Q&A: Lindsey Buckingham

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Lindsey Buckingham has spent much of his working life in Fleetwood Mac – from 1975 to 1987 and from 1997 to the present. While Christine McVie and Stevie Nicks may have written more of the band’s biggest hits, Buckingham’s guitar playing – along with his backing singing, arranging and production – is the magic ingredient that helped make songs like Rhiannon, Say You Love Me, Dreams and You Make Loving Fun so memorable and so successful. Buckingham’s own songbook is also studded with gems – Never Going Back Again, Go Your Own Way, Second Hand News and Big Love, to name a few. His new album Under The Skin is his first solo record in almost 15 years. Between rehearsals with a four-piece band for a US tour to promote it, Buckingham chatted to Classic Rock about his new material.

On Under The Skin you play most of the instruments but not all of them. Who else is on the record?

Mick Fleetwood played percussion on Down On Rodeo and Someone’s Gotta Change Your Mind, and John McVie played bass on Down On Rodeo. Those two songs were recorded almost 10 years ago, at Ocean Way Studios in Hollywood, and they were under consideration for [the 2003 Fleetwood Mac album] Say You Will. But that’s really it. The other songs are all from the last three years, and they’re mostly guitars and vocals.

I Am Waiting is a Rolling Stones tune, and you also cover Donovan’s Try For The Sun. Are there any particular reasons why you recorded those songs?

As far as the Stones song goes, there was actually a point where I went through this whole spate of Stones material that I loved from a certain period – mainly ’65 and ’66 and tried recording them. All obscure stuff: The Singer Not The Song, Gotta Get Away, She Smiled Sweetly, which was another one I cut with Mick [Fleetwood]. They all turned out fine, but I was looking for vehicles for a certain kind of acoustic playing, and I Am Waiting seemed the most successful. It was more about the arrangement than the song itself. And the Donovan song was just something I remembered fondly from when it came out, when I was 14 or 15. Its melodic structure is very generic folk-song, but it was close to my heart, and it was a reference point for what I later ended up writing.

Why did you make such a predominantly acoustic album?

There’s hardly any electric guitar on it. It’s because I have plans to put out a more rock album in the near future, probably about 10 months from now – a fairly close amount of time, given my track record. So I’ve actually been working on a pair of albums. And for this one I really wanted it to hold a certain line. The album is very much about keeping the production as minimal as possible while still having it sound like a record.

Parts of the album are so self-revealing that they make the listener feel like he’s eavesdropping on a private conversation. The lyrics pretty close to the bone.

Very much so. But there was certainly a precedent set for that kind of writing during a certain time with Fleetwood Mac, and back then I don’t think anyone thought about what the specifics of any given song were or what the overall effect on anyone else would be, the aim was just to make it as true as we could and as skilful as we could.

And the same holds true here. My life has changed so drastically since the last time I made a solo record. I’m finally married after so many years of living in a semi-dysfunctional social world, with three beautiful children and the kind of perspective that gives you, combined with whatever goes on in the mind of someone who can see himself healthily, as a mature artist, not trying to be something he’s not. That’s what came out on the album. Many of these songs seem more truthful to me than anything I’ve ever done.

Say You Will wasn’t the first Fleetwood Mac album that began as a Lindsey Buckingham solo project. There’s a long history of that kind of band usurpation, starting in the mid-80s with Tango In The Night.

Before we got back together for The Dance [in 1997], they even performed what might be called an intervention. We were over at Christine’s [McVie] house, and everyone was literally standing around me in a circle saying: “You’ve got to put the solo work down and do this with us.”

Was there any danger of that this time?

There wasn’t in terms of the material getting folded over. There was a little bit of pressure about my carving out a sufficient time frame to do this album, tour it, then finish the other one and, in all likelihood, tour that one too. But I talked to Stevie [Nicks] and everybody about it, and I don’t think anyone begrudged me the time to do what I felt I needed to do. The way they’re looking at it, I think, is that at least I’ll get it out of my system: he’ll be a nicer guy after he finishes this [laughs].

Buckingham Nicks [Lindsey and Stevie’s pre-Mac album, released in 1973] must be one of the most famous records never to have been issued on CD.

I know. Isn’t it ridiculous? Stevie and I own the 24-track masters, and one of Stevie’s managers has them at her house. I actually didn’t know where they were for a while; that’s one of those little power plays that goes on. It’s become almost an extension of Fleetwood Mac politics, convoluted as they are. Everyone agrees that the record needs to come out, but everyone also agrees that it needs to come out at a time when there can be some kind of event to promote it, and no one knows what that is. Do Stevie and I go out and do dates as a duo? What are we talking about here? So it’s in the ether. But we’d better hurry up, because pretty soon it’s going to be a little late.

Where do things stand with your other solo record?_ _

I have nine songs that I consider finished tracks, which were done at my house in the last year and a half. And I’ve also got a ton of new material that hasn’t been formally cut. During the next month we’ll try to set up a game plan, and then when I get off the road we’ll start working on it. After that we’ll hopefully get it out in a remarkably short amount of time – for me. That would be the hook: what’s he been doing all this time? Answer: putting two albums out within the course of a year. And then after that… [sighs] I think it’s just Fleetwood Mac for a while. That’s what I’m hearing, anyway. We’ll see. Nice to keep busy, though – gotta pay for my kids’ private schools and all that.