Saturday, November 28, 1981

A Conversation with Lindsey Buckingham 1981

A Conversation with Lindsey Buckingham 
Record World November 28, 1981

LOS ANGELES - Lindsey Buckingham's "Law and Order" (Asylum) is not the first solo album by a member of Fleetwood Mac; Mick Fleetwood's "The Visitor" (RCA) and Stevie Nicks' "Bella Donna" (Modern) were both released earlier this year, while Christine McVie had an album under her maiden name, Christine Perfect, more than ten years ago. But as good as the others are, "Law and Order" is arguably the best of the lot. Sometimes quirky and tongue-in-cheek, sometimes lovely and serious, it is always affecting. What's more, "Law and Order" is genuinely a solo album, as Buckingham handles all the vocal and instrumental work on nearly every tune. In the following conversation, Buckingham discusses both his own and Fleetwood Mac's forthcoming records, among other topics. 

Record World: Your solo album seems almost to have grown out of a hobby, as if you were tinkering in the studio and found you had enough strong tracks to make a whole record. But is it something that was formally planned all along? 

Lindsey Buckingham: I was thinking about it about the time we (Fleetwood Mac) got off the road (late last year). We needed to take time off anyway; we'd been touring and making albums, and touring and making albums and touring, more or less straight for four or five years, or whatever it was. It was all part of a plan, to have the time to do solo albums; I think Stevie (Nicks) knew she wanted to do that, and I did, too. After October ('80), I got the equipment together. I got an inexpensive console, and I took the band's 24-track from the Village Recorder, where it'd been sitting ever since we'd finished "Tusk," which was about a year and a half; we found a room over in Burbank and just set it up in there. I did all the engineering for the first half, and then Richard (Dashut) got in on the second half. But yeah, it was fairly well planned, and most of the songs had been somewhat prepared beforehand. 

RW: Was it not only planned but inevitable, considering how much you seem to enjoy working in the studio?

Buckingham: Well, I've certainly gotten something out of my system now, and I'm able to apply some of the things that I've learned in the last year to Fleetwood Mac as well, so I think one hand washes the other in that sense. I'm sure Stevie feels a lot better now (after her album), and less frustrated; she wrote so many songs, and never really had an outlet for all of that. And I never really had an outlet for the other side of what I like to do, which is engineer.

RW: If "Tusk" was predominantly any one member's album, though, it was yours. 

Buckingham: Yeah, you could have lifted the songs of mine off and made a solo album from that, and it probably would have made a lot more sense. 

RW: And it would have been not unlike "Law and Order." The fact that you're playing all of the instruments on most of this album suggests that you did the same thing on some "Tusk" tracks. 

Buckingham: Yes, I did. I think I succeeded more on "Law and Order;"there's a certain smoothness that wasn't there on "Tusk" in terms of the drums, and I got it to sound a little more energetic, which is one of the things I thought I failed on with "Tusk" - but that may have its own charm, too. "The Ledge," "Save Me a Place," "Not That Funny," "Walk a Thin Line" (all from "Tusk"): I played everything on those. But I was home a lot, you know; I was working on these things at home, and then I'd bring them in more or less finished, and we'd crank 'em up and put 'em through the board - it was very exciting. It was a great process of evolution.

RW: How does it work? How do you build a solo track from the ground up?

Buckingham: You pick a tempo that you like, and you record a metronome, a click track. On a lot of the songs, I played drums first; I'd just choose the arrangement and play the drums first, then add everything else. I don't know how McCartney does his stuff, or Todd Rundgren, or Prince, but that's the most typical way that I do it. You know how Mick (Fleetwood) will hesitate to the beat, or Charlie Watts, playing slightly behind the other instruments. You really have a problem doing that if you put down the drums first; then you have to try and play everything else too fast, to try and get that tension. But what I did was, I'd record the click track on track one, then I'd send it through a delay - like maybe 30,40 milliseconds - and record the delayed click track on track 24. Then I could play the drums to the click on track 24, and play the other instruments to the click on track one - which is slightly ahead - so you'd get the tension. 

RW: That must have been a riot, building that way and adding whatever you want as you go along. 

Buckingham: It's interesting, the ways there are to work. In a sense, doing it that way, you really have to surrender to the work a little bit, and let it lead you; it's a very intuitive thing. But at the same time, you're searching for control as well. 

RW: What else did you play on the record besides guitar, bass and drums? 

