San Francisco Chronicle
May 13, 2001
'Trouble' and paradise
Nicks goes solo again on new 'Shangri-La'
Stevie Nicks is sitting on a sofa in the living room of her Spanish-style Los Angeles home high above the Pacific Ocean. She is talking about the making of her first solo album in seven years, "Trouble in Shangri-La," when she stops midsentence and goes blank for what seems like an eternity. Then she shakes it off. "You know, I am so sorry," she says, coming out of the trance. "There was a plane flying by, and it was flying so low I thought it was going to crash into the house." Oh, dear. Nicks, 53, is a singer with a bad reputation. A terrible reputation. Her personal history is one of the most convoluted in all of pop music. Catastrophic relationships. Drug addiction. White leather and black chiffon. Diamond-studded coke spoons.
But Nicks has also been responsible for some of the most intense, gorgeous music of the past three decades. Twenty-five million people bought Fleetwood Mac's 1977 "Rumours" just to own a piece of her voice -- a sensual mix of velvety tenderness and stomach-jolting grit. Her songs may be about ludicrous things like snake charmers and magic kingdoms, but each yearning sentiment goes straight to the heart.
Her latest album comes just two years after an unexpectedly triumphant Fleetwood Mac reunion tour that saw Nicks journey around the world alongside former paramours Lindsey Buckingham and Mick Fleetwood with little soap opera fanfare. In the time since she released her previous solo album, 1994's half- baked "Street Angel," she also overcame a bout of writer's block and beat an addiction to Klonopin, a tranquilizer prescribed to help her get over her raging cocaine habit.
"I was really sick," she says. Even though her years of cocaine abuse left a hole in her head the size of a Sacajawea gold dollar, she claims that the Klonopin did far more damage. "It was not my drug of choice," she says. "I'm not a downer person. I was looking for things that made me want to clean the house and shop, write songs and stay up for four days. I was sad and I was sick. I didn't really understand right up until the end that it was the Klonopin that was making me crazy. I really didn't realize it was that drug because I was taking it from a doctor and it was prescribed.
It just hit me really hard that that was the foundation for why I was completely falling apart." The writer's block was a different matter. She called on old friend Tom Petty, with whom she sang on the 1981 hit "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around." They went out to dinner at a restaurant near her second home in Phoenix, Ariz., and she asked him to pitch in a few spare tunes. He flatly refused.
Nicks remembers the conversation vividly: "He said, 'What the hell's the matter with you? You can be miserable or you can just get over it. You look good. You sound good. I don't need to write songs for you. That's what you do. You are a great songwriter.' " That was all the push she needed. "He doesn't even realize what that little talk did to me," Nicks says. "Sometimes it just takes the certain person to say the right thing to make you not a victim anymore."
Nicks started writing material for "Trouble in Shangri-La" as soon as she returned to her Los Angeles home. She commenced her sessions with Sheryl Crow as producer. But then Crow had to go off and tend to her own career, so Nicks called R&B producer Dallas Austin, whose work on TLC's "Unpretty" single had impressed her. Things didn't work out. So she brought in another producer. Then another. And yet another. The album was officially in limbo.
"I never thought it was doomed, but I was worried about who I would get," Nicks says. "I don't know that many producers, so I was stumped. I just did not know who to turn to." So Nicks shelved it and waited for a break in Crow's schedule. The chemistry there was too strong to compromise. "She's like the little sister I never had," Nicks says.
Everything eventually started to fall together. New acquaintances like Macy Gray, Sarah McLachlan and Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks started dropping by the studio and singing on some songs. Crow opened her schedule long enough to co-produce half of the tracks, and "Trouble in Shangri-La" suddenly was looking like a serious endeavor. A Santana-style renaissance was clearly in the works.
The central theme of the album is simple: Be careful what you wish for. "I think that probably nobody should ever get everything they want," Nicks says. "I know a lot of people who are very unhappy because of that." She speaks from experience, which is perhaps why songs like "Fall From Grace" and "Sorcerer" mark her best work since the 1981 solo album "Bella Donna." She's been there. She's seen it all. And minus the occasional hallucination, she's pulled through it just fine.
"I worked very hard on this record, and I love these songs," Nicks says. "The last five years have been a journey for me, so I feel really, really blessed to be able to make a record like this. I am very proud."