Stevie Nicks Was Scared to Record ‘Bella Donna’: ‘If I Fail, I Fail Alone’

Stevie Nicks took a giant leap of faith when recording her solo debut, Bella Donna. Nicks had been Fleetwood Mac’s faithful frontwoman since 1975. However, Nicks needed a change of scenery by 1979.

She started feeling like a dying flower. Her life had begun to feel stagnant. So, to change the course of her career, Nicks decided to record her solo debut. Although, it was a bit scary at first.

Stevie Nicks wearing black while performing with Fleetwood Mac during the Tusk Tour in 1980.
Stevie Nicks | Ross Marino/Getty Images

Stevie Nicks felt controlled in Fleetwood Mac

In a 1981 interview with BAM magazine, Nicks talked about recording her solo debut, Bella Donna, and what it was like continuing in Fleetwood Mac. She wanted to record Bella Donna after being controlled for years.

In Fleetwood Mac, Lindsey Buckingham always changed and arranged Nicks’ songs.

“That’s one of the reasons I wanted to see if I could do it myself,” Nicks said. “When you work with somebody who is that much in control, and who has always been that much in control–from, like, 1970 on–you forget that you’re even capable of doing something yourself.

“I’d write my song and then Lindsey would take it, fix it, change it around, chop it up and then put it back together. Doing that is second nature to Lindsey, especially on my songs.”

Nicks also records differently from her Fleetwood Mac bandmates. They “labor over detail,” which was boring for Nicks, especially if she had minimal songs on an album. For instance, Nicks had nothing to do with Tusk.

“Don’t misunderstand me,” Nicks said. “I love the way Fleetwood Mac sounds. I wouldn’t be in it if I didn’t. I’m just saying that on Bella Donna we managed to make a really good record a different way. We went in and we just did it.

Tusk took us thirteen months to make, which is ridiculous. I was there in the studio every day–or almost every day–but I probably only worked for two months. The other eleven months, I did nothing, and you start to lose it after a while if you’re inactive.

“After four or five hours, they’d forget I was even there, they’d be so wrapped up in little details. It was very frustrating. I loved the songs for the most part… I did not love sitting around for thirteen months and I never said I did.

“I’m being totally truthful–I had very little to do with that record.” So, something had to change for Nicks.

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Nicks was nervous recording ‘Bella Donna’

When Fleetwood Mac ended their year-long Tusk tour, Nicks knew something had to change in her career. Otherwise, she’d live in a vicious cycle.

“I just decided when I came off the year-long Tusk tour that I wasn’t going to give up my life and die a lonely, overdone, overused rock star,” Nicks said. “That has no glamour. I didn’t want to be written up in 50 years as a miserable old woman who never got to do anything but tour and be famous for ten years and then everything was over.

“I’m far too intelligent to not know that there will be a time when I won’t be 33 anymore, when I won’t be that pretty anymore... I want to be able to know that I can still have fun and be part of the world, and that I didn’t give it all away for Fleetwood Mac. That’s what Bella Donna is all about. It’s the beginning of my life.”

Still, Nicks was a bit scared when she recorded Bella Donna.

“I’m always nervous about doing something new,” Nicks said. “I was particularly nervous about making this album because I knew I wouldn’t have four other people to blame if it didn’t do well. In Fleetwood Mac, if I fail I fail with four other people.

“Here, if I fail, I fail alone. It’s always scarier to be alone. Fortunately, I had great people to work with who encouraged me constantly. The vibe I got from everybody was so positive that it made me feel strong.”

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Nicks said it was ‘exhilarating’ recording her solo debut

Despite her nervousness to record Bella Donna, Nicks found it “exhilarating.”

“Instead of just sitting around hour after hour, I got to be a part of it,” she said. “Working with Lindsey, it’s so easy to just let him take it. On this album I didn’t have to fight to do my songs the way I wanted to. The other players just did them the way I wrote them and they came out great.”

Nicks also got control back into her career. “It’s difficult to be a girl in a big rock ‘n’ roll group for six years,” Nicks told US Magazine in 1981. “You’re very protected and dependent. For so long you’re not allowed to make your own decisions that suddenly you don’t want to anymore. Doing my solo album was the only step I could take to show I still had control.”

Nicks said recording Bella Donna was also about seeing if she could do it herself. “They knew that I had to go and do this by myself because I had to prove to myself that I could exist on my own,” Nicks told High Times in 1981.

Jimmy Iovine, Nicks’ producer, helped her. He showed her how to become the artist she needed to be to record a successful album.

“It was made very clear to me from the very beginning that if I was gonna do this, I was no longer the coddled, dependent baby of Fleetwood Mac,” Nicks said.

“And I just realized right away that I wanted more than anything in the world to put these songs down and play them for all those wonderful people who seemed, for whatever their reasons, to love my songs. And I love my songs.

“That’s what I do—I write songs. I’m a tune writer. And I wanted this LP to be really wonderful. And without somebody like Jimmy, I could not have done it. Because I wouldn’t have been disciplined enough.”

So, Nicks took a big leap of faith going in to record Bella Donna. She was suffocating in Fleetwood Mac. However, despite her fears of doing something without Fleetwood Mac, she knew she had to change.

It must have felt great when Bella Donna became a critical and commercial success. It just shows how resilient and strong Nicks is when it comes to her career.

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