Quarantine Diaries: Dave Stewart Is Playing His Favorite Guitar & Chatting With Joss Stone And Gary Clark, Jr.
As the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock the music industry, the Recording Academy reached out to a few musicians to see how they were spending their days indoors. Today, Eurythmics' Dave Stewart shares his Quarantine Diary.
The easiest way for me to describe my time in Lockdown is to break it down into one day. So I scribbled my schedule onto a whiteboard and I will explain below my 16 hours of awake time (although I do count "dream time" as awake time too… So let’s just say it’s 24 hours!).
I live on a tiny island three miles long by half a mile wide, so it is very easy to do many things in a day as I’m not stuck in traffic jams or endless meetings. Luckily, there are no cases of Covid-19 virus that have been recorded here. The whole island is very aware and conscientious to stay safe and to keep it that way.
Luckily, the Prime Minister of the Bahamas, Hubert Minnis, has a doctorate of medicine degree behind him and went on to serve as a consultant and Deputy Chief of Staff at Princess Margaret Hospital in Nassau. So as soon as he realized a pandemic was on the horizon he was quick to stop any cruise ships from docking and closed all airports and sea ports to all incoming passengers (both Bahamian and non-Bahamian). Additionally, all residents are in lockdown with strict instructions. We receive very informative statements and updates daily via email from his office.
The population on the Island is around 2,000 and a very clever method of grocery shopping was put into effect by using family surnames and tieing everyone’s shopping allowance to only certain times on certain days, which really worked to stop panic shopping. The Island has been isolated for over eight weeks now and people are allowed to exercise outdoors and basically get on with life, but unfortunately all the hotels and restaurants are closed, as well as the smaller boutique hotels. The hotel/restaurant/bar closures are causing major difficulties for the people on the Island as tourism is the main source of employment. Many of us are contributing to gofundme campaigns and the like to allow people to receive some much-needed relief. Everyone is helping each other like a small village should—in fact like the whole world should and would if it wasn’t for political madness. "This land is your land and this land is my land, sure, but the world is run by those that never listen to music anyway." Bob Dylan said that before Obama came into power. I like Barack's 2019 playlist he even put in "Toast” by Koffee from Jamaica—she’s one of my favorite artists at the moment.
So that is the context of where I am right now and the kind of lockdown life I’m living along with my wife Anoushka and my daughter Indya. Indya has just turned 18 the day before my diary below, and is in the process of graduating high school (now online). Two of my other children, Kaya and Django, had to decide to leave quickly when Dr. Innis gave a 48-hour ultimatum to fly back to the U.S.A. or plan on staying for an indefinite amount of time. My son Sam has already been in lockdown in California for more than six weeks and has been using his time isolated working on film music. Both Kaya and Django are also artists and have new EPs being released and like all artists were planning on performing live, which we all know now will not be for at least a few years (or not without a vaccine).
As you will see on my whiteboard photo, the first thing on the Agenda was to call Gary Clark Jr., but I have a very strict ritual before I do anything which is:
[8:30 a.m.] Wake up and answer some important e-mails from the U.K. Most of these are from illustrators or designers working on stuff and I always look forward to seeing how things are progressing. Usually there are a few from Laurence Stevens (I’ve worked with Laurence since 1982). In fact, Laurence's first job was Eurythmics' Sweet Dreams album cover and all the single covers. He was fresh out of college and he went on to do every Eurythmics album cover after that and many more U.K. acts. Check him out.
[9 a.m.] Slowly drink a large glass of coconut water with a small amount of fresh fruit and a small cup of green tea and meditate a bit.
[10 a.m.] I shout "Brian" over the fence (Brian is my best mate from Jamaica). Then me, Brian, and on odd days, my wife Anoushka, go to Pink Sands beach (Brian and I do this every morning religiously) and we walk the length of the beach and swim in the turquoise sea. It’s a dream I had as a kid in Sunderland N.E. England where it's raining and cold most of the time, so I never take this morning dip for granted.
