Dave Stewart-the Jamming Polymath.
Dave Stewart’s life could have been far removed from his hugely successful musical career where he was one half of the globally successful new wave outfit The Eurhythmics.
Brought up in Sunderland Dave Stewart left school at the age of fifteen and so it would be easy to think that Dave Stewart’s life could have been far removed from his hugely successful musical career where he was one half of the globally successful new wave outfit The Eurhythmics.
As a child I remember the Eurhythmics and I particularly remember the awesome title track, Sweet Dreams (Are Made of These) 1983 taken off the album with its synthsised opening that seemed futuristic and slightly ominous. In the video, sporting vibrant red hair, Annie Lennox’s rather haunting vocals declared that ‘sweet dream are made of these’ before detailing an array of circumstances that were anything but sweet-; ‘some of them want to be abused’. Loitering with intent in that video was the figure of Dave Stewart in a top hat and shades-he was seemingly a small addition to the magnetic force and charisma of Annie Lennox (who was his then partner)-but in truth Dave Stewart was in many respects the self-styled ‘ringmaster’.
He was evidently the driving force behind the group being the writer, producer and the director of much of their output. He co-wrote and produced Sweet Dreams and he was the creative driving force behind the video and many others.
So thirty something years on in a hotel suite in Soho I interview him about his third album in three years, Lucky Numbers. Wearing the obligatory shades he has it seems achieved many of his dreams-“I have done a lot of things” he states without a hint of arrogance. While he is surprisingly soft spoken with a hint of a Sunderland accent he’s assured, knowledgeable and very willing for a laugh. Case in point the interview digresses onto the subject of Viagra; the spin off from the fact that while we talk initially he is finishing sending an email to his brother about meeting up at their mother’s house. I spy he has 120,000 plus emails and 48,000 plus unread- most of which he declares are: “probably selling me Viagra” he smirks with a mischievous grin before launching full steam into elements of semantics regarding Viagra.
“You know with Viagra they studied before they launched it a word that would be the same word in whatever country they launched it in be that India, Germany or the States? You know that if you ask for a medication that is in America it may well have a different name but they knew they had such a potentially massive thing that they wanted to make sure it would be universally known?” he tells me before we get onto the subject of his latest album.
With Lucky Numbers, Stewart has launched himself into the project with vigor and intent for the creative process to take precedent. Recorded on a boat he took the whole band on a cruise through some astonishing destinations.
“The boat was all about people being free- no one is distracted because they need to get home or anything because they are there and they can go and lie down if they want or get involved but it is a constant creative thing going on”. The results are a selection of tracks all recorded in one take where artists like Martina McBride to Taylor Swift’s violinist are evidently able to revel in pure artistic freedom.
“My things start to come together without millions of meetings it is very natural” he states when discussing the genesis of the album “I have already conceptualized it and that is what I do with projects and so it is just about putting the bits together-it is a visualization tactic a positive affirmation so if it there then it will happen” he adds, “In everything that you do you have to prepare so if you want to play for Man city then you need to train. I think a lot of the attitude in music is they are legends in their bedroom thinking that someone will knock on their door and say ‘you’re great!’
Lucky Numbers sonically is a brilliant album that takes huge inspiration from Nashville. While he states “I am not making country music” there are clear elements of country music that punctuate this album with regularity. There are of course out and out pop numbers like Every Single Night the forthcoming single which adds balance to the album bringing something that is familiar yet fresh.
“I am using Nashville players and musicians who can play blues, soul, and gospel music just like that- I am going in as this quirky English guy who was brought up on the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and being obsessed with Jamaican dub music. So I am going in with all these ideas but I do not say to them you have to play it like this I just sing it the way I feel and then let them play it their way and then you get this weird fusion.”
But the music is only one part of the Lucky Numbers project. As a creative he really seems to be a polymath of sorts from directing films, writing scripts, creating graphic novels, to creating ideas for films he is hugely adept and Lucky Numbers as a whole delves into these disciplines.
“Well you see I have this funny knack or ability where I can do lots of different things at once” he states when I ask how he manages to do so many different disciplines?
“the reason I can do that is when I am doing the one thing for an hour or two or a day I put so much concentration into it-I am full on it. A lot of people find it difficult to jump from one thing to another but I do not find that confusing. Music is at the centre of everything that I do and this is just another way of doing it. There’s a great saying which says; ‘experience grinds the lens through which we perceive reality’ I have done a lot of different things and so I can turn the lens in different ways and look at things in a different way.”
Lucky Numbers is in some respects rather groundbreaking and Stewart’s vision for something epic to accompany the track with a bizarre yet entertaining video is blatantly apparent. Set in a circus of some by gone era where dwarfs, bizarre yet sexually quite alluring women, an oversized beefcake with arms the size of your thighs and Mexican wrestlers form part of this visual narrative. From designing his costume to choosing the acts he has in truth had complete autonomy of his vision. Furthermore what he has done is turn the sometimes formulaic process of making an album into an intriguing adventure and project that evidently keeps his active creative mind ticking. He could have obviously made this album a lot easier and just called a bunch of people to a nondescript studio but he evidently did not just want to make an album he wanted to actively feel it and breathe it as clichéd as it sounds.
“you see this is how I create concepts so with Lucky Numbers I had written an album then I thought that could be a film and I think I will write the script of the film and then I thing I will create a presentation for myself and then before I knew it we were in this big circus tent making this idea a reality!”