Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Gothamist Interview with Lindsey Buckingham Talks Fleetwood Mac Reunion, Visiting Occupy Wall Street

By Ben Yakas 
November 1, 2011

Lindsey Buckingham is best known as the singer/guitarist of Fleetwood Mac, steering the band through the highs of the era-defining soft pop of "Rumours" and its more experimental, weirder sister album "Tusk" in the late '70s. Buckingham has also had a varied solo career, providing the theme "Holiday Road" to "National Lampoon's Vacation," and recording this year's "Seeds We Sow" entirely on his own. This Friday, Buckingham will speak at the 92nd Street Y about his long career—we spoke to him about his friendship with Brian Wilson, the legacy of Tusk, tinkering in the studio, his kids perception of him, and Fleetwood Mac's plans for next year.

It feels very appropriate I’m interviewing you today. because I just spoke with Brian Wilson this week
Oh, how was he doing?

He’s doing well. It was a strange interview. 
Well I think he’s sort of in and out. He has been for years. He’s just a quirky guy.

He’s one of your musical heroes, right? 
Oh absolutely, yes.

Have you met him before? 
Oh yeah many times. I’ve worked with him, yeah.

Have you recorded with him? 
Yeah, a little bit. Whatever I did was a b-side of something for one of those solo projects he did. I think it was released but it was pretty obscure.

Have you heard the new Smile box set? 
I have not. But I have heard various incarnations over the years of Smile and I’m pretty familiar with what there is. I don’t know what's different about this set but it’s obviously an inspiration no matter what form it’s in.

Was their music very influential on you? 
Well sure. I grew up in California listening to those harmonies, and he’s such a superb melodicist, and I think that’s something to aspire to. But then later on he was somewhat influential in terms of someone who saw that he had a potential creative life outside the formula, and tried to work outside the formula. He was successful, but it was difficult, and there was a point in time for me after Rumours where we were poised to make something like "Rumours 2", and of course I made a big left turn and we made Tusk. And that was a line in the sand that I drew that still helps define how I try to think today, in terms of continuing to aspire to be an artist and not someone who is just following the formula of the brand, shall we say. Trying to think in terms of what one thinks is important. And trying to respond to the idea that music has a transcendent quality and a religious overtone to it that should be pursued and, you know, to try and reject the company formula which is: if it works, run it into the ground and move on. I think that’s what Brian was trying to do as well.

You’re going to be talking at the 92nd Street Y on Friday. Have you ever done this kind of event before? 
No, I haven’t.

Do you enjoy talking about your past, about Fleetwood Mac? 
It’s all out there for people to examine and to be curious about and I think to have any problem talking about the landscape, whether it's past of present, you put yourself out there. That’s part of the bargain you make with the public and clearly if you have a problem talking about your past then you probably have a bit of a problem with your present as well.

So you don’t feel overshadowed by all the work you’ve done before? 
No, because the work that I do as a solo artist was never necessarily geared for the same audience, or certainly for as broad an audience. I mean, when you tap into what is really the more esoteric side of yourself and you tap into the left side of your palette, clearly you’re going to lose a large number of people who might otherwise listen to what you’re doing. It's just like a filmmaker who might be able to go out and make a mainstream film, then go out and make an independent film—he would be unrealistic to assume that the independent film is going to reach the same number of people.

But you know, you have to look at it more for what it does to enrich your own sensibility and your own forward motion, your own sense of your interface with your work—and how the small project can inform the large project just as the large can inform the small. And I don’t think you could really judge one in terms of being overshadowed by the other. I feel lucky to have both and to have been able to have both. And I’ve never had any commercial expectations in terms of commercial outcome for the solo work because that’s the trade-off you make when you do things that are a little bit more challenging, shall we say.

And yet, you still have had several solo hits, including "Holiday Road" and "Trouble." 
Well, you know, we’ve done okay with that. But again, I wouldn’t be able to do the solo stuff without having had the Fleetwood Mac stuff. And then I can bring that back when Fleetwood Mac records or just when we tour, we bring back that sense of yourself and your freshness back into the group. It’s a good thing.

I had read that Fleetwood Mac might be hitting the road next year. Has there been any movement on that, or on a new album? 
It’s funny because six months ago or less even there was quite a bit of talk. I know Stevie [Nicks] was talking quite a bit about it in interviews, because she has a solo album out as well. And she was talking that up big time in the interviews, then I think somehow she started to feel she wanted a little more time to work this album because I know she’s been having lots of fun out there. I don’t think Stevie’s had a really positive experience making a solo album for quite a while until this. This album, I know, she had a great time making it.

