Follow Up Albums: Tusk (24th May 2012)
Subject: Fleetwood Mac
When did it air? 24th May, 2012
[VO] Now with the second part of the series ‘Follow-Up Albums’, the music journalist Pete Paphides investigates the story behind three albums that followed their very successful predecessors. This week we’re hearing about ‘Tusk’, the double record that Fleetwood Mac made after Rumours, an album that has sold over 40 million copies worldwide.
Lindsey Buckingham: ‘Rumours’ is a wonderful album and a heartfelt album. We were wearing on our sleeve everything that was happening to us within the band emotionally.
Ken Caillat: My accountant called me and said I was making $15,000 a day in royalties and I had just a small royalty on the album.
LB: The kind of success we had on a commercial level with ‘Rumours’ was so off the charts. Certainly there was a lot of pressure to go back and make something like ‘Rumours II’ but it isn’t necessarily a good model for an artist.
Pete Paphides: For Fleetwood Mac, the mid-seventies should have been a harmonious period. After a torrid few years, which had seen the sometime British blues rockers lose members of their band to drug induced psychoses and strange religious sects, the group de-camped to sunny L.A. It was here in 1977 that they struck gold with the release of their eleventh album. ‘Rumours’ was a record tailor-made for the era of FM radio. Break-ups, infidelities and the resulting recriminations seemed to inform every lyrical twist of ‘Rumours’. Whatever their differences, surely it was a no-brainer that Fleetwood Mac’s next album would be, well, quite a bit like the one that had spent 31 weeks at the top of the American charts. Stevie Nicks.
Stevie Nicks: Lindsey was on such a mission to make it nothing like ‘Rumours’.
PP: Would that be so bad? I mean, everyone loved ‘Rumours’.
SN: It really wasn’t so bad to the rest of us.
PP: Californian singer, guitarist and songwriter, Lindsey Buckingham.
LB: I was following my heart and I was probably flaunting the expectations of not only the record company but, you know, to some degree, the fans perhaps, and even members of the band in a small way.
PP: Here’s Mick Fleetwood talking on BBC TV documentary ‘Don’t Stop’ in 2009.
Mick Fleetwood: He probably would’ve left Fleetwood Mac. He came up to my house. We spent a couple of days just talking about what he wanted to do. It was all about Lindsey’s thing of ‘We gotta go forward’.
PP: Now in the spring of 1978, Fleetwood Mac entered Los Angeles Village Recorder Studios to start work on ‘Tusk’.
SN: I think that the mood in the camp at the beginning is kind of how you always feel when you’re starting a record. It is fun. I mean, it’s the best job in the world. We had made a lot of money from ‘Rumours’ and Fleetwood Mac ‘Fleetwood Mac’ so everybody was, you know, definitely not in that ‘let’s save some money’ kind of place. We had the studio completely decorated as, you know - We had shrunken heads hanging from the ceiling; we had two big glorious ivory tusks on either side of the big, huge board. By the end of the first week we had brought in so much stuff: pillows and blankets and portraits and frames. And so when you walked into it, I used to say “This is like we’re going up to the sacred burial ground at the top of a mountain in Africa or Tibet.” It became like this kind of sacred tribal room.
PP: Fleetwood Mac producer and author of the book ‘Making Rumours’, Ken Caillat.
KC: We had this restaurant up the street that had delicious food and every day they would bring in full lobster dinners and champagne and we had a fine life. We had whatever we needed to get the music done.
PP: What was your state of mind as you went in to start recording?
LB: Stevie and I broke up during ‘Rumours’. John and Christine McVie broke up. For myself, being someone who was in the trenches producing, I had to monitor my own choices and to make sure that I was doing the right thing for Stevie, for everyone. Because we obviously had this calling and we had to make sure that was going on in our personal lives wasn’t going to undermine that.
SN: Girlfriends, boyfriends, wives, husbands, and even children, dogs, relatives, moms, dads, everybody becomes second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth priority.
