Bella Stevie

STEVIE NICKS TALKS TO SYLVIE SIMMONS IN LOS ANGELES

 

Kerrang! Magazine
November 1981

Head past Marina del Rey towards the pacific. Step past the male models on roller-skates, the tanned girls in jogging shorts, the bicycles and Porsches and macram' plant hangers. And when you're as far as you can go without getting wet you're at Stevie Nicks' apartment.

Overlooking the sea. Not on a cliff (where the salt-kissed waves are thrust and caressed by the wayward wind as She stares, entranced by the storm's dark passion, etc, etc, etc), but is is on the second floor, which affords a lovely view of the boats through Stevie's binoculars, or of the lifeguards outside without them.

This is where the Fleetwood Mac frontwoman lives, surrounded by pianos, plants velvet, satin, women friends, stuffed animals and (probably unstuffed) poodles. If you could write interviews in 'Scratch 'n' sniff', this one's incense, roses and brine.

I'm watching a maid iron those chiffon Halloween party dresses Stevie always wears while she's getting preened for the photographer. She emerges in archaic suede platform boots, flowing lace and corn-coloured (romantic heroines are never mere blonde) hair like some airbrushed cosmic cake decoration. She's beautiful; more natural and bright-looking than those pix where she succumbs to that blankest of blank looks, and stronger; not the wisp of a thing that needs propping up at the merest hint of a sea breeze that you'd expect.

Her first words simultaneously apologise, in that deep breathy voice, for the delay, offer us wine and encourage us out of the plush cushions on a grand tour of her musical gadgets, the latest being a rhythm machine that, she chortles, might yet have Mick Fleetwood out on the streets. Then she lounges on a large sofa. The place is most definitely set up for lounging, staring at the sea and songwriting.

'It comes incredibly easy; it's not work to me. I love writing songs more than anything in the world. I love sitting at my piano with a glass of wine and the lights kind of low and some incense and an idea. There's nothing I'd rather do. It's what I do.' To the extent that Bella Donna, the solo album, could have been the first Mac soloist boxed set and there would still be plenty over.

'There's only one album every two or three years and, as a writer, two or three songs every two or three years is not much. It means you've got about 392 days a year to do nothing. And I write a lot all the time ' sometimes three or four a month ' so I have an incredible backlog of material that there's no reason for me to ever have to write another song. Unless I can do records where I can put out 10 or 12 of my songs here and there ' I have that many.

'I could start recording my next solo album tomorrow. That's how quickly I write. It's very frustrating when somebody walks past you when you're working and says 'Ooh, you've writing another song? Why? We don't need another Stevie Nicks song; you've got too many already.' It rains on your parade and you start asking things like: 'Is this stupid? Should I really just sit around and watch television and not bother doing this?''

The solo deal was signed over two years back; even a Mac member can't take that long on overdubs.

'My part was done in two and a half months,' she says indignantly; it usually takes most megastar groups that long to find the studio. 'But I had to wait until everyone else in the band did their outside projects. The album actually took no time at all. It was begun and finished in such a flash, so easy, and it's like ' you know when you really don't want a good book to end and you'd rather read it slower than finish it? With Bella Donna I felt that from the beginning.

'In two and a half months we had 16 songs recorded that were perfect, no problems, because I had it all worked out from learning it all right here in this room, and all the craziness in the studio. In fact, it all went so perfect that we got bummed out because we wanted to sing them again and he (producer and current boyfriend Jimmy Iovine) said: 'You don't have to' and we're going: 'Oh shit, it's finished, we're out?''

Of all the songs cut out, one's definitely going on the next record, one went on the Heavy Metal soundtrack (the connection is manager Irving Azoff who's behind the HM film project; Stevie's radio is tuned into an easy-listening station and the albums lying around are no heavier than Tom Petty),

Outside The Rain, one of the Tom Petty collaborations, was added at the last minute because 'it was the only link between Fleetwood Mac and me. It was the song they would have done if they were involved in this record. It was the Dreams or the Sara. And it was important to me that there be that link in the chain there, because the rest of it was very much me and very much not Fleetwood Mac, and because it's important to me that Fleetwood Mac is still part of my life and that they understand what I'm doing.'

Why wouldn't they? They've all off working on their solo stuff, aren't they?

'Yeah, but I'm the baby of Fleetwood Mac. Ha, I'm 33 years old, a very old baby, but it's hard for them to watch me walk away and do anything. Because everybody in Fleetwood Mac, including me, is possessive, jealous. It causes us a lot of grief, but at the same time it's never boring. I research Fleetwood Mac all the time in my head and try to figure us out. But I can't. It's a strange grouping of people.

