Lindsey & Stevie - Performing Songwriter (May 2003)
As Nicks says, "It's not easy for us. It never will be. It hasn't ever been. Whenever we get back into a room together and start working, we don't agree on a lot of stuff. Especially now, because we're really settled in our ways. It's no different than it was in 1975 when we went into rehearsal for Fleetwood Mac. We were fighting then, and we have fought all through every single record we have ever made. So I think if it wasn't like that, we'd probably all be walking around going, 'What's the matter with us?'
Buckingham adds simply, "Our real lives have been laid bare in vinyl."
I met Buckingham at Culver Studios in Los Angeles, where the group was getting ready to rehearse for an upcoming world tour. Dressed in jeans, a V-neck white T-shirt and a black leather jacket, he looked lean and healthy. In conversation he's very earnest and likable, with a producer's keen sense of diplomacy.
What kinds of feelings do you go through in the weeks before a new Fleetwood Mac record is released?
With this record, I'm actually euphoric. This project, for me, has been kind of an epic effort, more than anything I've ever done in terms of length of time involved to keep the eye on the ball, the ways in which it could have come out as a solo album, and finally what it ended up being, and somehow still maintaining its integrity, in terms of my songs and Stevie's songs. In many ways, I feel like I've been working for the last 25 years of my life for this, not just the last six years that it's been literally worked on. A level of maturity, a level of creativity and a vision that I've been trying to get to have now infused into the whole thing, with a great rhythm section, and Stevie, who I've known since I was 16. It's just a very exciting and profound thing.
What impressed me right away about the record is that you sound like you mean it. There's a commitment that you don't often hear with bands who've been around for over 30 years.
I think the sense of a band who is all 50-something coming up with something like this is a little bit profound. I think it breaks a lot of the cliches about rock 'n' roll. A lot of artists in other forms, whether they're novelists or movie makers or composers or painters, a lot of them maybe hit their stride at 50. It's only this rock 'n' roll cliche that you burn out by the time you're a relatively young age, and it is just that - a cliche. So all of that informs the way I feel about not just the release of the album, but this whole year. Hopefully, if things go the way we pray they will, next year we can do another album. It feels like a whole open-ended thing that's happening here.
Did you have to work to change the vocal arrangements now that Christine wasn't in the mix?
No, not really. Stevie and I realized that even though it's just the two of us now, we weren't particularly interested in trying to go back to a literal two-part harmony presentation. We didn't want to make a complete vocal left turn and not have it feel like Fleetwood Mac. We were sort of mindful of trying to find a middle ground, and I think we did pretty well. There are things where she and I are singing on our own, but there's still an orchestral element there. And that was a function of not wanting to be too bold in terms of redefining the sound, but it was also what the songs needed in her case, and what they already were in my case.
Listening to your songs on the record, one theme I picked up on was the idea of taking responsibility. Has your songwriting changed since you had children?
It has certainly affected the way I feel. I think I've calmed down quite a bit (laughs). I think that these are the best lyrics that I've ever written, without getting specific. There's a sense of safeness that now is part of my life, as part of a larger picture. Things that are more important than writing a song have made it easier to write better lyrics. And I think also that it's a skill that gets better the more you work on it, and I've tried to work on it. In terms of the theme you're talking about - taking responsibility - I think you're right. There is a kind of subconscious element that has kind of worked its way in, that makes it less about the neurosis of me and my needs, and more about an overview. It's still about me or us, though maybe a small group of us. More concern for trying to do the right thing, and not just a neurotic, selfish point of view, which was a lot of what Fleetwood Mac's dialogues to each other were always about (laughs).
I read an interview with Christine where she said how much she admired your abilities as a producer. She mentioned how you took Stevie's "Gold Dust Woman," which has a repetitive chord sequence, and made each section distinct. Since Stevie isn't really an instrumentalist, how do you approach an arrangement for one of her songs?
You are in some ways adding to the writing process on the set, so to speak. "Okay, this doesn't work, let's try this." It's very much like that. If I am able to do that for Stevie, it doesn't mean I'd be able to do that for everyone. Maybe that's part of what makes Fleetwood Mac what it is. We just happen to have a set of cross references where I have what she needs. I don't know how it would work if I were to try to do it with another group or artist. In many ways, you might say that was more of the profound gift that I had for Fleetwood Mac, more than as a guitarist or a writer or a singer. I was someone who could make all that stuff into a record.
Is there a certain thing about Stevie's songwriting that you like best?
I understand the primitive aspects that she has going. I understand what she's trying to get at. She may not even articulate it herself, but I see what it is. I can understand the potential. What I like about her songwriting is her sense of rhythm. It's superb. Obviously you have to like her lyrics and her voice, but she does a lot with a very little. Sometimes if you examine her melodies, they are not particularly elaborate. She can do repetitive phrases, but it's just how she does it and where she stops doing it, and how I seem to be able to move sections across that - change what's going on beneath it.
Can you think of an example?
