A chat with Dave Stewart
As Annie Lennox’s male counterpart in the Eurythmics, Dave Stewart was generally known as the quiet, bespectacled fellow with the beard who didn’t have music to say but had a hell of a way with a tune. Since then, he’s done a fair amount of production work with everyone from Tom Petty and Daryl Hall to Bryan Ferry and Bob Geldof, not to mention having recorded several solo albums. These days, however, he’s ostensibly revisiting his past by introducing the world to a pre-Eurythmics duo known as Platinum Weird. Funnily enough, there’d been no mention of this group anywhere in the history books until VH-1 decided to put together a mockumentary…whoops, sorry, I meant documentary…about the band to promote Stewart’s upcoming “revival” of the duo with a new partner: Kara DioGuardi, who’s written songs for Gwen Stefani, Kylie Minogue, and, oh, just every “American Idol” finalist or winner to have released an album. Bullz-Eye was decidedly dubious about whether or not there was even a hint of truth to Stewart’s lofty claims about Platinum Weird and their history (c’mon, Ringo Starr played on one of their demos in the ‘70s, and it didn’t make any Beatles book?), but, hey, any chance to talk to a Eurythmic, right? Read on and see how much skepticism you can sense in our questions…as well as how much bemusement you can catch in Stewart’s replies.
Bullz-Eye: Hello, how are you?
Dave Stewart: I’m fine, thank you.
BE: It’s very much a pleasure to speak with you.
DS: Well, it’s my pleasure to speak with you, too.
BE: Like many others, I grew up listening to the Eurythmics during the ‘80s, and I’ve maintained my appreciation of them ever since.
DS: (Laughs) Ah, thanks!
BE: So…Platinum Weird. I’d just like to say that, for the life of me, I want to call you guys Platinum Blonde…
BE: …and since they’re a Canadian hair metal band from the ‘80s, I just wanted to go ahead and apologize for it up front if I do that while we’re talking.
DS: No problem.
BE: I saw the promo for the upcoming VH-1 special, and I have to say, I don’t think I’ve seen such a star-studded cast of characters in a promo since “The Rutles.”
DS: A-ha! Funny you should say that, because I’m here right now in Las Vegas with Eric Idle!
BE: That is funny!
DS: We’re about to go and see the Beatles’ Cirque du Soleil thing.
BE: You know, I’ve heard mixed reports about that, but I’m such a Beatles fan that I can’t imagine it wouldn’t be enjoyable.
BE: I couldn’t help but notice that – and this possibly coincidental – the narrator of the VH-1 special would appear to be Dan Aykroyd, who actually appeared in “The Rutles.” If I were a little more paranoid, I’d be saying, “Coincidence? I think not!”
DS: (Laughs) Yeah, it is Dan Aykroyd. But unlike “The Rutles,” which was obviously a whole sort of comedic pastiche of the Beatles and all that stuff, this is 85% based on truth. And the other 15% is a bit hazy because back in 1973, ’74, I wasn’t feeling too good, if you know what I mean.
BE: Well, sure. Happens to a lot of folks.
DS: Yeah! People say if you can remember it, you weren’t there. Have you seen the documentary yet?
BE: In its entirety? No. I’ve just seen the promos that are up on YouTube. But I’m guessing that if we were to shoehorn the band into the official Dave Stewart chronology, they’d be somewhere in between Longdancer and the Tourists?
DS: Exactly. It was, like, I met Annie (Lennox), and Annie pulled me out of the daze, because…when you see the documentary, you’ll see early footage and stuff, and you’ll see a lot of people talking from the time, and you see Erin Grace, she’s the girl I met in Holland, and I thought, wow, this is going to be the most amazing duo or band. Then Elton (John, who founded Rocket Records), after Longdancer broke up, I came in with this notion and he thought it was great and signed us to carry on…and then (Erin) disappeared. And I went into a sort of downward drug spiral for about two years…and then I met Annie.
BE: Having not yet seen the special, does it reveal the whereabouts of Erin now?
DS: (Evasively) Uh, you see all sorts of stuff in the special…but the thing is, it’s a great mythology, because then you begin to wonder whether Erin really did everything that’s said in the beginning. There’s a lot of people commenting on her: Elton, Jann Wenner (of “Rolling Stone”) and people like that. And, then, I met Annie and, of course, I didn’t think about her anymore because I was with Annie. When you see the documentary, it’s really interesting for anyone who’s lived through certain periods of music. Like, Stevie Nicks talks about how she totally ripped off Erin’s style.
DS: We cut between Stevie spinning in her lace, then Erin spinning on the other side of the screen. It’s… (snickers) …interesting.
BE: So what led you to, uh, revive Platinum Weird?