'John's always going to the beach. Mick's always going to the Renaissance Faire. Lindsey's always going to visit his tailor, I'm always going to a Halloween party, and Christine is like Christine always looks in her kind of cool clothes.' Stevie giggles at the absurdity of this multi-platinum unit.

'It's so funny to see us before we go onstage, standing in a circle. We look ridiculous! John's got his crew socks and his cut-offs and his T-shirt and baseball hat. Mick's got his velvet knickers and the same tights and shoes he's worn for a hundred years ' you wouldn't want to be within 50 feet of him in that outfit, especially the next night when he's put it back on after it's been in the bus all day and never dried. Lindsey wears the same two Armani suits, one white and one grey every night.'

And Stevie wears those tablecloths. Even around the house. Then again she did spend her formative years in San Francisco and when she joined Fleetwood Mac she decided 'if I wanted to say I was going to really have to figure out a gimmick, like toe-dancing or something that nobody could do.

'At first they really didn't need another girl singer, why should they? They needed a guitarist, not a girl singer who couldn't really play piano or guitar or anything. It's human nature ' they're not going to say: 'You stand out there now and be The Star and we'll just play', right? I know for a fact that I was simply being hired as extra baggage. They couldn't get Lindsey without me.'

The Buckingham Nicks package deal went back a long way, singing one song together in San Francisco, 1966 ' 'I met him in college; I was a senior, he was a junior. I never say or heard from him again for two years, when he called and asked me to join his rock and roll band out of the blue.'

The only band she'd been in before was Changing Time, one of those California Mamas And Papas-type things. Now she was alone with her acoustic guitar and a bunch of self-penned songs.

She'd been singing since her grandfather (the late Aaron Jess Nicks, failed country singer, eccentric harmonica player, who lived in a trailer in Arizona when he wasn't bar-hopping and crooning) got her a 'little outfit with guns and boots ' I was a happening cowgirl' at the age of four and took her and her ubiquitous tambourine on the gin-house circuit. Until her father (one time brewery president, no a concert promoter) put a stop to her going on the road and uprooted the family to Texas, Utah, Mexico, Los Angeles and finally San Francisco. All she remembers of her hometown, Phoenix Arizona, is cacti and meeting Tex Ritter.

'I was still singing all the time ' to the radio, to the Ronnettes, the Beach Boys, Janis Joplin, anybody I listened to, until I moved up to San Francisco and then I basically did my own music.'

Didn't everybody. But Mum and Dad Nicks decided this was no career for their Stephanie, so she went to college.

'I wanted to go to hairdressing school' ' you should know that this woman trims her poodles hair herself, not to mention giving crew-cuts to the F. Mac roadies ' 'but they didn't go for that idea at all, so I did five years at college. I should have gone to hairdressing school because that would really have benefited me more. I was singing with Lindsey the whole time and found it real difficult to study.'

Eventually Lindsey left his band Fritz, Stevie left her homemade candles and they moved to L.A. where they eventually got a Polydor record contract, preceded by 'two years of solid depression. I was hard, you know, when you practice that hard and you sound that good and everyone tells you that you should be doing something else. You want to say: 'Well obviously we're not from the same planet, because I didn't sit down with this guy for five years and sing like this for you to tell me that nothing we do is commercial. You're crazy!'

'It was a terrible time, because Lindsey and I just couldn't understand how we could sing a beautiful song to you and nobody liked it and it was so pretty it made me cry. It was like: we don't belong here. Nobody understands us.'

Except Fleetwood Mac, who discovered the matinee idol and the fairy princess and: 'We were plucked straight out of obscurity ' heavy obscurity. I was a member of Fleetwood Mac and still working in a restaurant (in Beverly Hills, a promotion at least from being the princess of Burger King) and it would have taken me weeks to make as a waitress what I was making in one week in Fleetwood Mac. But I wanted to give notice and leave on a good note because I liked my job and I didn't want to walk in there and go: 'Well now I'm going to be a famous rock and roll star, so I quit!'

Three weeks later we were recording. We finished the album in three and a half months. Four months later we went straight on the road and boy was it a big shock.'

Considering they didn't want her in the first place, 'They made me feel wonderful,' she sighs, 'and I fell madly in love with all of them immediately, even though I knew in my heart they didn't really need me. So I'd try to be really good and maybe I'd find a way to be needed there. I didn't know what else to do. I liked them so much that I was willing to realise that logically I was lucky to get asked to join the band at all, so I would have to be so helpful in everything, right, or at least I could be a secretary or something, anything, because I wanted to be a part of it.

'And they knew it. They understood I felt this way. And they were real careful and never made me feel unwanted. Christine very willingly gave me the stage, which I thought was a very cool or a woman to say: 'Oh, she's five years younger than me and I've worked for 10 years on the road, killed myself, and here she is, our new frontwoman.' It was incredibly big of Christine to just move out of the way, because I do tend to kind of animate around and I drive Chris nuts. Crazy.

