Interview Date: 10/10/2008
Run Date: 11/06/2008
Lindsey Buckingham has been such an integral part of the Fleetwood Mac line-up that some people often forget he also has a solo career when time and creativity permits. In fact, he has five solo albums under his belt -- six if you count Live at the Bass Performance Hall. The most recent of his efforts, Gift of Screws, emerged in mid-September, and Buckingham is now on tour to support the record. We spoke to Buckingham for, well, let’s face it, it wasn’t nearly long enough, but in the 15 minutes allotted to us, we did ask him about the experience of co-writing songs with his wife and son, why his live set list plays out the way it does, how he found his way to playing guitar in the first place, and how it feels to be labeled a “heritage act” nowadays. (Helpful advice: if you ever get to meet him, for God’s sake, don’t call him a “heritage act.”)
Bullz-Eye: Hey, Lindsey, how are you?
Lindsey Buckingham: I’m good. How are you?
BE: Pretty good. It’s an honor to speak with you.
LB: Oh, thank you!
BE: So only two years between albums: that’s a gift in and of itself.
LB: (Laughs) Well, you know, there are two reasons for that. One is that, in years past, there have certainly been a few occasions where there was an intention to put out a solo work and it was preempted by an idea that (Fleetwood Mac) might have had. So that’s one reason. Probably a more important reason is that when we got off the road after the Say You Will tour in 2004, I said to the band, “Look, don’t bother me for three or four years, because I really want to put out two albums in relatively short order for me and tour behind both of them.” They honored that wish, and I was somehow able to do this.
BE: I know the title of this album has existed since 2001, and then you suffered through the subsequent bootlegging of the material, but did anything on the 2008 version make the transition from the 2001 version?
LB: Well, you know, I would have to go back and take a look. Certainly the title track, and I think maybe one other one, “Wait for You.” All of that originally was intended to be a solo album called Gift of Screws, and that is actually one of the prime examples of the band kind of coming in and intervening. In 2001, I was pretty much poised to put that out as a real album, and the band came in and said, “We want to make a studio album.” So the bulk of that body of work got folded over into the Say You Will album that Fleetwood Mac did in 2003. But a couple of stragglers were just kind of waiting to find a home somewhere. I actually didn’t expect this album to be quite as rock and roll as it ended up, but when it seemed to want to go that way, I knew that they had found a home finally.
BE: Well, it very much feels like Out of the Cradle, Pt. 2 at times.
LB: Well, sure, yeah. You know, two years ago, I did Under the Skin, which was more a singular idea of taking a finger-style guitar and having that do the work of a whole track and still adding production value. But it was as much about what I didn’t do, you know. It was the fact that there was no lead and no drums and bass to speak of. And I was kind of thinking this was going to be just a couple of notches up from that, but as I say, I started working on new songs and they all wanted to rock, so it just kind of took on its own life.
BE: I guess working with Rob Cavallo on Under the Skin worked out okay for you, since he was back for this one as well.
LB: Well, he didn’t really do too much work on Under the Skin; he was in on a couple of tracks.
BE: On the new album you co-wrote one song with your son and two more with your wife. How easy or difficult is the collaborative process with people who are so close to you?
LB: It was very easy, because it was not something we set down to try to do as a goal; they were all sort of accidental. As far as my son Will goes, I was actually in the studio one day sitting at the console and he came in to hang out. And he was sitting on the couch, and I just heard him kind of humming back there, and I said, “What are you humming?” And he’s going, “Ah, ah,” and I said, “Well, sing it for me,” and he says, “Got a great day, great day.” I said, “Well, what is that?” And he said, “I don’t know, I just made it up.” I said, “Well, let’s see if I can make it into a song.” So that’s how that one came about; it was just a little gift he brought to me. And as far as my wife goes, she did some kind of arrangemental stuff on “Did You Miss Me,” and “Love Runs Deeper,” I had this chorus, and she said, “Can I try a hand at some lyrics?” And she wrote some lyrics for the verse, and they seemed to work. All of that stuff was just…they were accidents that happened. Very nice accidents.
BE: What are your expectations for your solo albums these days, given the climate of the industry? I mean, certainly this one premiered very high on the charts, but do you have specific expectations for an album’s long-haul success?
LB: No, I mean, I don’t think I have ever really had expectations on the commercial level. This is part of the luxury of being in a group like Fleetwood Mac that represents the big machine, the big selling machine, and then being able to explore the more esoteric side of the palette…you know, the left side of the palette on solo work. I think inherently what I’m choosing to do…I’m not trying to play a game of what I think someone is going to want to hear. I’m just trying to do what I see is in front of me and what is interesting and let the work go where it’s going to go and do what I think is going to be something that I’m going to learn from; not try to repeat formulas for any particular outcome. And I think, along with that, you find yourself in the territory of sort of expecting that there will be inherently fewer ears that are going to gravitate towards that. And, certainly, I think from a record company standpoint, they’ve got “big machine” and “small machine,” well, what are they going to come to the table for? Obviously, whatever they are willing to put in at the outset of a project is going to be relatively small compared to what they would put in for a Fleetwood Mac project. Although I’m sure they would be quite happy if something somehow found its way into a certain level of commerciality on its own. Then they might start kicking in the dollars to help it along. But it’s not really what I’m doing it for. You learn to do it for the work itself and for what you learn, and not for any particular commercial outcome at all.
BE: When you see yourself referred to as a heritage act, do you feel suddenly arthritic and reach for your walking cane?
LB: Well, I don’t know what that means. I guess…are they talking about me, or are they talking about Fleetwood Mac?
BE: I think both, technically.
LB: What is a heritage act?
