Fleetwood Mac: Going long with Lindsey Buckingham
by Peter Blackstock
by Peter Blackstock
On Sunday, the Erwin Center welcomes back the classic lineup of Fleetwood Mac: Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, Christine McVie, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood. This lineup of the group, whose 1977 album “Rumors” is one of just eight albums to have sold at least 40 million copies, last played the Austin concert arena in 1982, a show we’ll discuss in detail in the Austin360 section of Sunday’s American-Statesman.
We spoke by telephone on Thursday with Lindsey Buckingham, who offered a good bit of detail about the full band’s current reunion as well as some background about their past. What follows is an assemblage of highlights from that conversation.
Austin360/American-Statesman: Four of you had been touring and recording off and on since the 1997 full-band reunion, but this is Christine McVie’s first reappearance since 1998. Why did she decide to return for this tour?
Lindsey Buckingham: When she left, I think she really was just looking for a change. And there certainly has been precedent for this fivesome to have made exits and returns. I did that myself after producing the “Tango in the Night” album and then did not do the tour. That was for other reasons at the time. But I think with Christine, she was just at a point in her life where she was kind of tired of the whole discipline of recording and writing and touring, and was feeling somewhat ungrounded by that. She’d had a series of relationships that hadn’t held for her, and I think she put some of that down to the kind of life she had to lead and what she had to prioritize. I mean, I’m sure it was way more complex. But basically, back then, she burned all of her bridges in Los Angeles. She sold her house and basically moved back to England, and ensconced herself in a completely different universe.
And I think over a period of time, I think that that had a good healing effect for her, and it sort of came out the other side. And she started to appreciate what this particular family, dysfunctional as it may be, had to offer for her, and how much she shared with us. Because really, you know, for better or for worse, we as a fivesome have been through things together that no one else has been through. On some strange level, we all know each other in a way you’ll never know someone else who’s been through all that.
And I think she really just started to miss it. I think her creative impulses, which had kind of gone into a low ebb at the time that she left, started to bubble up again, and she was excited by that. So she started having conversations with Mick, and Mick started having conversations with me. I got on the phone and had a very long conversation on the phone with her. And she said, well, how would you feel about me coming back? And I said, “Well, Chris, we would love to have you come back. If you want to think of there being a number of acts that can last over a number of years, this could be the beginning of a beautiful last act. The only thing I’d say is, if you come back, you can’t leave again!” (Laughs) So she said, “OK, I won’t.” That was that, and we kind of sealed the deal.
Had the rest of you gotten to where you felt like the band worked well without her?
Oh yeah. We didn’t really miss a beat. When she left, we took a little bit of time off and then went in the studio to make an album back in 2003. And we’ve done a number of successful tours, businesswise and I’d say artistically, as a four-piece. The only difference, really, is that, you know, Stevie’s sort of at one end of the spectrum, she’s representing one pole, I’m representing the other end of that, and Christine is somewhere in the middle. So I think that the body of work speaks more eloquently. I think that it’s a point at which you can take stock of that body of work and appreciate it at this point in time. With her inclusion in it and her songs in there, suddenly you’ve got a more complete landscape. And I think her songs help inform my songs and Stevie’s.
And that’s just on a musical level. Then you’ve got to talk about just the fact that I think on some level, Stevie missed having her gal pal, if you will. And that’s been great. It kind of lightens things up again, because if there’s a polarity musically between Stevie and me, there’s also a bit of a polarity politically or socially, given our history. So it fills in that as well. So yeah, we did great as a four-piece, but I think it’s a more complete picture when Christine is there.
In addition to the tour, there’s apparently a new record in the works. How has that been going?
Well, it’s been going great. It’s sort of piecemeal, in the sense that I went in quite a while ago and cut some tracks with John and Mick, and some of those got put on the shelf for a while. And then when Christine showed up, she and I went in the studio and did quite a bit, maybe seven or eight tracks over the period of about two months in the studio. And that was phenomenal really, because it kind of tapped into something that I had always done for her and for Stevie, in terms of production and co-writing and informing the whole sensibility. When someone like that has been away that long as Christine has, you don’t know if the tools or the context remains. But we locked in with a vengeance and did some of the most creative and beautiful stuff I think we’ve ever done together.
