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BAM Magazine, Issue Number 117 (11/20/1981), Lindsey Buckingham Breaks the Rules (But Makes a Hit) < Lindsey Buckingham < Main Page

BAM Magazine, Issue Number 117 (11/20/1981), Lindsey Buckingham Breaks the Rules (But Makes a Hit)

BAM Magazine, Issue No. 117, November 20, 1981

Lindsey Buckingham Breaks the Rules (But Makes a Hit)
A Talk About the Recording of Law & Order
by Blair Jackson

LOS ANGELES Ė At Larrabee Studios, Fleetwood Mac is supposed to be meeting to decide which of the eighteen songs theyíve recorded for their next LP will actually make it onto the album. As usual, Lindsey Buckingham is the first to arrive at the studio; he uses his free time this afternoon to watch the Yankees pound the Milwaukee Brewers in the baseball playoffs. Buckingham seems more relaxed than the last time we spoke, in early December of last year, just a week before the release of Fleetwood Macís live album. (Buckingham was on the cover of BAM January 30, 1981). This time, we connect a week before the release of his first solo album, Law & Order, a project that was still a big "maybe" last Thanksgiving.

"I had four or five tracks started then," Lindsey now admits, "but I was being cautious not to hype something that wasnít a sure thing, so I was purposely conservative in my appraisal. I kept working on it fairly steadily until I had to go to Paris for a month this spring to record this Fleetwood Mac album. Then I finished it up when we got back."

Buckingham isnít exactly "hyping" Law & Order now, either, though he is justifiably proud of his album. Quite simply, the record is brilliant, a truly fresh work in an era when rock and roll is becoming more homogenous by the day. It is loaded with wit and invention, devoid of rock cliches, filled from beginning to end with radical ideas about production, instrumental voicings and song arrangements. It is a highly idiosyncratic work Ė which should come as no surprise to anyone who studied Buckinghamís work on Fleetwood Macís Tusk Ė yet it is still enormously accessible, largely because the unmistakable warmth of his personality shines through to give the songs a sense of immediacy.

It is a very personal work, reminding me at times of Harry Nilssonís great Nilsson Schmilsson LP in its incredible diversity and consistently high level of intensity both in the ballads and the rockers. Like the Nilsson work, parts of Law & Order are undeniably odd, yet Buckingham pulls it off completely. Even in songs that seem almost fragmentary, Buckinghamís intent is obvious. On first listening one might wonder why this track only has a snare and a kick drum for percussion; why the guitars in another are tuned so that there is a small degree of dissonance when they play in unison; or why the wash of background vocals on a third song are so breathy, so airy. But on repeated listenings it all falls into place and what once seemed eccentric now seems a stroke of genius. It is that way with any record that challenges accepted notions of the way a song "should" sound. Think back, if youíre old enough, to the first time you heard The Beatlesí ground-breaking Revolver, or The Bandís Music From Big Pink. Those records were jarring because they broke with precedents. The same is true of Law & Order Ė Buckingham succeeds in redefining our expectations of what pop sounds like by simply breaking all the rules. Strange, for a work titled Law & Order.

"íLaw & Orderí is really just about personal codes and disciplines," Buckingham comments. "You know, rock and roll has always represented a sort of escape for people, but itís also a discipline, something you have to really try at. My life seems to have come down to committing to a small number of things that I try to do well, and that takes a certain amount of discipline Ė not Ďclean living,í necessarily, but a certain amount of order and Ďlawí that may not be represented in what people imagine goes on in rock and roll. So itís about commitment and what that requires. A lot of the songs are about commitments to relationships, and thatís another thread that runs through it."

We talk at some length about Law & Order Ė about the songs and the remarkable techniques he used to create this amazingly diverse and exciting work.

I think listeners will be surprised by the eclecticism of this album. There are some country influences on it in tunes like "Satisfied Mind" and "Shadow of the West," and a few tunes have almost a Ď40s feel to them.

There is a Ď40s influence in there that I thought was kind of refreshing. When my father died a few years ago, he left me all his records, his 78s from the Ď20s, Ď30s, Ď40s and Ď50s. Theyíve been at my Momís [in the Bay Area] for many years, and all the times Iíve either flown up or driven up, I just never got around to getting them. Then, I finally hauled them all down to LA and started sorting through them and there was all kinds of great stuff by Kid Ory, Bunk Johnson, the Mills Brothers, all these great old singers. So that had a lot to do with the Ď40s influence coming out.