So what was being talked about by her, at least in the press, quite freely only a few months ago now, seems to have been amended into a plan B and I’m not really sure how that plan B plays out, I just know that as opposed to maybe thinking about getting started with something soon after the first of the year that’s now been put back into maybe later in the year. So the answer is no, there’s nothing on the books, but yes, we will do something at some point—I just can’t give you any real specifics unfortunately.

Is there a marked difference in your mind between songs you allocate for the band and then ones you do on your own? 
Well, not really, because as someone who writes you sort of have your antennae up and things are passing over your head and you catch them. They’re sort of out there, and when you catch something you have a few things floating around, and what defines it as solo or Fleetwood Mac usually has more to do with two things: the receptivity that any particular piece might have from the rest of the group, and then once it has been received well, how it gets processed through that collaborative effort. When I work alone and I’m in my studio and I’m playing a lot of the stuff myself, I think the style of it becomes something a little different. It’s kind of like painting when you’re working with demand, maybe a little bit more like movie making. And so a lot of how it becomes either Fleetwood Mac or solo is defined by what they like and what they do with what they like.

Well I know that you recorded the majority of your latest album, Seeds We Sow, on your own—and a lot of Tusk was done with you experimenting in the studio on your own. Do you prefer to work alone? 
It's not that I prefer to work alone, I think there are two valid ways of doing it that I’ve found. And it’s like the difference between movie making or painting. You could go down to the studio, much as a painter would go and have this one on one with his canvas, and you can slap colors on the canvas and what happens in that process is that you don’t necessarily have to have a real fleshed out song, you can have a seed of an idea and you can still go in and deal with it more in the abstract. Probably what happens during the process is things change a lot more and the work kind of leads you in a direction you wouldn’t expect to go more often. It’s a more meditative kind of process, certainly a quieter kind of thing.

When you work with a band, obviously you’ve got to present them with something they can get a hold of, so it has to be a little more fleshed out as a song. And then where it goes is more collaborative obviously; it’s more political possibly, certainly more a conscious process than a subconscious process, which the painting can be. It’s more verbalized, getting from point a to point b, and the changes that occur are…it’s a different kind of thing. I don’t think you can say one is better than the other. It’s just two different ways of doing something.

Outside of Fleetwood Mac activities, going on tour and scheduling and such, are you still close with your bandmates, or have much interactions with them? 
You know, except for Stevie—who I did see quite a bit toward the end of her last project and stay in contact with from time to time—we’re all separated by geography. Mick lives in Hawaii, John lives in Hawaii, Christine McVie is out of the band and she burned all of her bridges in Los Angeles and moved back to England. So it’s not easy to spend time together, but we do keep in touch—not on a hugely ongoing basis, because we all have our own lives...but you know, we certainly have been through a lot together.

That goes without saying, yeah. Did you participate in the Tuskbook (Thirty-Three and a Third) that came out recently? 
Was that the Warner Bros thing? Oh! The Thirty-Three and a Third, the paperback thing? I know that guy because he’s done a few of those I think. I certainly have talked to him, I didn’t like participating particularly for that, but yeah, I’ve talked to that guy a few times. I feel as though there’s been a revival of Tusk in recent years.

It wasn’t quite as appreciated in its time but now it’s considered one of the greatest albums of the 70’s. 
Well you know, obviously in the context of following up an album that was so hugely successful as Rumours with something like Tusk, you upset a lot of people. At the time that I was making that with the band, I drew the band into that process and they were into it, and it was only after it didn’t sell 16 million albums that the band decided that they didn’t want to do that again. So even within the band, there was unrest about Tusk in the wake of its commercial outcome at the time and certainly the record company was not overly pleased with that transition.

I think everyone was looking for Rumours 2, and to some degree I think it’s fair to say that much of the audience who was enamored with what Rumours was, was looking for more of the same. So yes, it did have an alienating quality to it in the moment, but then, you cut to a few years later when you could be more objective about it, and as tastes change and evolve and as a younger generation gets a hold of thing and sees them not only for what they are musically but possibly for why they were made in context. They can even appreciate the fact that there was someone out there who was trying to undermine the idea of repeating the formula of the brand. There’s a certain kind of idealism attached to Tusk as a subtext to the music, and I think people now can respond not only to how colorful and experimental it is, but also why it was made.

I think it’s really interesting how pervasive that album is with musicians, more so than Rumours was—a lot of contemporary artists like Animal Collective, Kaki King, and The New Pornographers cite that album, and your songs in particular, as a huge influence on them. 
Well yeah—and that’s really what it’s for. Sometimes it takes the perspective of time and that’s one of the things about Seeds We Sow, this album that I’ve got now. It seems to be looking at choices that have been made over the past 20 to 25 years, and some of those choices were not clear that they were going to pan out one way or the other—it took a lot of time and the perspective of that in order to see whether those choices were good or not. So when you see that it’s worked its way into the fabric, in a way where you pass a certain torch on to other people and you’ve infused their way of thinking and supported their sense of wanting to uphold their ideals for music, then that’s really what it’s for.

