Dave Stewart Talks "Ringmaster General", Weapons of Mass Entertainment, and More
Mon, 22 Oct 2012 13:57:25
"I'm sitting in my idea factory which is an interesting place to witness but a very difficult place to describe," says Dave Stewart of his creative nerve center, Weapons of Mass Entertainment.
Within the Los Angeles "idea factory", Stewart keeps especially busy. In addition to unleashing another mind-blowing solo album, Ringmaster General, he's producing Mr. & Mrs. and cranking all kinds of awesome visual pieces. Weapons of Mass Entertainment just unveiled the explosive rock-em-sock-em music video for Deadmau5's "Professional Griefers", featuring Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance. It doesn't stop there though.
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, Dave Stewart talks The Ringmaster General, Weapons of Mass Entertainment, and so much more…
Does everything come from the same creative space for you? What's your personal process like?
Well, everything I create has got music as the centrifugal force of it. Whether it's a film, musical, television show, or web-based piece, it's got music. The music business obviously changed radically. For most people, there are diminishing returns in being able to sell music with all of downloading and whatnot. As well as loving all of the other media, it's been helpful to be involved in everything. Our company has a staff of 12, and everybody is a creator. I don't have any major executive types. We make stuff out of ideas. I may have an idea for a television show, and we actually create it. It's not just an audio and visual teaser. We'd actually take the branding of it and put it into the physical world and a box it's going to be you can touch and hold. That makes people inspired when they're working with me. When I walk into a meeting, instead of saying, "I've got this rough idea", I can say, "Here it is" and put it on the table.
What's your take on Ringmaster General as a whole?
Both that and the album before, The Blackbird Diaries, are albums I walked into with an open mind alongside amazing musicians. I wrote songs for myself to sing on the spot and recorded them all in these crazy five-day sessions, which have become a bit legendary in Nashville. Every day people come by to see what's going on. At night, it ends up with a lot of people in the control room, and it's wild. Out of it, you get 14 or 15 songs. There was a duet with Alison Krauss on this album called "Drowing in the Blues" and a total psychedelic rock song with Orianthi playing wah-wah guitar. She just came out to watch what was going on! It's an outburst of creativity that isn't played. You aren't like, "What's the single going to be?" It's an outpouring of songwriting, playing, and creativity.
What's the story behind "A New Song for Nashville"?
I'd only been there once in 1983. When I first arrived in Nashville after not being there for years, I went into the studio with the guys. I was about to play the first song I decided to play which was called "Magic in the Blues". I didn't know what the hell kind of music I was making, and they didn't have any preconceptions about me because they had no idea what I was going to do. I played it on acoustic guitar, and I said, "There's this one!" One of the guys went, "Oh yeah, it's great. It's kind of country blues". So, later on the next album, I wrote, "This is a new song for Nashville. It's kind of country blues" because they had said that to me. At the end of the album, I was tipping my hat and thanking the musicians and everybody. I imagined it as if I'd rolled into town and, just before I rode out, I left behind this new song for Nashville.
Was the Orianthi collaboration on "Girl in a Catsuit" extremely organic?
Orianthi was watching the recording session. She was coming to the studio every day and checking out all of these amazing players. Towards the end of the night, I tend to partake in a vodka martini which all of the players start to like and their friends, relatives, and various other musicians. They'd come in and say, "Isn't it about that 'Tini Time'?" I'd jam a song or two after that. I started making up that one. I was thinking of Orianthi. I started thinking of a song about a "Girl in a Catsuit". I visualized this crazy party in a hotel room with somebody climbing up the wall, scaling it. We actually made the video of Orianthi scaling the wall later. She's climbing up the side of the Redbury Hotel in a black leather catsuit. She goes over the balcony and plays this lead guitar in a room full of nutcases. I wrote the song with what happen in the room off the top of my head. She played this unbelievable solo over this riff.
Was there a theme you wanted to tap into across the entire album?
The first album was very much like that. It was a country bluesy feeling record. For this one, I wanted to jump off and expand it. There's psychedelia amongst it. Then, it goes off into quite complex arrangements like "God Only Knows You Now". The roots are in bluesy rock music. I don't have to say, "The music has to stay in these boundaries" because I don't have to particularly please anybody. I'm playing stuff I like.
Was "I Got Love" a continuation of your work with Joss Stone?
I was busy making another record with her. She heard this song and said, "Oh, that's great! I want to sing on that". She sang on top of it all the way through—whatever she wanted to do [Laughs]. I started singing live in the room with the drummer and everyone. That's why at the beginning it's got this mad sound because the drums and everything are going down my one microphone. When the verse kicks in, the stereo kicks in, and it's a whole band.
How has your lyrical approached over the years? What inspires you to pick up a pen?
I never really sit down and think about what I'm going to write I have stuff lying around in my head. Every now and then, I put it down on a piece of paper and sing it on the top of my head. I write lots of songs for other people. I wrote a song for the new No Doubt album Push and Shove called "Sparkle", and Gwen Stefani and Tony Kanal added to it later. I usually write about real, personal stories. That's what I like to write about. I enjoy writing about what's really happening and capturing that for somebody else and myself. Annie Lennox and I always wrote about personal things together. We couldn't not because we'd just lived together for five years as a couple. We didn't write one song when we lived together. We broke up, formed Eurythmics, and wrote 135 songs about it [Laughs].
How did Mr. & Mrs. Come about?
I've been writing and helping Nadirah X for years, doing incredible stuff with her. Then, she got married, and they started making music together. I said, "You should call yourselves Mr. & Mrs." In the world of rap and hip hop, there's not much family unity projected. There is with some artists, but it's either a man's world or it's a girl's world selling herself to the man's world. In my space, we've got a war room with creative ideas. One day, we might Mr. & Mrs. written on the wall. Next to that will be another thing going on. It reminds me of Magritte the painter. He used to get up, have his breakfast, put a suit on, go out his front door, walk around the block, walk back in his front door, and start painting. That was like his job. What I do is a bit like that. I go to work, but work is madness. It's crazy mayhem.
What have you been listening to?
My favorite new band I've just discovered is The North Mississippi all Stars. I like Alabama Shakes. I've discovered a young kid in Louisiana on the Internet, and I flew him in. He's never been on a plane to a city before. He's incredible. He's going to sing a few songs with me at The Troubadour. He's called Thomas Lindsay. Nobody knows about him yet, but I'm going to make a record with him. I go from making a record with a huge icon like Stevie Nicks or Mick Jagger to making one with someone who's a complete newcomer.
What else is on the horizon?
I have a television show called Malibu Country starting on ABC November 2. Then, I have a feature film I'm making called All on the Fence I wrote the story with Ringo Starr. That's on Paramount Pictures. I've got a zombie musical called Zombie Broadway, which is completely crazy.
What's your favorite Dave Stewart song?
Be sure to catch Dave this weekend at Voodoo Music + Arts Experience!