Is that where you found "September Song?" I know thatís been covered by lots of people Ė Sinatra, Django, Sammy Davis Jr.

Iíd actually been wanting to cover it for some time. In my mind, I heard it in a sort of Sun Records-early Elvis style. Thatís how it started out, and then we added more to it. Then, when I got my fatherís 78s, lo and behold, there was a version of Sinatra doing it, so I got the words and the charts from that.

Your version sounds a little like a John Lennon treatment to me.

A couple of people have told me they hear various Beatles things on the record. Certainly Iím a tremendous Beatles fan, and I was influenced by them. I donít know if I can get more specific than that. "It Was I" [an old Skip & Flip tune] sounds a little like the early Beatles.

The other touch on the album that reminded me of The Beatles is the strange guitar at the end of "Mary Lee Jones." How did you achieve that sound? Is it recorded backwards?

No, itís not backwards. Itís regular guitar playing. But what you hear is bits from several different tracks mixed at random.

Is there a Mary Lee Jones?

No, sheís fictional, but the song is sort of an analogy to things that were going on in my life when I wrote the song.

Last time we talked, you were using a Turner guitar almost exclusively. Surely you didnít get all the interesting tonalities on this album using just a Turner with effects, did you?

I didnít use much Turner on the record. I used some Gretsches, a lot of Strat, a little Les Paul, a little Tele, and the various acoustics.

What gives the acoustic guitars on "Trouble" that interesting pitch?

On that particular one, I recorded some of the guitars at half-speed. Some of what youíre hearing, though, is probably just harmonics.

You play bass and drums on every song except "Trouble." Did you find that at all limiting?

Not really. Iíve done that sort of thing before. On Tusk I played all the instruments on a few songs Ė "The Ledge," "Save Me A Place," I played bass and drums on "What Makes You Think Youíre The One." On the new album, the stuff I played was pretty simple, really. Itís real open and uncomplicated. A few songs we built from the drums up, which was interesting.

The drums on "Thatís How We Do It In LA" are really strange. What are you playing there, shoe boxes?

[Laughs] No, those are regular drums but theyíre recorded a little differently. Whatís on the record is a couple of generations down from the original drum track. One of the things I wanted to do on this album was try for an older-sounding drum sound. In the days of mono and early stereo, they had to do several generations of bouncing to get a complete track. By the time a lot of the other instruments got to that point, their sound had changed a lot and that created a very specific atmosphere. I kind of liked that. Iím real tired of how drums sound on most records, so I thought Iíd for something different. I was really going for a smaller drum sound, so I didnít use a full kit on most songs, and we fooled with the sound a lot. On some tracks we even sped up the drums to make it sound a little "off."

It definitely seems to be a guitar album. Iím really impressed with the interplay of the guitars on "Love From Here, Love From There." The final jam on that song has a great Dixieland feeling to it.

Yeah, itís a definite cop. [Laughs] I thought it would be interesting to try a Dixieland thing using guitars instead of horns and actually assigning roles to the guitar parts Ė this on is a clarinet, this one is a trombone, this one is a trumpet. Iím real happy with the way it turned out.

Have you ever thought of using actual horns on a song?

I donít think Iíd want to ever use horns as horns. Iíd rather use horns and try to make them sound like guitars. [Laughs] Thereís so much Iím just starting to learn about what can be done with guitars, I think Iíll stick to that for a while. That doesnít mean Iím not open to other instruments. I had a birthday recently and Mick [Fleetwood, Fleetwood Macís drummer] bought me a little twelve-tone harp and Iíll definitely be using that sometime soon. Itís just gorgeous. Anything you play on it sounds great.

Was Mickís trip to Africa the inspiration for "Bwana?"

Basically. Itís pretty light-hearted. Again, thereís a song with some of the Ď40s influence on it. It really isnít very African at all, musically. It has some of that "Lion Sleeps Tonight" in it. The lyrics were actually written at the very end, after weíd done the tracks and the backing voices. The drum track for "Bwana" started out as being something very different. Eventually, that track turned into another song called "Eyes of the World," which may be on the next Fleetwood Mac album. That happens to me a lot. Songs turn into other songs. Parts of one song are right for another. You never know.

"Bwana" is another song with a mystery noise on it. The lead solo near the end sounds like a guitar synthesizer combined with some sort of distorted vocal.

Itís not a guitar, but youíre right about the vocal being distorted. What I did there was sing into a mike and then run the vocal through a cassette player in such a way that it would totally distort so it would sound like it was somewhere between a sax, a kazoo, and a guitar.

