singles?

Oh yeah, that was an instrumental version, with just the chorus. Later on we turned it into a whole song with massive long verses and everything. But the first time I was ever doing it, I was doing an instrumental and I sent it to Carlos Santana, just before he made his big album when he did duets with people.

Yeah, Supernatural.

I sent it, and I got a really nice note from him because it gave him an idea of, hang on, I can play the guitar solos and someone could come in and sing on the chorus....

So after We Too Are One you started putting out solo records. You had a couple with the Spiritual Cowboys, and then Sly-Fi...

And Greetings from the Gutter...

Yeah, Greetings from the Gutter, great album. How different was it for you to get in front of the microphone and be the frontman after all those years with Eurythmics.

Well, probably more difficult than a lot of other people who were in male bands and the guitarist left and made an album. [laughs] I had just come out of a duo where the whole focus was a female front singer. So of course when I went to play live with the Spiritual Cowboys and everything, my album, I never played one Eurythmics song. We played Spiritual Cowboys songs, and I created a whole world around it so that it looked and sounded nothing like Eurythmics. It worked. I was living in France, and I was touring France and having a great time, and it really worked, you know, we became really successful there.

Yeah, those are some great songs, “King of the Hypocrites”, “This Little Town”, some really good ones.

Then I went back to London and met up with this huge art movement that was happening with Damien Hirst, and I became friends with all those people, and then I decided, oh, hang on a minute, there’s something really interesting happening here. I went to New York, made Greetings From the Gutter, and Damien Hirst did the album cover. I started to mess around with photography, and the art world.

I forgot about music for a little while after that, then made Sly-Fi in the Jungle in Jamaica. [laughs] I decided to do all this weird experimentation, and that led me to meeting all sorts of different characters from different worlds, you know, not particularly from the world of music.

Like the Deepak Chopra album?

Well, not even music things. I mean, about how the Internet works and stuff like that, and building 3-D worlds, and just exploring the fact that this thing is around that’s going to change everything forever.

Yeah, and it certainly did.

It certainly did! [laughs' It ruined about half the things, and made a lot of things a lot better. As nearly all discoveries or inventions do, they make lots of things amazing and also then helps people annihilate other people.

You also did a lot of soundtrack work, you did some film work and TV work.

Yeah, my favorite was doing -- two people that I worked with -- was Robert Altman, and Ted Demme. I was best friends with Ted Demme, I did two of his movies. And Robert Altman, working with him on Cookie’s Fortune with Glenn Close and Julianne Moore down in Mississippi. Then I made a documentary called Deep Blues in Mississippi, and went back to the fact that my brother, as I said earlier, my cousin was sending me blues albums when I was 14. I just took it all the way back to then, again.

You had a pretty substantial hit with “Lily Was Here”, an instrumental like that you don’t typically see riding the pop charts.

Yeah, that was my first movie score, for a Dutch movie, and I just wanted to write a theme that was instrumental that was sort of the end titles theme, and I did it in about 15 minutes. I just told Candy Dulfer to play the melody, echo the melody I’m playing, and then we’d do solos -- literally it was all one take. It became, probably one of the -- there’s not very many instrumental hits -- and that was one that in every country became so known, you know, Top 5 in most countries, Top 10 in the Billboard Chart in America, or Top 5, I can’t remember… which for an instrumental is pretty weird! [laughs]

It is, it’s unusual, but it’s a beautiful song. Has that nice shuffle beat to it… Candy Dulfer, she had… I don’t know if that was before or after she worked with Prince.

It was actually after. She actually did that with me, and she was in L.A. with me and Annie, and we had become friends, and she was playing a little bit in my house when she got the Prince call. It’s funny, cause Prince and I -- although I’ve only met on a few occasions -- I’ve often discovered girl players, and they’ve played with me, and then they’ve played with him. Like Judith Hill, I’d just written eight songs with her, and then Prince.. And bass players, drummers, Hannah Ford. [laughs] It’s so weird but I think it’s because we’ve both got our eye out for these great female musicians, and it’s just something that we both sort of can probably spot immediately -- oh, hang on, she’s great.

Peace came at the end of the ‘90s. How was it stepping back into that role after being away from Eurythmics for nearly a decade?

That was kinda weird, cause we kinda stumbled into it. Annie, during the last four years of the ‘90s or whatever, would come and have dinner at our house, or stay at the farm that my wife -- well, we weren’t married then -- but my girlfriend and I were living in. She would stay the weekend, and we started… you know, it was natural jamming and playing together. Then we realized we had written a couple of songs, and then we were like, oh this sounds like a record, doesn’t it? And then it was like, oh well, yeah, maybe it is.

