AS THE NEXT Fleetwood Mac album nears completion, Lindsey Buckingham is faced with divided interests. Much of the responsibility for the success or failure of the album will rest on Buckingham, whose experiments on Tusk earned critical acclaim – and also earned him the blame when Tusk failed to match the wild success of Rumours.
Complicating matters is the critical and commercial success he has had with his first solo album, Law And Order, which could be said to have vindicated his highly individualistic approach to making records. In this interview, Buckingham discusses his current situation and his feelings about the future of Fleetwood Mac, as well as his solo plans.
What differentiates the material on your solo album from anything you would have done with Fleetwood Mac?
Nothing in particular, other than the fact that I was trying to save more accessible material for the band, I suppose. ‘Trouble’ certainly isn’t an example of that (laughter). One thing that differentiates it is the fact that I had a year to get into what I was doing, and all the songs (on Law And Order) were written more or less during that period of time.
Much of Law and Order seems to be on a pure beam, getting from the inspiration to the tape very quickly.
One way to do that is to do it by yourself. If you want to make comparisons, working by yourself is very much akin to painting. You’ve got the canvas, and the emotion travels through (motions from his head down to his arm) to the canvas. Working in the studio with a bunch of other people and trying to get those ideas expressed verbally first and then onto tape is more like making a movie.
Looking at the lyrics to ‘Satisfied Mind’, it could say a lot about your experiences going from obscurity to multi-platinum in relatively short order.
One of the themes running through the album is basically trying to keep a sense of order about your life, living by certain rules that you make for yourself.
Most of rock has basically an escapist theme to it, promoting the idea of living by no rules at all. It’s about living for the moment and not really having any self-discipline, or any commitment to anything. The idea of many of the songs (on Law And Order) is to commit to something, whether or not it causes you pain, and to accept pain and happiness as parts of the whole. ‘It Was I’, as an adolescent view of that, speaks about someone’s first experience with pain in a relationship. The conclusion is to keep going and to get through it; the optimism remains about seeking future happiness rather than having a disposable relationship.
‘September Song’ is sort of the inverse of that. It’s about someone who’s been with someone for his whole life and is reaching his final years, and his perspective on having been through the pain and the happiness. He can still derive the most meaning from sharing his last days with his partner.
‘Satisfied Mind’ is about choosing between the pursuit of materialism and the pursuit of affection and respect and love. Obviously, the choice is clear.
It’s easy to know how obvious the choice is once the materialism part is taken care of.
Yeah, but you’ve still got to have a commitment to work and to relationships. I may not always be right, but at least my intention is a pure one.
What’s your repertoire of instruments? Are you getting capable on other instruments besides the guitar?
It depends on what’s there. I don’t sit around and practice an instrument, but if I have an idea for something on an album I can usually figure out how to play it. I couldn’t do that with something like a violin or saxophone, but any plectrum-type instrument, such as a banjo, I’m okay.
It’s the same way I approach drums or keyboards. I’m not really a drummer or a keyboardist in the real sense, but if you understand how production works and you can hear how it needs to be, then you can usually get what you need one way or another.
Your approach to the guitar seems to be more oriented toward orchestration of the song than dependent on technique. I know that you don’t use a pick, and that you’ve never worked with another guitar player.
I’m not a technical guitarist. It’s not the most proficient style in the world, but hopefully it’s something that has a certain feeling to it. There are tons of guitarists who can play circles around me in terms of speed, but I grew up not really wanting that. I always played rhythm, always in support of songs.
I always played by myself (when I was younger), learning how to make a few chords work with a melody. I didn’t really play lead until I was about 21, either. I played rhythm and fingerpicking styles, and orchestral style, which remains to a certain extent. My lead playing is somewhat of an extension of that.
I played bass in a band for four or five years, for the simple reason that I couldn’t play lead at the time. It all grows out of an orchestral style; I’d much rather play like Chet Atkins than Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix was a great guitarist, but parts that you don’t even notice on the records sometimes are the parts that I find the most sublime.
People respond to (subtleties) even if they don’t know what they’re responding to. If they’re not finely-tuned enough to really take the song apart, they’re still responding to the overall effect. I think it’s harder to do that well – to do pop music well – than it is to do rock ‘n’ roll, or at least the kind of rock ‘n’ roll you hear today. I don’t think it’s particularly well-crafted music, or even well-crafted playing. It’s certainly not subtle or underplayed.
