June 5, 2001
Stevie Nicks: Video Interview
(Watch the Video at cdnow.com)
After battling drug addiction and writer's block, Stevie Nicks finds her Shangri-La.
By Jon Wiederhorn
Despite a phenomenally successful 1997 Fleetwood Mac reunion tour, the past eight years haven't been all that great for Stevie Nicks. She's battled depression, insecurity, and addiction to the anxiety medication Klonopin. Of course, you'd never know it from seeing her in person: Though she's just cracked her 53rd year, she still looks elegant, confident, and glamorous.
Nestled into a suite in a posh New York City hotel, Nicks sits comfortably after a long day of interviews. Though the hour is late, and she complains of exhaustion, she bubbles with energy when talking about her new record, Trouble in Shangri-La (read the CDNOW review).
As well she should: After a shaky, melancholy 1994 solo record, Street Angel, Nicks has redeemed herself by recording one of the most personal and seductive albums of the year. The disc took seven years to create, during which time Nicks suffered from self-doubt and a paralyzing case of writer's block. Upon finally emerging from the haze, she drew strength from her suffering and wound up writing some of her best solo material to date.
Several friends helped along the way, including Sheryl Crow, who co-produced five tracks; Dixie Chick Natalie Maines, who duets with Nicks on "Too Far from Texas"; Macy Gray; Sarah McLachlan; and Lindsey Buckingham. Through it all, it's Nicks' sandpapered vocals and patented romantic imagery that makes Trouble shine.
CDNOW: Your new record combines musical elements from your past with something a bit more contemporary. What were you shooting for?
Stevie Nicks: This record just fell into place. I named the record the second year into it, but that was my only plan. I wanted it to be a really good, clear understandable way to get my philosophy across to the people, and I worked really hard to make sure that it was that.
Can you describe that philosophy?
Trouble in Shangri-La is about how difficult it is to stay in Shangri-La once you get there. Or what is your Shangri La? And once you get there, then is that boring?
What's your idea of Shangri-La?
I'm one of those people who believes maybe if you never quite get to Shangri-La, that's a better way. I think that when you get to paradise, that's when everything screws up. When you really think that you've got it all, that's when everything starts to come undone. So Shangri-La for me would just be being happy and content and doing the work that I love and staying healthy.
Lyrically, the record addresses troubled relationships. It all seems to be about yearning, dreaming, and trying to hold on.
It is. Basically, that's what I've been writing about forever -- since I was 16. That's why I think you could put a really old song right next to a really new song of mine, and really, if I didn't tell you, and you hadn't heard it a million times before, you probably wouldn't know that that those songs were written 20 years apart.
There are similarities between all of your songs, but certainly you've developed as an artist over the years.
What's different is that every year I live, I have more experience, and I'm wiser. Again, when I wrote my first song when I was 16, it was with my guitar, and it was a really pretty little melody, and it was a really pretty little poem: [sings] "I've loved and I've lost, and I'm sad but not blue / I once loved someone who was wonderful and true." It sounds like a 16-year-old, but the story is basically very similar to all the rest of the stories that come in your life. So just as a writer, I write a poem, and I put my experience into it, and then I go to the piano and put a tune to it. When I was 16 and wrote my first song I was as excited about that song as I was when I wrote Trouble in Shangri-La.
Has age brought wisdom?
Much wisdom. Are you asking me what that came from? Well, it came from my life. My life has been very interesting. Lots of very interesting people. Lots of very interesting situations, lots of travel. Lots of things that don't happen to most people -- riding on Lear jets and driving limousines and having beautiful houses and making lots of money. And I'm still that sad little 16-year-old girl that wrote that first song. And that has led me somehow through that really simple little love of poetry to all of those things
Your last solo album was 1994's Street Angel. What did you want to do this time that you didn't do on that record?
Street Angel wasn't a very good record, so I really ran away from that quickly. It came out in the summer, and two months later I wrote "Love Is," which is the last song on this new record. So I really started trying to write a new record immediately, because I was so unhappy with that record.
Why were you unhappy with it?
