May 29, 2003
Fleetwood Mac: Over 100 Million Served
The Big Mac is back, and Lindsey Buckingham explains how the pop stalwarts pieced together the very impressive Say You Will.
by C. Bottomley & Jim Macnie
Never say never. In 1987, Lindsey Buckingham bid farewell to Fleetwood Mac, and it was a big change for the band. With partner Stevie Nicks in tow, the lanky singer/guitarist/songwriter joined the ever-morphing Brit ensemble in 1975; during this
12-year stint he helped transform the group from respected also-rans to the epitome of platinum-selling rock stars. Inspired by Buckingham's romantic turmoil with Nicks (as well as the disintegration of John and Christine McVie's marriage), 1977's Rumours sold 17 million copies. It was full of irresistible soft-rock and passionate hard pop. Ultimately, it even spawned Bill Clinton’s campaign theme, "Don't Stop."
He issued a string of gorgeous solo discs, but retirement didn’t agree with Buckingham. Something was missing. Maybe it was Nicks’ witchy mysticism and gentle soul. Perhaps it was Christine McVie’s perky pop-craft and honeyed harmonies, or Mick Fleetwood and John McVie’s rhythmic backbone. Either way, with 1997’s The Dance, Buckingham was back in the fold, and the band began working on a stockpile of his songs.
Younger groups might still look to Rumours as their template, but Say You Will, the Mac’s first album in eight years, beguiles, bewilders, and rewards. Buckingham’s guitar takes center stage, with fertile freak-outs and up-to-the-minute atmospherics that dazzle with their daring. McVie sat this album out, so songs like “Peacekeeper” bristle with Buckingham-Nicks’ethereal harmonies and chug-along pop beats. There’s even the odd diversion into political commentary. The band that made Say You Will is an inclusive and broad-reaching entity. Unlike many groups their age – 36 years if you’re counting – the Mac still have their teeth. Or should that be tusks?
On the eve of their American tour, Buckingham spoke to VH1 about reinventing the Mac, painting in the studio, and which of the band's songs could get him out of bed.
VH1: Is getting back into action and starting a new tour second nature at this point?
Lindsey Buckingham: The challenge of getting into that mold is more about how you present it. People like The Eagles tour all the time without having an album. For us, it’s how you dignify having made a very fresh album which is basically a reinvention of the name Fleetwood Mac, and present it in a way that is still familiar - not too challenging!
VH1: Say You Will is a very progressive album, though. Some parts border on being experimental.
LB: I would say so, too. I remember when Rumours came out, it got some crappy reviews. But in a year’s time, a lot of people were revising their opinion of it. But yeah, this album is a sort of marriage between the best of Rumours and the best of Tusk. And yet, it is breaking new ground.
VH1: How did the album come about after such a long lay-off?
LB: It was an epic effort. It started off as a solo album of mine. Most of the songs that ended up on Say You Will were cut with Mick before we did the Dance tour. After Mick and I had gone into the studio and John [McVie] came in to play some bass, some people thought, “This is interesting.” There was this intervention happening, where people said we needed to do a live album and tour. When the tour was done, I went back into my garage and finished all those songs pretty much in the state that you hear them on the album. “Peacekeeper” and “What’s the World Coming To” were the only ones that were cut later.
VH1: You like to play with the studio on your solo albums, and Say You Will is pretty thick with audio ideas and treatments.
LB: It was gratifying for me, because during my time away from Fleetwood Mac, I felt like I got better at using the studio as an instrument. I consider the process that I use on my own to be a kind of "painting." The studio is not only an extension of the guitar; it’s an extension of your imagination.
VH1: How was the recording process this time around as a reformed group?
LB: One of the things that we wanted to do was present something closer to the energy of what we do on stage. Some of that was suggested by the fact that when we played as a three-piece, we all had much more room to maneuver. In a way, we’ve done the best playing I’ve ever heard on a recording. So it was about reeling that out and not worrying about anything other than what we do best.
VH1: How is it now that Christine has left?
LB: Well, when I first joined the band, I had to adapt to fit in, because so much of the [musical] space was already taken. John is a fairly intricate bass player, and Christine's keyboard sound took up a lot of space as well. Not in a bad way, just in terms of what was left over. We don't see her absence as any kind of detriment. It's just different. Stevie and I were able to broaden our own particular landscapes as writers. It was kind of a gift, and very much in the tradition of a band that has re-invented itself many times!
VH1: Mick and John are an unbelievable rhythm section. Describe what it is that they do.
LB: Mick is a diamond in the rough. He does what he does, and after all this time, he still doesn’t know quite how he does it. He doesn’t want to know! There’s a real Zen feel to that: he knows he has a feel. But he’s just the ultimate in "dumb" - in the best sense of the word! He values that: he values the idea of feeling loose and having a groove that sits appropriately behind the beat. John is sort of an enigma. He’s a strange combination of [Charles] Mingus and [Paul] McCartney. He doesn’t talk about it, but he’s extremely smart and extremely melodic with what he does. It’s very easy to underestimate what he does - until you really listen to it. Through all the incarnations of the band, those two guys have been the thread.
VH1: Which of Stevie’s new tunes touches you the most, as a fan of hers?
LB: I like “Illume” a lot. I like “Thrown Down” a lot, too, sort of for my own petty needs because I felt I helped [articulate that tune]. “Say You Will” is real catchy, and will probably be the next single.
VH1: Is making a record all craft or do your ideas come to you from your subconscious?
LB: Sometimes when you’re in the process of "painting," you get yourself into some sort of a reverie, where the subconscious comes to the surface a bit. With me, the songs don’t come fully formed before they start being worked on. I tend to think the process of making the record is part of the writing process, in terms of being flexible about what comes in and what changes.
VH1: What message would you want listeners to come away with after listening to “Murrow Turning Over in His Grave”?
LB: Edward R. Murrow was around when there was some standard for reporting on television. When he retired, he gave this speech about how TV was being used to distract and amuse and not particularly educate anyone. He said if the people responsible for what was on TV didn’t strike a balance, “history would take its revenge.” I wrote that song during the OJ Simpson trial. In some ways, that was the beginning of a new low, with Court TV popping up out of the blue and all that stuff which pretends to be objective news reportage, [but] is completely opportunistic.
VH1: In our house we often play "Think About Me" to start the day. If you were to play one Fleetwood Mac song in the morning, what would it be?
LB: I guess you could always fall back on ‘’Don’t Stop.’’ It’s harder to respond to a question like that when it’s you who’s made the music. But that’s one that goes across the board as an uplifting message.