Singer-songwriter Dave Stewart

Originally aired on November 22, 2013

The Grammy-winning musician, producer and multimedia entrepreneur performs a track from his latest CD, “Lucky Numbers.”

Dave Stewart has been called a "musician's musician." In a career spanning 30+ years, he's sold over 100 million albums, highlighted by his collaboration with Annie Lennox in the groundbreaking duo Eurythmics, and produced, written for and/or recorded with a mix of artists, including Katy Perry, Timbaland and Beyoncé. He also teamed with other music heavyweights in the all-star group, SuperHeavy. Through his media company, Weapons of Mass Entertainment, Stewart's been involved in a host of projects in film, TV, theater and new media and, as a professional photographer, has worked on major ad campaigns and magazine covers. His latest CD, "Lucky Numbers," is his eighth solo venture.

TRANSCRIPT

Tavis: Dave Stewart has always combined producing with writing and performing as one-half of the Eurythmics. He and Annie Lennox became one of the most acclaimed and best-selling duos in all of music history. For the past few years, though, he’s been releasing solo projects, thankfully.

His latest, which takes his inspiration from blues and country as well as rock, is called “Lucky Numbers.” We’re going to hear a cut from that album played a little later in this program. But, Dave, I’m delighted to have you back on this set.

Dave Stewart: Great to see you again.

Tavis: You been good?

Stewart: I’ve been naughty, I could say.

Tavis: Everybody can’t do that. Everybody can’t do it [laugh]. Let me start at an unlikely place. I will come to the music in just a second. But a little birdie told me that you’re about to start a bank.

Stewart: Yeah.

Tavis: When did artists get into banking?

Stewart: I announced it about four weeks ago, so not until then really. I announced it at the keynote speech in Hamburg at their version of like Southwest by Southwest. Yeah, it’s a global community bank for creatives. I know, it’s like looking at the other end of the telescope.

Everybody’s running around trying to fix the music industry or, you know, the downloading of TV or films. Basically, you know, the cat’s out of the bag. The whole world has changed. And the thing that I think is the most problematic for a lot of creatives is the very beginning process.

Like say you’re making a film and you’ve got everything in place. You just need that money for a script. Immediately you enter into the complication of being at the mercy of huge corporations. They’ll say, oh, yeah, we’ll finance your script. Now we own 96% and the 4% is divided perhaps amongst the rest, you know.

It’s just like a – if you think of a Silicon Valley Bank which is, you know, for people who are inventing various things, or the Farmers Bank going right back to, you know, in the 1910 or whenever it started. I don’t know.

The farmers got together and were like, hang on a minute. They formed a community bank ’cause it’s about people who understood about their business. I think, for years, well, practically ever, there’s not really been a concentrated effort to understand the business of IP and the creation of IP.

I mean, you would know. You run your own kind of IP little empire in a way with books and TV shows and radio and stuff. It took a long time to get in a position where you can actually go, hang on a minute. I’m Tavis Smiley and I created all this stuff. So it’s for people like you. That’s why I’m here tonight.

Tavis: I’ll be there tomorrow [laugh]. Soon as the doors of the bank open, I will be there. Can you look back on your career, though, and see a moment, place or time when having those kinds of resources might have made the difference for you?

And I ask that because you’ve done pretty well, but, of course, as that old adage says, people see your glory, but they don’t know your story.

Stewart: Exactly. Well, funny enough, when I’m talking about this bank, my partner who’s the co-chairman with me, he is the chairman of Credit Suisse in the Middle East and Europe. Before that, he was on the board of Deutsch Bank.

So I was telling him the story and he said, oh, that’s perfect you should mention it because when Annie and I were absolutely broke and we wanted to make a record and it was the “Sweet Dreams” album which is the biggest…

Tavis: Oh, Lord, yes.

