Fleetwood Mac Lindsey Buckingham The Dance (1997)

Q&A with Lindsey Buckingham

LINDSEY BUCKINGHAM may be the least enthusiastic member of Fleetwood Mac, but his guitar playing and passionate vocals have been the anchors of the group’s sound since he and his then-girlfriend, Stevie Nicks, joined the long-standing band in 1975.

The most musical member of the enormously popular 70s rock group, Buckingham, 50, released a series of unjustly neglected solo albums after departing the Big Mac a decade ago. But it was Buckingham’s most recent solo work that paved the way to the current Fleetwood Mac reunion.

Reprising the onetime British blues band that became one of the biggest-selling acts of the era, Buckingham — along with Nicks, drummer Mick Fleetwood, bassist John McVie and keyboardist Christine McVie — filmed an MTV concert. They recorded a live album, The Dance, on a soundstage on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank last May. And they began a tour, which arrives Tuesday and Wednesday at Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View.

Q: How did this reunion happen?

A: I had been working on a solo thing for a little while, not too long. I tried using the band I had taken on the road and I wasn’t real happy with the drum performances. I ran into Mick at a timely moment. I have obviously done a little bit of regrouping and getting re-established in my own process since I left the band. He was in a totally different place. We had a lot to talk about. I just said, “Hey, you want to come in and play drums?” He did. We just cut tracks. When it came time to slot in some basses, Mick said what about John McVie, which I wouldn’t have thought of. John came in and it was great. What he had to offer was kind of eye-opening. So at that point I think there was this implication — gee, there’s three of these guys working together — and I think a lightbulb went off over at Warner Bros.

My only problem is that I’d been working on this solo record for a couple of years and I was thinking, “Geez, this is definitely the best thing I’ve ever done and someone’s asking me to put it down for a year.”

Q: What happened with the solo album?

A: It’s on hold. So far I’ve only committed to doing the dates in the states. When that’s over, in theory, I will be going back to work on the last 10 percent of the solo album. I only say “in theory” because it’s already gone so much better than anyone thought it would. And not only on a business level. Even on an emotional level. I think the fact that everyone’s moved on and done some growing in the last 10 years since I left in ’87, all of that is reflected in the way we’re able to interact and enjoy each other, which was something I wasn’t necessarily counting on.

Q: So why did you give up the solo album to take a chance on a Fleetwood Mac reunion that you might not have enjoyed?

A: When it was put to me, there was a point of view that said if you are able to put your own work down for a year or however long this project is going to take, it’s not going to do you any harm. You know me. I put out an album once every four or five years and it’s kind of like starting over every time.

There was a point of view that seemed to think that the visibility from this — and maybe even getting one’s political foot or maybe even one’s political toe in the door in some other areas — would all ultimately be to the benefit of the bigger picture. We’ll see if that holds true or not. Believe me, there’s going to be a lot of pressure to do more touring. And a record. I’ve gone into this with (Warner Records chairman) Russ Thyrett and all the managers saying, “Look, I’m not going to be perceived as the bad guy down the line. I’m the only one who’s got anything on tap here. No one else is giving up anything they’ve been doing and putting emotional stakes in. So I’m not going to commit to anything other than the dates in the states.” Then again, if you’d asked me a year ago if I’d be doing this at all, I would have said no, no way.

Q: How did you come up with the solo acoustic arrangement of ‘Big Love’ that you played on the MTV concert?

A: That was just something I wanted to get to even out Out of the Cradle, the last record of mine. I was really interested in exploring the finger-picking style that I have and applying that kind of energy and complexity to a song to the point where maybe the idea of needing a lot of production — or any production — goes away. My center is not really my singing so much as my guitar playing. To get as close to my center, to get as in-your-face and apparent as possible, was something that I’ve been trying to do for a little while. That was something I felt was necessary to do in the live show. I tried it out on a bunch of songs and it ended up working on ‘Big Love’ and ‘Go Insane’.

Q: Didn’t the band actually work up some new songs for the show?

