Dave Stewart's "The Ringmaster General"
Dave Stewart is an artist whose livelihood thrives off of collaboration. The former Eurythmics founder these days splits his time between his guest-heavy rock albums, producing other artists’ work – frequently with acts who also show on his records – and managing film and TV projects via his company Weapons of Mass Entertainment. He was just one part of a five-person supergroup SuperHeavy, with Joss Stone, Mick Jagger, A.R. Rahman and Damian Marley, and they released their first full-length last year. He produced Stevie Nicks’ new album “In Your Dreams,” and the doc of the same name, which made its bow at the Hamptons Film Festival last month.
He is also a songwriter, producer and musician that savors his own eccentricities. In album-making documentary “The Ringmaster General,” he chronicles the making-of the 2012 album of the same name plus last year’s “The Blackbird Diaries” through songmaking vignettes, but also shots of him brainstorming in the bathtub with his sunglasses on. He pressures martinis in Nashville’s Blackbird studios at any given moment, with off-handed references to friends like Annie (Lennox), Bob (Dylan) and Reese (Witherspoon). Re-created “footage” has managers exclaiming budget emergencies and his wife confused as to where the hell he is, as Stewart enthusiastically recalls his new guitar’s origins and candy-stores a costume shop catering to all his showman’s cravings. Meanwhile, famous females like Alison Krauss, Martina McBride, Colbie Caillat, The Secret Sisters, Joss Stone, Stevie Nicks, Jessie Baylin, Diane Birch
and Orianthi all come by to take their turn at the mic on his country-inspired tunes.
“The Ringmaster General” – the film – makes it’s broadcast premiere tonight on Palladia. The pilot for his ABC show “Malibu Country
” starring Reba McEntire also makes its bow tonight. Below is my abridged phone interview with Stewart, on what it is to be damned busy.
It sounds loud there, what are you doing?
Just finishing Orianthi’s new album. I’m producing. It’s going to be great.
So you have a lot more than just your own music projects going on right now.
We’re trying to turn my graphic novel “Zombie Broadway” into a full-length feature, a musical. It’s another way of thinking about hiding in a theater, it’s amazing.
Who all is confirmed attached?
Jonas Akerlund – he did that Lady Gaga and Beyonce “Telephone” video – is directing. We’d love to have Susan Sarandon on, maybe get Christoph Waltz as the lead zombie…
Me and Ringo [Starr] also have “Hole in the Fence” sold to Paramount, and Reba [McEntire’s] show “Malibu Country” has it’s pilot soon [ed note: tonight].
How do you schedule working in your own stuff?
I love making my records. Once a year I make my own album, and two years after Nashville… I just fell in love with it so much. The vibe, the players. So we did two off of that.
I’ll put out another at the end of next year.
Does where you set up to record always have such a large bearing on what music you write and produce?
Well, Nashville felt like a home for myself, my heart. When I think of it, coming from Northeast England, at the time we all played folk clubs, and we all had this obsession with singer-songwriters. It was so far away from pop charts. When I got to Nashville, it was great to see people who were so keen to hear what you’ve written. It was a great discovery.
Now I split my time, live in L.A. half of the time and England the other.
You continue to work with a great number of women singers, duetting half the time on the new album. Why is that?
It has to do with a certain tone or sound or timbre, to certain womens’ voices. The ones I work with usually got this sort of melancholy, but also got a great power, like Annie [Lennox]. So can Stevie Nicks and Jessie Baylin. A dreamy sound, but you know it’s quite powerful. Diane birch is not your generic pop singer. She’s got this special thing.
They all seem to play characters in this little concept, where you’re ringmaster, like the title. Does “ringmaster” aptly describe the releationship?
The idea became apparent to me through various ways, being a collaborator and working with so many projects… being the actual ringmaster. With SuperHeavy… I was always the one that’s the ringmaster in the circus tent.
Hence the cover?
I built this amazing top hat from an old hatter’s in London, it was first made in the 1600s. I was looking in the mirror, I thought, “Oh!” It became apparent. I had made up an old handmade horse-riding whip. I was playing with the whip and the top hat, and that’s what slowly evolved into what became the cover to the album, yeah.
Are you going to be working on more album projects with the people you made these albums with?
Joss [Stone], I made her album… we made a little acoustic album, just the two of us, but put it on hold. Diane Birch is always experimenting. We meet every time I’m in New York.
Are you doing more work with SuperHeavy? What did you learn from that experience?
My brain was exploding from information, working with everybody we did. I’d look at Mick and think, how is he doing that? I’ve worked with Mick so much, but it was great seeing Mick working in a circle, It was great experience for everybody.
So you may work together again?
It’s one of the more flexible collaborations it can be. SuperHeavy can just feature different lineups. Mick, he’s in the middle of all the Rolling Stones 50th anniversary stuff, so I don’t know if he’ll be around much for some of those.