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International Musician and Recording World (10/1982), Lindsey Buckingham Steps Out < Lindsey Buckingham < Main Page

International Musician and Recording World (10/1982), Lindsey Buckingham Steps Out

International Musician and Recording World, October 1982

Lindsey Buckingham Steps Out
By Vicki Greenleaf and Stan Hyman

As Fleetwood Macís lead guitarist, Lindsey Buckingham usually remains in the shadows, always maintaining a low profile on stage. Yet, when he and long-time duet partner Stevie Nicks joined Mac in 1975, the twosome added the missing dimension that the British Blues band had lacked. Almost overnight, Mac obtained the success it had been struggling for with a succession of guitar players; Peter Green, Danny Kirwan, Jeremy Spender and Bob Welch. After years of near-superstardom, the newly-revamped groupís first four albums went platinum; Rumours, its second release, achieved the status 16 times over. Eventually, Buckingham became an integral influence in the studio and was instrumental in the evolvement of Macís sound from the commercial-type of Fleetwood Mac and Rumours to the technical tone of Tusk. Despite widespread critical acclaim, however, his contributions went largely unnoticed.

But Buckingham has finally stepped into the spotlight. Currently on his own with a top-10 single, "Trouble," from his debut solo album, Law and Order, he is searching for professional "validity" and not just commercial success. Best known for his songs "Go Your Own Way" and "Never Going Back Again," the 32-year-old California native doesnít want to rest on his past accomplishments with Mac or even his newly found solo achievements.

Buckingham has no plans to leave behind his seven year career with Mac, but does intend to further his individual stray from "mainstream" Pop-Rock. The groupís latest album Ė Mirage Ė is a "reconciliation of opposites" that utilizes some of the strong aspects of Rumours and the more-technical accomplishments of Tusk. In comparison, Buckinghamís Law and Order release is more reminiscent of Tusk and retains both a highly-technical and experimental sound. Buckingham, who hasnít used a guitar pick since the Folk era of the early 60s, employs the banjo-like techniques of an unorthodox guitar style to attain a successful fusion of the old with the new. The album is a mixture of 30s and 40s style crooning, 50s and 60s Rock Ďní Roll, Dixieland, Folk music and modern studio experimentalism.

Recently penned songs and remakes of old Frank Sinatra, Bunk Johnson, Kid Ory, Red and Betty Foley tunes extend guitars to sound like synthesizers, Dixieland horns and kazoos through varied playing styles and recording speeds. Distorted vocals add yet another hard-to-identify dimension to an already distinct sound.

To understand the mechanical wizardry that Buckingham brings to Fleetwood Mac and has highlighted with his solo album, IM&RW spoke with him over lunch at Berkshire Place in New York City.

IM&RW: With all the success youíve attained with Fleetwood Mac, why did you embark on a solo career?

LB: Just in terms of images and group visibility, Iíve sort of stood in the background. A lot of people have no idea who I am. With Law and Order, itís like being a new artist in a sense. I think Iíve made a good dent, a good start.

IM&RW: Did you expect your premiere solo album to be a commercial success?

LB: Well, the single is doing pretty well. Everyone thought that "Trouble" was a standout. There are other things on the album that I enjoy more on a different level because theyíre a little more off the wall, or theyíre not quite as mainstream. I wasnít really surprised that the single did that well. The album has done very well critically. And again, from that standpoint, I wasnít too surprised. As with Tusk, my work was more or less enjoyed by the critics. I thought this was a lot more accessible than some of the stuff on Tusk. Before "Trouble" had done really well, people were commenting on the album and saying, "My God, what planet is Lindsey Buckingham on?" To me, itís not that weird. If you look back on Rock Ďní Roll from the 50s, there was some real gonzo stuff going on back then. This album is no more so than that. Itís just the context of what people call Rock Ďní Roll today, which is real safe, watered down crud. Most of it is, as far as Iím concerned. Once you understand where itís coming from, it isnít really a strange album, but people have a hard time accepting something that is different.

IM&RW: Both Tusk and Law and Order are highly-experimental efforts. Is Law and Order an outgrowth of Tusk?

LB: We suffered in album sales because Tusk was an experimental effort. But Iím not really concerned with the outer success. Iím in a position where I donít have to make commercial music to feed myself. At this point, I have the luxury of being more experimental, if thatís what I choose to do. And I guess Iíve earned the right to do that by being in the business for a while and taking the lumps. Thatís why I feel that Law and Order was an inner success for me. Itís a question of quality work and not really going for the money. And thatís what I will continue to do, certainly on my own stuff. I think at times, there is pressure within the group to return to a Rumours format because no one else in the group really has the spirit of experimentation. When I joined Fleetwood Mac, the main thing was to fit into the group and make the group work. Once that had gotten established, I felt it was allowable to return to what I felt was valid for me.

IM&RW: Was the sound that youíre striving for restricted by Fleetwood Mac?

