Monday, September 12, 2011

Extended UNCUT Magazine Article on Lindsey Buckingham

An edited version of this story appeared in the September issue of Uncut (with The Doors on the cover). Great article on Lindsey... Thanks to Hits for the full version!

Inside the Head—and the Home—of the Mainstream Rock Star Who's Conducted a Parallel Career as a Radical Solo Artist 

Lindsey Buckingham gained fame and fortune as the architect of Fleetwood Mac’s sound, but the musician/songwriter/producer has also resolutely—and at times defiantly—conducted a parallel career as a cult artist. The fact that he’s experienced far less commercial success on the latter path hasn’t diminished his propensity for risk-taking. This ongoing boldness dates back to 1979’s still-radical-sounding Tusk, on which, enthralled by The Clash, Talking Heads and other new wavers, Buckingham pulled a Neil Young, following up mega-seller Rumours by heading for the ditch, taking the rest of Big Mac along for the ride.

These days, the 61-year-old veteran is into Arcade Fire, Phoenix, the Dirty Projectors and Vampire Weekend—“These guys have been to school; they know more than we did,” he marvels—while his achievements both inside and outside of Fleetwood Mac have profoundly influenced the current generation of indie bands. Rather than resting on his laurels, Buckingham continues to push the envelope as he rides out a sustained run of inspiration that has yielded three albums in the last five years, the latest being the brand new Seeds We Sow. Not your typical aging rock star—not by a long shot.

Pulling up to the home he shares with wife Kristen, son Will, 13, and daughters Leelee, 11, and Stella, 6, on the tony West Side of LA, I’m struck by estate’s welcoming vibe. Spread across a broad lot, the Normandy-style house was built by architect Kevin Clark, who also designed their previous lvish adode, a Spanish-style hilltop home in Bel Air. “What I attempt to do is more of a period-style architecture,” Clark had told me earlier. “I’m trying to give people the feeling that they’re living in a home that was created in a golden age of California’s architecture. I look at homes that were built in the 1920s as models.” Clark’s vision intersects perfectly with that of Kristen, an interior designer who’s influenced by the 1920s homes of iconic L.A. architect Wallace Neff. 



Together, Clark and Ms. Buckingham have created an environment that seamlessly blends grandeur and cozy informality. Pushing open the unlocked front, gate, I traverse the flower-lined walkway of the grounds to the front door, which is wide open—the polar opposite of the fortress-like mansions of Bel Air and Beverly Hills. A maid leads me past the entrance hall, with its dramatic winding staircase, past the living room, kitchen, breakfast nook, dining room and bar—all manifesting a style that mixes traditional formality and hipness—to the back patio. Lindsey, in T-shirt and jeans, stands restlessly on the antique brick surface, looking slim and toned, like the competitive swimmer he once was. He leads me to a wicker chair and plops into a matching one next to it, stretching his legs over the low table in front of us, bare ankles peeking out from between his jeans and low-profile black slip-on shoes. 


We converse surrounded by potted plants and chirping birds, while gazing out over an expanse of lawn that stretches out like a playing field toward a rectangular pool. Behind the cabana-like open-air poolhouse, the property continues down a hillock to a tennis court, where Will is getting a lesson. In the distance, the hills of Pacific Palisades stretch out below a bank of clouds floating over the Santa Monica coastline on this crystalline July morning. It’s a lovely, casually elegant setting, the very quintessence of high-end L.A. affluence, and yet its feel is unpretentious and lived-in. 

As he speaks in his mellifluous, perpetual choirboy’s voice, Buckingham twists in his chair to face me, his wiry frame seeming to corkscrew in parallel to his cerebral ruminations. Whenever the conversation turns to a subject he finds ironic or absurd, particularly regarding the vagaries of the modern-day music business, he issues a quick, high-pitched cackle that’s less about humour than exasperation or incomprehension. 

“The whole arc of what’s happened since the ’70s, it’s been an interesting ride, and things haven’t been done in particularly the normal order,” Buckingham reflects. Of course, it was Lindsey himself who skewed the “normal order” with Tusk, and much of his subsequent journey has derived from that intial act of subversion. “We were in this place where we could have made Rumors 2 and begin to paint ourselves into a corner stylistically. There was a point where Rumors detached from the music and it became about the voyeurism and about the success of the album itself. I wanted to wiggle free from that trap.”

One could argue that the band, and Buckingham in particular, set up this vicious cycle by filling the LP with songs that deal overtly with the dissolution of a relationship and then slapping a titillating title on it. In a sense, Rumours and the press and public reaction to it accurately anticipated the metastasizing of celebrity gossip a quarter century later. 