LB: A lot of the tracks of mine for ‘Tusk’ began at home. I had a 24 track machine in a small room at my house, and I was doing my own engineering and finding my own found sounds.
PP: Producer Ken Caillat.
KC: I would work on a sound and make his guitar sound perfect to do the recording and then he said, “Okay, you’ve got the sound; you like it?” I’d say, “Yep.” He said, “Okay, good, turn every knob you got 180 degrees the other way.” And of course I did and it sounded horrible and he said, “Now let’s record.” And I said, “Well, wha-?”
LB: No, I can’t say that I do remember that but it sounds like something I might have asked him to do with certainly some wisdom or intent behind it, although I cannot give you what that intent was.
KC: I [?] it to the [?] as a dark album kind of thing and we agreed and he said “Yep, sounds good.” So I’m kinda surprised but, you know, Lindsey’s always been kind of a nervous guy, you know. He walks into the room and kind of the fun goes away. He’s an unusual chap. He’s very talented and I think, you know, there’s a fine line between genius and insanity.
PP: When I spoke to Ken -
LL: Mm hmm.
PP: Now I need to qualify this a bit because -
LB: No, it’s okay
PP: “He walks in the room and the fun goes away.” Now I think what he meant by that was that, because you’re so caught up in what you’re doing creatively, there’s that intensity sort of permeated the room at that time.
LB: Yeah. Well, you know, maybe my fun is not their fun at that point, but, uh, you know… But yeah, I understand. I’m serious about the work, absolutely, and maybe to a fault; I certainly would not disagree with that.
PP: Stevie Nicks.
SN: He was very crazy at that time. He stopped being the tall, cool drink of water guy that was beautiful, that played guitar on the side of the stage and sang like an angel. He started to become this like radical guy. Cut all his hair off and, you know, and he was not the Lindsey that we knew. Cutting his hair was like, you know, like if my little boy had cut his hair off. I was horrified.
PP: Why did he do it?
SN: Just flipped out the night before, I think. You know, he was so handsome. His face was so chiseled. Like when he cut all the hair off it was very odd.
LB: There was a, uh, context, a set of symbols that went along with a beard and long hair, you know. And when I started to grow my hair out, when I first got to college, there was a reason for doing that because you were kind of rejecting a certain set of stereotypes.
PP: It was almost method style way of going about this, wasn’t it?
LB: Yes, and I think all of that was very freeing for me, and I just think there was some sort of impulse to reboot the visual as well. It just all seemed to hang together to me.
PP: Fair enough. Quite famously, you had your head turned by punk at the time.
LB: It’s true, yeah. When a lot of that new music started to come over from England, in a sense it sort of validated certain things that I was feeling about myself anyway.
PP: Did you really bring a copy of the first Clash album into the studio?
LB: I believe I did. I mean, what a great band. Oh my lord. Yes.
PP: Let’s see if I can imagine what Mick or Christine or even Ken would have thought; in sunny LA as you come in with this image of pent up metropolitan British fury.
LB: Again, that’s part of what made Fleetwood Mac and continues to make Fleetwood Mac what it is, is that we’re not necessarily a group of people that share the same sets of sensibilities or even belong in the same band together. But we do because it’s the synergy of those differences that makes us what we are.
PP: Emblematic of Lindsey’s new found sonic brutalism was ‘The Ledge’.[plays part of ‘The Ledge’]
KC: There was brilliant production and brilliant parts but the sounds were horrible and he started on insisting on playing a lot of the drums himself, playing the parts, because he wanted to have this easy drum feel rather than Mick’s elegance. And he started playing bass parts instead of letting John play the bass parts.
PP: You’re in a band, a band that obviously Mick and John started, and you’re telling them “Actually, guys, I don’t want you to play the drums on this, and John, could you maybe sit out the bass on this, cos I think I’m going to do all this myself.” That takes some guts.
LB: *laughs* It just did not seem necessary and I don’t think Mick was necessarily that invested in having to be that territorial in that context.
