Q&A with Lindsey Buckingham, Montreal Gazette
Published: Monday, April 02, 2007
The Gazetteís Bernard Perusse had a telephone chat with Fleetwood Macís Lindsey Buckingham on the occasion of his solo tour, which stops in Montreal Wednesday, April 4, 2007. We were initially told by his label, Warner Bros., that the interview would be limited to 15 minutes. We negotiated 25 and probably even squeezed out a couple of extra minutes at the end.
Gazette: Iím going to try and use my time wisely here ...
Buckingham: (laughs heartily)
Gazette: ... because there are a million things I wanted to ask you.
Gazette: Thereís one thing in your early career thatís often mentioned, but only in passing. And itís very intriguing: you touring with Don Everly in the '70s, singing Philís parts. What was that like?
Buckingham: It was ... you know ... an honour, for one thing. It was memorable for a couple of reasons. The thing that I actually remember the most had nothing to do with the tour. Itís that when we were in ... I guess it was Nashville, Iím not even sure now ... wherever it was, one of the cities we went to where his mom and dad lived, the whole band went over to their house for dinner. How quaint is that? And his father, Ike, was probably in his '70s by then. Heís not that well-known, but heís the guitarist who taught Merle Travis to play. So we got to sit around with Ike Everly and play tunes. And he asked me to play something, and I played Maria Elena or something, and he really dug that. So thatís something I will always remember.
As far as the Don Everly tour in general, it was sort of heartbreaking. The Everly Brothers were one of my idols, and Don, at the time Ė this was probably late '74, Iím guessing Ė had a solo album he was putting out on A & M Records, which was quite a departure from what people had come to expect from the Everly Brothers. We were playing very small clubs, and what happened was that everywhere we went, people were not accepting of what he was trying to do. So heíd get up there and try to basically play all this stuff that was pretty alien to the audience Ė and theyíd start yelling out ďBye Bye Love!Ē It happened in every place we went. And after about three or four cities, he just got really discouraged. And he called off the tour. And it was a drag to watch that happen to someone I admired so much. It was tough.
Gazette: Do you face that from time to time when youíre on a solo tour like this, with audience expectations?
Buckingham: No, I really donít. Itís a completely different context. I donít know what Don was doing, but it was definitely way different. And maybe the times were different. Maybe he had not built up enough of a context for himself.
What I have somehow been able to do is remain part of a mainstream band, which is well-known, and can go out and tour arenas. But Iím also this more cultish kind of boutique artist who can go out and play smaller places and will draw the people who appreciate that Ė and thatís been well-established.
Also, it would be foolish for me to go out and not do something that represents my body of work, too Ė whether itís solo or Fleetwood Mac. Iím not trying to draw a line down the middle of that. We started off putting this show together by being very mindful to the tone of Under the Skin and building out from there. So thatís the centre of the show, but youíve also got things where I come out and play by myself. And at the other end of the spectrum, youíve got Tusk and Go Your Own Way, where weíre making peopleís ears bleed, so I donít think it would ever come up, really, that kind of a problem.
Gazette: Itís often been said that you were the architect of the Fleetwood Mac sound as most people know it. And correct me if this is not accurate, but I understand that Peter Green played on Brown Eyes, uncredited ...
Gazette: Peter Green.
Buckingham: Mmmm ... I donít believe so.
Gazette: OK, then that must be an urban legend, because I had read that in a few places.
Buckingham: I donít believe that, no. I donít remember that. Even if he had, that has nothing to do with who was the architect of the sound ...
Gazette: No, no, no. Where I was going with that (was that) it seemed like a strange meeting of two different versions of the group Ė and if that had been an accurate story ....
Buckingham: Well, you can always call Mick and ask him. I donít recall that. Anything is possible, though. I donít believe so.
Gazette: OK. Iíll scratch that one.
Buckingham: Because you know why? If he had played on it, believe me Ė Mick would have seen to it that he got credit.
Gazette: OK, then itís time to get that story off the record. I seem to remember lines being drawn in the 1976, '77 era when those who embraced punk identified groups like Fleetwood Mac as the enemy. How did that division look from your vantage point at the time?
Buckingham: Well, you know, I donít remember it being any kind of a self-esteem problem (laughs). Because, quite honestly, there were things about Fleetwood Mac that I myself felt were not necessarily my cup of tea. But what all the new music that came out in the late '70s did for me was to give me a reinforcement to go out and do what I thought was important to do, which was to keep trying new things, to remain true to your imagination and not to fall into the further trap of adhering to what, say, a record company would like you to be Ė to define yourself as others would like to have you defined. Because thatís the beginning of painting yourself into a corner.
And so any of that kind of talk about us being the enemy didnít have any resonance with me because, to some degree, I was, I guess, within Fleetwood Mac, a little bit the subverting factor anyway. I couldnít tell whose side I was on. (Laughs)
Gazette: Has it been accurately reported that you donít read music?
Buckingham: Thatís true. Itís just that I started very young. I was always interested in listening to music Ė and, of course, when my older brother brought home Heartbreak Hotel, that was it. I basically learned to play guitar by getting a chord book and just sitting in his room and listening to his records and learning songs. I donít read music, Iíve never had a lesson, I donít know anything about music other than what my inner knowledge is.
Gazette: In what way have you found that to be a help or a hindrance? Have you found at times that you wished you read? Paul McCartney, I believe, has said he has found it a benefit not to read music.