“Yeah, but none of that was a choice,” Lindsey points out. “All of it was an outgrowth of the fact that we are this strange group of people who function through chemistry. We were two couples who had broken up, and while we were making Rumours I had to see Stevie every day and never really got a chance to get any closure, and still had to try to make the right choices to do the right thing for her and, in some ironic sense, help her to move away. We were also aware, because that first album had done very well, that there was this calling—this destiny—that we needed to fulfill. What was going on with one’s personal life was secondary to that calling. And we did stand up and try to fulfill that calling. 

“But in the wake of that album,” he points out, “there was a chance to take stock of what it all meant. There had been a lot of other music that had come in, both from England and America, in the late ’70s which was reinforcing to my sensibilities. And there was a subtext to that music which was confrontational to what Fleetwood Mac was about culturally. So I was just looking outside of the box at that point. But the irony of Tusk was that I did engage the band in the idea and the process, and what broke that spell was the commercial outcome. And it’s not that it didn’t sell, but because it did not stand up to the previous thing, this edict that came down where basically they said, ‘We’re going to go back to something a little more to the right’. And had there not been that reaction from the rest of the band, I probably would have never started making solo albums, because there would never had been a need for the outlet for the left side of the palette which was there for me. At the time they probably just saw me as a troublemaker—I’m sure the record company did, too. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when they put that album on in the boardroom. ‘What was that we just heard?’”

The music Buckingham has delivered to Warner Bros. Records since Tusk—five solo albums over 28 years—has received increasing degrees of consternation from the label as it shifted its focus from nurturing artists to making the quarterly numbers. Finally, with Seeds We Sow, the artist-label relationship had atrophied to the point of non-existence, and the new LP will be the first Buckingham has self-released. Fleetwood Mac is now also on its own after 40 years on Warner Bros. 

Buckingham has frequently stated during the last few years that this is the best time of his life, and seeing this largely contented family man in his element, it’s easy to believe him. He met Kristen at a 1996 photo shoot while she was still plying her former profession as a photographer. “I went to the studio to shoot some guy—that’s who Lindsey was to me then,” Kristen recalled in Elle D├ęcor in 2009. “He dropped some corny line like, ‘Haven’t I met you before?’ We had a drink and have never been apart since.”

“That’s been such a gift,” Lindsey says of finding Kristen and starting a family relatively late in life—his first child was born when he was 48. “Living through the ’70s, the ’80s and the ’90s, I saw that a lot of people I knew who were living a certain kind of lifestyle that we all thought we had to live in that subculture in that time, and a lot of those people who were parents or spouses were not really there for that situation then, and I didn’t want to be one of those guys, because my upbringing was so stable and so supportive. And, of course, if you wait too long, the odds of finding somebody begin to diminish, so I was just lucky to meet someone who could kick my ass and help me to reorient my well-defended ways. I think all of this was somehow an extension of the whole Fleetwood Mac thing of living in denial. Luckily, I had gotten a lot of the other garbage out of the way, so I could be an effective and consistent presence at home.” 

As immersed as he us in his late-arriving domesticity, Buckingham is just as deeply involved in another environment as well. Its physical embodiment is the home studio beneath the garage where he recorded all of Seeds We Sow and the bulk of the two previous albums—but its actual location is inside his head. In the life he’s leading now, Buckingham moves seamlessly between his two worlds. 

“Lindsey, as he would say himself, is slightly the odd man out,” Mick Fleetwood said in a recent Uncut interview. “He’s very private, and totally involved with his lovely family. And knowing Lindsey 15 years ago, he was never going to do it! So that’s brought a lot of different dynamics into Lindsey’s life. And that’s really a fantastic thing for Lindsey; being somewhat private, he now has a feeling of connecting around him with his family. And he’s [also] married to his art, you know. He’s totally married to his art.”

Says Buckingham, “I’m at the point now where all these choices I’ve made add up to something more tangible, where I feel like they were not bad choices that I made, if not popular at the time. I feel like my street cred is better than it’s ever been. That does not translate to marketability, nor should it, necessarily. It’s just easier to come to terms with what it is and what it isn’t at this point, and then be completely happy to go out with Fleetwood Mac for a while. Because there’s something to be said for that, too, and if you do it properly, it has its own credibility. There’s a story that is still evolving with that band, if that’s possible after all these years—and with Stevie and me. We’re getting along better than ever. What?”

Nicks takes all the talk of a kinder, gentler Fleetwood Mac with a grain of salt. As she confessed to MTV.com in 2009, “When he goes onstage and does his little speech where he says, ‘You know, everything is great and we’re just all grown up now and we’re having fun,’ I’m just standing on the other side of the stage and going [rolls her eyes], ‘Whatever!’ Right now, we’re trying to be a little more on the high road, but let us go in and do another album, and bang, back down to the bad, low road go we.” 

But the tension between them appears to have largely dissipated. When Nicks did a show on May 26 in conjunction with her 63rd birthday, Buckingham came onstage for a guest appearance, as did Fleetwood.