A: Initially there were three new songs. Then one of the days we started playing a song called ‘Bleed to Love Her’, which actually I had cut with Mick in the studio. We just were kind of running it down and it sounded good, so that stayed in the show. Hopefully the studio version will still make it on the solo album because it’s much better, much more modern-sounding. Anytime you get the Fleetwood Mac thing collectively going, from where I would end up on my own, it’s going to go to the right.

Q: The Fleetwood Mac thing is realty bigger than the sum of all of you, isn’t it?

A: There’s certainly an element of that. It can be a bit unsettling Even things like knowing the shows are (selling) as well as they are puts more of an inside pressure on this thing to be more than a lark. That’s my netherworld, where I get caught up in what my priorities are and what’s really important. It’s nice to be reminded that you can just say the name Fleetwood Mac and doors will open. But the reason I left was because it wasn’t about selling, it was about being enlightened in the process and finding some kind of personal truth. Much of what this is about doesn’t reflect that. The higher the stakes get, the more nerve-racking it gets, I would say.

Q: And tickets are selling for as much as $75?

A: I don’t know. I’m sure there are some high-line tickets out there. I don’t know what to tell you about that. I didn’t have any say in that.

Q: Did you follow the subsequent permutations of the Fleetwood Mac lineups that Mick Fleetwood led after you left the band?

A: From a distance. When I left and they got Billy Burnette and Rick Vito, that was fine because Stevie was still there and there was a semblance of it being that thing, even though it was a little more generic.

I think by the time it got down to being no Stevie and Bekka Bramlett and Dave Mason, which actually didn’t sound too bad on paper but I guess didn’t play out too well, a lot of people were not too happy with that because it really did bastardize the good name, if you want to look at it in that way.

Maybe in Mick’s defense, all the incarnations of Fleetwood Mac after the Peter Green days, many of which were non sequiturs from incarnation to incarnation, led him to the point where he ran into us. That same process of constantly reaching out to people more than to a concept is what got him to us in the first place. I think to some degree he was able to feel he was just doing the same thing he’d always done. But it’s a little more tricky after the fact.

Q: Did you read Mick Fleetwood’s book about the band?

A: I didn’t read the book. I skimmed through some and was obviously not happy with some things. There were total inaccuracies in the book that, at the time, I was a little miffed about. I had to assume they were the products of the former Mick, who was probably having a few drinks late at night and just kind of free-associating to some kind of a ghost writer. I think Mick feels bad about having done that.

Q: What did you think when Bill Clinton adopted ‘Don’t Stop’ as a campaign song and the band wound up playing at his Inaugural Ball?

A: My reaction wasn’t as strong as other people in the band. I know Stevie always portrays it as such a flattering thing to happen. I thought it was ironic. At the time, because Clinton was openly aligning himself with rock ‘n’ roll, because he was of that generation and was probably the first candidate for president to do that, implied that there might be something significant about it. In retrospect, even though it was flattering to be asked, I don’t think it signified too much. The event was, uh, interesting. It was a showbiz event. It was very quick. We went in, rehearsed and did the song and actually never met Clinton. He came up onstage while we were still playing. He tried to shake my hand, but I was playing guitar.

Q: Everybody in the band looks pretty clean and sober these days.

A: This is one of the things that is probably making it more pleasurable than it ever was when I was with the band those 12 years. If you talk about the Tango in the Night album, the reason I didn’t do that tour was because the album took about 10 months and it was such an uncreative atmosphere. You take that on the road and it multiplies times 10.

That album was a very producerly album because I was trying to compensate for the lack of real interaction that was going on, which was directly attributable to the way everyone was conducting their lives. That’s why I split. In the meantime, luckily, everyone kind of went through their own journeys and came out the other end. There is a real joy to be able to get up and react to each other and appreciate the whole being greater than the sum of the parts, just the chemistry of the group.

Q: Chemistry was always a big part of Fleetwood Mac, wasn’t it?

A: Yeah, from it being two couples on down. But that same chemistry made it that much more convoluted and was forcing us all to live in a certain amount of denial for all those years and get on with our creative processes the best we could in a situation that was clearly a bit dysfunctional.

Joel Selvin  / San Francisco Chronicle / October 12, 1997

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