Written by Kevin Renick Sunday, 28 September 2008 11:55
"The previous album was more specific to one idea, it was more of a boutique kind of thing,""The previous album was more specific to one idea, it was more of a boutique kind of thing,""The previous album was more specific to one idea, it was more of a boutique kind of thing,"
If you were a music fan in the 1970s, Fleetwood Mac were absolutely omnipresent. They weren't merely a big group; they were huge, gargantuan, nicknamed "Big Mac" by some in the press because the band's album Rumours saw, if not over a billion sold, certainly millions and millions. The disc became one of the biggest-selling albums of all time thanks to instantly catchy songs like "Dreams," "Don't Stop" and "Go Your Own Way," as well as the tabloid edge provided by very public interpersonal dramas taking place in the band at the time. At the center of all this madness was the wizardly songwriter/producer/sonic architect Lindsey Buckingham, who wrote at least half the band's big hits and guided their evolution from pleasant FM radio staples to (when Buckingham and former flame Stevie Nicks joined up for the band's eponymous 1975 release) mega-platinum superstars to the adventurous crew that made Tusk in 1979, to the more fractured quintet that periodically made albums after that. The Mac story is an amazing tale of music biz foibles, fortunes and fallouts; that they are still an ongoing entity in 2008 is testament to the musical adaptability of all the members, but mostly to the creative focus and powerhouse musicianship of Mr. Buckingham. He's currently on tour with a new solo album, Gift of Screws, but he assured a handful of us lucky enough to participate in a recent roundtable interview that next year, the "Mac" will be back with a fresh attack. After all they've been through, it's truly amazing to hear this.
"We've been a band that's technically never broken up but never spends a great deal of time together," said Buckingham. "Nor do we have any kind of ongoing machinery taking place. So we all tend to forget that there's this unit that has accomplished a lot...We're getting to the next crossing with a little more wisdom, and that's gonna make for a really effective dynamic and we're all looking forward to it."
Buckingham had told the group he wanted a period of time to do his own thing for awhile. His solo career had often been usurped by Mac activities, and this time that wouldn't do. The 2003 Fleetwood Mac disc Say You Will contained material that Buckingham intended for a solo project.
"There was a pattern that existed where there were intentions to make solo albums, and then the band would intervene on that intention, and something else would ultimately happen," he said. "But I put a boundary around a three-year period and said to the band, I want to make two albums and tour behind both of them. And then when we're done with that, we can talk about what we wanna do. That made the logistical side of things very clear."
Since Fleetwood Mac's 1997 live disc The Dance, Buckingham found his personal life changing dramatically. He got married and had three children, which "recharged my batteries in all sorts of ways," he said. His 2006 release Under the Skin was a largely acoustic showcase for Buckingham's trademark finger-picking style and deft atmospherics; both the album and subsequent tour earned the sonic auteur a new level of acclaim. He wasted no time building on that acclaim, as Gift of Screws followed with uncharacteristic rapidity. It's a more rocking platter than its predecessor, featuring Mac-like tunes such as "The Right Place to Fade" (with a sound reminiscent of the Rumours cut "Second Hand News"), vibrant finger-picked gems such as "Time Precious Time" and "Bel Air Rain," and the quirky, unforgettable title track, which has kicked around in Buckingham's song trove for quite a spell.
"The previous album was more specific to one idea, it was more of a boutique kind of thing," said Buckingham. "It didn't necessarily address the range of things I do or the things people might be familiar with. When I started Gift of Screws, I wasn't necessarily intending to make it more rock, but it seemed to want to go in a certain direction on its own. And that's one thing you learn: You sort of follow the work and let it lead you. Once that sensibility was established, there were some songs that had been waiting to find a home for a number of years that were rock 'n' roll. That seemed appropriate for the context of where the album was going."
Buckingham tunes such as "Love Runs Deeper," with its big, soaring verses, and the flawlessly clear and soulful "Underground," reveal a creative architect at work, and a man firmly in sync with his muse. To fully appreciate Buckingham's artistic trajectory, you need to go back to the Fleetwood Mac opus Tusk, a 1979 double album that was deemed something of a letdown at the time because it didn't sell in Rumors-like quantities and was often willfully offbeat and adventurous. But the album is now revered (by this writer, included), and the foundation for Buckingham's solo career was definitely established there.
"That album represented a landmark for me in terms of the way I wanted to think about how to approach music. We were coming off the success of Rumours, which was this mega-commercial monster. There was a point in time when Rumours became less about the music and equally about the success itself and the tabloid story behind it. Which was fine, but...poised to make another album, you have a set of choices in front of you. That kind of success gives you credibility and a lot of freedom, but choosing to use that freedom is another matter."
Buckingham was influenced by the edgy new music emerging from the U.K. and the startling new wave bands in America that were also shaking things up. He told his Mac-mates that he didn't want to just make Rumours II; he wanted to try some new approaches, including perhaps working at home on some tracks and then bringing them to the band for their contributions. Merely making another formulaic record just to repeat its predecessor's success was definitely out.
