Asked which band she most wanted to meet for this piece, Stevie Nicks chose the Los Angeles-based Haim. The night after the interview, they were set to play the final show of a two-year world tour of their first album, the sparkling and fast-paced “Days Are Gone.” The band’s members — sisters Este (28, on bass), Danielle (25, lead vocals, guitar) and Alana (22, keyboards, guitar) — once played Van Morrison at state fairs in their parents’ band, Rockinhaim (the family name is pronounced HIGH-im, Hebrew for “life”). They are now managed by Jay Z’s entertainment company Roc Nation, have played shows with Rihanna and won an NME award for Best International Band. They are also frequently courted by the fashion world. Yet when compared to Fleetwood Mac by one journalist, Danielle responded nervously, “Let’s start a little smaller, you know?”
Shortly after I arrived at Nicks’s 1930s white, Southern plantation-style mansion, everyone headed to the upstairs porch, which overlooks the homes of Santa Monica down to the water. When the photographer asked the sisters to stand behind Nicks and each take a section of her hair and pull it outward, the girls seemed nervous about touching her, but did it anyway, and pulling the strands away from her head, Nicks became like the sun and her hair the rays, high above the city in the late afternoon light. A moment later, the idea was abandoned and everyone looked relieved.
After the shoot, I suggested we speak in the library, which appeared private and subdued, but Nicks directed us to the living room, furnished with recording equipment, red sofas, a fireplace, photographs and knickknacks, including a fairy doll lolling in a crystal goblet. Nicks’s long career — punctuated by high-profile, tumultuous romances, set in amber by her songs — began in California, with the bands Fritz and Buckingham Nicks, which she and Lindsey Buckingham formed in 1970, when Nicks was 22. When Mick Fleetwood heard their album, he invited Buckingham to join Fleetwood Mac; Buckingham agreed on the condition that Nicks, who was by then his girlfriend, could join, too. Their second release, “Rumours,” written during Nicks’s breakup with Buckingham, is a rock classic. A Fleetwood Mac tour this fall will see Nicks reunited with her sister-in-arms Christine McVie. The lineup — which also includes Fleetwood, Buckingham and John McVie — hasn’t played together in 16 years, not since Christine decided to retire to be an English country gentlewoman, a detour Nicks never made.
In 1981, Nicks released her first, magnificent solo album, “Bella Donna,” with backup singers Sharon Celani and Lori Perry (who later married Stevie’s brother). Earlier this month, she released her latest solo venture, “24-Karat Gold — Songs From the Vault,” which includes new versions of demos first recorded in the 1970s and ’80s. And though she is generally thought of as occupying two roles — solo artist and member of Fleetwood Mac — she made a point of saying that her solo work was the work of a band, which was as much of a band as Fleetwood Mac, and had been together almost as long. She sat herself down in the center of the couch before the fireplace, the Haim sisters and me fanning out around her. More women hovered at the back of the room, including Celani and Lori Nicks, all of whom seemed alike: of Nicks’s generation, slender, stylish in black, heavily made up, with dyed hair, pleasant manners, each wearing a gold moon on a chain.
Nicks: We’re not different than you three. Sharon and Lori and I are three, and we are a unit that is very, very strong.
Este: There’s something about that wolf pack.
Nicks: We do not lay down on the road for anybody to walk over us, ever.
[Several little dogs wandered by.]
Alana: We found people who wouldn’t tell us to sit on the couch and be good little girls.
Este: We know what we want. We’re like a Hydra.
There had been a buzzy energy about Haim during the shoot, yet sitting with Nicks, they became subdued. They sweetly handed over a scented candle as a hostess present. Before I could ask a question, Nicks began explaining what she had learned about self-presentation from Parisian women during her holiday in France, and conversation turned naturally to stage dressing. “Whatever it is that makes you feel fantastic and free — you need to get three copies of that,” Nicks advised. Upon returning to L.A. from her first Fleetwood Mac tour, she had approached a designer friend and said, “I wanna look like a Dickensian character that walks the wharfs of London.” As she spoke she drew an illustration of the outfit on a lined yellow legal pad, showing how her shirt became like wings when she raised her arms. Later, she would impulsively sign and dedicate the drawing to the girls.
Danielle: It’s so iconic.
Este: I’m like the 5-year-old that sometimes gets in trouble because they’re wearing a dress and moving around in ways they shouldn’t… . But if I wear shorts, I feel constricted.
Nicks: You can make that work. Look at those ballerinas up there, sailing through the air, spread wide open, in their absolute nothing see-through tutus. You can’t see a thing! Fleetwood Mac’s lighting director [her then-boyfriend] was not crazy about my outfits. He’s like, “When that light goes through it, you can see through it.” And I’m like, “No, you can’t. I’m wearing a black-out slip and I’m wearing three pairs of tights and two pairs of stage undies. You can photograph me until the cows come home — there’s nothing there for you! And you know what? You have to get over it. I’m not your girlfriend when I’m up there.”
Although Nicks appeared topless (in an artfully shaded way) on the cover of her first album with Buckingham Nicks, she often expresses regret about this choice, and since that time has only been photographed in her draperies. In “Stevie Nicks: Visions, Dreams and Rumors,” one of two biographies to be released in the United States next year, the author Zo Howe recounts a conversation between Nicks and Prince in which he tried to get her to write more directly about sex in her lyrics. She retorts, “You have to write about sex, so you must not be intrinsically sexy. I don’t have to write about sex because I am intrinsically sexy.”
