Stevie Nicks has always been two performers. At times, she is the Gothic figure of tragedy, the enigmatic witch of “Rhiannon” who swirls her diaphanous black and white capes as she dances an ancient ballet — her mystery heightened by her infamous exits while in concert with Fleetwood Mac.
Equally well, she plays the victim of love, the woman of “Dreams” who always wrongly trusts her man. Wrapping her arms around her lacey lingerie gowns, she confronts her audience with a blinkless stare while crooning “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” or any other of her love-hurts songs, with a throaty voice that has no match for pure sensuality. In either role, she projects vulnerability. In the past that image was a reflection of her career. Although recognized by the public as an equal member among a superstar group, she felt like “the one who was left out a little, the baby sister” never quite taken seriously by her fellow band members or other artists.
But a transformation in Stevie Nicks has happened. The pouty look has been replaced with a smile, the self-doubts by a new self-confidence. With good reason. Her first solo album, Bella Donna, topped the charts just weeks after its release and garnered critical praise. Nicks’ latest and followup LP, The Wild Heart, is following the same path, with her hit single “Stand Back.” Nicks took time to speak with ROCK just prior to her tour to promote The Wild Heart. She reflected on her long-felt need for recognition as a soloist, her desire to expand musically into, surprisingly, country music, and the mystique that surrounds her. Above all else, she was intent in conveying that the “baby sister” of Fleetwood Mac is all grown up now. She wants it known now that Fleetwood Mac is no longer of paramount importance in her career. She’s not determined to leave, but she’s not willing to sacrifice as much anymore.
How does The Wild Heart differ from Bella Donna, in your estimation?
It’s like Bella Donna‘s heart is wild all of a sudden. It has that James Dean/Natalie Wood feeling to it. It’s just Bella Donna a little more reckless. She’s just more sure of herself now, so she’s taking a few more chances. I’m very pleased with the album because there are no holds barred on it. It’s real strong and emotional.
After the phenomenal success of Bella Donna were you intimidated to go back into the studio?
I’m never intimidated to go on and do something else because what I do today doesn’t depend on what I did last week. I write songs and sing them because that’s the thing in the world that I love most.
Is there any particular track on this LP which you are particularly proud of?
“Sable in Blond” is my serious statement on The Wild Heart. It fits into a particular group of my songs; “Rhiannon,” “Beautiful Child” and “Sara.” It reflects the mood I was in when I moved into my new house last year. It was a time when I was learning how to live with myself. “Sable in Blond” meant to learn how to be a stranger, to learn to be with yourself, to learn to be one color. In the legend of Excalibur, the sword is there for protection, but you don’t call upon it unless it’s absolutely necessary. During that period in my life, I was learning how not to call on the sword.
Are you as intrigued with mysticism as the public has been lead to believe?
Not really. Everybody else [the press] made it into mysticism. I loved that mystical kind of dancing and that eventually carried over into my singing. I guess I’m just a dancing fool (laughs).
It seems to be a pretty well-kept secret that Prince played synthesizer on “Stand Back.” How did that come about?
I called him up one day while he was filming a video and I asked him to come down and listen to a song. I didn’t think he’d show up because he was so busy, but he did. As I was playing the song, he walked over to the synthesizer and began to play this amazing part with only two fingers. So we recorded it in the middle of the night, and it turned out great. It’s my favorite cut on the album.
You once felt that you hadn’t received the recognition you had long hoped for from your peers. Do you feel respected as a songwriter?
Pretty much. I’ve written down songs on a thousand pieces of paper for the last 10 years and thought, ‘If only they would respect me as a songwriter,’ That’s all I ever really wanted. Performing and singing was a wonderful addition, but the thing I wanted most — especially from Mac — was them to say to me ‘You’re a pretty good songwriter.’ It took them a long time to realize that I wasn’t kidding around, that I’m very serious about my writing. It mattered to me what they thought and that they realized that I was striving toward a certain excellence. They had that excellence, but I had to strive a little harder for it and make them believe that I really cared that much.
What is the status of Fleetwood Mac from your viewpoint? Will the group continue on as we know it?