[11a.m.] Back to the house on the harbour side to make "rocket fuel" coffee. By now Jaden, or Chef Fatz, as he is known, our 22-year-old genius Bahamian chef, arrives with ideas for breakfast (which are always great). So I never really start work until noon. Whilst breakfast is on the go or sometimes before the beach I make up ridiculous gambling games with two or three local people who work at my house and recording studio. These gambling games can be anything from catching a lime or lemon on a sharp knife whilst blindfolded or throwing dice that have devils and skulls instead of numbers. It’s very confusing who won but there’s a lot of laughing and I usually lose and pay up a dollar or two during the process.
[12 p.m.] On this particular day (actually every day from 12 noon onwards is mayhem and randomly different), my list said to call Gary Clark Jr. and various other people about a special animated Blues Movie that Orianthi and I have created. Gary didn’t pick up the call so I moved on to calling Otto, who is in Wales. Otto recently won a songwriting competition I did in partnership with this great eight-track recording app called Trackd. I told Otto not only did he win but I wanted to sign him to my new independent label called Bay Street Records. So he was very excited about that and we discussed his music and timings, etc.
[1 p.m.] Now I could call and wake people up in Los Angeles without feeling guilty. So I called Chris Champeau, who works for me as an Editor/Director/SpecialEffects/WebMaster and all-around genius. Chris is working on about five different things at once for me—all of which have a sense of urgency as release dates are approaching fast. We chat about the nine videos Thomas Lindsey and I are shooting in Lockdown (Stewart Lindsey, as we are known, have our first single being released on the 15th May called "Liberation"). After going through changes to that first video, we chat about the special project I have been working on with Beverley Knight: a U.K. legend and the best soul singer in the U.K.! I have created a unique story/script full of music and Beverley will play the lead character, as well as writing many songs with me, which will appear in the series. Chris is editing the stuff we already shot with Beverley in Los Angeles—literally days before the pandemic news broke out.
[2 p.m.] I have an arranged House Party call with Joss Stone (we used the House Party app in "locked" mode with just us in it, as it seems a bit better while we are writing together—which is usually with me on guitar and Joss singing in real time). It has less latency (meaning that weird out of synch delay that is impossible to stay in time with each other). Joss and I are halfway through writing the songs and music for Lauren Gunderson’s musical script of "The Time Traveler's Wife," based on the best-selling book of the same name.
Joss and I always have a great laugh when we work together and we have worked together since Joss was about 16 years old. Our first time recording together was her singing "Alfie" (for the movie of the same name) which I scored with Mick Jagger (Mick and I won a Golden Globe for best song in a movie with "Old Habits Die Hard"). Joss sang "Alfie" and Mick and I thought she was so good we went in the bathroom for 10 minutes and wrote another song called "Lonely Without You (This Christmas)" just so Joss could sing it as a duet with Mick! It turned out great! Joss and I work really fast together and we once wrote the James Bond Playstation game starting at around 10 a.m. one morning before a Superheavy recording session started. Anyway, we have made two albums together and have never stopped laughing and we didn’t stop laughing on this call!
[3:30 p.m.] I called Annie [Lennox] about our UNICEF WON'T STOP appearance and we chatted about the making of our little film we had to shoot together. But at 6,000 miles apart! Annie sent me her test film that she shot on her phone and we laughed about the complications of balancing our phones on top of books and many objects trying to film oneself. Her test film worked well, so I then went down to my studio in the basement and played my 12-string guitar part and filmed it so Annie could hear it in her ear piece and sing and play along in time. We then sent this off to UNICEF to be fitted into the special they were making called UNICEF WON’T STOP—a virtual global special.
[4 p.m.] I started my interview with Paul Zollo from American Songwriter magazine. Paul and I have talked many times before as he worked on my book "Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This (A Life in Music)." Paul also wrote the epic "Songwriters on Songwriting" series of books as well as a great book on my late great friend and collaborator Tom Petty. I don’t like repeating myself and as Paul has interviewed me a few times before we chatted first about the pandemic situation and our different experiences. Once we’d agreed this was a disaster for everybody involved in live music, as well as a disaster for everybody in different occupations, we plowed on into both our obsessions: songs and songwriting. Stewart Lindsey is a great project I have with a Louisiana boy named Thomas Lindsey and Paul loved our first album called Spitballin'. Paul heard our new album, called Amitié (meaning friendship) and is very enthusiastic about our voodoo, bluesy gospel-type strangeness, as am I, so we spent most of the interview talking about that. I’m very excited about this being the first release on my new label Bay Street Records, as it sets the tone for the label.