LB: No, I wouldnít say that I was restricted. I just had to learn to be an intricate part of a group, which was a valid thing to do. Just as when I was in a group in San Jose years ago. I had been playing guitar since I was about seven years old, but I didnít play lead. I played bass for about four years. That seemed to give me an overall sense about music. So I donít feel that it was a restriction, it was just part of an education. Being in a band, you have to compromise. Thatís what itís all about. But I donít think there was too much experimentalism going on before I joined the group. Theyíre pretty much traditionalists.

IM&RW: How did you choose the material for Law and Order?

LB: Well, Iíd never drawn from 30s and 40s stuff before. But when my dad died in í74, he left me an extensive collection of 78s. I remember listening to many of them when I was a child, but hadnít really re-examined them. I kept them at my motherís house in northern California for a number of years and figured there would be an optimum time to bring them down to LA and sort through them. So, right before I embarked on this solo project Ė which was Christmas, one year ago Ė I got the collection and started listening to everything. There were a lot of interesting things; a lot of terrible recordings, but some incredible energy and performances. Thatís where those influences came from. There was a Tommy Dorsey and Frank Sinatra version of "September Song," some Kid Ory and Bunk Johnson and some Dixieland, which influenced one of the tunes on side two ("Love From Here, Love From There").

IM&RW: What are the influences on your work?

LB: I would say that the earliest one was probably Elvis Presley and 50s Rock. When I was about six or seven years old, my oldest brother came home with an Elvis record, "Heartbreak Hotel." I started playing guitar when I was about seven and that was a great time to be influenced by that music. I was just lucky enough to have someone who was brining home all the great Rock Ďní Roll. He has a great collection of 45s. After the real vitality of the initial Rock movement sort of subsided in the early 60s, I started getting interested in Folk music because there were some very interesting guitar styles. Thatís why I donít use a pick. I started finger picking. And then obviously 60s Rock, The Beatles. No one got away from that.

IM&RW: Were any of the songs on Law and Order material that had been shelved for lack of an outlet?

LB: If a song gets shelved for too long, I will most likely not go back to it. Every once in a while you pull something out from years ago and it will make sense again. But most of the time you like to keep going forward. Itís kind of hard to go back. If you shelved it the first time, there was a reason. It wasnít stuff that had been shelved, but it was stuff that I had built up during the Tusk tour. I take an eight-track tape recorder and speakers out on the road with me in cases and treat it like luggage. They wheel it in, I plug it in and overdub and record stuff on the road. On my days off, thatís what I would always do. Thatís how I usually work up tunes. Iím always trying to work on new material. I enjoy being in the studio and working on tunes much more than being on the road. The road is very repetitive, and the challenge is trying to keep the same performance fresh every night. Itís not easy to do. In the studio, youíre presented with a new challenge every day Ė the possibility for growth.

IM&RW: Your drum performance on Law and Order sounded very accomplished. Any thoughts of lending Mick a hand on stage?

LB: [laughs] I wouldnít ask. I would never be able to do what I did on "Thatís How We Do It In LA" on stage. No, no, no. Iíll ask him and see what he says, though. Mick would love to play guitar, but it would be risky on stage; Iím not an accomplished drummer. Playing the instruments one by one can present a problem in achieving a live feel on a track, especially with drums. But itís fascinating to find ways of working around oneís limitations. It was difficult for me to achieve the "hesitated" drum feel so important to Rock music, especially as an overdub. But there was a logical way around that limitation. I simply recorded a metronome on one track, then sent it through a delay device and bounced the delayed metronome to another track. In that way, I was able to play the drums on the delayed click while playing all the other instruments to the original click. That spirit of experimentation is something I strive for, and it manifests itself in many ways throughout the album. Limitations or not, if the means you use to achieve something are unusual, the result may also be unusual.

IM&RW: You do play almost all the instruments as well as sing both lead and backup vocals on the album. Are there any other instruments you arenít proficient with? How do you work around that?

LB: I hate synthesizers. Iíll never, ever use a synthesizer because there are lots of other things you can use that sound more interesting. People ask me if certain instruments on the album were synthesizers. They were usually guitars; a little Les Paul, a little Tele. I didnít use the Turners as much as I have in the past. They were either slowed down or sped up. There are just a lot of weird things you can do.

There are a number of instruments I donít play. I donít play violin. I have played violin, but I donít play it too well. I donít play any horns. I think you can get the same affects with guitars if you know how to use them. There is a Mexican Dixieland song on the album that has three guitar parts that all work around each other like the three horn parts do in Dixieland music. The trumpet or the cornet, the trombone, and the clarinet are three instruments which have specific places where they play; they have certain registers that are inherent to the instruments and a definite place in the major. Other than that, they can be totally spontaneous. And because they know where to play, it all works together. Itís like a very loose fitting puzzle.

I chose three different guitars that are as close to those particular sounds as possible. I chose a Gretsch that has a really brassy sound; a slide that is like a trombone, and a Stratocaster Ė play up very high Ė that is like a clarinet. I played the same parts in the same places that those instruments would play in Dixieland and it created horn effects. Itís more interesting to me to hear them played on guitars than to have three guys come in and play them on the horns.

IM&RW: What do you play while on the road with Fleetwood Mac?