So we’ve got that, and now the missing piece is just Stevie. The tour, and the rehearsals for the tour, had already begun, so, like I say, it’s been a little bit piecemeal. But I think it’s going to be incredible when we finish it. We’ve got quite a bit left to do touring-wise, and then we will sit down and try to formulate some kind of a plan. This is one of the differences between us and someone like the Eagles — I admire the fact that they always seem to know what they want, why they want it, and the all want it at the same time. And we are really just the opposite politically. It’s a wild animal and it’s hard to pin everybody down for a common vision. It’s kind of always been that way, but it’s a little more disparate now than it was back in the day, because everyone sort of wended through their particular journey.
Have you been doing any of the new material at the shows?
No, we’ve been keeping it pretty much under wraps. You know, on the last tour we did before Christine returned, we had done an EP, and we did a couple of things that were new then. But it seemed to us that the message right now, with Christine’s inclusion, which is such a circular thing, it seemed like the message was really, let’s just underscore the body of work. And that’s what we’re doing.
Any chance you’ll write songs on this tour that might end up on the record?
I’m always fooling around with stuff on the road, but as of yet there has not been any formalized interaction in that direction on the road. There is kind of a tendency for everyone to go off to their respective corners. So, as of yet, no. But we still have quite a bit of time. We’ll just have to wait and see. I wouldn’t say there’s been a real sense of urgency for that.
Your show in Austin on Halloween night of 1982 turned out to be the last show this fivesome played together for 15 years, until the reunion for the album “The Dance” in 1997. What do you remember about how you were feeling at that time in general?
Well, I know where my head was beginning to be at. You have to kind of backtrack to a post-“Rumours” environment, which was this kind of area that we found ourselves in where the success had become not about the music but it had become about the success. And when the phenomenon becomes more noteworthy than the substance about which the phenomenon should really be focused on, you’re into this sort of area where – well, I suppose any kind of success brings on that axiom: “If it works, run it into the ground.” But certainly in the wake of “Rumours,” there was a strong implication that what we needed to do was go in and make something like “Rumours 2.”
And of course we made “Tusk,” which, depending on your point of view, I was either the hero or the villain of that story. … That’s still my favorite album; it was the moment at which I felt I had defined the way I still try to think today. But in the wake of the “Tusk” album, the band – which had slowly gotten drawn into what it was, and was really quite charmed by it and loved it when we delivered it to Warner Bros. – had a rethink on how they felt about it when it didn’t sell 15 million albums. So in the wake of that, then we made “Mirage,” in which there was this kind of dictate that came down from the other four saying, “Well, we’re not going to do that process again, Lindsey, we’re going to go back to something a little more straight ahead.”
It’s very easy to move forward; it’s harder to deliberately backtrack into something that might have been where you were spontaneously five years before. So this was where I was at the end of the “Mirage” tour. I was kind of a bit disillusioned with some of the collective priorities of the band, a bit disillusioned with the fact that I was now going to have to a solo album – and I had already made one. I probably never would have made any solo albums had there been a band sensibility that continued to applaud the “Tusk” album at the time and continued to want to move in a riskier direction, or at least a braver direction.
So I wasn’t sure where I was going in terms of my function with the band by the time we got done with that tour. Because “Mirage,” which had some beautiful songs on it, to me felt like we were kind of receding back for the wrong reasons. And it left me as a producer feeling like I was treading water. And I wasn’t sure where all of that was going. I think it took a number of years, and getting through to the “Tango in the Night” period, for that to hit the wall for me, at which point I did take leave of the band for a while. So there was already some disillusionment for me, as someone who’s maybe tried to live out a principle to a fault, sometimes. But that was kind of the mindset for me by the time we ended the “Mirage” tour.
Over the past decade, you’ve been able to balance Fleetwood Mac with your solo records and tours. Do you feel like you have the best of both worlds at this point, getting to do both?
Well, yeah, you start to come the realization that the audience that is coming to see you as Fleetwood Mac, isn’t necessarily — not that they aren’t interested in new material, but they’re less interested in new material than they are in the body of work. That’s not inappropriate; if you’ve been around for a number of years, you should feel good if your work has stood up. That’s the other thing about this tour: I think even more so than the 2013 tour, it’s become very clear that that the body of work stood the test of time. We see people who are, you know, I don’t even want to know how old they are, out in the audience. And then you see teenagers. The music has somehow gotten through and made its mark and is continuing to make sense to all ages of people.