SN: It was just tedious in a lot of ways, because there was a lot, a lot, a lot of overdubbing and a lot - The songs were long. Drums, you know, recording drums for days and days. And, you know, if you’re me and you don’t play anything, it’s like not being in the driver’s seat; you’re in the passenger seat and you’re bored because it’s an eight hour drive. But the driver isn’t bored.
PP: If the atmosphere had been strained during the making of ‘Rumours’, it became almost impossible during the making of ‘Tusk’. Stevie Nicks was now seeing Don Henley from The Eagles but there were also other admirers closer to home.
SN: At the beginning of ‘Tusk’ I had been seeing Mick Fleetwood. It was kind of going well, nobody knew, and then everybody did know all of a sudden and Mick told Lindsey and then a couple of weeks later Mick fell in love with Sara, who he eventually married and was with for like eighteen years.
PP: Mick Fleetwood.
MF: The awkwardness, no doubt, the dastardly deed, was that Sara was and still is a great friend of Stevie’s. And it’s the classic, you know, inter-galactic mess.
SN: Sara was banished. By the band, not by me even. So Mick’s, you know, living with Sara and he’s coming in every day and he’s very stressed out and I’m not speaking to him. I’m not even looking him in the face. Because even Lindsey, who was horrified that I was having a relationship with Mick, was even more horrified that he had fallen in love with my friend, Sara, and broken my heart.
PP: Well, you immediately found a creative outlet, didn’t you? I mean, there was the song ‘Sara’, which in its original form was sixteen minutes long.
SN: It was. And by that time, though, that was say six months in, I had forgiven Sara. Because I had realized that really she had done me a favor. She was there on the road. She was making coffee and running the tape recorder and, you know, I tend to be one of those people that is forgiving.
PP: Your songs on it were so radical and have been so influential in the ensuing years. One critic commented on ‘What Makes You Think You’re The One’ - and I have to replace a word here because it is the BBC - who called it “the greatest break-up screw you song ever written”.
LB: *laughs* Really, I think I was still working through my last little bits of issues with Stevie not that many years ago, you know. I was the one who had been left.
SN: I said, “I’m going out with one of the engineers”, which also did not make Lindsey happy. I think that Lindsey used every single thing that was happening as a part of this tribal walk up to the top of the sacred mountain.
PP: Having been in the band since 1970, Christine McVie brought an elegant English reserve to bear upon the presence.
SN: Christine was the boss, and if Christine didn’t like something that Lindsey or any of us was doing she would just say, “You know, knock it off.” And she was the only one, really, that anyone really listened to.
PP: Fleetwood Mac had a long tradition of fossilising private turmoil into creative fuel. Back in the days when guitar virtuoso Peter Green fronted them, this is how many of their best songs were written.
PP: Let me ask you about the song ‘Brown Eyes’. There’s, one of the great mythical little stories around ‘Tusk’ is, of course, that Peter Green turned up and played on that song.
LB: Well, you know, we did meet Peter Green during the making of that album. I think I met him maybe for the first time then and he’d been struggling, you know, with his own demons. I know he was around a little bit and certainly he could’ve picked up a guitar. He may have played on it. I’m not sure whether it ended up in the mix or not.
PP: The logistics of getting Fleetwood Mac to turn up to the studio at the same time had always been a challenge. Ten million sales of ‘Rumours’ and the lifestyle that came with it did not do wonders for their timekeeping. Lindsey Buckingham.
LB: I was not really a nocturnal animal. Mick was very much a nocturnal animal and Stevie still is, really.
KC: We would tend to go later and later. Next thing we’d find we went to five in the morning and that meant we wouldn’t start ’til five in the afternoon, and then we went to seven in the morning and the next night, the next thing you know, we were coming in at midnight.
LB: It’s a kind of a comedic dynamic that began to emerge between, at least, me and Mick. You know, I’d say, “I’m going home” and I’d start to walk out to the parking lot and Mick would physically come out and drag me back in. And I’d say, “Well, I’m going to the bathroom” and then I’d just walk out of the studio and get in my car and drive home. That was the only way I could get out of there.
