Dave Stewart may come off a bit dark to audiences, but talking to him about his latest two, very different, projects, Scott Kara discovers he's actually a bit of a laugh.
Dave Stewart is always the one wearing sunglasses and skulking in the background. He did it most famously in the Eurythmics as the dark, shadowy figure behind the striking and glowing Annie Lennox.
He does the same in new supergroup, SuperHeavy, behind his mate Mick Jagger, reggae lord Damian Marley, soul sister Joss Stone, and Indian percussionist A.R. Rahman, who release their debut album on September 19.
But, says Stewart on the phone from Los Angeles, where he's just got back from his new home away from home, Nashville, he's actually quite the comedian.
"People have this perception of who you are but it isn't necessarily who you are," says the musician and producer to the stars in his dreamy prattle.
"The funny thing is my friends and family have only ever really known me as funny, and comedic in a sort of wry way. But being in the Eurythmics, and in those videos, I always came across as that slightly ominous character behind Annie.
"And we were playing with light and dark all the time too in our song lyrics. Like that song we did once called Right By Your Side, and it goes 'because when depression starts to win'. So it's never exactly what it seems."
Stewart is very dry, and he's also somewhat of an eccentric with a doesn't-give-a-hoot, casualness about him as he talks openly about everything from the Eurythmics and some of his dodgy musical projects over the years ("I've ended up down the wrong alley, basically because I've been too adventurous"), to drinking too much ("Oh, I've got a hangover, I need to drink some coconut water") to his new project SuperHeavy and his first solo album in 13 years, The Blackbird Diaries.
The latter sees Stewart step out of the shadows and put himself in the limelight - and he's playing solid blues rock of all things.
It was recorded in Nashville with John McBride (husband of American country star Martina) and some of the country music city's top players ("They accepted this northeast England guy in the middle of Nashville," he chuckles.) And here is his meandering, and often whimsical, account of events surrounding how his new album came to be.
"I was in London and this weird volcanic ash storm happened, we got grounded, I was in a hotel, and I didn't have a guitar so I thought, 'Geez, I better get a guitar 'cos I'm stuck here'. I went to a shop in Denmark St and bought this very unusual guitar."
If TimeOut can just hurry the story along a bit, this guitar belonged to an eccentric country and western fella called Red River Dave. "The case was full of all this guy's stuff. Photographs, papers, and things.
"I was intrigued by all this stuff and then I got a phone call to see if I could go to Nashville to meet Martina McBride. I thought, 'That's weird. First I bought a guitar that belongs to a country singer and now I'm off to Nashville'. So it was just a series of strange events like that".
Though Stewart was born in Sunderland, in the northeast of England, it was country music, the blues, and a combination of the two that he first started playing on the guitar. "But I never really got to put them to use - because I got into the Beatles, David Bowie, and then I joined a band, went this way and that way, then the Eurythmics - until I went to Nashville. And I thought, 'Oh yeah, I know how to do this'."
He's in both a happy and reflective mood on the album as he looks back on his personal life and the highs and lows of his 40-year music career.
He goes right back to his childhood, with Birmingham getting a shout-out in The Magic in the Blues ("I'm talking about when my mum and dad broke up."), and on Beast Called Fame he recalls how he and Lennox were a little like Bonnie and Clyde.
"You know in the movie just before they get shot, and they do all those frames where they are looking at each other, well Annie and I we went through a whole relationship and then the relationship broke up and then we became hugely famous.
"That is a funny thing because you're looking at each other and thinking, 'Wow, we died as a couple but then we're together under this massive spotlight."'
While The Blackbird Diaries is a more personal offering, SuperHeavy is at the other extreme - mainly because of the big names involved.
Stewart is typically flippant about the project, which takes in the straight-forward chinking reggae soul of first single Miracle Worker and, by all accounts, elsewhere is a mash-up of dancehall, rock, world and Rahman's off-kilter beats.
"We just wanted to experiment and create something with different cultures and musicalities, and we did it for the fun of doing it because a lot of time you are on the tread-mill of touring and playing the hits, and blah blah."
Stewart has known his bandmates for years. He and Jagger go back 25 years ("We've written about 50 songs together over the years just for fun and we did the score to Alfie together"); the pair used a young Stone to sing on Alfie, he met Marley when Bob's son was 9 ("because I have a place up in the hills in Jamaica away from the tourists. I know Damian's mum too"), and he met Rahman 12 years ago through film director Shekhar Kapur whose work includes Elizabeth.
"So it looks like, 'Oh, they just all got together', but I've known all of them for years.
"It's kind of interesting. People will be surprised when they hear the album."
Who: Dave Stewart
What: The Blackbird Diaries, out now. SuperHeavy - SuperHeavy, out September 19
See also: Eurythmics - Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) (1983), Touch (1983)