An Interview with Sir Rod Stewart
On the back of his 30th studio album Blood Red Roses, Rod Stewart spoke ahead of his tour, telling us how he keeps going after 60 years in the business…
Not wanting to be rude in mentioning your age, but at 74, you’ve obviously still got no intention of retiring or stepping back a bit, like many of your peers. What keeps you going?
Not at all – I’m proud of my age… And most of my peers are dead, not retired. I enjoy it, that’s what it comes down to. There will be a time, I’m sure, for retirement and I’m closer than I was years ago. Retirement is not a lovely word. People always talk about ‘looking forward to retiring’ but for me that’s an awful thought. I’m lucky I have a brilliant job that I love, and as long as I enjoy it and people are coming out in their droves to the shows then I will go on. Physically, I have a trainer, and work out three times a week. I do a lot of pool work, play football with my boys, do rowing, and that’s basically it. I always make the comparison with football, which I’ve played all my life, it’s an ugly game if you’re not fit and everyone’s running past you, leaving you behind. But if you’re keeping up, it’s beautiful.
“Maybe I put on a good show”
Did you ever imagine you’d still be selling out arenas and football stadiums after all this time?
When I first came into the business, I thought “I’ll be happy if this lasts a couple of months”. I don’t know what the secret is to still being here though. Maybe I put on a good show, have a distinctive voice, an army of songs, and some very loyal fans, and as long as people still want to hear them, I’m going to be there.
Sitting down to write and record new music in a studio is one thing, but you’ve got a huge schedule of tour dates this year. How do you prepare for that – and what can the fans expect from the 2019 show?
A total load of flipping rubbish… [laughs hard]. I can only do what I do, sing a collection of wonderful songs; new ones, old ones, a few surprises, and there’s a whole new visual going on. I’m not going to take my trousers down, not this time, maybe when I get really desperate I will. When you forget to put your trousers on, maybe that’s the time to pack it in.
“The fun really begins”
The tour includes indoor and outdoor venues – which do you prefer and how do they differ from your perspective as a performer?
It’s always lovely when you have a sunny evening, it’s the weekend and the audience are out for a drink and a laugh, but I haven’t got a preference really. And truly, there’s no difference, we sound check and adjust any sound to the venue. Besides that, the only thing is starting out in the day light or dusk and going through the magical phase as the light goes and it gets dark – then the fun really begins.
With each new album, that’s another 10 or so tracks to potentially include on your set list. How do you decide what to include – and perhaps more tricky, how do you decide which tracks to drop?
From experience, we know there are certain songs people love to hear, of course. But I like to bring back ones from way back when, and there’ll be a fair sprinkling of those, probably two from Blood Red Roses and a couple from the two albums before that Time and Another Country. People want to hear the songs like ‘I Don’t Wanna Talk About It’ and that keeps them in the show. And we don’t really drop tracks, we change the show every night; from a set list of maybe 20 songs, for example track 15 every night we’ll change it and decide each night what it’ll be, so every crowd gets a slightly different show. It keeps the band on their toes – and they keep me on mine! It’s a big band, six girls, six men and they’re very lively, it’s good to have the youngsters around.
The latest album, Blood Red Roses has been written for your ‘friends’ and you’ve talked about it being more age appropriate. Do songs like ‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy’ or ‘Hot Legs’ still fit in the live show? They’re the classics people still love to hear, do you see a time when you won’t include them?
No. ‘Hot Legs’ isn’t always in there, but ‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy’ – people love it. That’s the thing about music, it reminds you of a great time in your life. I like The Temptations and Sam Cooke, and remember where I was when I heard those certain songs, and that’s the wonderment of music and remembering those moments.
“I’ve followed my own instincts”
In recent years, you’ve gone back to writing music, after the American Songbook albums. What prompted that? And what’s next…
I wrote my book, Rod: The Autobiography, and that sparked in me the realisation that I had stories still to tell, about my early beginnings, my dad, and that book spawned the writing, it came back to me. I had thought it had gone and left me, but it doesn’t really, it’s not a physical thing, you just have to put your mind to it. I teamed up again with Kevin Savigar, my co-writer and producer now, and he brought it out of me again.
Blood Red Roses was your 30th studio album. What keeps it fresh and sends you back into the studio?
There was a point I didn’t want to go into the studio. I couldn’t bear the thought of going into the dark studio space. But again, it was Kevin who got me back, he came along and is my co-producer, and we started doing it on our computers. He would write a tune, send it to me, I’d ‘la-di-diddly-dah’ over it and send it back. We’d add drum machines or whatever, and see how it sounded, then if we felt it needed a drummer, we would get a drummer in, and embellish it with real musicians… And all the while, I’d be seeing daylight and enjoying fresh air. I don’t think I jump on bandwagons, maybe a little bit with disco and ‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy’, but mainly I’ve followed my own instincts and I’m glad to see changes in the industry, and it stepping up a bit. What we do, rock and roll, is such an innocent form of music, using the same chords and themes time and time again, but it stays fresh.
Technology has obviously had an impact on how you work as a musician. What other industry changes have impacted on your career?
Singles are less important now, with streaming – music has become disposable, it moves on so quickly. But that doesn’t effect me, my fans are that bit older and buy CDs still, rather than streaming. The last album was number one in the UK chart, and that was the best feeling; we had a big celebration when that news came through. I have had a great career and I can’t ask for much more than that.
Images: Andrew Timms