Stewart: We had nothing, and I said, “Why don’t we go and see the local bank manager.” Of course, she was like, “What? He’s gonna think we’re crazy” because we did look rather strange at the time [laugh]. Anyway, you know, I put down all the things we wanted to buy which came out to 4,800 pounds and it was like, you know, a mixing desk, a Teac eight-track tape.

We called all this stuff and we went there. And I explained why, if we had this stuff, we wouldn’t be in so much debt in the future because we’d make our own record. And he actually agreed and gave us 5,000 pounds.

And about six months ago, I sent him a present for his 65th birthday. Literally, Annie and I put millions and millions into that bank about 18 months later and we made “Sweet Dreams,” the album. Now that’s an interesting sort of…

Tavis: That’s a rare story, though.

Stewart: It’s a rare story, but maybe, you know, with this concert that I’m bringing out in the second quarter of next year, it won’t be so rare.

Tavis: It’s a rare story, but it is a great story. I’m just glad that this guy – what did he tell you or what has he told you over the years that made the difference for him, a banker, to give you those 5,000 pounds?

Stewart: Well, the thing is, you know, there’s a great big disconnect between, you know, creativity and commerce.

Tavis: Absolutely.

Stewart: And…

Tavis: That’s what I’m asking, yeah.

Stewart: Yeah. I wrote a book. I was on here. Remember, “The Business Playground.”

Tavis: I remember it, absolutely.

Stewart: It’s hard, you know, for creatives and artists often to concentrate more than like 30 seconds in a meeting about finances. You’ll see they’re busy doodling a picture of their grandmother or whatever. And it’s very hard for, you know, people on the financial side to understand whether an idea is something that has legs, that, you know, is worth investing in.

You know, if Steven Spielberg was completely unknown and he wandered in a bank and said, “Oh, I’ve got an idea, an alien with a long finger and he wants to go home,” they’d be like – you know what I mean?

Or, you know, try picturing the Life of Pi or Avatar or these films that went on to make billions, you know, and somebody was first drawing a graphic novel that became Spiderman or whatever. So there’s always been that crazy gap between the two worlds.

But because of various things that have been happening and, you know, the internet arriving and I think the fact that people can actually see transparently now a lot of stuff and they can go and find out information about how things work, a lot of creatives are getting a lot more knowledgeable. Of course, necessity is the mother of invention. I mean, they have to. It’s like survival.

Now everybody is like a little start-up company, you know. And they thought, you know, MySpace was gonna help and various other and this Kickstarter, of course, and all of these pledge music. And there’s all these things starting to come around now that makes, I think, the climate totally right to launch this kind of concept.

Tavis: Yeah. Well, you weren’t there when I needed you. But for all the persons who…

Stewart: I’m stealing that title.

Tavis: Yeah [laugh].

Stewart: For a country song.

Tavis: Write a song about it, yeah. You weren’t there when I needed you.

Stewart: Yeah.

Tavis: Co-written by Tavis Smiley [laugh].

Stewart: Why, yes.

Tavis: But you are thankfully gonna be there for folk who have creative and innovative ideas who need that help.

Stewart: This line before should be something to twist it so it’s like, “I can see all the things you’re getting to do, but you weren’t there when I needed you” kind of.

Tavis: See [laugh]?

Stewart: It should be a bitter and twisted song like slightly Dylanesque which has a kind of, you know, “If one day I could stand inside my shoes just to see what a drag it is to see you” kind of thing.

Tavis: This is why I love Dave Stewart. Dave Stewart like just wrote a song on the spot on national television.

Stewart: We have to finish off before the book-signing.

Tavis: Okay [laugh]. Before I walk out of this building tonight, we’re gonna finish writing this song right quick.

Stewart: Exactly.

Tavis: And next time you come back, it might be on your next record.

Stewart: Exactly.

Tavis: Okay. I like how you just did that. That’s why I love – I mean, all jokes aside, I have always been so envious – I mean, in a good way – envious of people like you who – I mean, I feel this way about writers. I mean, artists.

