Eurythmics were one of the era-defining groups of the 1980s. Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart not only took full advantage of the explosion of music videos by creating a stylish image, but their chemistry resulted in a string of hits.
As a Greatest Hits collection is released, together with the re-issue of all the duo’s albums in a stylish box set, musicOMH caught up with Dave Stewart at an exhibition showcasing the art of Eurythmics.
Sat stock still with hands on knees, as if in deep meditation, Annie Lennox has her eyes gently resting shut while Dave Stewart is masked by trademark fly-eyed sunglasses. Spending a rare half hour in quiet contemplation, the two Eurythmics become part of their surroundings, another icon to go with the giant photographic portraits adorning the walls and the selection of striking videos both past and present that flicker on the screens behind them.
This is far from the explosive alchemy they have enjoyed over the past 25 years, an impulsive chemical reaction which saw their latest single conceived and recorded in a flash. Dave Stewart explains: “Annie was with us on holiday just for about a week, nine weeks ago and we went to my studio. She just wanted to have a look because I’ve been building a new studio and within an hour we’d written I’ve Got A Life and by the time we were driving home we were playing it in the car.” These surges of creativity are how they work best together: “You’ve got to go on your gut instinct and you haven’t got the time to follow fashion or try and be part of a trend or fashion.”
Surely with a string of worldwide hits and over 75 million album sales under their belts, there must be an element of pressure to live up to past glories though? “Well only pressure from ourselves. I mean, I feel pressure from within, you want to keep creating really good things, it’s not really to do with any pressure from outside.”
It’s an attitude which pays little, if any, attention to the notoriously fickle British media. “Because Britain is an island and it’s very small, the turnover and the circulation happens very quick so after three years you can be finished,” Stewart explains, “I understand that they can’t keep writing about the same thing over and over because everybody’s read it and seen it but some other countries like Australia, America, Japan, they’re slightly more like…osmosis.” In Britain’s favour, he counters, “there’s so much going on here, so many brilliant artists, sculptors, painters, music, it’s just phenomenal.”
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There is also much to get excited about the current state of the music scene: “I love the Arctic Monkeys, I love Bloc Party, I love Beck“. Though of the critics he says: “You know something about a lot of artists, like Bob Dylan or Beck, when we’re together talking, or Lou Reed, if anybody mentions British press coverage, it’s irrelevant.”
This is far from any arrogant name-checking exercise though. At times portrayed as an aloof eccentric by the media, Dave Stewart is much more humble in person than you may expect, as demonstrated by his two favourite images on display at the exhibition, one in which he has his back to the camera, the other where his face is blurred in the background, Annie Lennox taking centre stage.
The reissuing of all eight of the Eurythmics albums and the chance to re-master old material obviously meant that Stewart could look back at his work over the last 25 years – was there a particular album or moment he was particularly proud of?
“Sure – I’m proud of all of the albums, but some of our very early recordings, like Sweet Dreams, were very complicated to make. Songs like The Walk or This City Never Sleeps, which uses sound effects of an underground station, and slide guitars and sequencers, were very tricky to put onto an 8 track machine, which we used back then. So I’m particularly proud of that”. Of course it works both ways, as Stewart readily admits. “Obviously every artist looks at stuff they’ve done and wishes they had a chance to redo some of the things about it, whether it be sound, or design. I often do wish I could go back and change some songs”.
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One of the big sounds of 2005 is the synth-pop revival. Bands such as The Bravery and The Killers have revitalised the genre, but it turns out that Stewart doesn’t feel particularly influential: “I’ve had a lot of new bands, and people like hip-hop producers such as Timbaland, say that Eurythmics, and my production, influenced their style. But I don’t particularly feel influential, I have to say”.
Stewart’s CV is one to be proud of – as a producer he’s worked with everyone from Bob Dylan to Tom Petty, and of course the Eurythmics had artists queuing up to work with them. Was there anyone left who Stewart would like to collaborate with?
“I’d love to spend a day in the studio with Prince, and I’d love to spend a day in the studio with Aretha Franklin again. Even though I’ve worked with him before, I’d love to spend another day with Stevie Wonder. And I’d love to spend a day in the studio just listening to the Arctic Monkeys.”
Each stage of Stewart and Lennox’s quarter century together is clearly documented by the images on display at London’s Air Gallery, but rather than the two new tracks heralding another major phase in their evolution, it appears a complete new album is still off the cards. “Not at the moment because I think if you’re younger, you’ve got to create like a whole album from scratch. You have to say hang on, two is enough for now. I’ve got four children, you’re bombarded with like, responsibilities not so much as administration, which is a pain in the arse. The administration of your life.”
That may be the case for now, but with the impulsive nature of their long-standing friendship, it seems unlikely this will be the last we hear, or indeed see, of the Eurythmics: sitting still is something of a rarity for them.