Alfie : Mick Jagger and Dave Stewart Interview

Two of rock’s legendary stars teamed up to make music for Alfie. Sir Mick Jagger, frontman with the greatest rock ‘n roll band of all time, The Rolling Stones, and Dave Stewart, formerly of The Eurythmics, Grammy award winning producer and guitarist extraordinaire, wrote theme music and new songs for the film.

Alfie represents Jagger’s first film score although over the years his songs have appeared on the soundtracks of numerous films. Stewart has composed music for such diverse filmmakers as
Robert Altman, Paul Verhoeven and Ted Demme amongst others.

For Alfie, the new songs are the bitter sweet rocker Old Habits Die Hard, the beautiful ballad Blind Leading The Blind and Let’s Make It Up, with Jagger providing his unmistakable vocal prowess.

Both musicians, firm friends of many, many years, enjoyed the process enormously, working closely with Alfie director Charles Shyer, and recording with artists like Sheryl Crow and teenage blues sensation, Joss Stone, at the famous Abbey Road Studios in London. Miss Stone, who is just 17, recorded a soulful version of the original theme song and, for the soundtrack, duets with Jagger on Lonely Without You (This Christmas).

When Stewart, who agreed to do the music first of all, suggested Jagger as a collaborator, Shyer, an avid Stones fan, feared that Sir Mick’s amazing, distinctive voice, would prove too much of a distraction.

“I said ‘no, I think Mick is going to take people out of the film, says the director. People will hear that voice from the Rolling Stones, they won’t pay attention to Jude. I think it’s a mistake..’

“And Dave was so patient and I’m so glad he was. The music, the songs work so well for the movie, it’s just beautiful. I couldn’t be more pleased. And Mick wrote the line ‘you won’t let the love in..’ which for me sums up what the movie is all about. It was a perfect marriage. It’s certainly the best music that I’ve had in any of my films.”

Jagger, 61, was born in England and joined a then unknown band, The Rolling Stones, in the early 1960s. Over the next 40 years the band would become one of the biggest in the world, changing the face of music with ground breaking albums and sell out tours.

As well as his life in music, Jagger has also consistently worked as an actor with memorable performances as a reclusive rock star in the cult classic Performance, playing the lead role as the Australian outlaw in Ned Kelly and starring alongside Anthony Hopkins in the sci fi adventure
Freejack. He also appeared in Bent with Clive Owen and Ian McKellan.

Dave Stewart, 52, partnered singer Annie Lennox as The Eurythmics a seminal eighties band who sold more than 40 million albums worldwide and enjoyed a string of hit singles. He is also one of the most respected writers and producers in the music industry working today.

Recently, he co-wrote Underneath It All with Gwen Stefani of No Doubt and wrote tracks for Anastacia’s self titled European album which has already sold more than two million copies. Steward has won numerous awards including four Best Producer Grammys.

Q When did you two first work together?

Jagger: One of the first things we did was a song for Ruthless People. We did a song for that movie which starred Bette Midler and we got paid lots of money which we then spent (laughs) on worthless consumer items.

Stewart: There was a time a while back when I moved to Paris and Mick and I became friends in Paris. We were always down the studio messing about and we would just write songs for fun, and we’ve been writing songs for fun ever since really, in various places.

Jagger: Yeah, we did one just now in our break. I’m not sure how good it is...

Q What is the biggest challenge for you in doing a soundtrack as opposed to your own solo record or a Stones record?

Jagger: Well the thing is doing a soundtrack you don’t have the complete freedom to do what you like, you know, you have to write a song for a specific movie, around a specific character or characters and to fit in or enhance a specific scene so it’s much more disciplined in that way. So in a way it’s kind of interesting because it’s another form of writing, pop songs, rock songs, whatever you want to call them, you have to get it right for the scene. Which is interesting and then on top of that there is a lot of other craft goes on and you have to then look at other scenes and you have to make these songs work in other scenes so in one of the lead songs, in Old Habits Die Hard we have this rather happy go lucky version but when we put it in this other scene and slow it down and take out some of the instrumentation it becomes a much more romantic, a much sadder tune than it first appears.

Q Presumably with the Stones you all talk about material and then decide what to put out. With a soundtrack do you have to hand it over to someone else who decides whether it’s right for their film?

