Performing Songwriter, Volume 10, Issue 69 (05/2003), Fleetwood Mac
Performing Songwriter, Volume 10, Issue 69, May 2003
War and Peace and Fleetwood Mac
by Bill DeMain
Stevie Nicks calls it "the chaos." For Lindsey Buckingham, it's "the soap opera." Over the last 30 years, it has taken many forms, from shouting matches and onstage feuding at the worst to silent standoffs and uneasy truces during more peaceful times. It drove Buckingham to quit the group in 1987 and Nicks to depart in 1991. It's a landslide of jealousy, resentment, willfulness and personal problems, tempered by a big love, deep and enduring. It's at the core of what makes Fleetwood Mac such a compelling band, and it gives depth and emotional weight to their most enduring songs.
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."
A little history: When Stevie and Lindsey joined in 1974, Fleetwood Mac was a rickety blues-rock band. Though drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie were one of the tightest rhythm sections around, they'd been plagued by years of personnel changes and were struggling to find a new direction. Fleetwood heard something special in the Buckingham Nicks record that his new recruits had made (in his autobiography, Mick says, "Nobody ever auditioned for Fleetwood Mac...people were meant to be in this group."). Keyboardist/singer Christine McVie felt a similar sense of harmonic convergence upon meeting Stevie and Lindsey. In 1990, she recalled, "The first time I started playing 'Say You Love Me' and I reached the chorus, they started singing with me and fell right into it. I heard this incredible sound - our three voices...and my skin turned to gooseflesh."
By 1977's landmark Rumours, that incredible sound - a swirl of pop, blues and folk filtered through Southern California cool - made the Mac the biggest band on the planet. Buckingham, Nicks and McVie were each writing hits - "Go Your Own Way," "Dreams," "Don't Stop." The future looked bright. But there was always that volatile core threatening to implode and take the whole beautiful dream down with it.
The turning point in many ways came with Tusk. It was a bold step forward, experimental and defiant in its production and style. Though it sold over four million copies, it was perceived as a failure in the wake of Rumours. As Buckingham says, "I had been through quite a battle just to get that album made in a post-Rumours environment. It was exciting for me, a feeling like I had gotten to something that was more challenging and that was going to confound expectations. But the politics after Tusk dictated that we weren't going to do that as a group anymore. So we kind of backtracked into some sort of vague no man's land a little bit."
The classic Mac lineup released two more albums, Mirage and Tango in the Night, before things fell apart. By then, Nicks had a strong solo career going and Buckingham was close behind. Mick Fleetwood and the McVies soldiered on into the early '90s with new members. Then in 1996, the classic lineup patched up their differences for a tour and a live album, The Dance. A handful of new songs pointed the way to what is, almost seven years later, surely one of the unexpected events of spring 2003 - a new studio album from Fleetwood Mac.
When groups of a certain vintage release new music, there's always worry and trepidation. As a rule, it rarely measures up to their best work. That's what makes Say You Will such a triumph. Though Christine McVie has retired from the band, the record boasts all the Mac signatures - Gibraltar-like grooves from Fleetwood and McVie, inspired guitar wizardry from Buckingham, inventive production flourishes, sweet vocal harmonies and, of course, songwriting that draws from the ever present tripwire emotions between Stevie and Lindsey - the chaos and the soap opera. Led by tracks such as "Peacekeeper," "Say You Will," "Thrown Down," "Silver Girl" and "Say Goodbye," this is a Fleetwood Mac that sounds as passionate and vital as they did in 1977. They're keeping their promise to - as they sang back then - "never break the chain."
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).
What are the most mysterious parts of the songwriting process to you?
It's an interesting thing. In many ways, I still don't think of myself as a songwriter. I know I've written a lot of songs. I tend to think of myself as a stylist. I think that the way a lot of people do it is they come up with a tangible thing that you can call a lyric and a melody. Then they take it into a situation where it might evolve as a record. I might go in with fragments or ideas that are not well-fleshed out, or they're as well-fleshed out as I'm able to make them. And then I start to work the painting.
What do you mean by that?