DS: Well, the thing is, I formed a duo by some sort of default with (new singer) Kara DioGuardi. She was sent by Jimmy Iovine (of Interscope Records) to me in England, so I’m sent a spitfire to write some songs for an act that he wanted some songs written for…which I don’t usually do. I usually work with someone on writing and producing, and then we make the record, whether it’s Mick Jagger or an unknown band, whoever it is. So, anyway, this girl came over, and she was a spitfire, but we got on so well within the first hour; we’d sort of handcuffed each other together – literally, with a pair of handcuffs – and spent the rest of the day writing and rocking around. But we kept writing songs that were nothing like for this project; it just sounded like…us. You know? So I said, well, when I’m back in America, why don’t we carry on writing? She said okay, so then she came over my house every day for about three weeks and we virtually wrote the whole album. But what was really weird was that, one day, I was playing an old song from 1974 on acoustic guitar…a Platinum Weird song…and she came down the stairs singing it. And I was, like, “What? How?!?” And she said this lady near where she was brought up, in Scarsdale, New York, lived down the road. (Kara’s) parents were breaking up, so she went down to this lady’s house just down the road, who used to play all these records and play the piano and sing a bit…and she sang that song. So, then, you wonder, “Is that Erin Grace, who went back to America? Or is she just someone who happened to hear the song during the ‘70s?”
BE: (Skeptically) Uh-huh. So was that project you and Kara had originally been working on the (2004 self-titled) Anastacia album?
DS: Uh, no, when I worked with Anastacia, I produced two tracks and co-wrote a few, but I never met Kara. She worked with her separately. No, Jimmy wanted us to write stuff for the Pussycat Dolls, but, at the time, they hadn’t decided which way they were gonna be; they had been this vaudeville/cabaret kind of act in L.A., and I was thinking, “Oh, yeah, like ‘Moulin Rouge!’” Actually, I wrote this great ballad called “Love Is My Favorite Word,” and I thought, “This would be a great ending for a cabaret performance,” but I think it ended up being more like the film “Cabaret.” And, anyway, then I found out they were turning into massive hip-hop funk sex goddesses, you know…
BE: (Laughs) So did anything you wrote turn up on their album, then?
DS: Oh, no, no. I didn’t even end up submitting anything.
BE: What was it like collaborating with Kara on the new Platinum Weird songs? Was it a different dynamic from different pairings?
DS: Well, Kara is like a spitfire: she’s somebody going a million miles an hour, and everything that’s coming out of her mouth is, at the least, a powerful melody and usually interesting words as well. She’d been writing for other people, behind other people, having to writing in their style or at least in a way that wouldn’t sound alien coming out of their mouths. But when we wrote together, I would try and tap more into her psyche and her melancholy, y’know what I mean? The more…inner sanctum of Kara’s brain, really. And she really loved doing that, and it just became a very easy collaboration, and we got on really well. You see, we realized we were not only writing songs but making this sound. It started to sound like a band. And Kara’s, like, “Jesus, when Jimmy comes, I’m going to have to write him a check for all these flights and all this time,” and I said, “Uh, I don’t think so. Let’s just see what Jimmy says.” And, of course, he came, he listened to about two songs, and said, “Wow, you’re a band.” And that was it.
BE: And the album is due for release in August?
DS: Yeah, though it might be pushed back ‘til September, the second week in September, because Kara got picked to be a judge or a songwriting mentor on a program called “The One.” It’s gonna be on ABC for the next three months.
BE: That should keep her hopping.
DS: Yeah, she has to film it two days a week.
BE: Are you planning to tour behind it, or are you just doing a few promotional appearances?
DS: Yeah, we are touring, actually. Our agent, Jeff, is already looking into it. We’re going to play some showcase gigs, but somebody mentioned a very major tour, someone’s who really interested in us supporting them, and that’d be late fall.
BE: So what demographic do you think Platinum Weird is going to appeal to? Because you’ve got people coming in because of the Eurythmics connection, and then you’ll have people coming in because Kara’s written songs for all these people who are in the charts presently.
DS: Yeah, we don’t know. We’ve been playing music to people, and people have been around us, and it’s funny because the songs – and that’s to do with Kara’s pop sensibilities, obviously – are very, very catchy. My six-year-old daughter is singing them. But there’s something about the fact that I’m English, she’s American, and because I’m from a different era that there’s a certain sound to it; it’s mixed and produced contemporary, but there’s chord changes and feelings that hark back to the ‘70s and Fleetwood Mac…and possibly there’s even some Beatles influences.
BE: And I know that you and Annie performed together at the ASCAP Awards recently.
DS: That’s right, yeah, we played acoustic. Were you there?
BE: (Restrains himself from laughing at the suggestion that he even might’ve been there) I was not. I read about it, though, and was envious of those who were there.