It’ll all just depend on how understanding everybody is to everyone else’s needs. If everyone is thoughtful, understanding, sweet and kind, then the band could go on forever. If everyone isn’t, then that could cause a big problem. We’ve suffered through a long love affair and whatever our hearts tell us, that’s what we’ll do.
Where do you fit into Fleetwood Mac?
My relationship with Fleetwood Mac will never change. I will always be the baby sister, the one that is left out a little bit. My solo work allows me not to feel bad about it and enjoy them (Mac) for what they are, instead of worrying about not being included enough. That’s what I used to get upset about. They were not even close to using my full potential. But now I know I have something else to go to.
Did the success of Bella Donna satisfy your expectations toward a solo career?
I was really kind of stunned. I never let myself believe that the best thing is going to happen. I just sort of let myself be very surprised if it does, but I don’t expect it. So I didn’t expect anything from Bella Donna. I just did the best I could and finished it. I had a wonderful time doing it. It was over in two and one-half months, like a flash. I didn’t expect it to be the greatest record in the world or not the greatest. I just expected it to be what I could do. She flew out of the record stores without me. And it was very much out of my hands. There’s nothing I can do to change it now. I’m having to get used to the fact that it isn’t just mine anymore.
Are you saying you wish that the album wouldn’t have been so successful and that your songs would have remained basically unknown?
All those songs I did over a long period of time. They’re now out in the world, and everybody’s hearing songs that I’ve been listening to for five, six, seven years. Don’t misunderstand me. It’s not that I’m not happy about this. I am. I’m just sort of adjusting to it slowly. It bothers me a little bit just because it [the songs] has been a part of me and it has been very private. But to get people to listen, you have to put it out there and explain a little of it. And it’s nerve-wracking and difficult sometimes. I think people wonder why I’m not seriously jumping up and down. It’s because I’m not sure how to deal with it. I’ve never really been alone before doing something. I’ve never had no one else to fall on. I’ve never had to do all the interviews myself. I could get crazy about it. The excitement is so strong that. . . it just makes me nervous.
You seem to imply that there is an emotional strain working apart from Fleetwood Mac.
Yes, but at the same time it makes you feel more independent. I am more independent now. I did the albums because I wanted to make sure that I could still do something for myself.
Will it be hard to go back and work with a group now that you’ve cut another album on your own?
It will only be difficult in that I’ll get to do three songs instead of 10, and I’ll be working less time. It’s not enough for me. That’s the problem. I write so much that I just get terribly backlogged all the time. And for me to work on an album that takes a long time like a Fleetwood Mac album and then have only three songs on it is frustrating. I don’t spend too much time working [in the studio with Fleetwood Mac]. I sit a lot. I spent no time sitting on The Wild Heart. I mean I was on my feet the whole time. It’s going to be hard for me to sit becase [in that situation] I’m not one of the players and that puts me on the other side of the mirror; alone, with them out in the studio. It’s very lonely.
How did the two duets on Bella Donna (“Leather and Lace” with Don Henley, “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” with Tom Petty) come about?
I just love singing with people and they know it. So when people call me up they know I’ll come down ’cause I just love to sing duets. That’s how the duets come about. “Leather and Lace” I wrote for Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter who were going to do an album five years ago. Waylon had asked me to write a song called “Leather and Lace” and I spent a long time on it. I tried to give it a little bit of Waylon, a little bit of Jessi and a little bit of what I knew it was like to be in show business, what it was like to work with your husband or your old man. But they (Jennings and Colter) broke up, and Waylon decided he was going to do it alone. But I said no, because I had put a lot of time into the psychology of the song and felt it was a mistake to do it alone. It’s a wonderful song. So when Bella Donna came out, there was no reason for it not to be done just because Waylon and Jessi broke up. But I did want everyone to know I wrote the song for them. I didn’t write it for myself.
When did you originally decide to embark on a solo career?
I decided to do Bella Donna when I came off the road with Fleetwood Mac at the end of the Tusk tour. I was really in terrible shape. I was so tired and sung out. I was so “Landslide-ed” out and so “Rhiannon-ed” out that I thought if I had to stand on stage for two and one-half hours and do that set one more time I was going to go nuts. The idea to do a solo album came when I was going out with Paul Fishkin [co-owner of Modern Records] about four years ago. We jut sat down one night and decided that it would be wonderful to start a record company that really cared about the artists and had high morals and principles and was special. And he did it. He moved the ferris wheel and started Modern. It was very difficult for both of us. Everybody was angry at us. But we really felt that it was important that we go ahead and do it no matter what.