'Chris will tell you that there were times in the last six or seven years when she was a little jealous. And I swear to God I never knew. Never one comment to the effect of 'I could really have done without you'. And I'm sure there were times when I'm flying around the stage in my gossamer chiffon where she had to think to herself: 'Wow, what's this? Fairy school?' and never once did she make me feel that. She knew from the beginning that I was real sensitive and that I love her so much that anything she'd say to me would cut like a knife. So she was always very careful.'

Most people are careful around Stevie. You know that scene in Nashville where they wheel Ronnee Blakely on in white lace, hovering over her? Just change the hair colour. This woman gets phone calls from her record company in which the word 'unit' never even comes up. The record company president calls 'and he doesn't say: 'Do you know how successful this album is?' He says: 'Are you enjoying this? Are you working too hard? This is the best moment of you life, Stevie, and I want you to be happy.'

'They all know that I'm real vulnerable and real sensitive and that I can break real easy if I don't get back a little bit of the love that I try to put out, if I feel that I'm alone somewhere on an island by myself ' then I start to die a little. And for some reason the business people seem to understand this ' which is real hard, their job is on the line.

'I've had 50 people call me today to say: 'If it's too tough Stevie, stop. It doesn't matter.' With most artists they say: 'Look, we need these photos, this interview. Too bad if you're tired.' They just seem to know when I'm bummed and upset and they call me. This wouldn't be amazing if it was my Mom, but it is amazing when it's the president of Atlantic or of Modern Records or Irving (Azoff).

'Something in my voice worries them a little. But only because I haven't done this before. I've always had four other people to work with. I can't call up John McVie or Christine and beg out ' it's my gig. And it's not singing and it's not dancing, which I love to do. It's hard to do all this and none of the other.'

Stevie proved more fragile than the others on the last mammoth Tusk tout. Her vocal chords got shot, leading to nightmares about never singing again and trips to specialists, who virtually handed her a wreath as they sent her onto the next stop.

'My voice is all right now. I worked a long time on it. But a year is too long. I could probably work for six months a year solid but not 12. I'm not 18, you know, and I'm not as strong as I used to be physically. It gets harder and harder to be wonderful every night in front of all those kids that you're 15 years older than. I don't want a tired Stevie walking onstage trying to do Rhiannon when I'm dead, I've killed my voice. It's not fair to the kids who paid their 12 bucks to see the concert.

'You can never call in sick. You can be on the side of the stage with terrible, terrible cramps and all of a sudden you've got 30 seconds to try and not even let that come into your head. I've seen a lot of shows that, because of extreme exhaustion, aren't special. For me there's nothing I'd rather do than go to a great rock concert. But there's nothing I'd rather not do than go to a rock concert by a great band that isn't good.'

A solo tour isn't planned, but a few dates in major cities are, which will be filmed. 'Like a live stage production of Bella Donna with a great rock and roll band, so it would be like the best of both worlds. We could really do it like the Othello of the 1980s.'

Talking of films, we might as well take time to catch up on her other projects. A ballet of Rhiannon, possibly a movie 'though whether or not there's ever going to be the time is another question. If Bella Donna was difficult enough to get together, to pull two and a half months out of a hat, to make a movie is a lot longer and I can't see that kind of space coming up anywhere.'

There's also a series of children's stories (her favourite books, wouldn't you know, are fairy tales like Beauty And The Beast, The Little Mermaid, or her own short story The Golden Fox Of the Last Fox Hunt, tales of gothic horror with the pain merely suggested) and letters and an autobiography filled with the 'love affairs, the heartaches, the tragedies, the incredible happiness' in her life.

'It didn't' start out to be anything but my journal ' I've kept a diary for seven years now ' but as I became a better typist it became more formal. It's real intense. It's a story that Taylor Caldwell (author of her favourite novel, Ceremony Of The Innocent) should sit down and write as I tell it to her, because it's that kind of thing. The story itself is as incredible as any story you've ever seen in a movie and you wouldn't have to make up a thing. It tells exactly what it is.'

The songs come from the same source. After a show she'll write down her feelings ' at the hotel, on the plane, turning the prose into poetry and getting a piano 'sneaked into the hotel room' (not an easy task, but easier with Mac money 'which is why we didn't make any money on that last tour ' the luxuries') and there comes another one.