So I think we’re living in a moment where we feel that that is the case, and it validates the idea that you can go out and do a body of work, and not necessarily have to keep reinventing yourself as Fleetwood Mac. That doesn’t mean that if you are continuing to want to push your boundaries that you should just settle for not doing that. And that’s where the solo work comes in. The terms I’ve been using are “big machine” and “small machine,” and with the small machine, you reach far fewer people and there’s far less at stake in any sort of business sense of the word. In fact, quite often you’re not really turning much of a profit at all. You’re just going out there and playing for the love of playing, for the people who want to see you do what you do and for the chances you’re willing to take, or whatever it may be.
That’s where the real solo notion continues to thrive, is in the small context. And then hopefully you can bring that back into the larger thing. You can bring the vitality of it, the context of that back into a larger situation. So yeah, I guess in a way I do have the best of both worlds. It’s kind of a tightrope you walk, you know? Not necessarily wanting to fall off on either side. Because probably one would not exist without the other, and one clearly does enable the other. So it’s a pretty fine line there, but yes, I feel very lucky to have all of that. It may be a couple more years before I even think about getting back to anything solo, but, eventually I will.
Quite a few Fleetwood Mac tribute records have been released, and there’s one in particular that I wondered if you heard: Camper van Beethoven redid the Tusk album in its entirety…
“Yeah, I did hear that once. I thought, “Wow, that’s my kind of band!” (Laughs) You get a lot of the groups that are a little more to the left who tend to want to sort of gravitate towards that album a little more. So yeah, that was nice. I liked that.
The one cover version in recent years that had a big run on the charts was the Dixie Chicks’ country-pop crossover hit with “Landslide.” Were you surprised at all that it had such appeal to country audiences?
Not really. It’s a wonderful song, it’s a very accessible song. And Stevie’s whole thing — or some of it, because she can get into something else slightly more modal, and then you put my sensibilities over that as a producer and it moves farther and farther away — but at her center, a lot of what she does is not too far away from country. And “Landslide” is a pretty good example of that. Just as a song, that song certainly lends itself to something like that. So no, it didn’t surprise me at all.
A younger-generation local musician here in Austin told me recently that her entry into the band was the 1997 live album “The Dance,” which revisited a lot of the old material but may have given it a new life among another generation of music fans. Was that part of the band’s motivation in doing that record?
Well, we did “The Dance” for a couple of reasons. I think there was talk about making another studio album, but also you have to remember, I’d been away for a while. I had done “Tango in the Night” in 1987 … but that was really where the behavior set of everyone, and the way we thought we had to lead our lives, was beginning to hit the wall for everyone. The making of that album was the most chaotic and certainly the most intensive study in alternative behaviors, shall we say. So I made the album, we delivered the album, and I said, “I can’t tour with this, I’ve got to sort of regroup and get my feet on the ground.” So I had taken off, they had added a couple of new guitarists, and the band for whatever reason did not seem to function too well without me. Which obviously didn’t make me unhappy, but I didn’t wish them ill in any way. But at the same time, it was nice to know that I mattered that much.
So I had been gone and made one solo album (1992’s “Out of the Cradle”) and done quite a bit of touring behind that. And then of course the Bill Clinton thing (when Clinton used the band’s “Don’t Stop” in his campaign) happened, and we were called together, the five of us, to do his inaugural party, and we did that. And that became kind of the catalyst for maybe rethinking whether I wanted to stay out of the band indefinitely. They really wanted me to come back, because they thought that my not being there may have helped the demise of the band.
So by the time we got to “The Dance,” I think even though Warner Bros. wanted an album from the band, there was a kind of a sense of means-to-an-end in terms of drawing me back into the group: “Let’s not put him through another studio experience, let’s make a live album.” Which, you know, becomes a whole other exercise where perhaps a few new songs need to be revealed, but basically you’re just restating the body of work, and it’s a much less intensive thing to contemplate than a studio album. I think there was some of that. But there was a lot of wanting me to get drawn into that. I remember we had a dinner up at Christine’s, and there was something almost like an intervention, where everyone was standing around me saying, “We’ve gotta do this! We’ve gotta do this!” And I said, “OK, let’s do it!” So we did it. And it worked; it was great. We got a great video piece out of it, and it really was a lot of fun.