The sisters began talking about their post-tour plans — they were going to relax for a month, and begin writing their new album. “Do you guys keep a journal?” Nicks asked. Este replied that she kept notes on her phone. Nicks asked Lori to bring down her most recent red-leather journal, with its pages edged in gold, which she keeps beside her bed and writes in nightly. So began a lesson in journaling: On the right-hand side of the page you write what happened that day, and on the left-hand side you write poems, so when you have an evening where you’re like, “I’m gonna light all the candles and I’m gonna put the fire on, and I’m gonna go sit at the piano and write,” you can dip into your diaries and instantly find a poem and begin. “You want your journals written by hand in a book, because someday, if you have daughters — I don’t have daughters, but I have fairy goddaughters, thousands of them — all of these books are gonna go to them, and they’re gonna sit around just like we are now, and they’re gonna read them out loud, and they’re going to be able to know what my life was.” Then, pointedly, to Este: “And they’re not gonna find it in your phone.”
It was interesting to witness Nicks’s desire to pass on her life experiences — through songs, her diaries, advice — and fascinating to see how she had both intuited and created who she would become. One of her most popular songs, “After the Glitter Fades,” is a wise and wry meditation on surviving fame (“Even when the living is sometimes laced with lies / It’s all right / The feeling remains / Even after the glitter fades”) written long before her star was in danger of fading. She told us that when she puts on her platform boots, “That’s when I really feel like Stevie Nicks — I really feel myself turned into her.” Her home — at least the rooms she chose to present — was unmistakably that of a musical icon: a framed photograph of Nicks with Neil Young; four pianos within sight of the main hall (the white grand topped with black Louboutin heels encrusted with diamonds). It was a home any young singer might dream of, yet despite its size, it felt like a home built for one — one for whom music was the central and enduring love — showcasing less a great talent for life than a great talent.
Like many artists, Nicks has a singular well from which she draws — apparently from the time before she was famous, when she was the same age as the Haim girls are now. In Nicks’s world, lovers and love stories recur; fame is a dark certainty and paradoxical emotions are layered on top of each other. There is a sense that one’s destiny is a mix of pleasure and pain and cannot be avoided. One wonders if she continued so long with Fleetwood Mac not only out of loyalty to the band or a desire to make music with them, but to remain in proximity to her first love, Lindsey Buckingham — to forever stir that well.
Unlike Nicks’s songs, which are submissive before the pain of life, Haim’s lyrics are optimistic and willful. In “Falling,” they sing: “Don’t stop, no, I’ll never give up / And I’ll never look back, just hold your head up / And if it’s rough, it’s time to get rough.” Their practical, determined attitude suggests there are solutions to life’s problems — a fantasy as powerful as the fantasy of the “eternal return of the same,” which for Nicks seems to be both the joy and horror of life. Nicks once refused to sing a song Warren Zevon wrote called “Reconsider Me.” “I’m not the kind of woman that would ever be that desperate,” she explained, adding, “Never sing a song you don’t love. Period.” Revealingly, she named one of her dogs, the milky-eyed Sulamith, after her favorite artist, Sulamith WÜlfing, about whom Nicks once said, “I think she’s probably a lot like me. This world kind of scares her and freaks her out, and she just wants to do one thing, and she did it.”
Alana, who is usually bubbly and talkative in interviews, was increasingly contemplative as the night went on, and at moments seemed to be studying Nicks’s face, as if trying to see her clearly. Este appeared to deal with Nicks as she might deal with anyone; cutting in with remarks, relatively at ease. Danielle, who tends to have little to say to the press and often appears bored on camera, had the most questions for Nicks, leaning forward intently and nodding. She was eager to talk about music, and wondered when Nicks knew it was going to “happen” for her.
A slight frown grazed Nicks’s mouth. “There is a song by Buffalo Springfield called ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Woman,’ and the first time I heard it, I was like, That’s me. That’s who I’m going to be. I remember walking through a room, going, ‘Do you know who I am?’ It’s like, the Red Sea is definitely going to part here. My mom used to always say, ‘You paint the picture and it will happen.’ I believe that if you close your eyes and see yourself up on that stage, being bigger than life, you become that person with that big, really good attitude. You’re gonna be that rock ‘n’ roll woman that’s gonna make people happy and take them out of their miserable lives for two hours … and they’re going to want your music. And then, girls … at 66 years old, you can be starting a year-and-a-half tour that sold out its U.S. dates — in the first week.”
There was a murmur of appreciation and awe.
Near the three-hour mark, the women at the borders of the musicians’ invisible stage began growing agitated. Este had to leave for a D.J. gig at a pool party at the Hollywood Roosevelt. Gestures were made from the sidelines, conversation slowed, then Lori appeared with three dark-velvet sachets, one placed into the hands of each sister. They gasped as they pulled out gold moon pendants hanging off golden chains.
Nicks: You have to have your moons. So you’re our sisters of the moon.
Este: Are we all sisters right now?
Nicks: You’ve just become sisters. You’re double sisters.
Alana: [fastening her pendant around her neck] I already feel more powerful.
Nicks pointed out the photograph of her beautiful, smiling deceased mother on the mantel, and the two moon necklaces she was wearing. Then she began growing morose at Haim’s imminent departure, saying, “When we most love this house is when it’s full of music, girls. Then it’s dancing. It’s when we’re alone and it’s me and the dog on the stairs that I go” — she sighed — ” ‘I don’t know what I’m doing here by myself.’ ” She invited them to watch Fleetwood Mac rehearse, since “we love an audience,” and offered that, when things got slow, they could read fashion magazines or watch “Million Dollar Listing,” a real-estate show she is currently obsessed with.
“My parents are agents, so real estate is in our blood,” Este said. “I got my license the day I turned 18.”
“You did? You’re a real estate agent?” Nicks exclaimed, suddenly energized, the light of fantasy glowing in her eyes. “Oh, that’s fantastic! Well, if you’re not going to be a rock star, a real estate agent is the next best thing.”
By Sheila Heti for The New York Times