BE: I think by virtue of the demographic to which your music is predominantly sold, they define artists as heritage acts. So, basically, it’s because most of the people who buy your stuff are older. I guess.
LB: Well, I just turned 59. I don’t…again, it’s like saying you’ve got to make Rumours Two because it’s a brand name and people think of you as a brand, and they think of you having a set of labels. That’s somebody else’s idea. I mean, “heritage act,” that’s two meaningless words, as far as I’m concerned, in terms of anything other than an arbitrary set of labels. It has nothing to do with the way I feel or the way I think of what I’m doing. If you go to one of my shows, you see…sure, you see people who are 60, who have been listening to Fleetwood Mac since they were in their 20s, probably. You also see a ton of college students. You see a whole bunch of people. So, you know, that’s a stupid thing as far as I’m concerned.
BE: Speaking of the live show, when it comes to compiling a set list, you don’t necessarily delve too deeply into your solo back catalog…
LB: Have you been to a live show?
BE: Oh, boy, have I. Actually, I was going to say that I saw you play at the Bayou in ’92…
LB: Oh, ’92, that was quite a while ago.
BE: It was. But what I was going to say was that I’m not really a guitar guy, per se, but when I walked out of that performance, it was the first time I ever found myself thinking, “I want to play guitar.”
LB: That was with…when was that? Was that with all those guitar players?
BE: Oh, yeah. I couldn’t believe that you all managed to fit on that stage, given the size of the venue.
LB: I know. I’m telling you I couldn’t do that again. It was too expensive paying all those people!
BE: As a result of seeing that show, I’m fighting the instinct to just ask you outright, “Why are you so awesome?” But my actual question is: did you yourself ever have a moment where you saw somebody performing and said, “I want to play guitar?”
LB: You know, I didn’t, and I’ll tell you why: because by the time I started going to shows or even watching TV and seeing guitarists, I had already been playing for a long, long time. I mean, I was lucky to have a brother who was seven years older; I was very interested in music from the time I was about three or four, and then suddenly he brings home this record called Heartbreak Hotel. And it was a common story, in terms of suddenly revolutionary perception of younger people having music that they can call their own and something that has a certain sense of identity; not only musically but in terms of the way these people look, the way they’re approaching music, the philosophy behind it. All of that was so potent. I had already pretty much taught myself guitar, on some level, by the time I was eight years old. I was pretty…I hate to say it, but I was sort of crusty and set in my ways at age 14 or 15, much less when I started to watch live shows when I was a bit older. So everything was seen through kind of a tempered eye, I think. I think in a way I was appreciating things, but I was never really thinking, “Oh, my God, that’s what I want to do!” Having said that, obviously, there are people that I admire a great deal as guitarists, but always people who somehow apply what they’re doing to the art of good record-making. If it’s a choice between Eric Clapton or Jimmy Page? Jimmy Page. He has got it by miles, as far as I’m concerned. So that’s where I’m at.
Publicist: Okay, Will, this will be your last question.
BE: Okay, well, in that case, I guess my last question is…
LB: Last question? That’s brutal! Try two more.
BE: I can do that.
LB: In fact, just push the envelope until she gets on again. (Laughs)
BE: Okay, well, first, I’ll get back to where I was going a minute ago. When it comes to compiling the live set list, you don’t necessarily delve into the solo back catalog as much as the Fleetwood Mac catalog.
LB: Well, here’s what I think you’ve got to do: you’ve got to come to terms with the fact that there are certain staples that you are going to do, no matter what. But, I mean, you last saw me in ’92, so what do you know? (Laughs) No, I’m just kidding. I think what you need to do is have an offering from every album; have it represented. But if I were to go out and try to do an equal representation of everything, there would not be room for any Fleetwood Mac songs. And I think what you come to terms with is the fact that there are certain things that people want to hear you do, and you have to see them as assets in your set…and, in fact, they are. And if you didn’t do any of them, you would probably get run out on a rail. So if you start with that, then you realize that what you really need to do is concentrate on the bulk of songs that you can present from your latest album. So some of the Fleetwood Mac staples and then, say, at least seven songs or so…or maybe more…from Gift of Screws make up probably two thirds of the set. And then, of course, you obviously want to do some other things, so you’ve got “Trouble,” and you’ve got “Go Insane” and “Don’t Look Down” and whatever else might be in there that will sort of fill in the edges that does represent work for other solo albums. But, obviously, every set that you put together has its own need, too, to sort of work as an arc, so there’s a lot going in there to consider.
Publicist: Sorry, Will, but this really is the last question.
BE: Okay, okay, the final question: will there ever be a CD reissue of Buckingham Nicks?
LB: Well, you know, the reason that there has not been, at least in my opinion, is basic inertia. That is, because Stevie and I don’t talk a lot. But there is another reason which is maybe a little more tricky, and that is that I think people who would want to put that idea into motion – management types that are more around the band – have the opinion that the optimal time to do that will be a time when not only Fleetwood Mac has been out on the road but also when there is time to…and this is just their opinion…maybe record a couple of “bonus tracks” and put them on there. See, if it were me, I would just say re-master it and put the thing out; it is what it is, you know? But I think other people have slightly more elaborate marketing ideas for it, and that might be the way to go. I don’t really have an opinion on it. But I guess what I’m trying to say is because Fleetwood Mac as of now is planning to go out on the road next spring, that may lead to a more optimal time in someone’s eyes, and we’ll probably get around to putting it out in the next couple of years. I’m just guessing, but we’ll see.
BE: Personally, I always suspected some marketing person was saving it to be the last CD reissued. Like, ever.
LB: (Laughs) It could be.
BE: Well, I very much appreciated speaking to you, Lindsey. It’s been a big thrill.LB: My pleasure.