Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart is a tough man to reach as he waits out the COVID-19 pandemic on a tiny island in the Caribbean, but eventually a thick northern British accent comes onto the staticky link. While he may be enjoying a vacation of sorts, the Grammy-award-winning multi-instrumentalist and composer is always listening to his surroundings, looking for his next inspiration.
“Here, often, on the end of the pier where the tiny little boats usually arrive, there might be a chap singing gospel, or preaching, and it’s echoing around a bit, so I love the sound of that, and then I might just sit outside with a guitar and tune it to the key that he seems to be in and play along,” Stewart said.
Stewart has worked as a producer and collaborator with Ringo Starr, Celine Dion, Bono and Mick Jagger, among a seemingly endless list of notable artists. But his latest collaboration is with relatively unknown singer Thomas Lindsey from the American South. The two met through Twitter after Stewart listened to one of Lindsey’s songs, was blown away by the first four notes and presumed him to be someone else entirely.
“When I realized he was not a 75-year-old African American woman, and that he was a skinny white kid from the middle of DeRidder, Louisiana, I was, like, ‘what!?” Stewart said.
The online encounter resulted in two records. Amitié, the duo’s second album under the moniker Stewart Lindsey, drops July 17 on Bay Street Records.
Back in 2016, after they first started talking online, Stewart convinced Lindsey to come out to L.A. and open for him.
“[Lindsey] said, ‘I don’t really play anything.’ And I said, ‘That doesn’t matter. Just sing, just unaccompanied, anything you’ve made up,” Stewart said. “But he didn’t tell me also that he’d never been on a plane or he’d never left Louisiana, so I think he had, you know, triple nerves.”
Their first show was at the famed Troubadour, and early arrivers didn’t pay much attention to the young kid at first.
“Within about four minutes or less it went totally silent and everybody[‘s] jaws dropped,” Stewart said.
Thomas Lindsey and Dave Stewart teamed up to make music remotely; something completely normal now but was less so back then.
“It’s probably the weirdest way anybody would record because, for instance, Thomas might sing something with no accompaniment, just into the mic and send it to me,” Stewart said. “When I put music to it, he can’t believe how different it sounds, because he didn’t really hear the sort of chord progressions or the synths or whatever it was that I was going to put on. So he gets back a magical piece, and then I feel the same the other way around.”
Although the new album was finished prior to the pandemic, the pair have used their time in lockdown to broaden their vision, creating a serialized series of parallel shorts that will precede each video from the album.
“Thomas looks like a timeless kind of an investigator, and he’s actually trying to pin down this character called ‘The Scorpion,’ but it’s actually a mind-fuck, kind of psychological thing to do with your own mind and it sort of starts revealing itself in all these sort of ways.,” he said. “So I’m making nine videos for the nine songs, even though we’re in lockdown. We’re doing it all on the iPhone. I don’t want to say too much more because it will sort of give away the whole story.”
Stewart’s incredibly successful musical career grew out of a lifelong love of sound.
“Since I was a child, I was obsessed not just with music, but with recorded sound,” he said. “I would just record people in the street when I was 10 or 11. … Next door to the house where I grew up, there was a baker shop selling pies and bread, and I liked going in there and just sort of recording the sounds. Then I’d take them back to my bedroom and play them back.”
Eventually, with guidance from producer Conny Plank and members of the German band CAN, Stewart integrated these field recordings into his music.
“When Annie [Lennox] and I started Eurythmics, we just somehow naturally started to write all these songs, and I was going down Camden tube station with a microphone and recording the train coming in and all those sounds are on those early records; on the Sweet Dreams album,” he said. “Before that, on In the Garden, [producer] Conny Plank and Holger Czukay from CAN and Jaki [Liebezeit] would teach me … to just record all different kind of sounds and mix them into the actual track—and even if you can’t identify them, the whole track comes alive. I’ve always done that ever since, and it all goes back to being a kid and making a recording in the baking shop.”
Stewart’s mind isn’t simply consumed with sound, though. The producer has spent much of the last 20 years re-imagining the music industry. And he has had the ears of some very important people not just as a producer but as an industry prognosticator. In the early 2000s, Stewart was developing a model for “worlds” that artists could use to interact directly with fans, who could have access to special content and even purchase music. Deutsche Bank eventually got wind of this and wanted to learn more. Stewart called a meeting that ended up being attended by Lou Reed, Stevie Wonder, Quincy Jones, as well as managers for Dr. Dre and Bob Dylan.
Looking back, Stewart’s models seem especially prescient: he was talking about apps.
“I kept trying to explain to people … everybody will have, like, a world,” he said. “And in your world will be all your content, as much content as you want. You, maybe, can put your own pricing, or people can subscribe to your world and they can get all of the stuff that … a record label will say … doesn’t fit the record or whatever, but you might love it. … There’s lots of sites like Patreon [now] … but back in 2002 and 2003, explaining that was interesting.”