"That was the line in the sand that I drew and it's always meant that to me as an album," said Buckingham. "The process itself was exciting, and aggravating at the same time... I think working with a group is more like making a movie, where you're discussing things and everything is verbalized. And it's a more conscious process. Working alone is more like painting; that's the analogy I've always made. Where you're just slopping colors on the canvas. And the line between writing and recording becomes far more gray. It's a far more meditative, subconscious process. So I was very excited about that. The band was initially skeptical, but got more and more drawn in as the album progressed.
"But the part that was the most aggravating for me was when we were done, and the album came out and it didn't sell the requisite number of copies, there was kind of a backlash within the band. And they said, "Lindsey, we're not gonna do that anymore; we're gonna go back to a more conventional formula." It left me treading creative waters. The years after Tusk were a little difficult in knowing where to go as a producer and even as a writer, for myself. Along with that went the increasing...dysfunction of the band, based on the way everyone was conducting their lives. That led to me just taking off to reclaim my individuality and my sanity. But Tusk, it's always had that meaning for me. It's my favorite album. That was the album that defined how I still try to think today, and the line I still try to hold. So I'm very glad we did that. And the irony is also that other members of the band, in retrospect, now look at that as their favorite album as well."
Eloquent and enthusiastic when he speaks about his music and his illustrious past, Buckingham has no problems talking about his parent group or their many ups and downs. He was asked if it "felt like home" when he plays with Mac daddy Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie.
"Well yeah...it's like you can go home and see your mom and dad and feel completely comfortable, because they know you so well and they've been through so many things with you. It doesn't mean you don't have issues, too. It's always been a pretty convoluted situation. We're certainly a group of people where the sensibilities range greatly and in a way don't even belong in the same band together. But it's the synergy of that which makes it what it is. There's an evolving dynamic..."
Buckingham said his relationship with Stevie Nicks is much improved and that he looks forward to working with her now that there's a new maturity in everyone's attitude about the Mac universe. Rehearsals for the next chapter in the band's ongoing saga will likely start in January of next year.
"We're gonna do some dates and we're contemplating making an album and having a whole 'nother phase," he said. "In everyone's mind is something like a mantra that we don't want to get into too many musical agendas...the main agenda is for us to avoid things that we've blown out of proportion in the past. And to remind ourselves that we do know each other very well, and love each other and are great friends. And really, it's to just try to enjoy each other as people and honor each other's feelings a little more than we did in the past."
A self-trained musician, Buckingham said he was strongly influenced by Elvis guitarist Scotty Moore, and called the song "Heartbreak Hotel" a "big light bulb moment." He learned the Travis picking style when folk music became popular, and also listened to classical recordings to expand his knowledge. One of the interviewers tells Buckingham he's one of his three favorite guitarists, and invites a detailed synopsis of Buckingham's now utterly distinctive finger-picking style.
"The fingerstyle is at the core of what I do. Whatever I've done on top of that that I can call my own has just come from adding the whole element of being an avid listener for so many years, of different kinds of music. And more specifically, how records are made. The fact that I became a producer of records and was interested in...applying the skill of what I do to an effective structure. Learning about what you call good record making. I've just been doing it a long time, and hopefully it'll keep getting better."
He sounds like a happy man, this revered musician at the forefront of '70s album rock, who has seen and experienced just about everything rock 'n' roll can throw at an ambitious musician, mostly without asking for it. His solo work has finally gotten out there without being derailed by the Mac truck, he's earned respect from peers and fans and, domestically, he's found bliss.
"I was very lucky to meet a woman and fall in love and have three children," said Buckingham. "So the subtext of all the work that has gone on in the last three years has been much easier. I think I'm going through maybe one of the most creative times in my life right now. So far, so good." | Kevin Renick
Catch Lindsey Buckingham on tour in the following cities:
09.26: Tulsa, Brady Theatre
09.28: Kansas City, Uptown Theatre
09.29: St. Louis, The Pageant
10.1: Cleveland, House of Blues
10.2: Chicago, House of Blues
10.4: Milwaukee, Pabst Theatre
10.5: Indianapolis, Egyptian Theatre
10.7: Hamilton, ONT, Hamilton Place Theatre
10.8: Toronto, Danforth Music Hall
10.10: Reading, Penn., Sovereign PAC
10.11: Atlantic City, Xanadu Theatre @Trump Casino
10.12: Lebanon, N.H., Lebanon Opera House
10.14: Northampton, Mass., Calvin Theatre
10.15: Ridgefield, Conn., Ridgefield Playhouse
10.17: Boston, Berklee Performing Arts
10.18: Glenside, Penn., Keswick Theater
10.19: New York, Nokia Live
More info: http://www.lindseybuckingham.com/
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