Jagger: No we didn’t really work like that for this. The director Charles Shyer, was very supportive about this whole thing. I mean, he had suggestions but he knew which were the three major songs we were going to do and where they were going in the movie.

Stewart: You have to understand we were involved for a year writing the score alongside Charles and various other people, it wasn’t like we wrote some songs and handed them to the director. Mick and I had to sit with the director and look at the movie in various stages. It was a real process and a really enjoyable one. But of course it does get quite complex as the movie keeps changing and I think for us it was important to make sure that we established Jude Law as Alfie right at the beginning, as this Jack the Lad as we kept calling him, who couldn’t care less about what he was doing, he was just having a great time. And create a theme that would sound like that but later on could be deconstructed and go dark and sort of off on a tangent when things start going horribly wrong. So Mick and I put in a lot of work and intellectualised a bit about that but on top of writing the songs that fitted the movie, I think it allowed Mick to step outside of himself and not always be thinking ‘this is for the Stones..’ or ‘this is a Mick Jagger thing..’ and in that way it was great, because he could be more reflective about something that was happening in front of him.

Q Where did you start? Was it with a melody? Was there a line in the script?

Jagger: We didn’t want to write three or four songs, because we didn’t really need more than three or four complete songs. We needed more themes, we knew we would need more instrumental stuff, but we worked on having three songs that would fit into three pivotal scenes in the movie and from there we worked on the instrumental stuff, additional stuff. We did another song, which I dueted with Joss Stone Lonely Without You (This Christmas), which started off as an instrumental and we made it into this vocal. So we started with these three pivotal songs and after that as Dave said, we took those three songs and changed the instrumentation, we changed the tempos and we changed the emotions of them and put them also in other scenes in different versions.

Q Do you think that the way music is used in films has changed over the years?

Stewart: In films, they used to take a song, whether it was a Dean Martin who whoever, and put a song with a movie, whether it’s Don’t Eat the Daisies or Cher singing the original Alfie. Going back through time there would be a score by a composer and a song, by Frank Sinatra or whoever, stuck on at the end. And I think that it’s only in recent times that musicians have worked within it - whether it’s Eric Clapton playing guitar throughout Lethal Weapon or whatever...

Jagger: ...or Ry Cooder in Paris, Texas, that was pretty important for that movie..

Stewart: I think that is because movie making has changed, the kinds of themes are quite different...

Q Mick, you are an expert witness for the original Alfie from the sixties. What are your feelings about that movie and why did you want to contribute to the new version?

Jagger: Thanks for your compliment (laughs). To be honest, I did see the original film at the time but I don’t remember a lot of it except that it made Michael Caine into a bigger star than he already was. It also utilised that actor to camera technique which I don’t recall having seen before and as you know has been utilised again for this film. The Alfie character, the guy that doesn’t want to commit to a relationship and so on, has been with us for the last three or four hundred years of literary history, he comes up again and again. Young man has lots of girlfriends before realising that somehow he has to settle down with one of them. And I think there is a lot of that character in all young men and young women. I don’t think it’s only something that fits into a so called Sixties lifestyle or indeed lifestyle today, I think that’s a stock human character and in fact, perhaps a biological necessity for people at a certain age.

Stewart: I think some people have got more stock of it than others...(laughs)

Jagger: Yeah. That’s what happens to Alfie. Alfie’s life is not very balanced because Alfie is only interested in that part of his life, he is not very interested in anything else, he doesn’t have any kind of meaningful job or other interest apart from his love affair.

Q You worked with two women, Joss Stone and Sheryl Crow on the soundtrack. Do you prefer working with women?

Jagger: Than Dave, you mean! (laughs) I always enjoy working with Sheryl but we always seem to do one song, Honky Tonk Women, so I’m very glad we get to do another one. And she adds to that part of the record, the soundtrack, I don’t think her version (of Alfie) is in the movie. Joss Stone was very interesting. We always wanted someone to do the actual Alfie song but we didn’t know how we were going to do it and who was going to do it.

Stewart: It’s been recorded about 76 times, it’s probably one of the most covered songs, and the 37 I managed to plough through were nearly all with heavy orchestrations and leaning towards the cabaret feeling. And this didn’t fit the kind of music Mick and I were doing for the movie. And Joss Stone is great, she is very young, 17 years old, and obsessed with blues, gospel, R and B singing, so we stripped the thing right down, no orchestration, a hammond organ and a piano which has been used on all of the score and she sang live to that. And I must say she is an incredible singer, she did it in two takes after learning it in an hour.