KC: We had some duplicate tapes so whoever wanted to stay ’til four in the morning and do whatever, we knew it would be erased later but I couldn’t take the chance that they would lose some master idea we had so it was unbelievable. ‘Rumours’ was not much of a party, in my opinion; there wasn’t a lot of drugs and drinking. I think the second album with Lindsey’s antagonizing position, I think it made it more tedious and so people started to drink a little more and then, if they had too much to drink, they would counteract it with some stimulant.
SN: You know, you smoke a joint then you’re too stoned, and then you have a hit of cocaine and then you’re too nervous, and then you have a shot of vodka and then you feel like you’re a little drunk, and then you start over; it’s an evil circle. And it wasn’t just us; it was all of Los Angeles.
PP: There seemed to be a legendary amount of drug taking going on at this point. Was it necessary to the creative process?
SN: I look back on it now because I don’t do drugs anymore; I’m totally sober and I’m having such a great time. So was it really necessary? And it did not make us nice people. It did not make us have the relationships that we might have had. It stole a lot from us. And that’s addiction, you know. We were all very, very addicted.
PP: Where did you fall in the spectrum, or were you fairly abstemious?
LB: I enjoyed my drink a little bit. I never was a big user of things that would keep me awake.
PP: Was there a certain amount of paranoia?
SN: There was. Of course there was. “What do you mean you don’t like this song?”, you know. “You don’t like this song!?” So now I’ll go do more drugs; it’ll make me feel better about the fact that you don’t like this song.
KC: At some point, I think, Lindsey started thinking, “You know, maybe I’ve gone too far”, cos he did that one song, ‘Save Me A Place’, which is beautiful. He started to pull the nose up on the plane.
PP: I’ve got to ask you about the actual track, ‘Tusk’.
SN: Nobody ever really told me what it was about, so I don’t even really, to this day, know exactly what it was about.
KC: I call that one ‘Boys Gone Wild’. I remember Mick and Lindsey were talking about tusks in a sexual nature, you know, these long horns sticking out and how they thought that was kinda funny, and I thought that’s kinda immature.
SN: We had the tusks in the studio and they were, you know, big 12ft tall tusks, one on each side of the board. So when we would come into the studio it would be like “How is tusk doing?” because sometimes the board would go down, and when it did, it would go, “Tusks down, you guys might as well go out and order lunch or something cos tusk’s not working right now.” So it was like that became a big deal.
PP: Mick Fleetwood.
MF: The track, ‘Tusk’, came out of a riff that Lindsey always used to play at soundcheck, and I came back and I said, “Well, what about putting a hundred piece bras band playing the riff?”
SN: And we’re all like, “Okay.”
PP: All that stood between the idea and the execution was a simple phone call to the University of Southern California Trojan Marching Band. And when the time came to find a location for the song’s video shoot, there was only one practical option - off to Dodger Stadium, home of Los Angeles Dodgers and their in-house marching band.
LB: The audacity of it, the scale of it.
SN: It was outrageous. And I honestly think that that might be the very best thing that came out of that whole record because it was so crazy and the song was so insane and what we did with it with that video was so magical, that nobody, I don’t think any band has ever re-created something quite that cinematic.
PP: In the summer of 1979, a year after work began, Fleetwood Mac’s feverishly awaited successor to ‘Rumours’ was complete. If Warner Brother Records were expecting ‘Rumours II’ it was time to set them straight. Lindsey Buckingham.
LB: I must say, I would’ve loved to have been a fly on the wall when they had their Thursday afternoon board meeting at Warner Brothers and put ‘Tusk’ on for the first time and listened to it, because I’m sure there was a kind of a profound silence in the room when they got done. *laughs*
SN: They were like, “No. No. You cannot follow up ‘Rumours’ with a double record that’s about some crazy tribal trip to nirvana. You can’t do it.” And Lindsey was like, “Well, we’re doing it.”
PP: I don’t know if you’re aware of this but, you know, it earned the nickname ‘Lindsey’s Folly’.
PP: And anyway, there’s this huge build-up and the mayor of LA declares of its release ‘Fleetwood Mac Day’.