I feel this way about authors who write, particularly those who write fiction. I’m a nonfiction writer, but people who write fiction. How like that just happened in front of my face is like – it’s humbling and mind-boggling for me all at the same time.

Stewart: Well, but on the other hand, you know, you’re doing so many interviews with different people and you have to get all this information beforehand and sort of digest it. And the thing that you do is like kind of improvisational on the spot. I mean, if you had to do a transcription of all the interviews you ever did, it would be bigger than that Muhammad Ali book, right?

Tavis: Oh, yeah. That’s a big book, yeah [laugh]. I have that, yeah. I have it.

Stewart: Oh, that’s fantastic, isn’t it?

Tavis: Yeah.

Stewart: Best book ever made.

Tavis: Printed at the Vatican.

Stewart: Was it? I didn’t know.

Tavis: This Ali book you’re talking about, I have one, is so…

Stewart: The Greatest Of All Time.

Tavis: It’s called GOAT, Greatest of All Time. This book is so massive…

Stewart: Yeah, you can’t hardly lift it up.

Tavis: You can’t even lift it up. It’s like 700 pounds. This thing is so massive that the only place in the world that they could actually print this – there’s only 10,000 copies made.

Stewart: That’s right, yeah.

Tavis: The only place they could make it was on the Vatican printing press. It is amazing. But the pictures are gorgeous.

Stewart: Oh, God, every page and what he says at the beginning, how he’d like to be remembered. Sorry, we digress.

Tavis: No, no, no [laugh]. We love Ali. But, see, when I do these interviews, though – and this is not a false sense of modesty. When I’m conducting these conversations, one, I’m not doing it by myself. I have you here to do it with me, number one. But number two, the conversation is based on your life. I start with something. You just created something out of the ether.

Stewart: Well, I stole it from what you said [laugh]. When you’re writing songs, songwriting, scriptwriting and stuff like that, it’s usually for me, and a lot of people, I would say, based on their own life like Woody Allen interpreting things in his own life and putting them into a different context or whatever. And songwriting’s the same.

But like it can be a real sort of like pain because, you know, you’ll be in a bar, you’re having a martini, having a great time and suddenly somebody over there says something and you go, “Oh, my God, that’s such a great line.”

Then you’re suddenly writing down that line and you go home and your pockets are stuffed full of like, you know, bits of paper with lines here and lines there. And then you wake up and you’ve written all over your sheets, you know. And it’s like it can be a curse.

Tavis: Okay, so let me put you on the spot now. So a song like “Sweet Dreams,” since we referenced earlier, comes from where?

Stewart: Well, that was interesting because after we’d met with the bank manager and we bought all the equipment we wanted, one thing on the list was the very first sort of drum machine that was made that could have a visual little screen. It was black and white with little white blips on it.

And Annie was lying on the floor of the – well, we were in a picture framing factory, you know. It was like the top eves. We didn’t have really much money for a rent of a big studio. The funny thing was, they kept doing this, like “cha-coom” to cut the picture frame. When Annie was doing her vocals, she’d be like singing a line and then “cha-coom,” but we got it done.

But “Sweet Dreams,” I had this drum machine and I was trying to make it work and it kept going “Doom, doom, doom, doom, doom” and I was, you know, thinking I was gonna do something with a back beat. But after a while, I was going, “Actually, that sounds really good.” And then Annie leapt up with “What was that?”

And all of a sudden, we got really inspired. Annie went on one keyboard and it was going, “Doom, doom, doom, doom, doom, doom, doom” and then I got another keyboard and I was, “Boom, bedoom, bedoom” and literally the first words that came out of Annie’s mouth was “Sweet dreams are made of this.” And just 15 minutes later, it was done.

Tavis: See, I love those stories [laugh]. One of the biggest hits ever and you guys did it like in 15 minutes because the conditions around you were making noise.

