You can’t keep a gold dust woman down — and Stevie Nicks is one busy gypsy these days. In the past few years, she’s made two of her best solo albums, toured the world with Fleetwood Mac and sung for the witches of American Horror Story. Her excellent new 24 Karat Gold: Songs from the Vault has songs she’s written over the years but never recorded before, reaching back to 1969. This fall she hits the road again with the Mac — this time with the long-lost Christine McVie back in the fold. “The five original cast members,” Nicks says proudly. “Of all the elite bands of the Seventies, we’re the only one touring with the same lineup we had in 1975.”
The rock goddess took a break from band rehearsals for a late-night chat, calling from her house by the ocean, gazing out onto the waves in Santa Monica while discussing music, memories, drugs, hats, ponchos, band politics, her “Crackhead Dance” and the essence of twirling.
What’s it like playing with the whole Mac again?
We’re starting from scratch. The Christine songs are brand new to us after 16 years, and God bless her, she has to learn them all over again. She came up with that part in “Silver Springs.” [Stevie sings piano solo] She hasn’t played those songs in 16 years. And I am here to tell you that none of us just sit around listening to Fleetwood Mac records. We’re always moving forward, so once we finish something, we’re on to the next thing. It’s not like we have record parties and listen to our old stuff.
So you’re back on the road with Fleetwood Mac — a week before you release your solo album.
I’m running two careers at the same time. But I don’t walk into band rehearsals and expound upon the record I just made, because I am a smart woman. I’m not pushing it down their throats — I’m not trying to cause any trouble here. Nobody from Fleetwood Mac has heard this record yet. When the time comes to hear it, they’ll like it. Lindsey will love it — half of these songs are about him!
Lindsey actually likes that?
Well, of course! We write about each other, we have continually written about each other, and we’ll probably keep writing about each other until we’re dead. That’s what we have always been to each other. Together, we have been through great success, great misunderstandings, a great musical connection. He has more appreciation for that now — I think it’s because he has two little daughters and a lovely wife, so he’s really in Girl World now. That’s gotta soften him up a little bit. He’s more aware of a feminine point of view.
How did you record these songs so fast?
Fleetwood Mac took a three-month break, and I thought, “I don’t wanna just sit around. But I don’t have time to make a record. Or do I?” So I called Dave Stewart and we went to Nashville. We cut all the tracks in three weeks.
We should all have your energy level.
And without drugs! [Laughs] If somebody had told me back then, “You don’t really need to do barrels full of cocaine — you have the energy. You were born with it. You never need drugs to do your work.” But we got thrown into a bad time in the world when everybody said cocaine was inspirational and safe and non-addictive. And everybody was having fun, until they weren’t. It sort of backfired.
When you did “Stand Back” on the last tour, I counted 18 twirls during the guitar solo. Are you ever tempted to just stand there and take it easy onstage?
Well, I’m very practiced at twirling. I would be so bored if I was up there just standing. I took a lot of ballet — I always wanted to work the dancing in. The reason I wear the ponchos and the big shawl-y chiffon things is because I realized from a very young age, if you were 5 foot 1, and you wanted to make big moves and be seen from a long way away, if you weren’t twirling a baton of fire, you needed something that was gonna make you show up. Like a Las Vegas showgirl, really. You need big moves. If you’re gonna dance, you gotta really dance.
I do this long dance during “Gold Dust Woman” — we call it the Crackhead Dance. It’s me being some of the drug addicts I knew, and probably being myself too — just being that girl lost on the streets, freaked out with no idea how to find her way. Years ago Lindsay would have said, “You can not do the Crackhead Dance onstage. Lose that.” But now he likes it, because it gives him a chance to jam and play guitar. When Christine saw it, she said, “Wow, we’ve always known that ‘Gold Dust Woman’ was about the serious drug days, but this really depicts how frightening it was for all of us and what we were willing to do for it.’ We were dancing on the edge for years.
“Mabel Normand” on the new album has a sad story. Why did you relate to her?
Mabel Normand was a movie star from the 1920s. A beautiful girl who had it all at her fingertips, until she got into the drug world. She was a really bad cocaine addict — and this is the Twenties. I watched a documentary about her in 1985, my worst time, six or seven months before I went into Betty Ford. She was like me: If I bought coke for me, I also bought it for 500 of my closest friends. And if you’re buying drugs for you and all your friends, and you’re the only one who has money, and then somebody’s trying to get you off drugs, the seedy side of the drug-dealer world isn’t happy about that.