I make that analogy because I can sit with a tape machine and use that as a canvas. You commit to a certain melody, then you commit to a certain guitar part, and one affects the other and maybe the melody begins to change. It's kind of an abstract expressionist way of doing it. At some point that starts to lead you, as a painting would. Then when you get to a certain point, suddenly you're on automatic. It's hard for me to divorce the process of the songwriting, because I'm not Burt Bacharach, unfortunately, who can sit down and have a complete overview and understanding of so many things that he's been taught, so many European principles and all that. I have to find a different way to do it. So the actual record-making side of it affects to a great degree the writing and vice versa. And I suppose that is the mystery right there, is that it comes in little fits and starts, and it's maybe like making sculpture. You have to really pat it around quite a bit and change it and lop off the nose and start over again, and there's a kind of abstractness about it.
I've always admired your guitar playing, especially your right hand, which is so fluid and precise. Can you talk a little about your technique?
I never really used a pick very much. When I was seven I was listening to Scotty Moore, who had a fingerstyle in which he used a pick along with his fingers. When rock sort of took a dive for a while there, I started listening to folk music and bluegrass. I never really got any serious chops on banjo, but it helped my speed. But the Travis picking is the basic template for everything I do. It's just something that evolved. I think a real breakthrough for me in terms of translating this thing that you're talking about to the studio and record-making beyond the level of, say, "Never Going Back Again" was when I started playing "Big Love" live. That was before The Dance, when I did a tour after Out of the Cradle. I started doing "Big Love" very fast, in a Leo Kottke-meets-classical on acid (laughs), whatever you want to call it. It got such a strong response, and it got me back to reminding myself that whatever I can do as a producer, this is the center of what I do, and it's not something to be taken lightly. This is somewhere I want to go now, to take that element, the energy of that, and the singularity of that, and build on it in a much more sublime way.
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.
And now it's going to be a Broadway musical.
(Laughter) I've heard that. We haven't given anybody our blessing yet, but I wouldn't doubt it at all. If not this year, then next year. We'll see.
Rick Turner Guitars
Gibson Chet Atkins model
SWR Acoustic "California Blonde" amps
Trace Acoustic amps
Roland GR-50 Guitar Synth
Boss Digital Sampler
Boss Super Overdrive
Ernie Ball strings
Lindsey's Essential Listening
The Beach Boys - Today
John Lennon - Plastic Ono Band I think it had a lot to do with me thinking it was okay to be that rude in my own songs (laughs).
Any collection of Elvis Presley stuff. I wouldn't be here at all without Elvis Presley and without my older brother who bought the record of "Heartbreak Hotel." Before that it was Patti Page (laughs).
Any number of Beatles albums, maybe Revolver or Rubber Soul.
Laurie Anderson - Big Science
Lindsey Talks About His Songs
Go Your Own Way
That came very quickly. I remember sitting down and putting that together when we were taking a break in Florida. We rented a house to start rehearsing before Rumours, and it was an immediate song. It was a very present thing in terms of the response it got from the band. The drumbeat that Mick did in the verse was actually his version of trying to do something that I asked him to do that he couldn't do. What he did was better. I'd been listening to "Street Fighting Man," and Charlie Watts does this kind of offbeat rhythm. Mick, either he didn't want to do that or he couldn't get it, so he came up with his own version.
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).
I wrote the song about two and a half years ago. It was, in a very ironic way, looking at the kind of thinking that is matter-of-fact and desensitized towards certain actions that go on in the world, and the kind of blankness and conformity that goes along with that. And then trying to look at what does that do for a married couple trying to work out their problems. How does it affect them? What is peace, really? The whole idea that there can be any static condition is obviously an illusion. So can there ever really be peace? There can be moments of peace or long periods of peace, possibly, whether it's in the world or in a relationship. But it seems to me what peace really means is valuing the ideal of that and just being mindful of it - working towards the maintenance of it, even though you understand it will not always exist. But the irony of being matter-of-fact about not thinking that way is really what the song is doing.
It was inspired by watching TV and seeing what it's become, how horrendous it's become as a tool to do exactly what Edward R. Murrow warned against when he gave his famous speech. He said if TV is allowed to distract and delude people, then there will be a large, large price to pay down the line. And we're seeing that coming true on so many levels. Especially in the world today, where all the media is basically owned and controlled and edited to a certain point of view, in the name of objective news, by all the same people who are tied in with another company. A good example would be GE owning NBC. Murrow would be turning over in his grave if he were to see all of this. Not just the propaganda that passes for news, but the trivialization of so many things, and the intent to distract and delude that he was talking about.