“That electric, crazy attraction between Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks never dies, never will die, never will go away,” Nicks said in the same interview, oddly opting to refer to herself in the third person. “He’s married, he’s happy, he has three beautiful children that I love. You know, he’s found a good, happy, calm, safe place—but who Lindsey and I are to each other will never change.” Nicks said she knew their tumultuous romance was definitively over on the day Buckingham’s first child was born. “It doesn’t mean the great feeling isn’t there, it must mean that, you know, we’re beauty and the beast. It means that the love is always there but we’ll never be together, so that’s even more romantic.”

In a sense, Buckingham and Nicks (“It’s actually Nicks-Buckingham now,” Lindsey quips) have come full circle. Since Christine McVie left Fleetwood Mac in 1998, they’re back to being the two intertwined voices they were as Buckingham Nicks four decades ago. “Back then, we were doing a pop-folk thing with Ian & Sylvia two-part harmonies,” he recalls. “We liked the blend we had, and it’s still a great blend—we just don’t do it very often in that pure context. Who knows, she and I could get together and do something. That would tug at a lot of people’s hearts, including our own. But that album came and went, at which point we were dealing with a lack of interest from the label, management, everybody, pretty much. And it was right at that moment that Mick Fleetwood contacted me. It wasn’t clear to us that we should do, but we once we all got together, we felt like, oh, there’s a vibe. And indeed there was.”
  
Buckingham doesn’t have to keep making records and touring, but he still posessses the desire to excel that he started out with. “Hopefully, it’s not quite as neurotic as it once was, and it may be driven by things that are a little more pure,” he says. “But the interesting thing about my scene is there is this big machine—the Fleetwood Mac machine—and without that I wouldn’t have been able to do all this small stuff, which is where you take your risks and where you allow yourself to grow and where the heart lives more, and the two somehow they support each other. But without the small stuff, I wouldn’t have been able to keep coming back to Fleetwood Mac. Even if we never make another album, even if we’re just going out and playing the material in a way that is fresh, the two seem to help support each other and inform each other’s sensibilities.”

Fleetwood marvels at the ability of his longtime bandmate to move so naturally between his distinctly separate modes of expression. “Because he’s so focussed on his ‘art’ and what it means to him—and it’s certainly not about the money—he goes out and works his nuts off trying to have people listen to what he’s doing,” says Mick. “And it’s really a labour of love; it’s not about going out and making zillions of dollars, for sure. But you have to really hand it to him; he comes back to Fleetwood Mac as a whole person, and when that moment is, is truly when that moment is.” 

“There was a period of time when the solo albums were few and far between,” Lindsey reflects. “I’ve been more prolific in the last five years as a solo artist than I had ever been before. Back then, I was more like the Terence Malick of rockers. Because I’ve made this choice—or because the choice has been made for me—to define myself off to the left, I’m inherently making things for the fewer number of ears. Yes, it’s still about being heard, but I have to also temper my expectations for who is actually going to hear it and get it—or more to the point, want to get it. But that’s the freedom of it. If everyone who appreciated Fleetwood Mac appreciated this, I wouldn’t be doing my job right.”

Here’s a buyer’s guide to Lindsey Buckingham’s solo albums 

LAW AND ORDER (1981) 
Buckingham went straight from the Tusk marathon to this stylistically eclectic collection, playing almost all the parts to establish his DIY solo mode, while creating his persona with “Trouble”.  

GO INSANE (1984)
Emotional turmoil doesn’t get any catchier or more melodic than this. “There was no irony to that title at all”, says Buckingham. Closes with “D.W. Suite”, an elegy for Dennis Wilson.

OUT OF THE CRADLE (1992) 
This elegant, intense, painstakingly executed collection—made during Buckingham’s self-imposed exile from the Mac and showcasing his orchestral guitar technique—is the place for newbies to start their immersion into his oeuvre. 

UNDER THE SKIN (2006)
Buckingham’s most engaging LP is at once a celebration of romantic salvation (“Show You How”, “It Was You”) and a meditation on the life of the artist (“Not Too Late”, “Cast Away Dreams”).

LIVE AT THE BASS PERFORMANCE HALL (2008) 
Lindsey alternately rocks out on electric and fingerpicks hyper-dextrously on acoustic in a real-time career overview that establishes a common ground between his solo and Fleetwood Mac personas.

GIFT OF SCREWS (2009)
The original version of this somewhat scattered LP, which dates back to the mid-’90s, provided most of the tracks for the Mac’s most recent LP, 2003’s Say You Will, as well as two for …Skin. 

SEEDS WE SOW (2011)
 A sort of belated follow-up to …Cradle, though the vibe is mellower, Buckingham’s latest integrates his full range of moves, from fleet-fingered solo acoustic balladry (“Illumination”) to trademark rockers (“That’s the Way Love Is”).


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