When you name your band The Negro Problem, the last place you probably expect to wind up is on Broadway. Yet that's exactly where the multi-talented musician and songwriter Stew found himself back in 2008, starring in his exhilarating rock musicalPassing Strange. This unexpected turn of events was made all the weirder for Stew because his longtime collaborator and girlfriend, Heidi Rodewald, was there onstage night after night—despite their relationship having ended two years prior. Passing Strange kept them essentially handcuffed together, and when it finally ended (without the avalanche of Tony awards it so richly deserved), one assumed their professional partnership would end, too.

But what doesn't kill you only makes you stranger: Stew and Rodewald are working on a new theater piece for the Public Theater, plan to tour in the fall, and this week will be appearing in their latest piece, a multimedia concert-with-video appropriately named Making It. The collaboration (don't call it a play!) arose out of the former couple's inability to answer a number of questions: Are you Making It? What are you making? And how are you Making It? When do you know you've made it? We had our own questions for Stew yesterday before tech rehearsal at St. Ann's Warehouse, where Making It will debut on Wednesday and quickly close on Sunday.

So your girlfriend gave birth to your son a couple weeks ago? Yeah. He's discovered crying now. First week, he was kind of mellow, you know. Then he's like, waaah. It's like his first tool.

I was reading in the Voice that you were actually rehearsing with Heidi while your son was being born. Actually, I was at the hospital and they said, "We're going to induce labor, come back tomorrow morning. This thing takes a while." I said fine, so we went down and we did the interview, then we went to have food. So as we're eating oysters, I get a call from my girlfriend, who's a doctor, and she goes, "Yeah, they're deciding to do a c-section." I say, Okay. She says "Oh no, don't worry, they have to prep, and ya know, it'll take awhile. Finish your food!" She's totally clinical and calm about these things. So I'm sort of nervously finishing food for ten minutes, hop into a taxi, go up there, and kid's there, already cleaned up, just like a convenience store.

My girlfriend, because she's a doctor, she's pretty unsentimental about these kinds of things, which is actually kind of refreshing. I mean, once the kid pops out, then the sentiment is on, but the procedure was very, "Here's what we're going to do." Everything was very together. Apparently while it was happening, you're awake, and they put a sheet in front. So she's speaking the lingo to whoever the attending doctor was standing there with her, while the thing is happening on the other side of the sheet. Doctors and artists, that's an interesting combination. I guess in the old days, those Da Vinci guys were scientists and artists, and I think now there's a split. We consider ourselves opposites now. Those guys used to be the same guys.

It was an art of medicine. Yeah, Da Vinci was as much into making pictures as he was going to clinics during autopsies because he wanted to see what the insides looks like, and he has all these incredible drawings of these things only doctors had seen, or murderers, I guess. But I feel completely separate from the science world. My thing is about, "I don't know what's true or factual, so I like to make things up." And she's like, "Well, I actually know how things work, the properties of this or that, the physics of this or that." And I don't know any of that stuff, so I'm just going to make up some shit. So it makes for good arguments!

Are you two traveling from place to place? Do you have a home at this point? She's a confirmed Brooklynite. And I live in Berlin. We have a very, I guess somebody would say, modern relationship, I'm not sure what that means anymore. We have an arrangement that says, we don't keep the fact from each other that I don't want to live in New York, and she doesn't want to live in Berlin. I like New York to work, she likes Berlin to play, and I work in New York. I don't think there's another town that would hire me, quite frankly. So this is the office. I call it the commute from hell; the Atlantic Ocean is basically my commute. People complain about the BQE and the fucking Jersey transit system or whatever, mine is the Atlantic Ocean.

I don't work anywhere else except here, I don't think any town would have me, I really don't. You know that song, "If I could make it there, I could make it anywhere." Total opposite for me. I can't make it anywhere except New York. Me and Heidi leave New York, and people are like, "What? What exactly is this?" We get a lot of love in the Bay Area. We have our little places, but I think this is where we belong.