Stewart: Yeah. A lot of great moments come from mistakes in science as well, you know. Or they find, oh, this is working for a cancer patient, but it was actually developed for something else. But what the hell? I think it’s a matter of realizing when to change direction.

And some people don’t realize and they’re just sweating and going further and further up the hill. Great opportunities are coming down past them, but they can’t see them, you know.

Tavis: Yeah, that’s powerful. Sounds pretty good to me, but how’s this solo thing working out for you?

Stewart: Well, I love it ’cause I’m, you know, mad as a hatter.

Tavis: Yeah.

Stewart: As soon as I arrived in Nashville about four years ago – by default, you know. I wasn’t meant to go there. There was an Icelandic volcanic eruption that grounded all the planes. Anyway, I went there and I just fell madly in love with the place. In fact, this is the sixth record I’ve made in Nashville in three years. Three of my own and then I produced Joss Stone and Orianthi. But this, I decided to fly the guys as an experiment out of Nashville, the same players, and I flew them to the South Pacific.

And we recorded sailing around on a boat in the South Pacific, which was very disorienting for the pedal steel player, Don Dugmore. Because, you know, it’s all (inaudible), but when the boat’s going like that, after about an hour, he’s going, “Oh, I just have to lie down.” So it took him about a day and a half.

But I’m a great believer in martinis. So I made sure that we all had a vodka martini that evening and it seemed to get everybody’s sea legs. That’s why I put a little martini glass on there.

Tavis: I don’t know if you can see that, Jonathan. I don’t know if you can see the design on the – yeah. There you go, the design of the CD. So you actually – so this is like you did this over 12 days on a boat.

Stewart: Sailing around on a boat, yeah. I mean, you know, we didn’t really work all the time because martinis have a double effect. It cures the sea…

Tavis: Imagine that [laugh].

Stewart: It cures the seasickness and it’s all that.

Tavis: James Bond always seemed to be on his game. I mean, you know.

Stewart: Yeah, I know. I’ve been trying to get to that level, but I think perhaps he was drinking water in the movies, in a few of the scenes. Because I make the perfect martini and not many people know how to do that.

Tavis: And you’re not gonna tell on TV ’cause that would give the secret away, right?

Stewart: Well, I’d like to tell on TV ’cause every time I go to a bar, I have to sort of tell the barman…

Tavis: All right, pay attention. You’re right on this camera right here. You’re on Mike’s camera. So Dave Stewart will now tell you how to make the correct martini. So when you see him walk into your bar, this is how he wants it.

Stewart: Exactly, because what I don’t want is, for instance, to scoop the ice out of that melting ice that you’ve got below the bar ’cause immediately it’s wrong because it’s got water in it. So I want hard ice from the freezer.

And I want three olives, however many olives you want, in the glass with a little bit of vermouth and let the olives stay soaked in the vermouth for a bit.

Then throw all the vermouth away. I don’t want any vermouth in the shaker giving me that horrible taste. And then you put the ice cold vodka in the hard ice with the shaker and you shake it like crazy, not a little bit like that and then just pour it out.

Shake it crazy on both sides, doing the whole thing, you know. And then you should see just tiny fractals of crystals on the top of the vodka martini when you let go. You shouldn’t see lots of ice floating around in it.

And don’t put the glasses in the freezer first because, guess what, it just comes out and it melts water into your glass. Hey, look. I’m serious, man [laugh]. That’s why I’m bringing out the machine.

Tavis: I see [laugh].

Stewart: You seeing that how, you know, George Foreman brought out his grill? And you know how most people didn’t have cappuccino machines in their house, right?

Tavis: Right.

Stewart: Well, I’m bringing out my martini machine just like a nice cappuccino machine. And it’ll have hard ice there like that. You put your glass, vermouth drops in, a couple of olives. Darling, I’m home.

Tavis: Have you always – I always love talking to you ’cause it’s so much fun, but I always learn stuff. Have you always been like this irreverent and this creative and this innovative? Or was there something that happened that sort of opened all this up to and for you?

