Lindsey Buckingham interview: her solo album and the past and future of Fleetwood Mac
We had that legacy of overcoming our struggles, ”said Lindsey Buckingham. Classic rock. “This has always been the subtext of Fleetwood Mac – that we have stayed together through thick and thin.”
Buckingham reflects on his lingering disappointment at being forced out of the band in 2018. It couldn’t have been fun to watch the Mac perform without him, even though it took two guitarists to make up for his absence. “I haven’t seen the show, but looking at the set list, I was like, ‘Hmm, it’s like a cover band.'”
Add to that his triple heart bypass surgery, vocal cord and covid dread, and it has been a tumultuous few years for the singular 72-year-old musician and producer. All of this contributes to making his brilliant new self-titled solo album such a triumph. Deeply personal songs, artful vocal arrangements, and fiery guitar work – it has all its trademark touches, and also, as he describes below, a strange foreknowledge about it.
This record completely upsets the cliché of an artist of seventy years of diminishing returns and having his best work behind him.
It’s very nice thank you. I think a lot of it is about the choices you make along the way, and somehow not losing your perspective, you know? I’ve seen a lot of people do that. I’ve seen people in Fleetwood Mac do this, letting themselves be defined by external strengths and expectations rather than their inner beliefs and the soul behind it all. Staying creative takes work and you don’t get distracted by the task, that’s for sure.
What was your vision for the album?
I think a lot of my solo work collectively is a bit more left than what was typically offered in Fleetwood Mac. There was a sort of conscious interest in doing this to go back to earlier benchmarks that were less about defining myself as the group’s counterpoint. It encompasses everything I learned going down this path, but it also ties in with the early parts of myself as they existed in Fleetwood Mac.
I can hear how you came back to more concise pop songs with simpler structures. But the “architecture” on top of that makes the songs stand out and distinct.
This has always been in many ways what I have contributed to Fleetwood Mac. Take songs from Stevie [Nicks], where she had the absolute center of the song, which was the lyrics and the melody but nothing around it. Songs like Dreams Where Gypsy need so much architecture around them to showcase their potential. The same with Christine [McVie]. I don’t necessarily see myself as a writer as much as a stylist. It’s all about style, architecture and the big picture.
Has been On the wrong side written as a sharp commentary on your life in Fleetwood Mac?
It’s kind of a commentary on the challenges of being in a band where the machinery is so powerful that you have to keep fighting to rise above it. But oddly, it was written before I left Fleetwood Mac. It’s not the only song that has this premonitory twist. There are also songs about my relationship with my wife [Buckingham and his wife filed for divorce earlier this year, but are currently “working” on their relationship]. There was maybe some sort of subconscious feeling that crept into the writing of a lot of these songs. Love postcards to my future self.
Songs with an intragroup relationship subtext have always been a part of your work.
To the right. A little like Rumors had that subtext, and there was a point where the appeal and popularity of this album started to become less about music than success. Obviously, there was a great appeal to the fact that we laid bare our personal lives through the songs, but also that we coexisted in a band after being two couples who broke up. It was a musical soap opera. I think there was a subtext that emerged around the topic of this new album that I hadn’t necessarily anticipated.
Is it fun for you to make records on your own?
I think working alone has become a strength – that process of sitting alone with a machine and being able to discover things like putting paint on a canvas. I find that very exciting and very inspiring. It really started before Fleetwood Mac, when I was doing demos for the Buckingham Nicks album.
Basically I was taking the example of how Les Paul had the tracks bounce back and forth, and I played everything myself. After Rumors, I think because I wanted to make an album like defense and undermine the external expectations that were about to take hold of us as a group if we had done something like Rumors 2, I started a path where I worked alone.
Tusk remains a divisive record. Forty years later, do you see this as a bifurcation, both for Fleetwood Mac and for you personally?
I probably would have been very happy to continue making more esoteric albums like this with Fleetwood Mac, but politics dictated otherwise within the band. Mick [Fleetwood] and everyone was initially quite skeptical of what I wanted to do on defense, then let himself be drawn into it. But then when he didn’t sell sixteen million albums like Rumors there was sort of a reflection on whether this was what we wanted to do.
So at that point I realized that the only way for me to continue exploring the left-most side of my talent – which I was pretty sure was where the growth was going to be for. me as an artist – was that I was going to have to do it on solo albums. So I had this kind of schizophrenic tightrope walker thing that I walked between the big machine and the little machine, if you will.
It’s as revealing as as a solo artist since defense you were more prolific than the group.
I was shocked to realize that Fleetwood Mac’s latest studio album, Say you want, was released in 2003. We wanted to do an album much more recently, around 2012. I had a bunch of songs, and Mick and John [McVie] and I went with producer Mitchell Froom and cut a bunch of stuff. This was before Christine came back to the group in 2014. We really wanted to attract Stevie, and for some reason she refused to participate.
I have to assume that’s partly because, like you said, I had been very prolific. And again, it comes down to the choices I made. She, on the other hand, is kind of a bit confused about wanting to chase after Stevie Nicks in all caps, if you will. By defending the brand, as opposed to defending creativity, I think she kinda lost her writing thread, and maybe she didn’t think she had something that she thought she could offer, and therefore didn’t. didn’t want to be part of it.
That effort to engage him was rearranged again when Christine returned, because it was like, well, Christine’s return, maybe now Stevie will want to do it. Christine had a bunch of song ideas and I helped her with those, and we finally went into the studio and cut them. And we were still hoping to make it into a Fleetwood Mac album, and Stevie wouldn’t. It became the duo album that Christine and I made [2017’s Lindsey Buckingham Christine McVie]. So it wasn’t for lack of trying [laughs].
Do you think this new album was the catalyst for your departure from Fleetwood Mac?
Only indirectly. When Christine and I left the road after shooting the album as a duet, I wanted to release this current album almost immediately. There had been a Fleetwood Mac tour that was scheduled for 2019, and I asked the band to kick off this tour a bit later so that I had three extra months to do a few dates behind my solo album. But some members of the group were unwilling to do so, one in particular.
This led to a kind of tension between us which we incorporated into a MusicCares event we had in New York, which was the real night that became the catalyst for our separation. It was once again Stevie disputing some of the things I had said or done, apparently.
I think it was just kind of a pretext for her at the time. But who knows? Certainly no one else in the group is on the same page in this regard. But she issued an ultimatum to the group. The irony of it all is for all the things that we’ve been through for these forty-three years, I mean come on, it was nothing, really [laughs].
Is there any hope for a reunion?
Who knows, maybe we’ll figure it out to have another great race there. That would be the right way to go.
And as if the past few years hadn’t been hectic enough, you’ve also had triple heart bypass surgery..
It’s in my family. My father died very young, at fifty-six, of a heart attack, and my brother was only forty-four. On the other hand, I have an older brother who is seven years older than me who is doing very well. I had this other procedure that had nothing to do with my heart, and I came out of the anesthesia and had a little heart attack and they came in and realized I needed bypass surgery. that time.
It can be seen as a gift because I was in a situation where I could be taken care of properly. Aside from the initial feedback, it went really well. So I can say so far everything is fine [laughs].