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).
"Thrown Down," "Say You Will," "Running Through the Garden" - I think these new songs are some of the best you've ever written.
Thank you. I agree with you. How conceited am I to say that (laughs)? But they say you are supposed to get better as you get older, and they say if you keep practicing your craft you have to get better. So I'm not one of those people who is ever going to accept the fact that I can't write a song that will appeal to somebody who's 20 because I'm in my early 50s. And I'm never going to accept that when I'm like 70, I can't still write something that is current. To me, we just have to get better. That's how we all looked at this record. This wasn't going to be just a dumb, stupid album. It's not going to be because we just felt like doing a record. This is because we needed to do this, and this musical entity needed to come through all of us, and we are serious as a heart attack about this.
I've read that you're very dedicated to keeping journals. How does journal writing relate to songwriting for you?
Sometimes I pull my lyrics right straight out of my journals. I'll show you. [She goes in the next room to get journals.] See, I wrote prose on the right hand side, then on the left, I'll write poetry and lyrics. This is from the anniversary of 9/11: (reads) The murder of innocence cannot be explained, only endured. And I who went to sleep in tears woke up in tears. And I who never said goodbye, said goodbye again. I did go to sleep in tears last night, and I woke up in tears about an hour ago. I laid in my bed and that moment before you really wake up, the tears just started streaming down my face. Fleetwood Mac is mixing our first song from the record today. We start at 3:30. Today, half of me wants to call in sick, the other half of me knows that the people who died one year ago would want me to finish this music in their honor and not give into this feeling that makes me want to put the TV on the Design Channel and hide away. This is "Illume," the song, that's right where it came from. In another two years, I will go back through what I'm writing today and I will pull out stuff, and they will become poems on this side of the book. I'll go through and make the prose into poetry, and that's how I get my songs. I very seldom write just straight poetry or lyrics. It will usually come from me writing about what's going on in my life.
Do the songs you write for Fleetwood Mac feel different than what you do for a solo album?
My solo career is very precious to me, but it's nothing like Fleetwood Mac. For each of the members of the band and everyone surrounding us, it's so much more heavy. When I'm working by myself, it is by myself. I'm very inward and very much a loner and I live here by myself, but Fleetwood Mac just overwhelms everything, takes everything. Everything you do is completely built around Fleetwood Mac. So I don't know what else to say about that. It makes my whole face turn red. I get a fever.
In the liner notes on Trouble in Shangri-La, you thank Tom Petty for an inspirational lecture he gave you. Can you share what he said?
That was in Phoenix in about 1996. I had been in and out of rehab for the Klonopin that I'd been taking for eight years. I went back to Phoenix and I was really down. It was like, 'I obviously didn't create anything worth talking about in the last eight years, so am I going to be able to create now?' And Tom was playing in town, and I went down to dinner with him the night before, and I asked him if he would help me write a song. And he just flat out, in the Tom Petty swamp dog way, said, "I'm not going to help you write a song, because you are, in my opinion, Stevie, one of the premier songwriters of our time. I don't need to help you write a song. You just need to go back to your house and sit in front of your piano and start writing." And something about the conversation really hit me. I walked out of the Ritz-Carlton with a new lease on life. If Tom Petty thinks I can do it, then I guess I can. I went home and I started writing, that night. Sometimes a really good friend is the only one who can say to you, "I know you may not want to hear this, but I need to tell you..." Whether it's something bad or something good, they get through to you finally.
Sheryl Crow is also your close friend. Do you guys talk shop a lot?
Very much. I think Sheryl and I are a real mutual admiration society. She did a lot of shows with me on the Trouble in Shangri-La tour. When you're on the road together, you really do bond. It's like an encounter group. The people that you travel with are all you have, so Sheryl and I became really good friends, not to mention that she produced half of my last record. We've spent hours, here in this room, working on songs. Sheryl and I will absolutely do a record at some point - it may be the next thing I do. We said seven or eight years ago that we're going to become a valid musical entity, just the two of us. So that if we want to go on the road by ourselves, we're going to be able to do it. Because we have now built up a repertoire between the two of us - we've got 10 or 12 songs we could already do. Isn't that wonderful that that's out there for me, and for her? It's one more really creative thing.