Stewart: Probably a mixture of things. My parents told me – I would drive them mad because I always had 100 things going on. Like my mother would be washing up at the window, you know, doing the dishes.

And suddenly I’d throw a nest with three little birds in it and say, “Eggs three times a day” and run away or something like that. No, “worms three times a day” and she’d just be left with a bird’s nest.

And then I’d be in the back door with something else. I was always doing something, so it’s probably in the genes, I think.

Tavis: Yeah, yeah. I wanna go back to this record because you did this, as I said, over 12 days. Tell me about the content, the music itself.

Stewart: Well, you see, when I’m writing songs and recording them, I don’t spend years trying to write the songs. I don’t sit at a piano looking out of the window of a rolling misty mountains with a black piece of paper thinking how should I write a song to save the world.

I just go in the studio or on a boat or wherever and I have an idea and, within 20 minutes, I sort of have it all down and we play it live with the band. And then I just go and correct a few of the words and that’s it, done. So that’s what we did on this album.

And the single, “Every Single Night” which Martina McBride sings on the chorus with me – she came on the boat as well – we made this epic video to it which is basically set in a circus. And all of the songs came tumbling out, but they’re all distillations of moments, you know, in my life.

I could jump back a week or when I was seven years old or whatever and quickly write in a sort of journal form something about it that turns into a song. I like getting tiny things and making them big rather than trying to write about epic things, you know.

Tavis: What is it – I suspect every songwriter could write about his or her life. But what is it that, for you, makes your life such interesting lyrical fodder?

Stewart: Well, I’m a gambler and an adventurer. So I’ve probably done lots of stuff that brings in rich contents, you know. I mean, stuff I can’t even mention or talk about. Well, I do talk about one of the songs called “Drugs Taught Me a Lesson,” so obviously I’ve been through the whole drug thing, nearly dying when I was younger.

Tavis: Those lyrics are very powerful, by the way, yeah.

Stewart: I liked the idea at the end when I came back. I put a gospel choir from Inglewood on it, these great singers, just to give it a spiritual uplift at the end ’cause you don’t wanna end on a downer like, you know. But this song I’ll play for you on the acoustic guitar, I think it’s quite funny. It’s called “How to Ruin a Romance.”

And I think I got the title ’cause Joss Stone and I were on this tiny little plane flying from like Hamburg to Devon or somewhere like that. And we were like writing down ideas for films and this and that and laughing basically and I said this would be a good film title, “How to Ruin a Romance,” which it still could be. Knowing me, it might end up being a film.

Tavis: It might be [laugh].

Stewart: And then later on, I found the title in my pocket when I was on the boat. And then I just wrote straightforward, you know, things that happened to me and friends that obviously messed up a romance.

Tavis: Before you play…

Stewart: The funny thing is, the last verse has got vodka martinis in it.

Tavis: That’s not funny [laugh]. I think it’s by design. Before you play that ’cause my time with Dave Stewart is up, I could do this for hours, as you can see. He is always so much fun to talk to. The new project from Dave Stewart done on a boat in 12 days is called “Lucky Numbers.”

And the track he is now about to perform for us is called “How to Ruin a Romance.” Before he does that, thank you for watching. Dave, thank you for coming back.

Stewart: Thank you very much.

Tavis: Always glad to have you here. Enjoy, goodnight from Los Angeles and, as always, keep the faith. All yours.

Stewart: Thank you. And it’s very kind of you to join in the chorus.

Tavis: How to ruin a romance, how to ruin a romance. I’m doing the chorus [laugh].

Stewart: They get it.

Tavis: I got my chorus part. Go ahead.

Stewart: All right, here we go.

Tavis: All right, here we go.

[performance]

Tavis: Thank you, Dave [laugh].

Announcer: For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at pbs.org.

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Last modified: November 25, 2013 at 12:21 pm