LB: *laughs* Yes.
PP: How’s that feel?
LB: Well, that’s nice. You know, I mean, those were very exciting times and when you experience a certain level of success, you’re so insulated from it on some levels, I don’t think you really can take it in or appreciate what it means.
PP: The press were quick to leap on what they saw as Fleetwood Mac’s four-sided act of hubris. In the opening line of its review, influential Detroit music monthly ‘Creem’ set out its stall: “White elephant is more like it”, they said.
SN: None of us were reading reviews, none of us were reading where it was charting, nor did we with ‘Rumours’. We probably followed it more in the first record because we were like, you know, starving.
LB: When it was clear that instead of selling, whatever, sixteen million albums, it was only going to going to sell four or whatever it sold, there was a kind of a rethink from the rest of the band and a kind of a backlash on that, and at that point, uh, Mick and I guess everyone in the band kind of came to me and said, “Well, you know what, we’re not going to do that again.”
KC: It’s got all the pieces, melodic pieces, that ‘Rumours’ had; they just don’t sound as good, in my opinion. On ‘Rumours’ I was going for bright, happy, in your face. I think that if you remix that, we could remix it a lot brighter and it would be a lot more perky. Possibly.
PP: Tusk was the first album in pop history to sell four million copies and still be deemed a failure. It would take a whole new generation of fans to embrace its enigmatic genius. One of those fans was David Lowry. In 2002 his band, Campervan Beethoven, elected to cover ‘Tusk’ in its entirety.
David Lowry: It was kind of out of sync with what our peers thought was cool, right? It was sort of like this punk, sort of new wave attitude with these acoustic instruments on it, right? So it sort of, from a production viewpoint, we identified with it. It is sort of like there’s three distinct solo albums mixed together, and I think, at the time, that was shocking to people that were used to listening to ‘Rumours’ but, in retrospect, the cracks and the fissures between the sort of the different styles have sort of healed or something. I don’t know. You hear it more as a cohesive whole.
PP: There’s a band called Campervan Beethoven - I don’t know if you’ve heard of them - but they covered ‘Tusk’ in its entirety. Did you hear the record?
LB: Yes, I heard that. That was quite amazing. *laughs*
PP: What did you think of it?
LB: I thought it was great. I mean, they took some of the songs to other directions and I, I mean, just the act of doing that in itself was such a huge compliment.
PP: When you first heard the record he said he was blown away by how simultaneously great and horrible it was in terms of production.
LB: *laughs* Well that’s probably not inaccurate, you know, because what it’s trying to get to, in some ways, almost rejects the idea of production.
PP: ‘Tusk’ may not have scratched the same itch as ‘Rumours’ but in 2012 therein lies its appeal. You can echoes of ‘Tusk’ in albums by some of the most inventive of the post-punk era, artists such as REM, The Strokes, and Radiohead. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about ‘Tusk’, however, was that it survived the collective nervous systems of the people who made it. Producer Ken Caillat.
KC: Some of the people that were in the studio with me, I run into them now, thirty five years later, and they say they still are like haunted by this, that sometimes they have dreams at night that they’re still in these strange situations with the band - somebody storming out of the room - it was constantly babysitting.
SN: I think that we were actually very grown-up and very sophisticated in our ability to walk into that room and not bring everything in with us. In Fleetwood Mac, up to this day, what was the most important thing was the band.
LB: I know Mick feels ‘Tusk’ is maybe the best album we did. Again, it’s just a, expressing a broader range and feeling that you have the right and the ability to do that at that point.
PP: Is there a chance that you would record with Stevie again?
LB: I would love to record with Stevie again. It would be such a circular thing to come back to where you started, and I think it would be magical, you know, because that subplot is so built in to the history of Fleetwood Mac. So if you talk to her, put in a good word for me! *laughs* You already talked to her, I guess. *laughs*
PP: I did. And she seemed to make all the right noises so, um -
LB: Well, good. Yeah, well, I have written a bunch of songs and I do want her to hear them, and I hope that we do.