By John Voket
These days, Lindsey Buckingham has no problem candidly revealing the precarious tightrope walk the level of fame he’s enjoyed with Fleetwood Mac can bring to an artist who constantly seeks his own true creative center.
“Fleetwood Mac has been one of the joys of my life, but that kind of success is a double-edged sword,” Buckingham states in his bio. “You’re under tremendous pressure to sell as much and as often as possible, to become an assembly line, to feed the philosophy, ‘If it works, run it into the ground.’ Artists need to take their time to breathe in and out, to take risks though it may not always be good for business.”
With this week’s release of his latest project, “A Gift of Screws,” Buckingham has produced what may be considered an exhale–a necessary, logical counterpart to a deep inward breath that inspired his 2006 release, “Under the Skin.”
“They do seem to compliment each other,” he observed.
The material on “Screws” represents a combination of elements developed a number of years ago and others that came together in late-night, hotel-room sessions on his last tour, or while working in his home studio. And he said the time was right to “clear out the garage,” because it was becoming uncomfortably full of Buckingham creative possessions.
“As an artist, I’m still, for better or worse, clinging to my idealism and to my sense that there is still much to be said. This album is a culmination of that.”
The new project not only gave Buckingham a chance to reunite with John McVie and Mick Fleetwood on his own terms and on his own turf, but also afforded an opportunity to partner with producer Rob Cavallo, who has put his stamp on material from Jewel to Green Day and the Dave Matthews Band.
In an exclusive interview with LiveDaily, Buckingham discussed assembling his new project, collaborating (or not) with members of his immediate family, and evaluating whether or not he has racked up enough mileage in the music business to pick a hit.
LiveDaily: The advance on “Gift of Screws” suggests a project steeped in contrast; some songwriting and recoding processes are simple–literally done in hotel rooms–and others are complex studio projects. It’s packed with songs full of contrasting instrumentation and rhythms, and, while some material is brand new, some songs have been refined from foundations laid years ago. Yet, at the same time, I understand you are at a pretty happy place in your life these days, so basically none of this is helping us crack the mystique of Lindsey Buckingham.
Lindsey Buckingham: [laughing] Bummer. It’s true, though. You know, I saw a lot of my friends who were not necessarily there for their families. And I wasn’t going to be one of those guys. I was lucky to meet someone after the garbage was all behind me. So having a wife and three children definitely is a major change. It probably doesn’t help the mystique, but it does provide one with a whole different way of looking at the world, which was very necessary for me, having spent many years living in what you might call a ‘post Fleetwood Mac environment.’ There were a lot of walls and focusing on the work and not much else. So it’s been a very satisfying three or four years for me, and, in fact, the last 10 years have been profound.
You’ve got your son, Will, and your wife, Kristen, leaving their mark on the new project. Does that put your two girls in the position of expecting or even pitching you to contribute to something in the future, or do they have more of a “could care less” attitude about the intricacies of dad’s work?
Kristen did contribute lyrics to a couple of the songs. But the thing about Will–he wasn’t really invested in that. He just happened to be in the garage one day when I was recording singing, ‘… great day, great day,’ and I said, ‘What is that?’ He said he just made it up, and I said I [could] turn that into a song. You know, he’s most like me, I think, because he has a very healthy disrespect for the business side of things, and for show business in general, as do the girls. So I don’t think they feel they have to leave their mark in one way or another on dad’s music.
The new album involved old friends and newer influences–Mick and John backing you on some songs, and calling on Rob Cavallo to put his stamp on others as a co-producer. Can you recall how being back in the studio recording beside your Fleetwood Mac mates affected you emotionally, and thus the final outcome on those numbers, versus getting what you were looking for in the final mix of songs you worked on with Cavallo?
You know, I think playing with Mick in particular–John came in later and laid the bass tracks down–if you focus on Mick, we’ve always had a camaraderie of spirit; we’ve always shared that sense of pushing the envelope, and he has a really animal style of playing drums in particular. So, on the title track, I think Mick just felt completely liberated to do what he loves to do best and doesn’t always get to do in the context of Fleetwood Mac, which is to present a complete male energy out there, and to not worry about whether it holds a line in terms of taste or anything else. It’s just a raw, primal expression. It’s something he and I both love to do, really appreciate, and I think he hoped ‘A Gift of Screws’ ended up on a Fleetwood Mac album so that he could have gotten to play it. But we just had a ball in the studio–it was great fun.