Buckingham: There was some acoustic keyboard work done in the second phase (of recording). Basically, the only electric keyboard that's on there is one of those little Casio -Tones; it costs 200 bucks for this two -and -a -half-octave thing that has 50 different sounds on it. I wish they were around when we were on the road. There was also a lot of half-speed guitar stuff, the stuff that tends to sound like mandolins, like the high, airy guitar lines on "Trouble." The guitar was recorded at 15 IPS (inches per second), and the (basic) tracks were recorded at 30.

RW: Were there any songs on "Law and Order" that were originally intended for a Fleetwood Mac album instead? 

Buckingham: Well, actually, there is a song on the (new) Fleetwood Mac album that I thought was gonna be on mine. One of the drawbacks of "Tusk," in working so much at home, was that I isolated myself somewhat; the best working atmosphere that could have been created in the studio was absent at times. If anything, I provide the band with enthusiasm in the studio, and I think there's probably something missing when I'm not there. That was a bit of a drag, and because of that, I wanted to really come in (to the new group album) with guns ablaze in the studio, and show them that I was ready to work and give everything I could give on all levels. In order to do that, I realized that couldn't just save the best stuff for my own album; anything that seemed particularly suited for Fleetwood Mac should be used if it was needed, so I yanked one of the real uptempo songs that I liked - sort of a cross between "Go Your Own Way" and "Second Hand News" - and we used it for Fleetwood Mac. 

RW: So you don't have a huge warehouse of old songs that were never used for Fleetwood Mac and ended up on "Law and Order." 

Buckingham: No, not like Stevie does. And sometimes, quite frankly, you get a little reticent about pulling out old stuff, because if it didn't get done to begin with, there's probably something about it that wasn't happening. For me, at least. I tend to want to look forward more, which can also be a mistake. 

RW: Beginning with some of the songs on "Tusk," you've developed a humorous, kind of wacky style that's apparent in tunes like "Johnny Stew" and "Mary Lee Jones" on your own album. A few years ago you weren't putting much funny stuff on records. 

Buckingham: No, but I didn't feel too funny in those days. I don't know. Odd as it may seem, it isn't as obviously humorous to me now as it obviously must be. "Johnny Stew" is humorous, but ... 

RW: It's really the way you attack - and "attack" is the word - the songs now that come off as funny. It's a kind of raw aggression that sometimes seems humorous, whether intentionally or not. 

Buckingham: You're right. I've heard people say that "Bwana" (on "Law and Order") is humorous, but I never would have thought it to be at the time. I can see it conjuring up sort of a cartoon -land visual, but beyond that, I was seeing it more just as a compilation of various styles from the '40s to the '50s. 

RW: But you know, it wouldn't be funny if it weren't also effective and pleasant to listen to. 

Buckingham: I'll try to do a serious album next time. 

RW: When "Tusk" came out, people in the business were upset that it wasn't another "Rumours"; they expected another super-commercial album, which "Tusk" certainly was not. Do you think people have "gotten over" the album by now?

Buckingham: I don't know. I think that it sort of sunk in slowly to a lot of people who were originally put off by it; hopefully, that will continue to happen. Most of the retrospectives that I see, comments from critics, are basically that one of the good things about it was that we didn't play it safe. I don't know what the mainstream thinks; I don't even pretend to know what the mainstream is. Most of the reviews I saw of "Tusk" were good when it came out, but it wasn't the critics who were buying the album. 

RW: If the new album is more conventional, you know people will say, "Well, Fleetwood Mac knows they blew it last time, so they've made another 'Rumours.'

Buckingham: It's not going to be another "Rumours." It's a good reconciliation of opposites. There was a tendency even within the band, when it became apparent that the commercial impact (of "Tusk") wasn't going to be that of "Rumours" -and who's to say what it would have been anyway, even if it was like "Rumours" - to sort of turn around and look at me. What was once a creatively exciting thing to them had become somewhat tainted by its lack of commercial success. 

RW: So there were some internal feelings about self-indulgence, and so on. 

Buckingham: But only afterward - that's the point. And it was only a relative lack of commercial success, four million double albums or whatever. It could have gotten totally reactionary (with the new album) and gone all the way back to the right, or whatever, but it hasn't. There's definitely a spirit of experimentation; you're going to hear some sounds that are definitely far beyond "Rumours." But the arrangements, the vocals - it's more of a group effort. I haven't heard everything together yet, but Christine's stuff especially is some of the classiest I've heard from her yet. 

RW: It was great to hear "The Farmer's Daughter," the old Beach Boys song, on "Fleetwood Mac Live." Are there any more covers planned? 

Buckingham: We did do a version of "Blue Monday," the Fats Domino song, for this, but I don't know whether it will go on. We've got about 20 songs this time, and we're not going to put out a double album again - that, ah, might not be wise.