LB: On the road with Mac, I carry several guitars Ė most of them are Turners. During the Tusk tour, I traveled with two six strings, so I would have a backup if I ever broke a string while I was on stage. I also have a Turner with two pickups and a somewhat new model with a two-octave neck, a couple parametric equalizers and a boost. Itís a relatively simple guitar, with a warm, mellow sound; sort of a cross between a Les Paul and an Alembic. I also use flatwound strings on the Turner to achieve less of an overtone. You can hear the notes more clearly. I use either an Ovation or a Japanese Tama for the acoustic numbers. I also use a pickup in the soundhole.

IM&RW: What about amps?

LB: The Mesa/Boogie amps I used on the road ran through HiWatt cabinets. Although I didnít use many sound effects, I did use an echo unit and a fuzztone. I like those effects.

IM&RW: How did you achieve that unique sound on "Trouble"; the interesting pitch of the acoustic guitars and the crisp sound of the drums?

LB: Thatís Mick on the drums on that particular track. But itís only a tape loop of about four seconds of Mick playing. I did the drum fills and stuff like that later on. George Hawkins played bass. That and two other vocal parts were the exceptions in terms of other people playing on the album. It has a lot of real sophisticated, subtle guitar layers. Youíre not really aware of how many guitars are playing. They donít take up very much space. Thereís a gut string underneath and thereís a lot of subtle things supporting the vocals. There is one obvious guitar part which sounds like a mandolin or something, which is Ė again Ė a half-speed guitar recorded at 15 IPS and then brought back up to 30 IPS.

IM&RW: Why the distorted vocals on songs like "Bwana" and "Trouble"?

LB: I donít know. It just worked out that way. The beginning of "Trouble" comes from the tape loop. Itís just a count. Youíre hearing "two, three, four" and then it repeats two more times. One of those sections was the length of the tape loop, the drum line. We could have let that play through the whole song and it would have kept going, but it was so funny sounding that we just used it for the beginning and then faded it out.

On "Bwana," I sang into a mic and then ran the vocal through a cassette player in such a way that it totally distorted it. It sounded like a cross between a kazoo, a sax and a guitar.

IM&RW: What is the albumís overall concept? It doesnít seem to deal with Law and Order in the literal sense of the term.

LB: Not all of the songs, but most of them have to do with making commitments. Commitments to anything really; a commitment to a relationship, just things that you care about, committing to follow through with something. Everything in society today seems to be disposable. Whenever youíre confronted with pain, you chuck it. You go on to something else.

IM&RW: Did you have any reservations about recording other artistsí work?

LB: No, no. I think that there is a real validity to trying to interpret. Where would Elvis have been if heíd had to write his own songs? He never wrote a song in his life. He was an interpreter. I think that most bands today think that they have to be The Beatles, that they have to be self-contained, and write all their own material and produce themselves. And a lot of the groups suffer because of that. Theyíre good players, good executionists and good singers, but the material is where they fall short. No one is The Beatles. No one is Lennon and McCartney today, by a long shot. Iím still trying to write a song that is as good as what John and Paul were doing when they were 20. So why not relax a little and do other peopleís material?

IM&RW: What aspect of recording a solo album was most fulfilling to you?

LB: I think I do it for the work. Once itís done, I let go of it. I mean, I worry about it selling from time to time, but the main validity is actually doing the work. Iíve used this analogy before, but itís a good one to express how I feel about it. Working on a Fleetwood Mac album is like doing a movie. Everything is very verbalized. Itís very consciously thought out. There are many links in the chain.

When Iím working on an album by myself, doing all the parts myself and engineering myself and being solitary like that, itís much more like doing a painting. Itís more of a subconscious process and the work tends to lead you. Doing it myself and playing the instruments myself makes it a very intimate one-to-one relationship that I develop with my work. The enjoyment comes from doing the work. What happens afterwards is of less consequence. Hopefully, people will enjoy it. Hopefully, it will be somewhat influential to certain people. And hopefully, I will grow during the process. If youíre any good at all, you know you can always be better.

IM&RW: Are you satisfied with your career?

LB: Iím never really satisfied. Itís been a rough year. Doing both the Mac album and my album this year has given me bags under my eyes. But itís hard to say what my career is at this point. Everyone is going through transitions right now. The group is certainly going through transitions. But itís an exciting time. I think the next couple of years are going to be real positive for me, hopefully, if thereís any record business left in a few years.

IM&RW: Looking back, did you expect not only group fame, but success as a solo artist?

LB: It took a long time to work up the confidence to want to do a solo album or to even think I had enough material to do one. Five years ago, I would never have conceived of going out and recording solo. But Iíve become more prolific during the last couple of years, and that has given me confidence. I take it as it comes. Iím still a long way from stardom, but thatís not really important.

Itís not the size of the billing, itís the quality of the work as far as Iím concerned. I have a long way to go before I have any laurels as a solo artist. Most people donít know who the hell I am. So Iíve got a lot of work to do before people understand what Iím about. As I said before, if youíre any good, you could be better. I hope I never get to the point where I say, "Iím as good as I want to be" and thatís it.

Thanks to Lesley Thode for the submission.

Date: 1982-10-01         Number of views: 1751

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