Stevie Nicks was sauntering around a cavernous sound stage on the Sony lot in Culver City as her tiny dog, Sulamith, who was outfitted in a sweater, trailed behind her. It was Tuesday, only a few days before her Thursday concert at the Wiltern, which will celebrate the release of her first solo album in more than a decade, "In My Dreams," as well as her 63rd birthday. But it was dusty in the rehearsal space. And that upset her.
"This is a massive old place, and for me, it's hard, because it's very, very dusty, and I'm allergic to dust," she said, opting to sit in a stiff office chair instead of on a couch for fear that it would incite her allergies. "When I'm in here for eight hours, I get a bad feeling. It makes me feel like I'm flipping out."
Nicks doesn't like feeling out of control. That's why, for years, she has refused to write music with anyone. Even as a part of Fleetwood Mac — the seminal '70s British-American rock band that generated such hits as "Landslide," "Gold Dust Woman" and "Gypsy" — Nicks rarely sat down and collaborated with her fellow band members.
"I would write a song, put it on a cassette, and put it by the coffee pot for Lindsey [Buckingham] and say, 'Here's the song. You can produce it, but don't change it. Don't come back to me and say you want to change the words or the melody.' I didn't have a very good attitude," she acknowledged.
For the last six years, Nicks had been told by her label that she should wait to release another solo album (her last was 2001's "Trouble in Shangri-La") because Internet piracy was so rampant that the music industry was in decline. But when she returned to her home in the Pacific Palisades after 83 dates on the road with Fleetwood Mac, she decided she couldn't wait any longer. So she dug up a binder with 40 pages of poems and sent them to Dave Stewart, who has produced albums for artists such as his former band the Eurythmics, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Ringo Starr. To her surprise, Stewart actually read the poems and soon showed up at her doorstep with his guitar.
"He sat down, looked through the binder and said, 'OK, let's work on this poem.' And I said, 'You know, I don't really write songs with people — in the same room, anyway.' But he just started playing, and within 15 minutes, we had written a good song.
"Plus, we had a microphone hanging from the ceiling, and the fireplace was going, and it was cold and kind of fantastic," she recalled, brushing her wispy bangs out of her face. She had on an all-black outfit: a sheer chiffon top from one of her favorite labels, Morgane Le Fay, and slacks tucked into oversized Mukluk boots. A few chains decorated with tiny gold stars hung from her neck. She was wearing sunglasses inside.
Image has always been important to Nicks — so much so that it seems it was largely the ambiance of the space in which she recorded "In My Dreams" that fueled much of its creation. She worked on the album in a home that she owns but does not live in. She purchased it several years ago but quickly realized it was too big, so she bought a smaller house down the road.
As it turned out, though, the bigger home was the ideal place to make an album — and for months, the space was filled with musicians and friends, even a documentary crew. During that time, Nicks dug up stacks of her old journals. She still writes in a big leather-bound diary almost every day, recently documenting, for example, her performance on "Dancing with the Stars." Though a number of the songs on "In Your Dreams" are about her past — including "Secret Love," her first single that is allegedly about an affair she had with an unnamed '70s rocker — the album was actually inspired by something far more modern: the "Twilight" films.
While on a recent tour in Australia, Nicks went to see "New Moon." She found herself struck by the romance between Bella and her vampiric boyfriend, Edward, who ultimately leaves her to save her from having to become a vampire herself.
"When he turned around and left her, that part really just struck me very hard. You see her sitting in the bay window and just staring. And that has happened to me. It brought those memories flooding back to me."
Nicks has already filmed a music video for the song, her favorite on the record, in which she excitedly said she chose to don Victorian-era costumes. Nicks has long had an affinity for dressing up. It's something that began, not surprisingly, on Halloween, when her mother would sew her long dresses. She's since created her own iconic style — a Gothic hippie look that includes long skirts, leotards, bolero jackets with Rhiannon sleeves and tall, suede platform boots.
"People have latched on to my look because I've never changed it," she said. "You open a magazine and you say, 'Oh, Marc Jacobs is definitely doing the Stevie Nicks handkerchief skirt and riding jacket and top hat and scarf,' because that's what I wore then, and I still wear it now."
Knowing what her performance outfit will consist of also allows her to focus on the music, Nicks said. Days before her show on Thursday, Nicks said she was anxious about the prospect of unveiling her new songs to an audience for the first time.
She says she feels this is her best work to date — a sentiment many critics have agreed with. Meanwhile, "In Your Dreams," debuted at No. 6 on the Billboard 200 chart earlier this month, selling 52,000 copies its first week out.
But Nicks, who does not own a computer, is fearful that the digital era may stop her new album from reaching as many people as she once did.
"We used to drive down Sunset, and on Tower Records there'd be a picture of your face, and the whole front of Tower Records would be your record. And you'd keep driving, and there would be a 50,000-foot billboard of you and your horse. In L.A., anyway, you couldn't not know that Stevie Nicks just released a record. But in the world of the Internet, I don't know what they know."
There's also the money issue. Told by her publicist that Lady Gaga this week released her new album on Amazon for 99 cents to great results, Nicks became flustered.
"Is that good? The whole record? For 99 cents? The $18 record?" she asked. "There was a time six years ago when on a Monday I got $3 million in publishing royalties and on a Wednesday I got $2 million more. Sometimes I get up in the morning thinking, 'I have made the best record I think I have ever made, but will anybody even ever hear it?' "
She shrugged off the concern momentarily, as a stage hand let her know that Stewart had arrived and it was time for rehearsal. She let down her long, wavy hair and walked over to a chair draped with a black fur coat, where a microphone was swathed in glittering scarves and ribbons.
"Oh, hey," she advised those about to watch the performance, "don't sit on the couches. They're dusty."