Stew, with Heidi Rodewald (Jeff Fasano)

The last time you performed here was Passing Strange on Broadway, right? Actually no, we did two shows. We did the first weekend at the revamped Alice Tully Hall. We did a night of our own material—as if Passing Strange was written by someone else, ha. Well, we did our own, real material. We did an outdoor, Lincoln Center thing. We did the Alice Tully thing, then Lincoln Center outdoors, which was a bunch of covers of Broadway songs, which we called "the Broadway Problem." Two pretty big shows.

Well, what happened after Passing Strange and all that ended, between then and now, to get you to this point, to doing this show? What happened in between was just realizing that a huge part of my life was over. My relationship with Heidi was over.

And you hadn't had a chance to process that because the whole Passing Strange machine...Right, not at all. We broke up in 2006, but we...our situation with Passing Strange and our break-up was like we basically were divorcing and then staying in the same house for two years. We separated but Passing Strange was the house we lived in, so we were going to workshops together, we were going on writing retreats together, we were doing the play together. And initially it was pretty fine, it was kind of like "Ha ha, single man in New York, got a hit show downtown, it's not a bad place to be."

If you want to drown your sorrows, the best way to do it is to be the star of a hit downtown play. That will help all the things that come with that, all the nice people you can meet in the lobby of the Public Theater, that'll make you feel better for about a year. Than after a year you'll need something else... And then when the play closed, I wasn't sad the play closed at all, on Broadway, I wanted it to close; I was going nuts. But when it closed, that triggered the reckoning, having to now deal with the fact that this person who...

Our creative lives and romantic lives were the same thing; they weren't really separate. Which was actually a problem that she had, because she wanted romantic life here and work life there. So I was sitting in Berlin, going, "Wow," and it was like mourning this thing, this real part of my life. And I wasn't sure how we were going to go on. I really didn't know how I was going to now work with this person, that I had been romantically involved with and had been through all this heavy shit with and all this great fun struggle and all this wonderfully fun dues-paying. People always act like dues-paying is so bad, "I paid my dues man." Dues-paying in rock 'n' roll for me was fun. I loved riding round in a van playing for five people one night and 5,000 the next, it was fun.

But we went through all this shit, and suddenly it's like "That's all done." And yeah, I came closest to what you could call a nervous breakdown, and didn't know how I was going to move on, didn't know how to work with her. I felt guilty if I didn't want to work with her, like I was depriving her of this thing we built, because she always—the way we worked was, I was the loudmouth in front of the stage and she's the arranger, co-writer, co-collaborator. But if I move on without her, is that bad? Or if she moves on without me, maybe she ends up doing something fantastic without me and I want to kill her, you know what I mean, anything can happen! It was just all really fucked up and weird and confusing, and I realized we had to make a show to address it.

That's what I find amazing, because when a relationship that intimate ends, most people do as much as they can to get as far away from it as possible, because the associations are so painful. That was the initial feeling. But I realized that the only way—I'm pretty one-dimensional in that, I don't know about other art forms, but songwriters tend to work their shit out with songs. They just do; it's kind of a way to bottle this issue. To bottle this thought, and kind of, I'm not saying it makes you feel better, but...

I also kind of tricked her into doing a show to sing about things that were too difficult to talk about. I did kind of tell her, "I'm tricking you into doing this because there are things we couldn't talk comfortably about." Because songs aren't on the nose; plays tend to be on the nose, "Here's me doing this, and this is the reason I'm walking across the stage, and here's my motivation." And songs to me are more like dreams, more like fragments, you can just sing whatever you want, as long as the melodies cool, nobody goes, "Hey that didn't make sense." Nobody walked up to Dylan or The Beatles and said "Huh?" They just feel like the melodies worked. That's what we did. We were cringing at the idea that we were making a play about our lives. I would never do that. But all I've ever done in my life is write songs about stuff that is going on. So this is a return to that.