How do you feel about The Dixie Chicks covering "Landslide"?
It's a great honor. I am very good friends with them, and hope very much to do a record with Natalie at some point in my life. I have to show you what they sent me [brings out a lovely ceramic bowl engraved with the lyrics of "Landslide" in a spiral]. It's all perfect. The neatest part of the song is all inside the bowl. So beautiful and so special. When I'm 101, walking around the house, that will be an inspiration to me - to see that somebody cared enough to do this. These girls are very precious to me. I think if I'd ever had a daughter, I would want her to be Natalie. I love her and I care about her in a way that's very motherly. I think she's about the best singer out there. I thought that the first time I heard her sing. I was in Phoenix, and it was the middle of the night, and I first heard "There's Your Trouble" on the radio. I wrote it down and went straight to the record store the next day. So I made the decision then, years before I ever met them, that I wanted to work with her someday. So it was very karma-inspired that they would pick up "Landslide" and want to do it. I think that Sheryl Crow is the one who suggested it to them.
These are all like your daughters.
They are my daughters, and I love that, because since I didn't have any daughters, I feel like I have them now. And I have Norah Jones. I love her. Can you believe eight Grammys? Norah, this is your Rumours. Your life will never be the same again. And I love Michelle Branch. And I adore Gwen Stefani. They are all a delight to me. They are all multi-talented, and I feel very grateful that these women care about me and care about my music. They make it all so very worth it for me. To know that I have reached out and gotten to each one of them and maybe made them be a little better, be a little bit more profound, work on their songwriting a little bit more, work on their stage performance a little bit more. I see little bits of myself in all of them, and it makes me cry.
It's almost like your songs, as they reach new generations, are helping to keep you young.
Whenever I do a record, I'm able to go back and pull some really interesting songs out that were written when I was really young, and then mix them in with what I'm doing now. I feel very lucky that I don't listen to all these songs and go, 'Oh, that's from 1976, that's from 2003.' That's why I say that I will be 90 years old some day, and I will still be writing things that are relevant. I think if you keep that innocence, if you try to hang on to that innocence and believe that there is love and there is God and there is beauty, then you will be able to be relevant. I think when you start to become really jaded, that's when you can't write relevant stuff anymore. People who are in their teens, 20s and 30s don't want to hear you write about stuff that is so miserable that they can't even deal with it.
I think, for me - because I haven't been in a horrible marriage and I don't have delinquent children that I'm trying to get through college - I haven't had a lot of those bad experiences that really twist people's minds. That's when you stop writing about the possibility of love, and when you stop writing about the possibility of love, you are no longer relevant. I don't really care if I get married at this point, I'm quite happy by myself, but I do live in the realm of romantic possibility. Mr. Right. It's possible that he's driving up the street, and I could have a flat tire and there he is (laughs). That allows me to write with hope.
Stevie's Essential Listening
The Supremes and all the Motown records
Janis Joplin I watched Janis one time - we opened for her [when Lindsey and Stevie were in their first band, Fritz.] - and that's the only time I ever saw her. We opened for Jimi Hendrix, too. I got to stand on the side of the stage and watch him for two hours. He and Janis both died shortly thereafter. 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." 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.
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.
That's written about Sheryl Crow. In the song where it says, "She would have preferred the last generation," Sheryl absolutely would've preferred to be my age and to have been in our generation and to have been in her own Fleetwood Mac, more than to be in this generation. We all love her and try to take her along with us because we know that. It was very fun when she came to record with Fleetwood Mac. Lindsey likes her a lot and Mick loves her and John loves her, and she's one of our little adoptees. So the song is like an ode to the girl rock star, and ode to the question, "Is it possible to find somebody to love?" When you're rich and famous, it's very hard to find somebody. That's not taking away the hope, but it is stating that it's difficult. When Sheryl asked me, "Am I ever going to find anybody?" I say, "Well, who knows? If you want to attain a certain amount of fame, then you have to work all the time, which is what you do. And you don't hang out very much, you are on the move. You're in New York, you're in L.A., you're in Switzerland, you're in Vietnam, like a willow wisp. So it kind of depends on what you want to do." I kind of made a choice when I was Sheryl's age, when I was 40, that I didn't really want to be tied down. There are many times during my life that I could've been married and I could've had children, and I made the decision to not do it. So I don't know, with her; the only advice I can say is that "You live in the same realm of romantic possibility that I do."