So we went right into the studio to start to write and record, like we did before, really quickly. Then that turned into, well, what do we do with it? Then we had the idea of doing the Peace Tour with Greenpeace and Amnesty. Yeah, that turned into a year and a half of recording, touring, doing all that stuff together.

Yeah, I guess you never know what’s going to happen, you know?

You never know. [laughs]

That “17 Again” video is just incredible, you know…

Well that was weird because what happened was, Annie and I had done some photos for Richard Avedon, and then we were doing an experimental video with him but it wasn’t, you know, the way we thought it would be. We were running out of time because the tour was about to start, and I shot two videos back-to-back where I directed them. One was “17 Again” and one was… I can’t remember now, but I made two of them.

“I Saved the World Today”, maybe.

Yeah, “I Saved the World Today”. They were both related because we were about to do the Peace Tour, and then it was like this weird theme of battling through this sort of awful… you know, the world of fame and fortune and trying not to get hanged was the one song. The other one was almost a false hope, or a dreamless hope, of being able to make anything happen and change. We have these generals signing this peace agreement, but the ink spills and everything is ruined.

I had to think of all of that in a day, literally in a day, and shoot the next day, and hire extras… that was a straight three or four days just doing all of that, because the tour was starting, and we already had Greenpeace who had the Rainbow Warrior in the Thames, and we were about to go on it and play and do an announcement to the TV and all that.

Right. The video of that tour was just fantastic.

Yeah, the DVD, yeah, which we also gave all the money from that to Greenpeace and Amnesty, and all our ticket sales money, and merch money.

When you did the reissues in 2005 of the Eurythmics catalog, and Peace...?

Yeah, that was a bit weird because the label kind of… it was a bit fucked up because we spent ages doing all these repacking, and photographs, and liner notes, and extra tracks… and then we did a boxed set called Boxed. They put it out only in England and then the world couldn’t get it. Then, they did this one compilation… I don’t know what it was called…

Ultimate Collection, I think.

Something like that, yeah. Which was like… what? We’ve just made all these huge changes to everything. Then they uploaded everything obviously to iTunes and Spotify, but then when you do that they’re all kinda jumbled up.

Yeah. People don’t know what song is from what album.

Exactly.

And some of the tracks on Peace were different mixes, you know, some of them were substantially different, which I thought was…

Yeah. We actually dug up tracks that we recorded on the eight track, like our version of “Satellite of Love”...

Oh yeah, I love that.

We had songs that we fiddled around with, like “4/4 in Leather” and all this weird early experimental stuff.

Were you able to find all the masters for that? Like for the b-sides, “Monkey Monkey”, and…

Well, the trouble was, “Monkey Monkey” was made on my porta-studio in my bedroom and I’m playing these Thai instruments and Annie’s just going (sings), “Monkey Monkey”... [laughs' Lord knows what we were doing, it sounds like we took every drug on the planet.

I love it. It's one of my favorites!

That’s such a weird track.

Do you foresee any future archival projects?

Ah, well, you know. [laughs]. My archives are pretty crazy. The other day I just posted one of Jimmy Cliff, this song I wrote with Sting singing as a duet. I don’t think anybody had ever heard that before. Then I probably got asked to take it down [laughs].

I have so much stuff, sometimes I feel like just making, you know, a huge database archive that people can go in and listen and dissect things without going through all the tangled, you know, different artists on labels. The artist is always like, “That’s cool!” and then the label is like, no that’s cool, you better take it down. [laughs]

Yeah, that sorta complicates things. Especially like, I think 1984 was on a different label if I remember correctly.

That was on Virgin, yeah.

That’s why it wasn’t included in the reissue series, I assume.

Yeah, I know. Sorta stupid. That was actually very stupid at the time, BMG, because they were offered that album, and they were also offered the film, you know, Eurythmics Live in Australia, and they said, “No, no, we don’t put out films” and so that came out on Polydor or something.

Was that the Live in Heaven?

No, no, that was just about our third or second gig. We still don’t know how that happened and became available. [laughs] No, that’s Live in Australia in 1987.

Thank you so much Dave, I know you have to go. Real quick, I wanted to get your take on something. Obviously -- David Bowie -- huge, huge loss. Did you ever have a chance to meet him or work with him?

Yeah, I met him on many, many occasions. Had dinner, and hung out, and then he’d play me his whole brand new album that hadn’t been released yet at his flat. Then he came to my apartment to listen to the songs I was writing for Greetings from the Gutter. Yeah, I met him on lots of occasions.

Also I was obviously really good friends with Mick Jagger, and I would stay in his brownstone in New York, and so Mick was really good friends with David. So yeah on many occasions. He was always immaculate, I don’t think I ever saw him never immaculate.

Well, thank you so much Dave. I really appreciate you taking the time to speak with me. Best of luck with the book!

Great, thank you so much!

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