So how did this come together? I thought I was going to do the show by myself. And then I started playing the songs for my friends, and they all said, "Heidi's got to be in the show. You've got to address the other half of it." And I realized they were right. What's cool about my friends, and the people at St. Ann's, and the people at Pomegranate Arts who manage our tours, is they could have totally kissed me ass and blown smoke, and said, "Oh yeah, this is your next thing Stew, it's so cool, so great." I did this whole fucking thing for these people around a table, the people at St. Ann's and my band, and ran through the whole thing and played them the songs.

And it was really scary, because I don't do confessional stuff. And instead of them going, "It's so great," they said I had to have Heidi in this, it's missing this other half. And that totally frank criticism, instead of them blowing smoke up my ass, I value that to the end, because I've met a lot of people who just want to kiss your ass after you've had a hit show, and don't want to tell you the truth. And they all said, "This is half a show right now. You've got to have her involved, engaged." And they were right, and that's why she's here.

Is there anything you brought to the table, or she brought to the table, that was too personal for either one of you, that you weren't comfortable with? We both avoided anything that was implicating other people. Because obviously she and I had involvements... She and I had relationships with people we were fooling around with, or dealing with in some way, and we don't address that. Maybe in very veiled ways. But no, we didn't want to implicate anybody else, or deal with...You know, my girlfriend's not in it. Any of the people we might have fooled around with in the last two years during that period before I met my girlfriend, where we were just like running around down at the Public Theater and Berkeley Rep and drinking all the time and hanging out after every show. No, we didn't want to bring anybody else into it. The show is really just about these two people who are like, "What do we do now?"

And can you be in a band with somebody who you used to love, or can you be in a band with somebody that you not just loved really—that sounds pretty lame actually. I mean, Heidi is the person I thought I was going to grow old with. And she thought the same about me. It really wasn't just, "Who do you love?" I love a lot of people. But she was really the person I thought I was going to grow old with and die with. That was how we thought it was going to be. And that's really what i think ultimately the show is like. I hope it doesn't come off that heavy! But that's what I'm bringing to it. And maybe again, just like Passing Strange, kind of looking at art in some way, some kind of balm, some kind of therapy, or some kind of way of objectifying a problem. A way of objectifying a pain so that you can not be ruled by it. That's what I needed. I needed to get out from under the weight of this issue.

It's pretty...I'm not going to meet anybody, and I have kind of written about this in one song, I'm not going to meet anybody like her. And what's more, I'm not going to meet anybody who shared the shit I shared with her. I'm 48, I'm going do some crazy shit I'm sure, but the kind of stuff we did, and are still going to be doing, playing all over the world... I'm not going to have those kinds of memories with anyone else. And that's weird. Because you think, what is old age, what is adulthood, what do you do when you're old? You basically sit around with the person, and talk about what happened, what you used to do. And I feel like now that person is going to be somebody who's going to be in a relationship, just like I'm in a relationship, and what am I going to do, call her every once in a while when we're in rocking chairs, and go "Hey, remember when..." Unless we go to the old folks rockers home, the rocking chair rockers home. But you know what, it's stuff like that, old age. Maybe that's the next show! The aging hipster vision of what being old is really like. Maybe that's the next show.

Or maybe Making It will really catch fire like Passing Strange, and you'll be back on Broadway! The thing that is crazy about this, is we literally only wanted to do these concerts. We originally wanted to do three concerts, Friday-Saturday-Sunday. Then it turned into six, how ever many it is now. But we've been telling everybody, this is a concert, it's a song-cycle, its not a piece of theater, there are no actors, there's no acting, it's just us doing a fun show. And that hasn't stopped people from approaching and going, "Well is this the next show?"

We're actually working on a real musical theater piece for the Public Theater and Berkley Rep again. But we don't want to be in that one. We're happy to play our songs for the rest of our lives. I don't want to be in a play anymore. That was too constricting. But yeah, people are already asking about this, and we just didn't even think for a second. So I'm like, Okay, we get Forrest Whitaker, teach Forrest Whitaker to play guitar, and then get Julia Roberts, or forget Forrest Whitaker, let's get Denzel, go all the way, teach Denzel how to play four chords, and get Julia Roberts to play bass, and then we got a play. I don't know. I can't imagine either of those people as musicians. Forrest Whitaker I kind of could imagine, I hear actually he sings pretty very well, but I don't know about Julia.

