While crafting some of rock’s most enduring songs, Lindsey Buckingham has sometimes struggled to find his own space, and sometimes identity, within Fleetwood Mac. This identity has changed over the years, from gifted songwriter to virtuoso guitar player, to jilted lover and source of grief created classics. His failed relationship with Stevie Nicks has been well documented, as has the effect their breakup had on one of the best selling records of all time, Rumours. Most Mac fans feel like they know everything about Lindsey and the rest of the band, but he has more to reveal on his new album, “Gift of Screws”. The new disc reveals a musician with more to offer as a solo artist, an amazing guitar player in his right, and most importantly to him, as a father.
Mr. Buckingham was gracious enough to field a few questions about the new record, some Fleetwood Mac asides, and how being a father and husband has changed how he approaches making new music.
Can you explain the process of making this new record?
I wasn’t intending to make it so much of a rock record, maybe a step or two further than “Under the Skin”, but it just seemed to go in that direction. When I came off the road, and took the band into the studio, everything just wanted to rock. Once that direction was settled, there were some older songs that were looking for a home that now seemed appropriate. These were stragglers that were done as a batch that were going to be my solo album, but ended up as most of the last Fleetwood Mac album, that happens a lot, but these were left over and now have a home.
What challenges did you face with this album?
Not many. The entire arc of my career, up to this point, has been fraught with landmines, from the personal struggles that went on behind the scenes with Rumours and Tusk, to the aftermath that forced me to break off from a dysfunctional group of people, and then just focusing on music. I saw many of my friends with families and children sacrifice for their careers. Luckily, I met a great woman and had three great kids. Now the personal side has been greatly enriched. There was always a pattern making records with the band, where they would come hear some finished stuff, and we would work. But this time I told them I wanted to make two records and then come back to the band. But that clearly made the logistics of working by myself so much simpler. So that makes it really easy to say that there have been no challenges.
You mentioned Tusk. Can you talk about that a little bit?
The Tusk album represented a landmark for me, in terms of how I wanted to think. It was how do I approach an album, a career, and music? We were coming off the success of Rumours, which became less about the music, and more about the tabloidism that people were picking up behind the success of it. When you have an album that successful, you have a set of choices in front of you, chief among them being freedom. Using that freedom is another matter. A lot of music was coming out then that was reinforcing my sensibilities. So I set out to NOT make Rumours 2, and follow that formula. So I drew that line in the sand. The Tusk process was exciting, yet also aggravating. I wanted to work on my own at my house, and bring partially fleshed out songs for them to complete. Working in a band is probably more like making a movie, with several people making decisions, so it’s more political. Working on your own is more like painting. The band was skeptical at first, but got more drawn in over time. I got really aggravated when the album came out, and it didn’t sell the same numbers as Rumours, and there was a backlash in the band. They didn’t want to do it that way anymore, and wanted to go back to a more conventional formula. I understood it, but was saddened by it, because I finally realized that not all the members were in it for the same set of reasons. That realization made it hard for me to figure out what to do as a writer and producer for a number of years. Then there was the hardship with the way my band mates were conducting their personal lives. So that led to me quitting to reclaim my individuality and sanity. Tusk is my favorite album, because of all the meaning it held for me. That album is still the way I work today, and I’m proud of the line I drew. Also, some members of the band now look at Tusk as their favorite album as well. Very ironic.
Can you explain the feeling you get as a musician or as a listener, when everything is clicking and you know you have something special?
My definition has changed over the years. A good example is a last minute part that almost didn’t get added to the song, but when we did it, everyone in the room just kind of went, “Oh, I get it”. Once it was on, we thought, “How could we have thought to leave that off”? That song was “Go Your Own Way”. That part was the acoustic strumming part, the one that throws it off tone. We lived with that song, thinking it was completed. Then I threw that part on there, and everything was raised up four letters. That is the most quintessential example I can give like that.
How old are some of the songs on this new record?