BE: And I know you did some promo appearances with her when the reissues and the new greatest-hits collection came out last year.
DS: Yeah, we played the American Music Awards, we played everywhere live, either with an acoustic guitar or a band. We got put into the UK Hall of Fame and we played there. We had a really good time, actually. We had really good fun. But Kara and I, funnily enough, had a weird thing happen. We hadn’t played live anywhere, but we’d got this message that the Grammys were honoring the people who’d created MySpace at this award thing, and the guys at MySpace requested that Platinum Weird play. So we ended up having our first performance in front of half the record industry, people like Dr. Dre, and the people from MySpace. It was very strange.
BE: I think I might’ve seen pictures from it on your site. Wasn’t Randy Jackson (from “American Idol”) there?
DS: Yeah. It was so weird. (Snickers) Platinum weird.
BE: Do you still keep in touch with Annie on a regular basis, or are you just two friends who check in with each other every once in awhile?
DS: Oh, no, very regularly. In fact, she’s coming in two weeks time to L.A. to stay for six weeks. She always stays at our house, and our kids are friends.
BE: Were you pleasantly surprised when “I’ve Got a Life” (the new song added to last year’s greatest-hits disc) blew up the way it did? (Note: the song was in the UK Top 15 and topped the U.S. dance charts.)
DS: It was great when the box set (of the reissued Eurythmics albums) and the collection came out in Europe because, in Britain, they went crazy for it. And it was weird that they were playing all these tracks on the radio that I hadn’t heard in years. But in America…the record company didn’t seem to put anything behind it at all, even though “I’ve Got a Life” hit #1 on the dance chart. They didn’t seem to put any promotion or marketing behind it.
BE: It’s so bizarre. I don’t think America has any idea how to market any artist who was predominantly successful in the ‘80s without trying to force them down those Flashback Lunch programs. I just find it – as I’m sure you do – highly frustrating.
DS: Yes, and, you see, in England, we did all sorts of interesting things. Like, we got together all these photographic images, like the one with Annie in the leather mask, and we did a huge show with all the photographers…and then Annie and I did a conceptual piece ourselves, where we stood perfectly still while people came in and looked at all the other pieces in the gallery. It was a bit like a Gilbert and George thing. But we had images and projected them. It was great. But in America, it was, like, zero.
BE: And as far as any future Eurythmics material, do you just kind of maintain a “time will tell” mindset and leave the door open?
DS: Yeah, I mean, I have a recording studio on Hollywood Boulevard that I share with Glen Ballard, and it’s a big, open space. That’s where Annie and I recorded “I’ve Got a Life,” and she’s actually going to come and record in that studio in about three weeks’ time.
BE: And I understand that you’re into not only music but movie production these days as well.
DS: Yeah, I produced this incredible documentary called “The Canary Effect” by a guy named Robin Davey, about the genocide of the American Indians. And, actually, Michael Moore was just saying that he’s seen it, loves it, and wants to put it in his own film festival.
BE: Oh, great!
DS: We just had a meeting with Robert Greenwald last week, who made the Wal-Mart documentary (“Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price”) and is making one on Iraq. But, yeah, it’s an amazing film; I can’t really explain the way it’s conceptualized and how everything comes together, but you can see it through a link to it on my website, or go to http://www.myspace.com/thecanaryeffect.
BE: And do you have other music production in the works, or are you focusing predominantly on Platinum Weird at the moment?
DS: I’ve been doing various film stuff, including working on the “Simpsons” movie, coming out next year. (Writer’s note: At this point, although Stewart can’t hear it on his end, a very loud “BOING!” has just gone off in my head.) And I’m working on a couple of other movie projects. I have an HBO series that’s gonna start filming late August or September, and it’s myself as the host, interviewing a bunch of great recording artists, scanning over lots of different peoples’ careers. And then I’ve created another series for HBO that’s being written by Adam Rapp, a New York playwright, but that’s going to be more like a fictional series.
BE: I’m sorry, my eyebrows are still raised from when you said that you were working on the “Simpsons” movie. How did you become connected with that?
DS: I got asked to work on it, and I said “yes,” but I’m not allowed to say anything else about it! (Laughs)
BE: Well, it’s been great talking to you. Like I said, the teaser…all it does it tease.
DS: Yeah, it does, but I hope you’ll enjoy it.
BE: I have to admit, I kept a knowing smirk on my face throughout it, but I’m still very curious.
DS: Oh, you’ll have a smirk on your face throughout the entire documentary. But the thing is that, at the end of the day, I think we’ve written great songs and made a great album, and, in particularly, I’m glad to play live, because Kara is absolutely killer on the stage, but she’s never been able to do it before, and, well, now’s the time.
BE: Excellent. Well, pleasure talking to you.
DS: And you as well.