Several of the songs on your LPs seem to have a country flavor to them. Is that a fair assessment?
Yes. I had a country grandfather and I write a lot of country songs. But nobody knows it. When I give a song to Fleetwood Mac they kind of take it apart and put it back together. So if it was country, it’s not country anymore. You wouldn’t ever hear the country in it. I don’t mind it but if I really don’t like it I tell them. I let a lot of songs be done in a way that I really wouldn’t do them but, because it makes everybody else happy, I go along. I figure it’s not going to make my song any better to have them play it the way I want it and have them play it terribly.
From what you’re saying, it seems that Iovine plays a key factor in pulling an album together.
Yes. he has an intense way of making us mad enough without making us angry or furious. By doing that he made you feel like, ‘OK, I’ll show you.’ And he got the most incredible performances out of everybody. For instance, once he was right in the middle of the room while we were recording. He had his headphones on and all of a sudden he turned the beat of the song around. He started looking up at Russ Kunkel and motioned him to change the tempo. And I’m watching Russ start to play what Jimmy’s saying and I’m blown away. My eyes can’t believe that they’re seeing this little guy (Iovine) bouncing around the room looking like some kind of little elf, telling all these intense, famous guys what to do. And they’re following his every move. It’s incredible.
The chemistry seemed to be perfect from what you’re saying.
The right people in the right room together. . . You have to look good with Russ, Waddy (Watchel), Roy (Bittan) and Michael (Campbell) of the Heartbreakers. With Tom Petty and Don Felder out there you’re certainly not going to stand up there and be terrible. You’re going to do the very best you can from the first time you sing. Even the worst vocal is going to be great. Also, you’re so proud, that you don’t want to look like a jerk in front of all these guys!
Any plans for another album?
I feel real content because I got 10 songs out. Now I don’t have to worry about those anymore. Now I can go on to the next 10. I’d be recording all year ’round if I could. I wrote a song night before last. I’ve written two songs in the last month. I have two from the album that didn’t make it because there wasn’t enough room. I have three or four old ones I still want to do. That’s not counting the songs that I’ll write in the next couple of months. As long as I know I can every once in a while go in and knock out 10 songs I won’t be a nervous wreck. That little bit of an outlet makes it okay.
The melodies of some of the songs on the new album are reminiscent of your past work. . .
My songs are really just continuations of every song. I can sit down and play you a medley of “Dreams,” “Sara,” “Outside the Rain,” “How Still My Love” and “Edge of Seventeen” and they’re all little pieces. Those are the only chords I know. I like all my melodies and the simplicity in which I write. So, I really don’t try to change that much. I don’t sit around saying, ‘Oh, that sounds too much like “Dreams.”‘ If I like it, I don’t care if it sounds like “Dreams” or not. I just try to make it better.
Do you have any idea who your audience is?
I don’t have any idea who buys my albums. I don’t have any idea who The Wild Heart‘s audience is. I truly believe that the energy, the magic that surrounds a project like this is very important. It’s as important as the music, as important as the songs.
How did you come to choose the backup artists for The Wild Heart?
Jimmy [Iovine, Nicks’ producer] seems to always pick out the perfect people. He lets me work with the two women that I want to sing with; we’ve been singing together for five and one-half years. We could sing every song a capella because we’d been practicing for so long. We practice with the demos which is like practicing together. So even if Lori Perry would be in Dallas and Sharon Celani would be in Los Angeles and I’d be in New York, we’d be practicing to the same group of 40 songs. I always wanted to do a thing with two girls where we would sing and be like a girls’ Commodores. I wanted to have background vocals sound like they were answering back and forth. After a while Jimmy would say that we couldn’t do this or that. He’d say, ‘Stevie, shut up and quit protecting them. Just back off and let me work with them.’ It was a constant learning process.
Vicky Greenleaf and Stan Hyman / ROCK / October 1983