Cavallo’s [contribution] came about through a set of circumstances. I think he was looking for a palate cleanser of sorts. He more or less sought me out and we got along very well. He knows a lot more about music than I do. I’m basically a refined primitive. I taught myself to play and I don’t read music, so everything I do is based on instinct. Because of that, he was certainly a help in arranging things. Working with him was a lot of fun, as well. He’s a great guy.
How did getting back on the road behind “Under the Skin” help motivate you to get in there and “clear out the garage,” so to speak, revisiting songs and pieces of songs you had piled up in storage?
Buckingham: I did ‘Under the Skin,’ and that was a certain kind of album–as much about what I didn’t do as I did do. And when I went in to start recording ‘A Gift of Screws,’ with the guys from my touring band, I didn’t go in intending to record such a rock album. But, once we started cutting some tracks, it started going in a rock direction. You know, sometimes you have to go in the direction the work leads you. So, once I realized and was accepting of the lead-guitar role–a certain level of aggressiveness in my interpretation of certain songs–there were these three songs waiting to find a new home, that were meant to include themselves in this grouping.
In your advance, you talk about one of those songs, “Treason,” in terms of history, and the historical juxtaposition of good and evil. How does the apparent optimist in you, the one who suggests we have to believe there is more good in the world than bad, pollinate that message across the widest and most potentially receptive audience?
That’s a really good question. There was a time when music seemed to have much more authority and potency in terms of shaping people’s thoughts. There was a whole social world out there that would listen to music for more than just a diversion. The album was a form that, in many cases, created a certain style of listening. So, I think all you can do is try to be yourself–to try and evolve as a person. To try and not fall prey to forces that would like you to do something other than you believe in.
This goes back to the ‘Rumors,’ and ‘Tusk’ period, when we were poised to follow the expectations of the machinery, to follow the formula as it was perceived. That was to make a ‘Rumors 2.’ And, at that point, there was a line drawn in the sand. I took a lot of chances, and influenced the band to make a very different kind of album. That was a point in time for me that represents a way I still try to think: do what you love to do and, in the long term, it will pay off.
Hopefully, if you can be your own person and you have something genuine to say, just try and get the message out. The way that would translate to, say, Fleetwood Mac in an up-and-coming time is, we all realize we’ve all been down individual roads. And our mantra should be to appreciate each other more as people, and try and get out there and share what we have. You just have to present positive energy wherever you can, even if it’s on a small scale. If a lot of people do that, it tends to add up to something.
Do you think you’ve been involved in the music industry long enough to pick a hit, whether it’s for someone else, or even if it’s your own creation?
I could never do it for myself. I’d probably be better doing it with other people. You know, the definition of what a “hit” is changes. I certainly have a good sense of hearing something, when I feel a chemical reaction about something kicking in that feels right. But I can’t assume that is what will drive other people today. Definitions change, contexts change. I hear a lot of music that makes sense to someone that doesn’t make sense to me.
With that in mind, do you think music consumers, and more importantly, Lindsey Buckingham fans, would pick “The Right Place to Fade,” as the big single from “A Gift of Screws”?
It’s funny, because, when I turned over “Under the Skin” to Warner Brothers, I was very happy with that album because it succeeded on an artistic level–it represented what I had attempted to do. Warner Brothers didn’t hear it; they didn’t even distribute it that well. [Conversely], I didn’t have a particular feeling about “A Gift of Screws,” but, when I turned it in, they seemed to be really enthusiastic about it. I think, as an artist, I have to do my work and then get on to what I want to do live. If they want to pick one song or another song, that’s their job. It hasn’t had a lot to do with what I consider my solo work. I think success comes from the feeling that you have created something. People with certain ears and certain sensibilities will appreciate it, and, beyond that, the rest is not worth wasting your energy on.