"Gypsy" is a great example. If you were to just pull the melody out from that without any of what's going on beneath, it wouldn't hang together. Without having the instrumental parts (hums counter line in chorus) that allow the potential of what she's doing to come out, it wouldn't make it. So she needed that. Maybe that's my favorite example of it [Stevie's writing and Lindsey's production] coming together. If you sing "You see your gypsy, you see your gypsy, yeah," it doesn't really depart anywhere at the point it needs to. It just sounds like someone kind of jamming with their voice, but it allows the openness for me to do things of my own. It's a real collaboration, even though I'm not writing the song.
There's always a very personal element in Fleetwood Mac where listeners are tempted to interpret the lyrics as a dialogue between the members.
I think we always were doing that, and probably still are in quite a few of the songs (laughs). We are in a more peaceful place than we were in terms of a functional working band, not just a band who's doing a restatement of their body of work as in The Dance, but a band who's in the trenches doing something new and vital to what's going on with them now. We are much more at peace, but it's tenuous still. And then how that relates to the world-view of things enters into some of the songs. Who knows how much of that element was responsible for the phenomenon that was Rumours? At what point did the music itself, which was very good music, sort of give over to the musical soap opera element? If you want to look at it in a cynical way, that's part of the gimmick of the band and always has been. It's a hook. There's nothing wrong with that, because it's not a pretense. It's not something where we sat with a PR person and said, "Well, this would be a good thing to try (laughs)." Our real lives laid bare, not just in terms of the media, but in terms of the vinyl. There was a great appeal to that, not just in terms of the voyeurism of it. It was a very touching thing - the fact that we would go through all forms of denial to really allow ourselves to become quite dysfunctional as people. Not that the whole rock genre doesn't make you that way eventually anyway (laughs), living in the subculture of drugs and all that at the time, but I think with us it was bitter and it was sweet and it was tender and it was brutal all at once.
Lindsey Talks About His Songs
Never Going Back Again
A very naive song. Never going back again? Sure (laughs). I think the guitar work was inspired by something I heard by Ry Cooder. The lyric as I recall was very much a miniature perception of things. I had broken up with Stevie and maybe met someone. It could have been someone who really didn't mean a thing. Maybe someone who had kind of resisted getting to know me and then finally broke down and let me in. I don't remember who it was now. In the days after Stevie and I broke up, before we stared recording Rumours, there were a lot of women who would just come and go in a very short time. So in that sense, it was one of those people. The lyric seems not very deep. "Been down one time, been down two time, never going back again." There really is nothing particularly definitive about it. You think about how naive that was and very much in the context of not particularly being about something that was even more important. And maybe that's why it's sweet - it was just a frivolous little thing. Of course, it seems to take on more sweetness and a deeper feeling when it's placed on the album with all the other songs (laughs).
Stevie Nicks lives in a beautiful Spanish-style house, high on a hill in Santa Monica, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and it was there where we met. The decor is a mix of the fanciful and practical - antique velour chairs and paintings of dragons and gypsies share space with a Precor treadmill and exercycle. Stevie looks terrific, her long wavy hair spilling over a black shawl. She carries her 50-something years with grace and confidence and is still quite alluring. During our interview, she is very open, sharing everything from her private journals to her thoughts on why she has remained single.
In Fleetwood Mac, there's always an added layer of intrigue with your songs and Lindsey's in that listeners wonder if you're singing about each other. Are you still dealing with unfinished emotional business?
Of course. It's not a lot of fun, but it certainly does lend itself to great writing. If everybody's happy and everything's going along, then you have nothing to write about. So Lindsey and I write about the chaos of our relationship, which is ongoing. We're both really selfish, and it's like, "No, I want it to be this way!" It's like you have two serious bulls in a pen, and we argue all the time. There's continual trauma. But does it make for incredible works of music? Yeah, it does.
At the same time, you have to put a lot of trust in Lindsey because he's the producer and arranger on your songs.
Well, he doesn't do a whole lot of things with arranging, because my demos are pretty much there. That doesn't mean that they're not 100 percent more terrific after Lindsey works on them. I'm very territorial about the way my songs are arranged. What he does is take the skeleton and then he goes in for hours that we never see him and he plays parts and parts and more parts. He arranges right underneath my little skeleton. It's like I laughingly said to him when we first started this new record, because his songs were pretty much done, I said, "Your songs are like beautiful, hand-crafted Russian boxes with enamel and cloisonne and sound like you've worked on them for seven years, and my little songs are like pine boxes (laughs)." I said, "You've got your work cut out for you, because you have to somehow make my songs compare a little bit to yours." He said, "Don't worry."
How has it been without Christine in the band?
Taking away the piano made the whole music tend to focus more on a guitar-oriented thing, which is great. not that we didn't miss having somebody to play the piano, because we did. But in fact, it forced us to go much more towards a power trio sound. Lindsey and John and Mick, they became like Cream (laughs).