Jagger: It’s a very complicated song, Alfie, all I could remember was the first line but actually when you hear it, it is very convoluted and goes all over the place and I’m glad I didn’t have to do it.

Q How is Charlie Watts doing? And could you tell us about this story that the Stones will play the new Wembley Stadium in 2006?

Jagger: I don’t know, who is going to be ready first, the Wembley Stadium or the Stones (laughs). Charlie is a lot better and he has had all of his treatments and he has been pronounced free and clear of everything so we are very pleased about that. And The Stones have a live album coming out in November, which is a double live set, one CD of well known songs and another CD of not well known songs. And Keith and I have been writing new material for a Stones next album. I don’t know when the Stones will actually tour, but I suspect we’ll do an album and then we’ll tour. I don’t know anything about this Wembley story (laughs). I actually flew over the new Wembley. I would love to play there.

Q Are there similarities writing a song with Dave and your usual partner, Keith?

Jagger: I write songs a lot with different people. I’ve written quite a bit with Dave, I’ve obviously written a lot with Keith and I write on my own. And there are hundreds of different ways writing songs within that formula. I just spent two weeks writing songs with Keith and some days they are like songs I’ve written on my own and Keith walks in and plays the bass on what I’ve written and some days it’s the reverse and I go in and play the piano on something he has written. Dave and I are very concentrated and quite detailed and Dave forces me to finish everything and I force him to sort of finish everything. We like to do our work and get it done, you can spin this out as a lifestyle if you want, you know, you can spend weeks doing this and Dave and I are very precise. We have lots and lots of ideas between us and we say ‘that’s a great idea and that’s not’ so we throw them out. We concentrate with very short bursts of work. And we put down everything on our pro tools or whatever computer set up we have. And we tend to use all the stuff we have freshly written, we use that in our subsequent recordings most of the time. Though we do put other musicians on it, we do try and record it better, but quite often we use our original stuff.

Q How does it feel when you get up on stage now? Is it the same as when you first did it?

Jagger: Yes, of course it’s the same. It’s a similar feeling as when I first started to when I get up now. In a lot of ways it’s exactly the same and I think the excitement that drew you to it in the beginning is the same excitement as draws you to it now. The thing about it is you never really know what is going to happen, you never really know what the audience is going to be like, you never know how they are going to behave. You expect them to do certain things but they don’t always do that and you do always do the same things that you have done the night before. And that is what makes live playing so interesting as opposed to be in the studio which is something that is much more under your control. So they are two very different things, but I do think the thing that drew me to it when I started is the same thing that draws me to it now.

Q The DVD of Rock ‘n Roll Circus (a sixties TV project which featured the Stones and ‘friends’ like John Lennon, The Who, Eric Clapton) has just come out. How do you feel about watching that old stuff?

Jagger: I watched that recently and it was a very amazing day, that wasn’t just a run of the mill day with all these people. What was great about it was having all these different people that you knew, some of them you knew really well like John Lennon and The Who and all these people, all together in the same room for one day and having to get on with it doing this mad show. It was a really fantastic day and you look back on it and think ‘how did I get through that one day doing all these things?’ I mean, it was just incredible and it is a really amazing piece and some really wonderful people on it, a whole list. And a lot of people who got cut out who were fantastic as well but I think the DVD has a lot of stuff that wasn’t on the original tape, its fun to watch.

Q Dave are you producing with anybody else right now?

Stewart: I’ve just been working with Gwen Stefani on a solo album, I’m always working with new, up and coming young artists, so I’m working with about seven of them and you know various other things. I’m making an album with the first duo I’ve formed with a girl since The Eurythmics and we are
about three quarters of our way through our album and it’s probably the most exciting thing I’ve done in twenty years.

Q Mick, you’ve acted as well as worked on your music. What do you think of the crossover?

Jagger: I enjoyed acting, you know, if you get offered a good part. It doesn’t happen very often that I get offered good parts, there are so many actors that they never get very good parts, so it’s very competitive.
There’s lots of good people out there that can sing, dance and act and there shouldn’t be any great division between this, I mean there never really was and it’s only in the last few years. I mean, people who specialise in one field get really annoyed that other people move into it. But a lot of people in this field can do all of those things to varying degrees of success and I don’t see why not. And I admire people that can do more than one thing.