Innovator. Originator. Super connector. All of these words describe guitarist, songwriter and producer Dave Stewart. Since his early days with Annie Lennox as The Eurythmics through his collaborations with everyone from Jon Bon Jovi to Celine Dion, Bob Geldof, Shakespeare’s Sister, No Doubt, Bryan Ferry, Tom Petty, Mick Jagger and George Harrison, Mr. Stewart has lived out all his rock ‘n’ roll dreams.
Now for the first time Mr. Stewart looks back at his amazing creative journey in the adventurous autobiography “Sweet Dreams Are Made of This: A Life in Music.”
Mr. Stewart invited me to his decidedly English-feeling California home to discuss the book, his past and possible future with Miss Lennox, as well as the advice his gives his musical children.
Question: You strike me as someone who is always looking forward. Why look back and write a book?
Answer: I was actually at the Penguin [Press] offices in New York. I had been hired by Bertelsmann and I was having meetings in all different areas. I was telling stories about the music business and what happened with my life as a way to introduce myself to the team. Someone said, “You have such funny stories. Why don’t you write a memoir?”
People have said that to me before, but this time I was actually sitting in a publishers office. [laughs] I asked, “How many pages for a memoir?” They said Nelson Mandela’s was about 250 and Madonna’s was about 850.” I thought, “I’ll go for the 250 then.” [laughs]
Q: How did you remember everything?
A: I have so much stuff in archives. I film, photograph and tape everything. The photographs helped me remember. It’s all little threads. I couldn’t fit hardly anything in this book. So I decided to build a website where people could go.
Q: Is it true that a sports injury led to the start of your musical career?
A: True. I was in the hospital, having just had a knee operation, being told it would be ages before I could even walk, never mind play. My brother brought in a Spanish guitar that our grandmother had given him. It had two strings missing. I thought, “What good is that? I wanna play football.” When they had all gone one night, I picked it up and quickly realized I could play in melody by pressing on these different things. That was how it happened. Nurses came in and said, “Oh, you play the guitar?”
Q: Why did The Eurythmics go from a band to a duo?
A: I think that with Annie and I, it was written in the stars or something that we had to be together. We started making music as a duo and we really liked not being interfered with by anybody else. Instead of five people saying what they thought, it was just us two experimenting together. We had this added ingredient called “emotion.” Most bands hadn’t been lovers that lived together for five years before they made music.
The Eurythmics were really born on the second album. It became an obsession for the two of us. When we started performing together as a duo, we didn’t see ourselves as pop musicians; we were actually conceptual artists. It was different. I have always been drawn to that. If you look back on really successful anything, be it painters or ad campaigns or music, the ones that come smashing through are always different, whether it was Marilyn Manson or Eminem. None of them were like, “Oh, yeah, I’ve seen that before.”
Q: Do you think you and Annie Lennox will work together again?
A: I would work with her at the drop of a hat. I think if we ever did work together again, no one would know about it until it came out. So we wouldn’t have all this pressure on us. When Annie and I come together, it’s immediately called Eurythmics. That triggers so many questions. People would start planning a tour, which is what freaks Annie out. Annie doesn’t like stepping into it because it becomes this huge circus.
Q: How do you decide who you collaborate with?
A: It’s a funny thing. I don’t really decide. It could be a singer from South Africa or it could be Mick [Jagger]. Things just come. I’ve not yet had a moment where I’ve said, “Oh, I better get some work.”
Q: Anyone you have yet to work with but would love to?
A: There are people I worked with that I wouldn’t mind working with again. I had a few brief times working with Stevie Wonder. That was mind-blowing. I would love to be in the studio just me and him, have him play every instrument — the drum, the bass, the keyboard — and just make a record in three days without overthinking.
Q: Your kids are now making music. What advice you give them?
A: Just keep writing songs that you really love yourself. Then if you really want people to hear them, you’ve got to make it interesting for them. That can be Ziggy Stardust or it can be Lukas Graham. But it’s got to be something.
Q: You have so many projects going on, is there ever a moment where you just sit quietly and stare at a wall?
A: If I’m home at night, around 7:45 I tend to have a martini. Then I choose one of the old records. Blues usually. I stick it on the player, get my guitar out and play along. Then my wife and I have dinner with the kids, talk about their things. It turns into a regular evening. I get up the next morning and get back on the old, “I wonder how to fix this bit and that bit.”
It’s not as crazy as it seems. I allow the chaos to happen.
Dave Stewart’s book, “Sweet Dreams Are Made of This: A Life in Music,” is available now.