Stevie Talks About Her Songs
It was written in 1973 at a point where Lindsey and I had driven to Aspen for him to rehearse for two weeks with Don Everly. Lindsey was going to take Phil's place. So they rehearsed and left, and I made a choice to stay in Aspen. I figured I'd stay there and one of my girlfriends was there. We stayed there for almost three months while Lindsey was on the road, and this is right after the Buckingham Nicks record had been dropped. And it was horrifying to Lindsey and I because we had a taste of the big time, we recorded in a big studio, we met famous people, we made what we consider to be a brilliant record and nobody liked it (laughs). I had been a waitress and a cleaning lady, and I didn't mind any of this. I was perfectly delighted to work and support us so that Lindsey could produce and work and fix our songs and make our music. But I had gotten to a point where it was like, "I'm not happy. I am tired. But I don't know if we can do any better than this. If nobody likes this, then what are we going to do?" So during that two months I made a decision to continue. "Landslide" was the decision. [Sings] "When you see my reflection in the snow-covered hills" - it's the only time in my life that I've lived in the snow. But looking up at those Rocky Mountains and going, "Okay, we can do it. I'm sure we can do it." In one of my journal entries, it says, "I took Lindsey and said, 'We're going to the top!'" And that's what we did. Within a year, Mick Fleetwood called us, and we were in Fleetwood Mac making $800 a week apiece (laughs). Washing $100 bills through the laundry. It was hysterical. It was like we were rich overnight.
Additional comments from Stevie posted on www.performingsongwriter.com:
Tell me about your musical influences.
If I go back to when I was little, my grandad was a country-western singer, so he brought a lot of music to my house. Everly Brothers, a lot of rockabilly stuff, a lot of country rock stuff. Not super country stuff, but crossover stuff, that even then in the ‘50s was a little bit country but very rock‘n’roll too. That’s when I started singing harmony, when I started singing along with the Everly Brothers. Which is so wild that Lindsey ended up working with them. They were a huge influence on Lindsey also. A million miles away from each other, we were inspired by the same thing. As I got older, strangely enough, the music that I listened to was R & B. I listened to “Be My Baby” and all those Phil Spector kinds of things, Motown, The Supremes. That’s where I really learned to sing. Then I get into high school, I’m a sophomore in high school and along come The Beatles. I’m very influenced by how good their early songs were. By my senior year, I was standing in front of the mirror with a brush, singing “Take Another Little Piece Of My Heart,” frizzing up my hair and wearing the little tunic and the really tight bellbottoms and the high clogs. Then I was going to college and walking through San Jose State like I was already a star. I was Janis Joplin. I was a couple of years younger than her, but I was her too. We lived in San Francisco, so we were very much in that whole scene. We were in a band that played every weekend. We practiced every day for five hours. Nobody else went to school but me. I had to also do college, or my parents wouldn’t send me that thousand dollars a month. So then it was Led Zeppelin, and all the San Francisco bands, and Tower Of Power and Janis and Grace Slick and Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills & Nash and Country Joe & The Fish, Grateful Dead - that whole scene, we were in it. They were famous, we weren’t. But we were opening up for them every weekend. Jimi Hendrix. He was a huge influence on me. Just the way he sang and played and was so soulful but yet was so rock n’ roll. He was such a dichotomy, being a black man and a black musician and being so rock n’ roll. We were so in awe of him. We wanted to be in his band. I can remember walking down the streets hearing Led Zeppelin coming out of every single apartment. And Lindsey’s and my band, we were very hard rock with very intricately worked out parts. Each one of our songs was ten minutes long. A lot of jamming on stage. That’s where I learned to play tambourine and percussion. That’s where I learned to be a rock star. Right there in that band in that three and a half years. that’s where I learned what to do on stage and I watched Janis one time - we opened for her - and that’s the only time I ever saw her. We opened for Jimi Hendrix. I got to stand on the side of the stage and watch him for two hours and then he died. But I got the essence before they left. So that was the most amazing thing. That’s when I really decided that I wanted to be a rock singer and not a country singer, and that I really wanted to concentrate on songwriting. I was not going to be a stupid girl singer. I was going to be way more than that. Lindsey will laugh, but I was not going to carry equipment and not going to have my salary docked because I didn’t. You will pay me as much as you guys get or I quit. So that’s when I gained my strength and my confidence. And that confidence never went away. It became part of me and I have it still today, and I’m very grateful for that.
Say You Will
Everybody’s experienced it - when you like somebody, it makes you a different person. It changes you and it changes you in a minute. But that song is not just about Lindsey. It’s about a movie I saw about Arturo Sandoval, the trumpet player. I loved this movie, and I just loved the way that through all the pain and separation, they managed to do music and stay happy and keep love alive, and dancing and rhythm and music, how healing it was. That was really my inspiration for that song. The chorus was written first, then I went back to write the verses. It was initially inspired by that movie. But then once you get part of the poem down, you can’t always write all of it about what inspired it initially. You have to go back. You have this great chorus that basically says, “If you dance with me, you won’t be mad at me anymore. We can be in a huge argument, but if we put on some music and start to dance, everything will be great.” Then I had to think about what to make the verses about. So I went back over all my relationships with people and think of different ways that I have felt when I wanted basically to burst into song and sing that chorus (laughs). Give me one more chance. That’s what came out of it. It’s funny because, we just did an interview the day before yesterday, and I don’t think any of the band knows that that was the reason I wrote the song.