In his long career, Grammy-winning artist Dave Stewart has tackled many different genres of music, from his days as a co-founder of Eurythmics to being a songwriter/producer for a variety of artists to his own solo albums to soundtrack music. He has now taken on the challenge of doing musical theater as a songwriter for “Ghost the Musical,” based on the 1990 movie “Ghost.”
The movie and the musical essentially tells the same story: A young woman named Molly is grieving over the murder of her lover, Sam, and she tries to make contact with him after his death, with the help of a sassy psychic named Oda Mae. “Ghost the Musical” debuted in England (Manchester and London) in 2011, and the show makes its Broadway debut in New York City with previews on March 15, 2012, before officially opening on April 23, 2012. Stewart and Glen Ballad wrote the music, while Stewart, Ballard and “Ghost” screenwriter/playwright collaborated on the lyrics.
Stewart has also been very busy with other projects, including his solo album “The Blackbird Diaries”; recording music and performing shows with Joss Stone; and touring with Stevie Nicks. And then there are his ongoing collaborations with Rolling Stones lead singer Mick Jagger, who has done solo music with Stewart. Jagger, Stewart, Stone, Damien Marley and “Slumdog Milionaire” composer/songwriter A.R. Rahman teamed up to form SuperHeavy, whose self-titled debut album was released in September 2011. In this exclusive interview that I did with Stewart in February 2012, he talked about all of these projects and more.
What was the most challenging thing about working on “Ghost the Musical”?
I’ll start with the most challenging thing is having to deal with the constant changes in the script, which then affect the songs — not just what the song’s purpose is, but simple things like the length of the song. The script’s changed, and then the set has to come in quicker, and the actor can’t get to that spot in time.
There are multiple things that create the theatrical show. When they’re watching it, it might look seamless, but to get there, it’s also complex musical issues. That was one the first things — for the songs to make sense and propel the story and be meaningful. But on the other hand, we had to be aware that scenes have to change and characters have to come in, and the whole cast has to be on stage sometimes. It’s a completely different from writing pop music or rock songs.
Or even a film soundtrack?
Yeah, although that has similar situations where music has to come in and not step on dialogue and not be too “on the nose” and make sure that you have the audience feeling something ominous is going to happen, but not scared before it’s happened.
So what was the easiest thing about putting together this musical?
The easiest thing is always collaborating. I’m known as a person who collaborates in many different fields … because I find it quite easy to let go. I’m not worried about running out of ideas, so I will let go of them, listen to what everybody else has to say, and it’s all quite democratic. “Whatever the best idea is, let’s do that one, whether it’s a melody or a lyric or whatever.” I enjoyed collaborating with Bruce Joel Rubin, who wrote the original [“Ghost”] screenplay and wrote the book for the musical. We got on fantastically well.
And I enjoyed collaborating with Glen Ballard. Glen and I worked on lots of things. And I enjoyed collaborating with Matt Warchus, the director. And I must point out Chris Nightingale, who was doing a lot of the arrangements, the underscore. The whole team was pretty incredible, actually. And so that is my forté. I’m already getting into musicals, and why I find the whole process thrilling is because I am a collaborator, and I actually love that. I kind of know my place.
The most famous scene in “Ghost” is probably the scene with Demi Moore (as Molly) and Patrick Swayze (as Sam) making pottery while the Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody” plays in the background. What do you think are the most memorable scenes in “Ghost the Musical?”
It’s not so much that [“Unchained Melody”] bit, but it’s other moments. We’ve got some amazing illusions. Sam, our lead character, who’s a ghost and was shot [dead] in the first 10 minutes, a lot of time he’s having to walk through walls and do things that seem impossible on stage.
And then there are some heart-wrenching song moments. There’s a song called “With You,” after [Molly Jensen, Sam’s lover] has come back from the funeral and she’s along in her apartment. She starts off with the line, “I picked up your shirts this morning …” And it turns into this melancholy ballad that has everybody in tears.
Oda Mae, when she gets the money and sings “I’m Outta Here,” coming out of the bank … There are lots of moments that people are blown away by. The very end, when all the music comes together, and Sam is in Oda Mae’s body in order to touch Molly for the first time.
And that moment, the clay scene, Matthew [Warchus] very cleverly uses that song that I’m not allowed to tell you, because there’s a surprise thing that happens and then it reappears in a spooky way.
Whoopi Goldberg, who won an Oscar for playing Oda Mae in the “Ghost” movie, is a big supporter of Broadway shows. Have you heard if she’s going to see the Broadway production of “Ghost the Musical”?
I’m sure she will. I’ll ring her up and ask her myself.
You’re known for for doing all sorts of music. How would you describe the collection of music that you’ve bought over the years? Do you still have a lot of vinyl records?
It’s eclectic. I’m a vinyl nutcase. For Christmas, I bought my 11-year-old daughter and myself the same old ‘50s vinyl player. Somebody fixed it up. And then we went to Amoeba Records — me, her sister and my daughter — and we had about 10 vinyl albums each at Christmas.