There are some older songs, kind of an epic I’ve been working on since the late ‘90s. But Mick said to me,” Let’s do a Fleetwood Mac live album instead of you doing a solo album”. So after doing that, I picked up the album again and worked on it until it was relatively complete. But then it was brought up to do a Fleetwood Mac album, and those songs got folded over into the Fleetwood Mac album. Some of the songs I had left over were the basis for “Gift of Screws”.
Has becoming a father made you examine your own upbringing?
I had two great older brothers, and wonderful parents. So I have no complaints about my childhood. I now realize that family is more important than music. It has given me a much greater sense of self. If you go back to Rumours, and two couples breaking up, especially for me, watching Stevie move away from me, yet be a good producer for her, while dealing with not getting the space for closure, it was like continually picking a wound. It made me close off whole areas of my emotional landscape. I was very much in denial. In the aftermath, I continued to work, and didn’t dedicate much to living my life. So getting a family has allowed me to bust up all of that like an iceberg. Being a father has given me a new way to work and also a support system.
Is working with Mick and John on this new album comfortable?
Yeah, it’s like going home to see your parents, in that sense. We have differences, but Fleetwood Mac is like a family. When I get off the road with this record, the band is going to get together in January to go on the road. But I need to get this record out of my system, because in the past, personal agendas have gotten in the way when other projects weren’t finished. Our mantra is to just enjoy each other, and to honor each other’s feelings more than we have in the past. Hopefully, no one will have too much to prove. There is an evolving dynamic when I get in the studio with Mick and John, and it is home. But home has been several things over the years. We’re looking forward to something a little more blessed this time.
Do you think everyone in the group appreciates the enormous accomplishments you have had?
I think so. Of course, everyone has their own version of tunnel vision. I do my own thing, and Stevie definitely has her own broader audience for what she does, which comes with her own set of considerations. I think this time will have a different dynamic, which I’m looking forward to.
Can you talk about your playing style, and who influenced you?
I wasn’t taught, I’m kind of a refined primitive. I learned from getting a chord book, and started learning songs. My earliest inspiration was Scotty Moore, Elvis Presley’s guitarist. He played with a pick, but also used his fingers. Then I got into folk, and more finger picking. Then I got into classical, and started to emulate that. From there, I got into the banjo, and used some of those styling patterns, and still do. The core of what I do is finger picking, and anything else is from being a student of music. Also, being a producer has made me more aware of structure and how it is being applied. Hopefully, I get better as I get older.
When you get back together with Fleetwood Mac, will all the band members, including Christine, be involved?
When Christine burned all of her bridges in Los Angeles, she moved to England and isn’t a part of this anymore. So now we look at how we make the core band, a four piece, work the best. We had this fiasco with Sheryl Crow, which was a hiccup as far as I was concerned. I think that came about because when we toured in 2003 without Christine, Stevie was missing some of that female backup. When we started contemplating doing something next year, Stevie brought up Sheryl’s name, and it was dealt with as a complete hypothetical. I had reservations from the start, and it sounded a little lounge-y to me. Sheryl had an album come out not too long ago, and took it upon herself to announce to the world that she was joining Fleetwood Mac. Which was not the case. It was on the table, being discussed, but that was it. It was completely inappropriate for her to do that. It would have been inappropriate for her to do that even if it wasn’t a hypothetical. After that, Stevie didn’t like our decision, and it caused some friction. But it caused Stevie to reexamine her own dynamic within the group.
After all these years of doing this, do you find it hard to find new ways to keep your music fresh?
You go through stages, just like anything else. Anyone who follows a creative path is given certain tools, and they get used up. So you run on empty for a while, and then somehow you regroup. But I put out music when I want to, and that helps me to not repeat myself. In the last ten years, my life has changed, and I told the band I wanted three years to myself. In a lot of ways, I’m more creative than I’ve ever been in my life.
Is it difficult to keep your songs separate from Fleetwood Mac, and have you had songs that you felt should have been used on Fleetwood Mac albums that weren’t used?
I don’t usually get turned down, but in a much broader context, you have a wealth of material and it has to fit on an album. For example, the last Fleetwood Mac studio album, which started as my own, and with the exception of three songs, was all of my songs. They either didn’t fit, or there were too many of them. It’s not like someone is judging you, it just may be there isn’t room.