Jason Merritt, Getty Images Big Kenny, whose country fans know him best as…
- Posted on Jun 28th 2011 1:30PM by Kenneth Partridge
The album is Stewart's first in 13 years, but it's not like he's been slacking off. In the last couple of years, he's produced records by Stevie Nicks and Joss Stone, penned songs for a musical based on the film 'Ghost,' and formed the supergroup SuperHeavy with Mick Jagger, Damian Marley, Stone and film composer AR Rahman. In a phone interview with Spinner, Stewart discussed jamming with Jagger, writing songs with Bob Dylan and why he wanted to make a musical about a Patrick Swayze movie.
Prior to 'Blackbird Diaries,' you hadn't made a solo record in 13 years. Was it just the result of you doing so many other projects, or had you lost interest in being a solo artist?
I never considered myself a solo artist up until recently. I always just did the odd record. When I made [1995's] 'Greetings from the Gutter,' I was experimenting with the [cover] artwork from Damien Hirst, and I was at Jimi Hendrix's studio [Electric Lady] in New York. It was a lot of artists -- Bootsy Collins playing bass -- like a real fusion. But I didn't see myself like I was going to have a solo career. I was really into taking photographs and doing film music. It was just something I did, whereas this particular album, it's very strange how it came about. It was almost like the world of destiny or the universe telling me, "Hey, Dave, you are a solo artist," and sending me to Nashville with a guitar I bought on Denmark Street in London. It led into this weird odyssey.
Somehow I ended up finding myself, and it was almost like I went back again to when I was 15 or 16, when I used to play in clubs and sing blues songs or Dylan songs.
You reportedly wrote the 'Blackbird' songs in five days. Is that always how you've written, even in the Eurythmics days?
We used to write songs very fast, Annie and I, but it was mostly me that was doing it very fast. That used to stimulate Annie to go fast. I liked to capture spontaneity in a song, and in the songwriting as well. Eurythmics made albums in three weeks, and that included writing. The longest was six weeks. Left to my own devices, there's nobody I have to get to sign off on it. It's just me. It made it really fast, because the players were right in the room, and it was only me that had to say, "That's a take."
You co-wrote 'Worth the Waiting For' with Bob Dylan. You guys are friends, but still, it's Bob Dylan. What's like writing a song with him?
In the '80s and in the '90s, Dylan and I would meet up and jam and record something, and then we'd go to my house and play them back on a cassette deck. I had another little ghetto blaster that could record, and the only recording I had of that song sketch -- it was just a sketch -- was singing along on top of the tape recorder in the kitchen, while we were both having a margarita. It was a very scratchy recording, but I always loved the feeling of that, so I then completed the song in Nashville and sent a copy, and he said he really liked it.
I'm such a peculiar character. I'm a bit like Puck, mischievous and fun and always in the present and always excited. But I was just joining in with him, and he was having as much fun. Admittedly, we both had been drinking tequila, but when I was with him, the exchange of ideas was always an equal exchange of ideas.
I'm a collaborator and an enthusiast. We were very good friends. It was just natural flow and exchange of ideas. But I would never step on his songwriting. If he said, "I don't like this," I go, "Fine, that's how it goes." He's a master. I'm a huge Dylan fan. The first songs I learned were from 'Freewheeling' and things like that. But it was a really amazing experience being with him, and it was great when I got a message back saying Bob likes it. To sing something that was started with him, and for him to say he likes it, was obviously a very great moment.
You've said that you like being a behind-the-scenes man. That's not the impression many people have of Mick Jagger. With this SuperHeavy supergroup, was he able to be a team player, or was it hard for him not to be the star?
He was great about it, actually. Everybody was adding their parts. He joined in a big room where we were recording, and there was only a tiny few occasions where there was mixed opinion about what should happen in a certain song. It was a real flow that happened, flowing out of everybody. Most of it was born out of huge long jams we started a couple years ago. I might start it or Damian might start it, and these recordings would be like 40 minutes for one song. It wasn't until the next few times we all started going, "That was as good bit. Let's use that, and let's put this together." And lyrics started to come more and more, and it just started to build and build, and now we've got 18 great songs. We started mixing, and then we said, "These sound killer."
A lot of fans have speculated about what SuperHeavy might sound like. Is it primarily reggae-based?
Some of it is reggae-kind of Caribbean, dancehall feeling. And then it flips into bluesy rock, and suddenly an Indian string section comes in -- all in one song. Anybody I've played it for has gone, "Holy s---. I've never heard anything like this."
With regard to Mick's other band, the Rolling Stones, what are your thoughts on rockers continuing to tour into old age? You've spoken fondly of the old bluesmen, such as RL Burnside, who played into his twilight years. Should the Stones be allowed to do likewise?
Yeah, I think these guys should do whatever they want to do, whenever they want to do it. They're true pioneers and legends, and just like RL Burnside and lots of my favorite blues players, any recordings of them, or last recordings, would be valuable to me.
Are there plans to tour behind SuperHeavy?
We're talking about how to perform such an epic fusion of sounds. There's lots of talk of different ways, almost like a happening, and I think when we do something, it'll be a happening. And it will have all sorts of people intersecting from different cultures and different walks of life and different ages, because of the fusion.
The 'Ghost' musical is about to open. Had you been a big fan of the movie?
What drew me to the project was that I was approached by the producer. Very early on, what made me go for it was I met the original ['Ghost'] screenplay writer, Bruce Joel Rubin, who wrote one of my favorite films, 'Jacob's Ladder.' And we got on like a house on fire. I knew it was going to be a special journey. He's so intelligent; the guy's a huge brain. I thought, "OK if he's the person writing the book of the musical, and I can bring my friend Glen Ballard to work with, then I agreed that I would write songs and the music for the musical.
You weren't nervous after what Bono and the Edge went through on 'Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark?'
No, it's completely different kind of musical. Ours is all based on emotion and tragedy. The first 20 minutes, the character gets shot dead and has the journey. It's actually resolved kind of like 'The End' by the Beatles: [sings] "And in the end ..." It kind of ends like that, because in the movie, he would never say he loved her, even though they were crazy about each other. He kept saying, "Ditto." And then he gets shot dead, and he regrets it, and so in a lot of the stuff is internalized in the music. The way it's been interpreted on the stage, it's using a mixture of old theatrics mixed with the most contemporary use of technology. None of it detracts from the story, which is running through it in a very emotional way. Most people have left the theater just sobbing.
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