Iíd like to get back to the country influence. "Shadow of the West" seems to combine the Ď40s feel and country ideas.

I donít think itís really that country, as the term is used now. It has some "cowboy" feel to it, though. I was trying to approach a Ď40s Sons of the Pioneers feel. I think there were certain sensibilities going on at that time, certain combinations of sound, that were really valid. You donít have to go back and do a big band album, but there are certain aspects of Ď40s music which, when approached in conjunction with other styles, still makes a lot of sense and actually sounds fresh.

Did you first hear "Satisfied Mind" on The Byrdsí Turn Turn Turn album? Your version sounds like a cross between "Hickory Wind" and "Christian Life" on The Byrdsí Sweetheart of the Rodeo.

I see what youíre talking about. The harmonies do have some Byrds feeling, but actually I know it from long before The Byrdsí version. My brother, Jeff, had a 45 of Red Foley doing it, and I always loved it. It was one of my dadís favorites, one of my favorites, and it just seemed to be in the spirit of the album. I think my version is very, very close to the original, as much as I can remember it. I donít actually have a copy of it.

I think my liking of country music has sort of been hiding for a few years and is just starting to come out in strange ways. Donít worry, though, I have no plans to make a country album. [Laughs]

The message of that song makes it an appropriate one to end with Ė "Itís so hard to find / one rich man in ten with a satisfied mind."

The philosophy in that song is a very religious one in a way, and I think to a degree that feeling runs through the whole album.

The obvious question is, are you that one rich man in ten whoís satisfied?

In some ways, yes, I am satisfied. I like to think that I have not had to compromise very much to get across the music I wanted to make. Iím not satisfied with everything Iíve done. Iím not even completely satisfied with this album Ė the running order could have been different Ė but certainly Iím satisfied that I did the best job I could and Iím satisfied with many aspects of my life right now.

When I interviewed Stevie [Nicks] not too long ago she told me that you hate writing lyrics, that itís a real struggle for you. Is that true?

I wouldnít say I "hate" it. I do usually leave it until the end, but thatís just my orientation. I think usually in terms of rhythms and melodies first. I felt pretty good about the lyrics on my album and I like some of what Iíve written for Fleetwood Mac. Letís put it this way: lyrics donít come out of me like they do from Stevie. She just writes all the time. I express myself more through the colors in the music.

We tried an interesting experiment on this album with lyrics. Richard Dashut [Fleetwood Macís engineer] and I and whoeveríd be in the room at the time would take a sheet of paper and Iíd write down the general idea of the song, maybe one line, pass it on to Richard and heíd write a line that responded to my line without thinking too heavily about it. Then heíd fold over the first line so the next person could only respond to the line that had just been written. We came up with some interesting stuff that way. It didnít work that often but it was fun and different. Very different.

You had finished much of your album when you went to Paris to work on the next Fleetwood Mac record. Did it affect how you worked with the rest of the band?

It had a positive effect, I think. Since Tusk came out, Iíve had the opportunity to work out certain insecurities about my own songs. Working on my album and doing everything on it has helped me open up and ask for help when I really need it. Actually, thereís more collaboration on the new Fleetwood Mac album than just about anything weíve ever done. I gave Christine [McVie] some lyrics, she gave me some. And there was, in general, much more of a flow of ideas than there was on, say, Tusk.

I think people are going to be very pleased with the Fleetwood Mac album. I think it represents a nice blend of our various styles. The way the songs are crafted makes them more accessible than a lot of Tusk, but itís not a reactionary album in any way. It was a very collective effort.

What kind of commercial expectations do you have for Law & Order?

I have absolutely no idea, to be real honest. I guess itíll depend partly on how the single, "Trouble," does on the radio. [Itís currently bulleting up the charts]. Radio has gotten so it doesnít matter who you are Ė if they donít want to play your single, they wonít. Thatís something weíve got to live with. I think "Trouble" is certainly the safest choice on there. Maybe people will buy the album after hearing the single and think itís a soft, MOR album. [Laughs] Thereíll be a few surprised people!

I know itís not going to enter the album charts at Number Twelve like Stevieís album did. But there really isnít much I can do at this point. I canít let it get to me. Obviously, I want it to do well, but if for some reason it doesnít, Iíll still feel pretty good about it. For the undertaking it was, having all the responsibility myself, I think I did okay.

Thanks to Les for posting this on The Ledge.


Date: 1981-11-20         Number of views: 1808

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