Here songs are 'running commentaries on my life, exactly. Absolutely real. I don't lie and I never write down anything that isn't totally true. But I'm like your romantic fiction writer ' I flower things. I toss a gardenia in here and a rose in there, so that a lot of the things that are real serious I say in a way that they're pretty enough that they don't turn people ' like the dental assistant who's worked from 9 to 5 and comes home and is dead tired and puts it on ' off. They have a little magic, but its not all airy-fairy.

'There's the wild side to me and there's the free side. As I get a little older, though, I get a little wiser. And though the wild side doesn't want any discipline whatsoever in her life, the part of me that knows that they only way I can get to people is to not be so terribly out of control balances the two.'

Not so easy when being in a band that can't fail to encourage the spoilt brat in you?

'I've seen the tides change,' Stevie protests. 'I've seen the people turn away ' like Tusk or the live album. I've seen people get the wrong impression of five people I love, because it doesn't work every time, especially if you're so confident that it will work. It's truly better to stay at number two because there will always be the hope of doing something more creative and better. When you're number one, everything goes to the wind, and there's no place to go except down.'

Fleetwood Mac have been working on their next effort at the famed Le Chateau studio. 'It should be finished pretty quickly unless everybody decides to re-do everything.' Or if it gets delayed by ghosts and things that do bump in the night. Stevie had some kind of brush with the spirit world in her bedroom there, something to do with a ghostly bird.

The cover of the Bella Donna album came to her in a dream. The record company was on the verge of a nervous breakdown as she demanded a last-minute substitution with the new sleeve, white on misty blue, which is 'completely opposite' to the Rumours sleeve, stark black on white. On the back the three roses on the silver tambourine (three girl friends singing, three sides of the pyramid, she explains ' she'd like to live in a pyramid if the Welsh cliffs are all taken ' all very symbolic) and it means 'coming in out of the darkness. A decision I had to make ' a question whether or not I could do something alone without my comrades to hold me up. Because I'd been in a group so long that had been all in control.'

When Mac tells her to jump, she jumps apparently. Only Christine McVie has the power to tell lanky Mick to stuff himself. John and Stevie get hysterical, Lindsey just stomps off.

Symbolism and dreams and things mean a lot to her (though there's no dream analyst in the spare room, 'I prefer a little mystery in things') and so do spirits.

'I feel there are good spirits everywhere when I'm writing my songs, helping me. I just get a good feeling from, I don't know, the air. If we're talking vibes, we're talking vibes'

And she believes in reincarnation. In her past life she used to be a monk. Inspirational fellows.

Tom Petty's a bit like that. Fan Stevie got together with the Heartbreakers, that bastion of Southern chauvinism, through Petty's wife of eight years (I didn't know either! They've got a little girl who just recently saw Daddy play for the first time, with Stevie).

'Jane and I figured it out long before Tom had any idea that we were scheming. And we did scheme. I knew we would be good together ' I'm not joining the Heartbreakers or anything: I'm just a friend. But every once in a while we can start singing and give everybody a little extra magic. Because it kills me, so it's got to have an effect on them.

'I was brought up with a while lot of men, those type of old-fashioned men that a woman mustn't get too pushy with if they're going to accept her''

A song on the album, Highwayman, is about as romanticised a picture of these new skinny macho men as you're going to get.

'Men were my first entrance into the rock and roll world, singing along with them on the radio. All I ever wanted from them when I met them ' like the Eagles ' was to feel they actually liked me and even think I'm not a bad songwriter. I never needed flowers. Rock and roll men are like the highwaymen of old, sometimes giving to her poor, sometimes keeping it, always on the road.'

At a rock and roll party last year Ann Wilson of Heart caught Stevie's eye across the room and felt a kindred spirit. 'Misfit', she called them, women rock and rollers.

'Absolutely true,' Stevie nods. 'Ann and Nancy are really the only other two I can relate to. Outsiders. Heart can't go onstage without Ann or Nancy, and Fleetwood Mac can't go onstage without me or Chris. We've fought hard to be anything but background singers ' I think we'd all rather quit and do something else than be background singers.

'I go back a long way, to Janis Joplin. There aren't many in the rock and roll business who are women that I feel any kind of respect at all for. Not that I don't give credit to Pat Benetar, I do. She's wonderful ' but she's new. There's nothing I'd rather see than a great woman singer coming along, one that I could listen to ' because I like listening to other people ' but there's not too many.'

There's another kindred ship with Heart. For a while they took over as the Crossroads of rock in the soap opera world of gossip mags. Lindsey and Stevie, John and Christine, biting the dust.

'Yes, it was like 'here we go again'. It's hard to be in a band with someone and love them and not get angry with them and go home and not remember they screamed at you onstage. But at least Fleetwood Mac stayed together completely. Heart kind of changed it. It's a rare group of people that could do that. But then we could never fire John. It would be like Fleetwood. You can't fire the Mac.'



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