[5 p.m.] At this time I always have a break and a quick swim to get my head clear followed by a small snack. Jaden (Chef Fatz) has made some local fish soup with hot scotch bonnet peppers and other mysterious fresh ingredients, which was insanely delicious. After lying down answering lots of e-mails I am ready to tackle the remainder of the day. But at 5:45 p.m., Gary Clark Jr. calls back and we talk about the blues for 30 or 40 mins and decide to collaborate together in lockdown. I’ve been a massive fan of Gary ever since seeing him play Bright Lights live at crossroads music festival. He’s the real deal.
[6:30 p.m.] I re-read the new iteration of the first act of a musical I am working on with Lorne Campbell, who was recently appointed artistic director of National Theatre Wales. Every time a script changes in a musical or a movie the music has to be re-written or modified to fit the scene. This is always a challenge but one I enjoy. It's almost like playing with a Rubik’s Cube, except not only does every move affect every next move but colors keep changing and you know everything gets a new set of problems that need solutions when eventually it gets into rehearsals and then onto the stage. Things you wouldn’t imagine, like the actor can’t change clothes fast enough to be in the next scene unless the song is longer by and odd number of bars, or the set designer explains how the whole scene makes it impossible to implement his genius set change that involves someone being pushed off a bridge into a river (this is a stage musical) but landing in a hospital bed using scrims and illusion. So just the normal type of problems I try to imagine whilst thinking how to re-write the various songs needed to move the needle along and get the show on that stage (then I wonder if it is ever going to happen and with the added pandemic problem... Will anybody want to be in a theatre anyway?! ).
[7p.m.] Check an edited PDF presentation about another music TV show I’ve been creating and send my comments. I know by now most people may have stopped reading or if still reading be thinking, "This guy is nuts." And yes you are probably right, I was thinking that myself when I was reading some of it back. I suppose I’m addicted to creativity which could be linked to D2 receptor but I won’t go into that I’ve been like this ever since I was a child, so I’m used to it.
[7:15 p.m.] Do a last check on the Julia Michaels episode final edit for my NBC-TV show, "Songland." This is less like work and more like watching the show at this point, as it’s been through many changes already. It’s great and she’s great, so my day of "work/play" always stops here.
[8 p.m.] Just like the rocket fuel coffee, I now create the antidote vaccine which is a very stiff martini! Yep! I make one of my notorious vodka martinis that brings me back to earth and allows me to re-enter gently into family discussions. By the way, I didn’t mention in my diary that everything is always interspersed with FaceTime, Skype or Zoom calls with each of my absent children take priority over everything above!
[8:30 p.m.] Dinner is jerk chicken, peas and rice and a little fried plantain (my favorite type of food). We try to eat as much locally grown food as possible and it’s amazing what variety there is, from fresh arugula, mangos, papaya, sweet potato and pineapple…to name a few.
[9:30 p.m.] I get to play my favorite guitar on the front porch. I tend to play slide guitar and make up blues tunes, some of which I record on my phone if I really like the feeling. I’ve been crazy about the blues since I was 15 years old and even produced documentary about Delta Blues down in Mississippi [1991's Deep Blues: A Musical Pilgrimage to the Crossroads]. It’s worth watching! Jack White told me it was his favorite and Gary and I spoke on the phone about it earlier in the day. It’s called Deep Blues and is directed by Robert Mugge. Anyway, check out the picture of my guitar and you’ll know why I love it so much!
[10:30 p.m.] I’ve decided to watch the "Ray Donovan" TV series for the first time. I click on episode one and Boom! I'm hooked.
[1 a.m.] Still watching …………zzzzzz
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