I go for the gospel section and blues and folk section and musical recordings. I like to go back in time with the vinyl. And then there are some albums you keep buying over and over again, like Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks” or Jackson Brown’s early albums or an early Neil Young album. You see it, and you can’t resist it. You see the cover, and you’re like, “Oh, I’ve just got to have that!”
I made an album in September , in Nashville, and I made it on vinyl. It had huge liner notes, and it was a double-gatefold vinyl album. And I‘ve just done another one called ‘The Ringmaster General.” That was for “The Blackbird Diaries.”
It’s a lot of trouble to make a special vinyl edition. And it’s got amazing artwork and extras and stuff like that. I just created a little company called Precious Audio, which is exactly what we’re talking about. I think audio music is not treated as a precious thing anymore.
You’ve been directing and producing a SuperHeavy documentary, which has had some footage officially released on the Internet. What is the latest status on the full-length documentary?
My little company has been making documentaries — it’s a company called Weapons of Mass Entertainment — we made a feature-film-length documentary on Stevie Nicks and Joss Stone. I just signed a six-picture deal with CineDine — a six-documentary film deal.
With SuperHeavy, I just made a documentary, which was an amazing thing to capture. I’ve probably got an hour-and-15-minute-long film. I think it’s interesting, but because things keep happening, I keep filming that.
Mick wants to make a video for [SuperHeavy song] “Energy.” It’s one of his favorites. I started to feed some of [the documentary footage] on Facebook, some little teasers. We have amazing stuff.
I know you’ve been asked this question almost every time you’ve done an interview talking about SuperHeavy, but do you think SuperHeavy will ever do a live public performance?
We would all like to, but the thing is with having a band like that, Joss and I have just been playing live. A.R. [Rahman] is busy rehearsing for the Academy Awards show. Everybody’s busy doing things, but we can all regroup at one point. It’s a mixture of five managers.
Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood said in a recent interview that the Rolling Stones have been invited to perform at the 2012 Olympics in London. Do you think the Stones are going to do it?
I’m not sure. They might. I think the Olympics committee has been asking a few people, hedging their bets. Why not? It would be a hell of a thing. It’s London, and it’s where the Stones are from. The funny thing is, SuperHeavy was also approached [to perform at the 2012 Olympics], because SuperHeavy is mixed culturally: Indian, Jamaican, British. It’s all very interesting.
Mick Jagger and Martin Scorsese are producing a TV drama series about the music business, and Terence Winter (of “The Sopranos” and “Boardwalk Empire” fame) reportedly wrote the screenplay for the show’s pilot episode. Would you be interested in doing the soundtrack or score music for that TV series if it gets picked up by a network?
Oh yeah! I created the music for the TV series “Malibu Country” [starring Reba McEntire]. We’re making the pilot in April . So I’ve done stuff like that. Yeah, I’d work anytime with Mick and Scorsese. Obviously, it would be amazing. Mick and I have got so many great songs and experiments that nobody’s heard. Anything with Mick and Scorsese would be incredible to work on.
Are there any songs you’ve recorded that will be released in the foreseeable future?
I’ve just made a whole new album with Joss. We’ve done about five of the new songs live, and that album’s probably coming out in April . And I’ve made a whole new album of my own called “The Ringmaster General,” and that’s going to come out in April/May .
How would you describe your working relationship with Glen Ballard?
We used to share studios together. We moved buildings, but now, he’s just two floors below. We used other in the same section. We’ve won various awards for songs from movies.
When you were working on ‘Ghost the Musical,” how did you stay true to your lyrical and musical vision when there were so many changes to the script?
It was a magical combination. Between Glen and me and Bruce [Joel Rubin], we wrote the lyrics about one-third each, so we kept the intent of what Bruce wanted to say in the lyrics and turned them into songs. And the musically, of course, it was all me and Glen. It was one of those magic triads, where everyone was just so open.
Bruce knew he wasn’t a songwriter; he was a script writer. As soon as he started hearing us put the songs together, and used some of his work and turned them into songs, he was amazed anyway. It was a great experience. He’s never seen that before.
What changes were made in “Ghost the Musical” from the West End production to the Broadway production?
We changed some things about the subway and just certain elements about Oda Mae’s singing and little bits of fine tuning for New York. Actually, this morning, I was looking at the actors who are going to appear in the Dutch production, because it’s opening [in Holland]. It’s opening in Australia too.
You mentioned earlier that SuperHeavy was asked to perform at the 2012 Olympics. It sounds like that’s not going to happen. So what would be the band’s ideal place for the first SuperHeavy live public performance?
SuperHeavy, when people realized what it was, we were asked to do everything: the Grammys, the Olympics, the opening of a balloon in Bangkok. There’s a wall of invitations.
We always talk about making it … not a secret gig, but just a small place in New York or something like that. We haven’t set anything. We went through a million different ramifications. We did the [documentary] film.
We can decide anything at any point. We’re always free to do something. Everybody wants to do something. It’s not like we have to find something to do.
Since you’ve been collaborating with Mick Jagger for several years, what do you think the two of you will work on next?
I have no idea. Maybe another SuperHeavy thing. I don’t know.
For more info: Dave Stewart website