Dave Grohl & Stevie Nicks: The Old Dreams and New Realities of Rock and Roll
Dave, in your film Sound City, you talk about Nirvana heading down to LA to record Nevermind and the idea that the three of you left everything behind. You say, “When you’re young, you’re not afraid of what comes next—you’re excited by it.” Stevie, when you read the letter you wrote to your parents in 1973 in the film, you talk about that idea of not knowing what was coming next but having faith in your dreams. At what point does that change? When do you become afraid of the future versus excited by it?
Dave Grohl: I’ve never been afraid of the future.
Stevie Nicks: Me either. I’m always excited about the musical future.
Dave: It’s great to look back on all these things and be proud of your achievements, but I still think that there are better albums to be made and more songs to be written. As you get older, you evolve in a way—you can appreciate things more—and you hone your craft or understanding of music more so that it becomes deeper, richer and fuller.
Stevie: Look what we just did last night. [She’s referring to the Sound City Players show the night before at Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City this past February.] We rehearsed one day at [Dave’s] studio, just those five songs, not to mention the rest of the fantastic show. There’s never been a “Gold Dust Woman” like that, ever.
That’s what you said when we spoke earlier, that it was it was perhaps the greatest version you’d ever experienced.
Stevie: I will never see that song the same again. Here I am at 64 years old, going, “I’m onstage with this amazing group of men that are playing this song that’s been played since I wrote it in 1976, and it’s spectacular and it’s brand new.” [There’s] excitement for all of us to be up there on that stage and not really wanting it to end. I have a Fleetwood Mac tour that’s going on for a year. It’s going to be great, everybody’s in good shape, everybody’s happy, everybody’s excited, and I’m excited about it. But I’m already beyond that [in my head]. That’s why I never got married—that’s why I never had kids—because I wanted to be able to follow my muse and go wherever I wanted and do whatever I wanted. There’s always a new, cool thing out there waiting and it makes me understand that there’s definitely a god, powers, somebody or a house of spirits that are throwing out those ideas to us. People like me, Dave Grohl and Taylor [Hawkins] and all those great men on that stage, we’re just catching them. We’re like dreamcatchers. Most people really aren’t like us.
Dave: It’s funny, the introduction of the movie, where i say, “We were just kids, nothing to lose, nowhere to call home, but we had these songs and we had these dreams,” that idea came to me a little bit later. At first, the original narration was a little more, “in 1991, I was a struggling musician. I threw everything in the van and we went down...” It was a little too, “Once upon a time...” So I came up with that other narration and then, after doing it, I realized, “Wow, this works great. It can apply to every single person in the film.” So Stevie can say the same thing, [Paul] McCartney can say the same thing, Neil [Young] can say the same thing. At some point in their life, you were so in love with music and so passionate about it that you threw everything else away and devoted yourself to that: “I don’t know what’s coming next, but I can’t wait to find out.”
Stevie: And you don’t care if you have to be a waitress.
Dave: If that’s the core of your foundation as a musician, then it never changes. There are some people that decide, “OK, I’m going to be a musician. I’m going to have a career. I’m going to go sell a million records. I’m going to retire and get a penthouse in New York City.” Then, there are other people that don’t know, but you’re willing to find out.
Some people might argue, “That’s easy for you two to say. You’ve sold millions of records around the world and played huge arenas.”Was there ever a time when you were struggling and you said...
Dave: “I’m going to quit music and get a real job?”
Yeah. “I love music, but I’m going to do it on the side. I have to make money somewhere else.”
Dave: Of course! You have to. I worked at a furniture warehouse and I fucking hated my job, but I played music on the weekends so that I could be a happy person. i didn’t play music on the weekends to lose my job at the warehouse; I couldn’t lose my job at the warehouse. I played music to make me happy.
Stevie: Or our parents looked at it as, “Well, it’s your terrific hobby.”
Dave: “At least you’re not out in a gang breaking into cars and stealing stereos.”
Though you two came of musical age at different times, the industry was healthier at either of those times, whether it was the mid-‘90s or the early ‘70s. Musicians today face a much tougher reality between a lack of monetary support from record labels, the new economics of music sales in the digital age and even higher gas prices.
Stevie: They’re hardly getting paid and [companies are] taking all their merchandising and part of their salary. They have nothing.
How do the new Stevie Nickses and Dave Grohls fight to be heard?
Stevie: It’s very hard.
Dave: The reason why Stevie Nicks is really popular is because she’s Stevie Nicks. There weren’t 10,000 Stevie Nickses trying to get a record deal back then or now. There’s just one. The reason why she’s so popular is because of what she does and not everyone can do what she does. It’s the same thing with, “Why did Nirvana become popular? Were there seven other Nirvanas in line waiting to put out a record at that time?” Not really. Kurt [Cobain] was an amazing songwriter with an incredible voice.
Stevie: And incredible charisma.
Dave: He was such a gifted person that if you had met another Kurt Cobain and given him a record deal, do you think the same thing would have happened? If you handed those songs to someone else and said, “Hey, record this record,” it wouldn’t have sounded like Nirvana because it wasn’t Nirvana. The reason why those things happened was because it was what it was, but at the same time, the industry didn’t really... they weren’t waiting for Nirvana to become the biggest band in the world. They pressed 3,500 copies of Nevermind the week it came out because they thought it would take six months to sell those fucking records. The reason why musicians become popular is because—I can’t say that because a lot of really shitty musicians become very popular— if you’re really great at what you do and you’re, in some way, able to share it with everyone, then you’ll be recognized for it. I believe that. You [also] have to define success. What do you consider success? I used to think, “All I want to do is fucking be able to buy corn dogs with money from playing music. Instead of selling equipment, I’d like to be able to play a show and feed myself. That would be awesome.”
Stevie: And have a cool little place.
Dave: I don’t think people should consider a career in music—I honestly don’t because, ultimately, you’re probably going to be disappointed—but it shouldn’t stop you from making music. Playing crazy, noisy punk rock in 1987 wasn’t going to kick Michael Bolton out of the charts, but everybody did it because they loved doing it. Look at the people in the Sound City movie: Neil Young. Why is Neil Young Neil Young? Because he’s fucking Neil Young, that’s why. Why is Paul Paul? Because he’s Paul. All of those people, I honestly believe, the reason why people appreciate what they do is they’re the only people that do what they do.
Stevie: Now, the record companies don’t have any money because a record used to sell for a certain amount of money or a CD sold for 18 bucks. The record company got $10 and then they put that in their coffers and they built that up so they had money to sign the new Dave Grohl or the new Stevie Nicks. [They] helped her or him to morph into the great person they were going to be or the great band they were going to be. Now, kids don’t have that because these record companies—fucking record companies—they can’t do anything for you. my record [2011’s In Your Dreams], that I love more than anything I’ve ever done, my record company didn’t help me with that. I went out and toured for two fucking years and said, “I’m on a mission. I’m going to play these damn songs, six of them, every night in every city I can until I can walk away and feel like I’ve done everything I can possibly do.” And I’m Stevie Nicks! So how is it for that little girl that’s 22 years old and is as good as me and writes great songs and is really cute and is ready to rock, but can’t support herself? There’s no record company that’s going to sign her or, if they do sign her, they’re going to change her into a slightly pseudo-rap artist and they’re going to make her wear creepy clothes and make her sing lyrics she hates and tell her she can’t do her own songs. Then her soul is going to die and then what is she going to do?