I read a book called Triad. It was just a stupid little paperback that I found somewhere at somebody's house laying on the couch. It was all about this girl named Rhiannon. I was so taken with the name that I thought, "I've got to write something about this." And I sat down at the piano, and I started writing this song about a woman that was all involved with these birds and magic. Come to find out years after I've written the song that in fact Rhiannon was the goddess of steeds, maker of birds. Her three birds sang music, and when something was happening in war, you would see this horse come in and it was Rhiannon. This is all in the Welsh translation of The Mabinogion, their book of mythology. When she came, you'd kind of black out then wake up and the danger would be gone, and you'd see the three birds flying off, and you'd hear this little song. So there was, in fact, a song of Rhiannon. I had no idea about any of this. Then somebody sent me a set of four books written by a lady named Evangeline Walton, who is now dead. She spent her whole life translating The Mabinogian and the story of Rhiannon. She lived in Tucson. I went there in 1977, after "Rhiannon" had been a huge hit. Her house was totally Rhiannon. She spent her whole life on the story of Rhiannon. She never married - she in essence had almost become Rhiannon, and it was trippy. She had heard about the song. She told me about her life and how she had been entranced by the name, just like I had. It's so interesting, because her last book was 1974, and that's right when I wrote "Rhiannon." So it's like her work ended and my work began.
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.
I couldn’t help noticing that picture of you and George Harrison up on the mantle. Where was it taken?
Isn’t that wild? That is probably in 1977, in Hana on the island of Maui in Hawaii. Me and a couple of my friends had gone over there. I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but we drove up to Hana, where George lived, and we hung out with him for about three days. We stayed in his guest cottage and we sat around and wrote. I don’t think anything really came out of the writing session, but we had a great time, and you can kind of see we were very serious. I took the picture to the studio, so it was on the fireplace for the whole recording of Say You Will. It was very much like he was looking out over us the whole time. I liked George very much. He was really a nice man.
Was he or Lennon & McCartney a strong influence on your songwriting?
Yes, absolutely. More the folky stuff.
More Song Explanations:
Edge of Seventeen
It was written right after John Lennon died. A week later, my uncle died and this was a very close uncle. Between John Lennon and my Uncle Bill, “Edge of Seventeen” came out of that. [sings] “Oh I went searchin’ for an answer / Up the stairs and down the hall / Not to find an answer just to hear the call of a nightbird singing.” And the nightbird is the bird of death, really. I can get up on stage and sing “Edge of Seventeen” and still feel just as traumatized today as I did then, when I first sang it at my piano. It’s just so heavy. I use that word “heavy” a lot, and I know that it’s an old hippie word, but it just really seems to be the right word. Some of the songs are so heavy. John Lennon being shot to death in front of his apartment for absolutely no reason, when I was a rock star also, so immediately that transfers to, ‘Is somebody going to shoot me? Is somebody going to shoot me because I didn’t write back to a fan?’ And that’s why I wrote the song.
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.
Running Through The Garden
I wrote that song around 1985. It’s about the story “Rapaccini’s Daughter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne. We didn’t realize it until it was completely recorded. I thought it was a Twilight Zone episode I’d seen on TV fifteen or twenty years ago. But it’s the story of this girl who’s raised in this beautiful Italian villa and her dad is this gardener and he raised all these poisonous plants and he like infused the poisons into her. It’s very hazy what I remember about the story. She became poisonous, so if anybody were to kiss her, they would die. And she could never leave, because she’s addicted to the poison. So everybody’s like, ‘Wow, that’s an incredible story.’ There’s a picture that Christine did, a drawing, and Chris is an incredible artist, probably twenty years ago, and she gave it to me, and it’s her, it’s the girl in the song. So I went back and forth about maybe calling it “Rapaccini’s Daughter,” but I thought I’d have to get publishing rights and all that, so I left it “Running Through The Garden.”
Thanks to Lesley Thode for the submission.
2003-05-01 Number of views: