There are nine new musical acts entering the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame this year, and eight of them are active in one form or another. The only exception is Eurythmics. The synth-pop duo of Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox haven’t released a new album since their 1999 reunion project Peace, and they haven’t toured in more than two decades.
But unlike many dormant duos, Stewart and Lennox have remained close friends and they occasionally re-form Eurythmics for special one-off events. They played “Fool on the Hill” during the 2014 A Grammy Salute to the Beatles television special, and in 2019 they did a thrilling mini-set at the Rainforest Benefit in New York City.
Shortly after the news broke that they were entering the Hall of Fame, Rolling Stone hopped on a Zoom with Lennox and Stewart to get their reaction to the news, hear their plans for the big night, look back a bit at their amazing career, and talk about Stewart’s dream that they’ll reunite in 2023 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This). (Spoiler alert: It’s probably not going to happen.)
Annie Lennox: Thanks. It’s been really nice. A lot of friends have been sending texts and emails.
Dave, how do you feel?
Dave Stewart: I feel great. It’s always nice to be recognized for all the hard work and the amount of songs that we put out and recorded and the amount of places we played. You tend to sort of forget as your life goes on, but then when something like this comes up you’re like, “Wow, I nearly killed myself.”
Lennox: I feel very reflective, to be honest with you. We were talking and we both feel like some kind of circle has been completed. It’s a strange thing. I hadn’t expected to feel that way. But things made some sense in a weird kind of way. A musician is an aspirational creature right from the start. You have the feeling you want to express something. Sometimes you’re clear about it. Sometimes you’re not. And then off you go and something maybe happens for you, or maybe it doesn’t. If it does, it’s never quite what you expect it to be. And so our journey has been really one of decades and decades. Things have happened personally, musically, and in the world throughout these decades that you could never have anticipated.
This was your third nomination. Did you start worrying that it wasn’t going to happen?
Stewart: I wouldn’t say I was worried too much. Like Annie, I’m a creative person. I’ve been continuing doing many things. These things come along and it’s like a little spark of, “Oh, that would be great.” When something like this comes up, I’m like, “Hmmm, how do we actually make this a great moment?” That’s both for us and for everybody. That’s the first thing that springs to mind. It’s not, “Oh, I’ll go and have a drink or something.” The creative mind just starts going.
You guys have the Songwriters Hall of Fame in June also. That’s two big nights to plan for at once.
Lennox: We’re used to that. Everything with performance has got to do with preparation and what goes on behind the scenes, things people don’t know. When we come to do some kind of performance, some kind of appearance, it requires so much work and it could just be for like three minutes. We rehearse and we travel and go to hotels and pack our suitcases. Rock & roll, for lack of a better word, is all about that.
You’re definitely going to perform at the Hall of Fame, right?
Lennox: Apparently so.
Stewart: It would be a bit strange not to, I think. “Thanks very much!” [Pretends to walk offstage.]
I saw you perform at the Rainforest Benefit in 2019 at the Beacon. You destroyed the place. It was unreal.
Lennox: Thank you. It was a very poignant moment. It wasn’t long after that, when all of a sudden the entire world changed. That’s one of the things I look back on and go, “Wow, we were all there.” Two Christmases passed until we were out of the pandemic, though are we really? That’s the question.
Watching your set reminded me how different you were than many of your peers.
Lennox: We were just ahead of the curve in so many ways. We were visionary. … I don’t mean that to sound like, “We were visionaries.” But when I look back at what we were doing, it was sometimes out of sync with what was happening. It takes a while for people to catch up with stuff. We were usually forward. And when it came to synthesizers that seemed to suddenly be appearing, Dave was like, “Wow, synthesizers!” And he had to learn how to program synthesizers and utilize them from a technical point of view. We would experiment.
“Sweet Dreams,” for example, the video is so surreal. People were like, “What the hell is this?” And subsequently people have made a genre of surreal music. It was making a statement. We were trying to make something in the popular culture that had a mixture of avant-garde art and popular culture. We were doing it intuitively, if that makes sense.
Lots of critics then were stuck in the past. They saw synthesizers and weird music videos and didn’t get any of it.
Lennox: That’s right. There was a resistance to us. They were like, “What the heck do you do with this?” And I got my gender-bender label. That’s so interesting now because the term “gender fluid” comes in and I’m like, “Wow, all these young people see things in a far less boxed-in way.”
Stewart: Yeah. It’s funny. If we’d come out now we would have hit it right with our timing. If you think about the early records we were making, they were very odd in a way. They’ve become part of popular culture because of familiarity. When people hear things a lot of times, they start to think it’s part of their world.
It’s a pretty cool Hall of Fame class this year with Judas Priest, Duran Duran, Dolly Parton, Carly Simon, Eminem, Pat Benatar …
Stewart: You couldn’t get a more eclectic bunch, really, if you tried. Each one, in their own right, has been through it personally, but they’re all different. Judas Priest played endlessly and Carly Simon was nervous playing live since she has stage fright, and yet she was making beautiful records. When Eminem came out, Annie and I were like, “Wow!” His words were coming out like bullets. Duran Duran have been been performing now for like 40 years. We all make different kinds of music and sing different things.
If you look at most duos in the history of music, they tend to not get along well in the later years. How have you two avoided that?
Lennox: We got there! Oh, we got there! [Laughs.]
But you got past it. Many haven’t been able to do that.
Lennox: Of course! Who could survive being constantly together all the time, all the time, 24/7. You’re on this momentum. You’re so glad and so grateful for it, but at the same time, you’re both straining at the leash to do something else. People grow in different ways. Who on Earth would think it would possibly be natural for everyone to get along well and harmoniously? That’s not possible in my view.
Stewart: One thing that is interesting about Annie and I as a duo is that throughout everything, we’ve always been very civil and respectful of each other. I don’t think we’ve ever had a row about something…
Lennox: We had a couple! [Laughs] But we put them down because that’s the thing: There’s a deep, deep bond between us. Let’s face it. There’s a deep bond and it’s unique to both of us. No one else on Earth knows. I’m not saying we’re so unique. But to us, privately and personally, and creatively, there’s just that something that happened. It’s that journey. You have to acknowledge that. You have to say, “Wow! That’s incredible!”
Stewart: Most duos from the Everly Brothers to Hall and Oates to Simon and Garfunkel to whoever … at a certain point, something magic happened. There’s a spark that goes between those two people, like when they went back onstage together. You can’t explain it. It’s usually since they’ve known each other since they were kids. You’ve been through a load of things together. They may have nothing to do with music. You’ve struggled through a lot of things. By the time you achieve success through inverted colors, you’ve already been through all this stuff that nobody knows about.
When you’re actually playing to 10,000 people, there’s something very strong and binding. You’ve already fought to get to this particular place creatively. I’m sure all of the people who are being inducted have been through that thing in their own various ways. With a duo, as Annie said, they stuck together through thick and thin as people. It’s like a marriage, but like a marriage where you’re strapped to a rocket ship that’s been shot up to the moon.
Do you ever think about a biopic about your saga or a musical maybe?
Lennox: Dave has been talking about that for years.
Stewart: About 30 years. I’ve been denied it. Not a biopic, but I have thought about our music being interpreted onstage. The thing is, going back to that spark, I think it’s a thing with the fans. Nearly half a million fans voted for us. At the concerts, we could tell that we were getting that spark. We’d play songs like “The Miracle of Love” and they’d be crying. They’d just explode at the opening notes of songs. And we went through a curve of different musicalities and messages and Annie’s brilliant songwriting from a female point of view like “Sisters Are Doing It for Themselves.”
Lennox: We were always changing. That was the point. It’s so interesting. People feel when you change, they go, “Oh, why did you change? What is this?” But for us, it’s an exploration. We can do this or we can do that. That’s what kept our spark going. That’s what kept us creative and intrigued with what we were doing. I think it’s the more, the merrier. With other people, perhaps, you know what you’re getting. It’s the same thing. The albums don’t sound that different. But if you listen to For the Love of Big Brother or We Too Are One, they are completely different. That’s the umbrella of our creativity.
Stewart: There’s a lot of fan sites and I read them sometimes. They get obsessed with [our 1987 album] Savage or the 1984 (For the Love of Big Brother) record or [our 1981 debut] In the Garden. Most people just hear the hits, and we have a lot of hits. But the fan sites reminded me of certain songs. I went back and listened to them and some of them are quite strange. They get really into the depths of it. When you’re inducted into something like this, most people go “Sweet Dreams” or “Missionary Man.” But the real fans go, “Oh…”
Lennox: “You Take Some Lentils & You Take Some Rice.”
Annie, do you think another tour or album is possible at some point?
Lennox: I don’t see us doing a tour because, unfortunately … I love to sing. Can I be 25 again? I’m 67. I have certain issues physically. Fortunately, you have no idea what the rigors of the road are like. When I had my kids … This is something to do with being a woman, in a way, and being a mother. It’s very, very difficult, very challenging, to live that professional life and being a good parent and present for your children, who are the most precious thing to me.
So when I turned about 40, I was like, “I think I want to be a human being. I don’t want to be a human doing as much.” Ironically, I was also making Diva, my own solo album. They used to say to me, “What’s it like being a woman on the road? What is it like being a woman in the music industry?” I used to say, “It’s no difference. I’m just the same as a man.”
But when I came to having kids, I realized, “No, it’s not the same. It’s really different.” For me, it’s a little bit easier. In the conventional role, a man goes off and either his wife goes with him or stays at home and keeps the home fires going. There are certain ways it is different. That’s a long discussion, I know. It has got something to do with it.
Stewart: Personally, I think it’s Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) 40th anniversary in 2023. I think it’s January or February. I’m talking about the album. I personally, since I don’t have any ailments that would …
Lennox: [Laughs] You have other ailments! He has mental illness! [Laughs.]
Stewart: I personally think it would be amazing to play for the fans one last time. But I understand if that’s difficult for Annie. But there are ways of doing it nowadays that are completely different than the way it was.
Lennox: Could we beam me up, Scotty?
Stewart: I think at this point we could do anything we wanted. But we’re a duo. We have that spark that happens, but life happens, too. Everything that we ever did, we had to jointly decide. But I personally think it would be a great thing to do.
Lennox: Of course, I’m not speaking for you, Dave, in that regard. And I understand it. I fully, fully appreciate how frustrating it must have been for you, Dave, where obviously we could have done so much more in terms of touring. But life is complex. Touring … whew! For me, on my behalf, it’s pretty intense. I used to be able to go onstage for two hours, singing and dancing. I think about that now! [Laughs.]
I guess the positive here is that the few times you do play, like the Rainforest or that Beatles special or the Hall of Fame, it’s super special and the fans really appreciate it.
Lennox: That’s true. One-offs. A few one-offs is a beautiful thing. I really respect that.
I’d love to see a big all-star jam at the end of the Hall of Fame with you guys, Dolly Parton, Duran Duran, Lionel Richie. It would be so much fun.
Lennox: [Laughs] That’s hilarious! It’s a little like the Sgt. Pepper’s album, except for 2022.
Stewart: My favorite jam was watching Tom Petty doing “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and suddenly Prince comes on and they had no idea. He just plays this unbelievable guitar solo.
Lennox: He threw the guitar up in the air. It didn’t come down. Oh, God, I wish we thought of that!