Are you still in touch with the people from Passing Strange, the cast? All of them. Yeah, it's kind of one of those, it's like college. Most of them, at least the ones not in shows right now, are all going to come see this show. They're like family. It's like a combination of college and the army. Every single person in that play. When you're in a play it's like being on a ship, every single person in that play went through some heavy drama through those two or three years... And it was hard for the actors because they had to witness me and Heidi's shit. And actors are very positive, and they're very utilitarian in their way of saying, "I'm not going to show an emotion offstage that in any way, shape, or form affects the delicate balance of this wonderful family that we have." And I'm walking in, pissed off, I've got the fucking hood on, I'm angry at people, snapping, and that's not good for the actors' ship; you're supposed to be upbeat. So I made life difficult for them. And one of the actresses, when Heidi and I were arguing, used to always say, "Why are Mommy and Daddy fighting?"

You said you were really ready for Passing Strange to end on Broadway. Do you regret on any level transferring it to Broadway, or anything like that? No, not at all. It was one of those experiences where I had to have it, I had to know. It taught me a whole bunch, it taught me so much about performing and tightened up my rock n roll game. I can't wait to get back on the road; we're going back on the road in the fall. This hasn't been enough time for me to really get back up to where I want to be. But you can't really get back up to speed until you're in front of people. This will just be a taste. This won't even really start to really burn until about Sunday or Monday. It's not really going to get into autopilot until those last two shows.

But I want to get on the road and apply all that cool stuff I learned on Broadway, because theater is all about precision, timing, what makes people laugh, what makes people cry, what gets attention, what you do after that. Humor is mostly timing, it's not even the word, it's not even what you're saying, it's about how fast something responds to the other thing. So I learned a lot about that, but no I don't regret it.

What hurts was, I was cursing the fucking heavens, "Why do I get to experience this peak, this artistic peak, why am I on the cover of these magazines and on TV for christ-fucking-sake. I'm just this crazy guy who's been playing 300-seat clubs in Silverlake; our music wasn't supposed to be mainstream. You don't call your band The Negro Problem if you're trying to get a top-40 hit. That wasn't even our game, and suddenly I'm on TV. Why do I have to be experiencing this peak while my personal life is falling apart?"

That's the thing. It would have been so much more fun if Heidi and I had been intact to experience and share that. But instead we're not even hanging out. I'm doing all this stuff, and going back to the hotel, or going back to the apartment, and not having anyone to process this with, which is all we used to do, at the end of the day sit back and say, "What just happened? That was interesting. How about that." Because see, we really come from the club scene. We're the kind of band that we knew going in we were never trying to have a hit, we've just not that kind of band. We're too fucking old for the indie rockers. Too fucking old for them. Maybe at some point we'll be so old we'll be cool. Like the way the Brits in the sixties thought the grizzled blues guys were.

We were just doing our stubborn thing. It would have been nice to experience that, in a harmonious way. And everyone thought I was hating Broadway because it was Broadway. I was not hating Broadway because it's Broadway, I was hating Broadway because my personal life was fucked, it was just fucking fucked. Seeing my ex in a play everyday. C'mon! That's not how this works, it's not supposed to work like that. I'm not being Mr. Punk Rock, "Oh this Broadway is too much for me, fuck this shit," I was making more money than I'd ever made in my life. I was getting four different checks, songwriting, orchestration, playwright, dah dah dah. I was happy, seeing my kid more, seeing my 17 year old, flying my kid over every 5 seconds. Life was fantastic. It wasn't the punk rock spirit. It was that my life was fucked. So that's that.

Are you going to continue to work with her, is she going to go on tour? Beyond this? Yeah. That's the other thing this show did. This show was kind of the experiment to see if we could continue. We're a team, we're a total team, that all worked out, thankfully.