Are there any contemporary artists who you really enjoy, and have inspired your recent work? 
It’s funny—because I have three fairly young children, every time we get in the car they turn on the station KISS FM which has Katy Perry and a lot of hip hop and very pop kind of stuff, and some of that I enjoyed but I felt that it was kind of a hitting a wall for me. Then I started discovering some satellite radio, in particular the college format. Suddenly I was being exposed to bands that I really could respond to on deeper levels like Phoenix or Arcade Fire or Vampire Weekend or Grizzly Bear. There are a lot of great bands out there; some of them have broken through. Arcade Fire seems to be doing very well, certainly Phoenix is doing very well. Some of them I wonder really who’s hearing them. There isn’t a lot of good music out there.

The way the industry works now, and the way that digital music has affected everything, everything has become so niche and small, it’s so hard to understand, or define, whether a band is big or not. 
Yeah! I think it’s difficult for what’s left of the large companies to get their arms around what to do now for that same reason.

Have you spent much time in New York? 
Well sure over the years, yeah. I love New York. Is it snowing there yet?

It’s going to be snowing this weekend, supposedly. 
Oh boy, okay.

We have four inches coming on the way. 
All right.

Have you been paying attention at all to the Occupy Wall Street? 
A little bit, yeah. Obviously it didn’t go so well in Oakland. I think it’s great, I think there’s a lot to be said for that. In some ways it’s slightly reminiscent of things I remember going on in the '60s in the fact that it’s coming from young people, generally. I think the impulse is valid—obviously it almost goes without saying—but they need a little more articulation of what it is the stated goals would be. And I don’t know if anyone really knows. Even if you’re someone who is an economist, how do you deal with the level that capitalism has gotten to in terms of the haves and the have-nots? It seems like it’s the natural outgrowth of a system that gets corrupted beyond the point of being fixable, and probably why things like Communism showed up in the first place. I’m happy it’s going on, I don’t know where it’s going, and I know they’re trying to squelch it a little bit.

Is that something you’d have an interest in checking out when you’re in town? 
If I have time, absolutely, I would love to do that.

Are you doing a lot of these interviews today? 
I did a couple already and this is my last one and then I’ve got to go over to my son’s school and do parent-teacher conferences.

A different form of interviewing. 
Yes, exactly, so I’m sort of multitasking today.

Do your kids listen to your music? Are they aware of your past? 
To a point. I don’t think they’re avid listeners of my music, nor are they aficionados of anything to do with Fleetwood Mac. They understand what I do, and luckily I am not someone who is visible to the point where it’s intrusive on family life. They’ve sort of pieced it together, but no, I have two daughters who are ages 11 and 7 and a son who’s 13 and I don’t think they’ve ever sat down… I don’t even think they listen to albums first of all. I think the idea of listening to a whole album has becomes foreign in the world of iTunes. And that’s fair enough; I mean when I was growing up the album was not really an art form either. People made album, but you put your first couple of singles on tracks one and two, and most of the rest was throwaways. Singles were the form of choice in the 50’s and early 60’s.

That's where the now-overused term “filler” came from. 
Yeah. So I think to some degree they have a healthy kind of ambivalence for the show business aspect. None of them are aspiring to be musicians, thank god, and we try to keep it pretty toned down at home. And they know that I’m pretty steeped in a process when I go down eight hours a day into the studio, but that’s something else. They’ve seen Fleetwood Mac in an arena so they have this thing “oh there’s Dad showing off again”. It’s all gold, I’m glad they feel that way. If they want to gravitate toward something musical in a serious way that’s great too but I’m not going to push them. They have their own set of reference points. My son burns CD’s all the time of the stuff he likes and it’s completely different. A lot of rap and hip-hop based things.

They’re not digging out Between The Buttons [The Rolling Stones's most under-appreciated album] just yet? 
Not just yet, maybe someday. I don’t know if that’ll ever make sense to them. It’s so funny, I mean, I could go back to what my parents were listening to—Big Band, or, my Dad had old '78s of Dixieland Jazz, and I used to listen to it on an academic level, but it was certainly never something … you know one of the basic things about rock and roll with Elvis was it was music that kids could call their own for the first time. Before that it was their parents’ music. They still have that and their music still separates them from their parents in the way rock and roll separated me from mine but, you know, it’s an interesting thing. I’m happy with their perception of what I do, at this point.

I suppose you’re just entering their teenage years, so you have all the fun ahead of you. 
Oh I do, yes! He’s like hormonal and doesn’t really want to talk to me much anymore, and that’s fine, and he’ll come back in a few years.

Great interview!

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