Given a choice between being blatant and being subtle, I’d much rather be subtle. I’d much rather be subtle. In my case, maybe that’s the only way I can be. I can’t play like Eddie Van Halen, so I have to go for the subtle.
What effect has your solo career had on the Fleetwood Mac album?
That’s a slower process, and it’s kind of hard to adjust to the politics involved with five people. When all five of us are in there at once, it can get crazy. So from an efficiency standpoint, sometimes the recording can suffer.
Since Tusk was largely your personal project, is that the same tone we can look forward to on the next Mac album?
No. It’s sort of a reconciliation of opposites. There are some aspects from Tusk and some aspects from Rumours. I wouldn’t say it’s a reactionary move; we haven’t gone back to Rumours, although when Tusk came out I was under some pressure from the band to sort of regress, if you will.
I got a lot of support from the band during the making of Tusk; everyone was really excited about it. Then, when it became apparent that it wasn’t going to sell 15 million albums, the attitude started to change – which was sad for me in a way, because it makes me wonder where everyone’s priorities are. They changed their attitude about the music after they realized it wasn’t going to sell as many copies. That’s not really the point of doing it. The point is to shake people’s preconceptions about pop.
Didn’t Fleetwood Mac Live buy the band any more freedom?
I didn’t want to do the live album, even though it turned out well. I’m not a big fan of live albums.
But Fleetwood Mac is one of the bands that actually does something substantially different live.
It was a valid album, but in terms of making a full statement… Rumours was a very definite statement; Tusk was a very succinct statement within itself as far as studio albums go. The live album may have been, too, because there is more of a contrast between what we do in the studio and live than there is with other bands. But I didn’t see it as a particularly strong statement, and I don’t think the public did either. “Oh, Fleetwood Mac’s come out with a live album, too.”
What are we going to hear on the new album?
We’ve got some really well-crafted songs of Christine’s; Stevie hasn’t really been in the studio that much – I’d have to go back and listen to her tunes a little bit; I’m not really sure what’s there.
There’s about four or five of my songs on the album. One of them sounds really commercial to me, sort of a cross between Phil Spector and the Beach Boys. A couple of them are really rocky.
There’s a lot of production on a few of the things, more so than on Tusk and in some cases even more than Rumours. But it isn’t your average production, either – it still has an experimental sort of tinge to it. In many cases I would say it’s a little more elaborate than anything you’ve heard before (sinister laugh), reaching Wagneresque proportions.
Can you verbalize your pop vision at this point?
I’m trying to be original from a production standpoint, trying to retain the values of rock in the ’50s – the innocence. Law And Order has a certain ’40s element, too, that I picked up from the 78s that I got from my father. I want to retain a certain urgency and freshness in the music, and an individuality which you just don’t hear too much these days.
Take this record by Quarterflash (‘Harden My Heart’). It’s got the formula: it sounds like Pat Benatar, and it sounds like early Fleetwood Mac. It’s got all the elements that are acceptable to the broadest number of people, and therefore it’s doing well. I don’t think that’s a healthy thing.
I’m in a position where I don’t have to do things strictly to feed myself. I want to have that freedom and still have a certain vision of individuality and wanting to challenge people’s preconceptions of what music should be. In a way, it’s like being a painter: you explore a line of thought – a path – and maybe eventually it leads you back to the beginnings. Then you redefine that and go on from there. It’s a process – hopefully a lifelong one – of learning, following intuition and trying to keep fresh.
How far are you willing to take it? If you get enough flak from the people around you, it’s going to have an effect.
I haven’t gotten flak from people in general. The band just seems to be more money-oriented – that’s all I can say – and that’s their prerogative.
How far are they willing to go?
Fleetwood Mac is not going to stay together forever. I would hope to move gracefully from one set of circumstances to another and continue to retain individuality and not get sucked into a group situation more than need be – without being totally self-serving as well. It’s tough doing what we’re doing. There are lots of avenues.
Will Fleetwood Mac hit the road right away?
Actually, Fleetwood Mac is probably not going to do much road work. I think we’ll do some touring, but Stevie apparently doesn’t want to go on the road. We’ll do some touring and probably do a Home Box Office thing.
I wouldn’t mind if we didn’t go on the road at all, myself. I enjoy playing, but it’s not nearly as much of a learning thing, or a growth thing, as staying home and working on new tunes, with the challenge of something new all the time. That’s really what keeps me going.
David Gans / Record / April 1982