Because for eight years before -- and it always comes back to this, which I'm sorry about -- but it comes back to the [anti-anxiety medication] Klonopin. And that was Street Angel -- the little street urchin on Klonopin. And it was a sad record. Writers do not thrive on drugs like Klonopin and Prozac. It takes your soul; it takes your creativity; it takes your love of running home at night and getting out a typewriter or getting out your paper and pencil and writing something that you love. It takes that away. You don't care anymore. So Street Angel was all about just not caring. And that's horrible to me. One of the few things that I've never not done in my life is not care. And I didn't care for a long time.
Is it better to experience the highest highs and the lowest lows, and have that range to draw from as an artist than to maintain a steady level of complacency?
I think that most of the really great artists do sink that low. Because I think you have to be that low to actually appreciate the highs. Again, Trouble in Shangri-La. If all you do is tour in a big rock band and have lots of fun and everything's perfect, then that, too, becomes boring. So it's all about keeping your life interesting, I guess.
What were some of the lows that inspired your creativity?
The lows for me were probably the last years of cocaine in the 1980s, and the last four years of the Klonopin.
Why were you on Klonopin in the first place?
Basically, when I got off cocaine I ended up going to a doctor because everyone around me said, "Well, you need to do something to stay off cocaine." Not really understanding that I was off of cocaine. All I had to do was go through Betty Ford one time. And that was it. I have never seen that drug or done it, or been around anybody who has done it since I stopped.
So basically, I went to see a doctor just to check in with somebody and let everybody know that I was OK. I guess when most people go off Klonopin they have a very hard time. I wasn't one of those people, but he didn't know that. So he suggested that I go on this drug for my nerves, and I just said OK to get everybody to leave me alone. Well, what a big mistake. I really wonder where I would be now, what I would have done if those eight years were full of creativity and love, and good things instead of full of nothing.
Why were you initially hesitant to start working on new material?
Eight years is a long time to feel like your life is really an empty black hole. I was just really sad and upset about what had happened to me, and I was really feeling very sorry for myself. I felt like I had really been taken to the cleaners, and there was kind of no coming out of it. I was OK. I was fine. I was off of the Klonopin. But, oh, my life [was a mess]. I had fired people; I was not nice to people. I was my "I don't care about anything" self for a long time. And when you try to come out of that, it's hard because you think everybody's mad at you, and you made a lot of mistakes, and nobody's ever gonna forgive you. Your mind goes crazy. You create a lot of problems probably that aren't even there.
You've said that Tom Petty inspired you to start writing music again.
In February 1995, I had dinner with him, and I asked him if he would maybe help me write a song. He basically laughed and said, "Stevie, that's what you do. You are a songwriter. You have given up having a husband and babies and everything else so you could write your songs. And now you're asking me to help you to write a song?" He said that I had to get over whatever was troubling me and move on. And I really was able to take that from him and come up out of the sad place that I was in.
You've always been driven by spirituality. Did that enter into the creation of Shangri-La?
Absolutely. I believe there is a God absolutely now because I feel that he really made all the pieces work on this record. And there were times -- like when Sheryl had to go and work on The Globe Sessions, where I was really sunk because I didn't really know anybody else to call. And I thought, "What am I gonna do now?" And every time a door would close, another door would open. And it happened consistently. So I really started to get a feeling that there was somebody up there pulling the strings for me.
You have numerous guest vocalists on this album: Natalie Maines from the Dixie Chicks, Sarah McLachlan, Macy Gray, Lindsey Buckingham. Do you have any good stories?
Macy Gray is a real character. I met Macy because my manager also manages Macy. In the end result of "Bombay Sapphire" I had always thought that I would call and ask Sting -- who will laugh when he hears this -- to come and do that high part on the song. But he had a record out, and he was too busy. So at the very last minute, I asked Macy because she has that high, little kind of raspy voice that is what I wanted for that sort of reggae kind of song. She's a trip, she's very funny. And she said to me as she came through the door, "I do not do harmony." I said, "Well, OK, let's take the melody off of 'Bombay Sapphire' and just put the high harmony in, and you just sing that like it was the melody, as if there were never another part. As if that's the only part that ever existed." And she did it perfect.
Are you ever going to record with Fleetwood Mac again?
When I get done touring for Shangri-La, Fleetwood Mac will do another record. I've already given Lindsey 17 demos of songs from the last 30 years, and some that are newer -- two that I pulled off of this record that I decided weren't right for this record and were very much right for Fleetwood Mac. Mick and I have made it our mission to make it happen. So it will.