From their very first introductionto American audiences in 1983, Eurythmics were about tension and contradiction — the sometimes uneasy, sometimes disarmingly beautiful reconciliation of influences across musical and gender divides. Cold synthesizers and drum machines were flamed from the inside by refashioned soul riffs, by reggae grooves that swayed with Germanic precision, and by gleaming, precisely constructed rock orchestration. At the core were lyrics vulnerable and defiant, furious and fragile: “Who’s That Girl?,” “Here Comes the Rain,” “You Have Placed a Chill in My Heart,” “Love Is a Stranger,” “Missionary Man” and, of course, the often misconstrued “Sweet Dreams.”
Instrumentalist-producer Dave Stewart’s early-’80s clean-machine sound left its stamp on Y2K electronica, while singer Annie Lennox’s gender bending paved the way for any woman who wanted to wear a suit onstage. But the two have hardly dropped from sight. Lennox has released three acclaimed CDs and sang “Into the West” for the Lord of the Rings soundtrack, performing it at last year’s Oscars. (It won for Best Song.) Stewart went on to produce for Tom Petty, Mick Jagger and Bob Dylan; recently he’s branched out to scoring films, including TheRef. And the pair’s astonishing set at the American Music Awards a few weeks back reasserted their dominance as a live act.
RCA has just released digitally remastered versions of all eight Eurythmics studio albums (except the soundtrack to the film 1984, which was on Virgin), including numerous bonus tracks — all selected by Lennox and Stewart. Rounding out the bounty is a new greatest-hits disc on which familiar tunes are bracketed by the vintage-sounding new single “I’ve Got a Life” and the bruised retro-soul tune “Was It Just Another Love Affair?”
In late November, Lennox and Stewart spoke to the Weekly from separate hotel suites in London. A few weeks later, they were inducted into the U.K. Music Hall of Fame.
L.A. WEEKLY:Eurythmics had their first real success in America during the so-called second British invasion and were often lumped with artists with whom you had nothing in common.
DAVE STEWART: I think we were really quite separate. We really didn’t go to any of the clubs or the places that were meant to be happening in New York or London or anywhere. We just were in our world. And we changed our style so much, from being an electronic synthesizer duo, all the way through to a Stax sound with “Would I Lie To You?” or “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves” to very sophisticated orchestrations. We could become whatever we wanted to become. That kind of separated us from a lot of the bands that were repeating their formula over and over.
Your careers have clearly delineated phases — the Tourists [their first group], Eurythmics, your solo work, and reunited Eurythmics. What defines each phase?
STEWART: Well, I’ve also got a new band called Platinum Weird, which is myself and a girl called Kara DioGuardi. We’ve already finished an album and video that will come out in spring. I love collaborating and working on that roller coaster that becomes a big project. I love all the deadlines and the excitement. In Eurythmics, I could direct videos, produce records, write songs, play live. But Annie was the singer. The words had to relate to the way she was feeling. When I was writing songs for myself, they were a lot more quirky and funny. In the Tourists, I was just a guitar player.
ANNIE LENNOX: The reason I never wrote songs in the Tourists is because Pete Coombes is a prolific writer. We recorded three albums with them, and visited most countries on the globe. Then it all fell apart, and we were grateful for that, because it was not the right vehicle anymore. And Dave and I broke up also. We had been a couple in the Tourists, then we became another thing. Ultimately, we both felt we should explore what it would be like to be separate, because Eurythmics were joined at the hip in all senses. Now, I’m a creature with two heads, part of Eurythmics and also a solo artist.
When you’re the vehicle through which others imagine or express themselves, what role — if any — does fantasy play foryouas artists within that dynamic?
STEWART: I think it becomes a bit the other way around, like, “Oh, God, it would be great to just be going home after the gig,” with lots of mates, being semi-anonymous amongst a group of friends, and everyone’s cool.
LENNOX: I’m not really sure I understand what you mean by fantasy, but I’ll perhaps put the word “illusion” in ?there. I personally think that most of life is illusory. You know, what we assume to be reality through our limited perceptions is in fact a waking dream. I’m not a proper Zen Buddhist, but the philosophy of Buddhism speaks to me and makes sense in terms of we’re constantly in the ever-present now; the past is over and the future is yet to occur. And when one is performing onstage, it is in some senses an illusion. Although everyone is in this collective space of a concert hall, something is being played out — a re-enactment that has to do with an inner world of emotion, heart, soul and memory.
Artists cannibalize their own lives to make their art. Where do you draw the line at what you’re willing to put in the marketplace and how much energy you put into cultivating celebrity — especially since you two are never seen at fashion shows or movie openings or the like?
LENNOX: I don’t do those things, and that is not by coincidence. I decide not to play into this cult of celebrity. I see myself primarily — apart from being a mother, obviously — but in creative terms, I’m a musician, I’m a writer, I’m a performer, I’m a singer.
STEWART: If I’m doing something that’s being devoured by the public, I’ll tend to do something to make it theater. Like they wanted us to do a record-signing at Harrods, and I turned it into a piece of situationalist art where we got 10 pairs of look-alikes dressed in exactly the same clothes, looking like me and Annie, and we had them all walk around Harrods. If you can do things like that, it sort of distances you from the act of prostituting and bastardizing yourself.
Speaking of art pieces, your videos have always been one of your most provocative tools.
STEWART: I think we always came from more left field in our references. Like, the new video [“I’ve Got a Life”] is based on the work of a Korean video-installation conceptual artist, with the TV screens and all that stuff. Early Eurythmics videos were based on everything from Salvador Dali to Marcel Duchamp. And maybe some of that went over people’s heads — it’s not so basic that it’s full-on commercial. But it makes [the work] hang around a long time, I think.
What music are you listening to now?
STEWART: Well, I find that music that’s coming from the music industry isn’t usually any good. But [I like] Arctic Monkeys and Bright Eyes — kids that are just in their own world and creating their own fandom. There’s actually vision.
How have your goals changed over time?
STEWART: Oh, God, they’re so different. In the Tourists, it was like, “I wonder if I can find that next line of amphetamine.” And now it’s like, “I wonder if my daughter is doing okay at school.”
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