Did you ever think Christine McVie would come back?
Never. We reformed with The Dance in 1997, but that only lasted a year before Christine flipped out and said, “I just can’t do this any more — I’m having panic attacks.” She sold her house and car and piano and moved back to England, never really to be heard from again. Then last year she called me and said, “This is crazy — I don’t need to sit out here in this castle 40 miles outside London watching gardening shows. I’m ready to come back to the world.” So I said, “Chris, it’s your band and we’d love to have you back. So meet up with us in Dublin and see the rock monster we’ve become. And get a trainer.”
One of the great moments in the Mac live show is when the roadie brings out your top hat for the encore. Does the hat have its own roadie?
Absolutely, because that’s the one. It’s a very special top hat — it’s from the 1920s, that one, and you can’t find another one like it. So the hat has its own roadie, its own box and its own cage — it’s always protected.
People really lose it when you sing “I’m getting older too” in “Landslide.” Yet you were so young when you wrote that song.
I was only 27 — I wrote that in 1973, a year before I joined Fleetwood Mac. You can feel really old at 27.
My favorite song of yours is “Ooh My Love,” from 1989. People always forget that one.
That’s one of my favorites too. In fact, The Other Side of the Mirror is probably my favorite album. Those songs were written right before the Klonopin kicked in. “In the shadow of the castle walls” — that song was very important to me. I was lucky those songs were written when they were, before that nasty tranquilizer. It was a really intense record. People don’t talk about that record much, but it was different from all the others. It was a moment in time. I had gotten away from the cocaine in 1986. I spent a year writing those songs. I was drug-free and I was happy.
Then the Klonopin really kicked in. To go from The Other Side of the Mirror to Street Angel…that was difficult. I was a wreck and the album was a wreck. They’re called “tranquilizers” for a reason. You stop being so committed. This doctor had me on it for eight years. Forty-seven days in rehab to get off Klonopin was way more horrific than 30 days to get off coke. The word “tranquilizer” should scare people to death. Xanax should scare people to death. My godson died three years ago at a frat party — Xanax and alcohol, goodbye.
This doctor was a groupie — he just wanted to hear me tell stories about rock & roll. So he kept upping my dose for years. Finally I said, “I’m taking enough Klonopin every day to sink a boat. That’s why I gained all this weight, and that’s why my writing is terrible, and that’s why The Other Side of the Mirror was the last good record I made. This was all your idea.”
How do you get past that anger?
That doctor — he’s the only person in my life I can honestly say I will never forgive. All those years I lost — I could have maybe met somebody or had a baby or done a few more Fleetwood Mac albums or Stevie Nicks albums. So I’ll never forgive him. If I saw him on the street and I was driving — well, I don’t have a drivers license and it’s good, because I would just run him down.
You’ve been on such a creative roll lately. How does it feel to revisit these old songs?
It’s always intense to look back, but it’s always good to remember who you were and what it was like then. It makes me remember how beautiful and frightening it all was. So many of these songs are about me and Lindsey moving to L.A. in 1971, asking each other, “Now what? Should we go back to San Francisco? Should we quit?” We were scared kids in this big huge flat city where we had no friends and no money. But we didn’t quit.
I believe Lindsey and I would have made it if we’d stayed in San Francisco. He does too. If we never joined Fleetwood Mac, Buckingham Nicks would have taken off. We would have stayed together, gotten married, had a kid — and then we probably would have gotten divorced, because it would have been too hard. There’s this whole other way it could have gone.
But all those little songs, all that pain I went through — it got me here. I look around me now — I’m in my little house right now, looking out at the beautiful ocean, picturing my dad leaning against the wall over there like a ghost, saying, “Do you realize what a lucky girl you are?” I’m lucky that my favorite evening is still going to a grand piano in a beautiful room with incense and candles and sitting down to write a song for the world.
There are so many young new rock artists who are obviously hardcore fans of yours — Sharon Van Etten and White Lung and Sky Ferreira.
It’s sweet how that happens. It’s crazy to think about all these people listening who weren’t born back then. We put “Seven Wonders” back in the set because of American Horror Story. Our monitor guy said, “I’m not familiar with that song.” I said, “Because it came out when you were two.”
You’re like David Bowie that way — every generation discovers you.
Well, I’m a big fan of David Bowie. Especially his movie The Hunger, with Susan Sarandon and Catherine Denueve. Just creepy and strange and amazingly beautiful. I’m always surprised Bowie didn’t make more vampire movies.