Buckingham: Well, I donít know. Itís hard to know, because if I were to learn, itís hard to know if it would facilitate certain things that now just remain sort of enigmas to me or not. Iím sure that, on some level, it canít hurt. But more people than not, when I discuss that issue with them Ė people who have been to music school and who do know music Ė basically, I get the same answer over and over again: ďDonít change anything because you have found something that is you, itís uniquely you, and youíre working from the centre out. Youíre not working from a set of constructions that someone has defined as right or wrong.Ē So I think whatever facilitating factor knowledge can have in that context, most people will tell you that it also has a constricting factor. So I have never felt the need to go out and do that.
Gazette: This allows us to talk a bit about your guitar playing. Youíve always seemed comfortable with both acoustic picking and wailing away on electric. Does each aspect of guitar playing have its own benefits or is there one you secretly prefer?
Buckingham: My foundation is acoustic guitar, and it is finger picking and all of that and sort of an orchestral style of playing. Lead guitar came later, more out of the necessity to do so because of expectations in a particular situation.
When I was in a band after high school and in college, I didnít even play the guitar. I played the bass because I couldnít play lead and I didnít have the gear. So I fell into that part of it relatively late.
Itís sort of odd. Lately, Iíve been putting together ... viewing some footage of what will be a live show (DVD) that we shot. And you look at the close-ups of the guitar when Iím playing electric, and itís bizarre because I donít use a pick and I donít really know what Iím doing and I donít analyze what I do. And when I watch what my fingers are doing, Iím going ďWow! Am I doing that?Ē Itís a fairly odd thing that Iíve been able to do, to avoid using a pick. But to some degree, I guess itís that sensibility that defines a little bit of the sound that I am able to get as an electric guitarist.
Gazette: Is the footage from a live Fleetwood Mac ...
Buckingham: No, no, no. For a show that we shot in Texas ...
Gazette: On this tour?
Buckingham: Yes. And itís going to be coming out on an HD channel and also then will be a DVD in the fall.
Gazette: Out of the Cradle was always one of my all-time favourite albums by anybody. I notice youíre not playing much of it on this tour. What are your feelings about how that disc turned out?
Buckingham: That wasnít for a particular reason. There was no conscious effort to avoid that. We are doing Turn It On, and we had learned All My Sorrows and, I think, one other one, but somehow, when we were putting the set together, you always learn more stuff than you ultimately end up putting in the set. And the one song made it and the other one didnít. But yes, youíre right, I would like to be doing at least one other song from that album. It would seem appropriate. But the way things worked out, at least early on, it just didnít happen. And so I have no reason. I canít give you any logic behind that other than the luck of the draw, I guess.
Gazette: The much-publicized confrontation you had with the other members of Fleetwood Mac in 1987 wasnít anything you werenít able to patch up later. But what were your feelings about the situation at that time?
Buckingham: I didnít think of it as a confrontation. I thought of it as a non-confrontation, in a way.
We had done Tango In the Night, which was the last album that Iíd produced in that 12-year run. Weíd done almost all of that up at my house. Mick was living in a Winnebago trailer in the front yard. You have to look at what was happening with the band at that time, which was that everybodyís level of craziness was at the max at that point.
It was very, very difficult to get that album completed. Stevie was off in a million different directions and out of a year working on that, we probably saw her for a couple of weeks. It was cut-and-paste. It was very, very difficult, not only in terms of availability but in terms of peopleís clarity, the way that they were conducting themselves.
And so, usually, what happens is if things are crazy in a studio, itís usually times five on the road. And I kind of hit the wall. I said, ďYou know, Iíve got to think about myself here and reclaim not only my sanity, but my sense of an identity, my life in general. And also to try to guard my creativity because this thing is going to hit the wall and burst into a million pieces if things donít change.Ē And that was the only thing I could do. I couldnít change anybody. I could only change myself. And so it was a survival move, pure and simple. I never regretted it for a minute.
I think time bore out that decision. A couple of years later, Stevie said, ďI should have left when you did.Ē They got a couple of guys to play guitar, who were somewhat generic. And it was sort of a downhill spiral from there. Not only did I feel vindicated on that level Ė which you could say is a little petty, but I didnít care. I wasnít even paying attention to what they were doing. I was only concerned with making sure that I wasnít one of those people who would hit the wall.
Gazette: How much of Under the Skin can be traced back to Gift of Screws?
Buckingham: Only a couple of songs. Much of what youíre referring to ended up on Say You Will, the Fleetwood Mac album, three years ago. And if you look at Out of the Cradle and then me coming off the road and taking a break for a while and then starting up again, it was not for lack of intent that it took so long to get another solo album out. I began stuff and, maybe it was a mistake, but I asked Mick to come in and play drums and that led to the shelving of that so that the band could make a live album, The Dance. When I got back to it and I had worked on it for a while, then there was this idea of doing a studio album, so much of that material got placed on Say You Will. I think the only two songs that go back that far that are on Under the Skin are Down On Rodeo and Someoneís Gotta Change Your Mind.
Gazette: Itís been said, from time to time, that domestic contentment is the enemy of great art. But Under the Skin tends to show the opposite. It indicates a level of happiness on your part. How do you think family life has changed your work?
Buckingham: Well, you know, one of the droves in Fleetwood Mac was to just live in denial and live with feelings you had all compartmentalized and walled up. That was the only way the situation with two couples having broken up was able to be accomplished. Because none of us ever got closure and none of us ever had any time not to see each other. It was very difficult. And I think the residue from that was that there were a lot of questions, a lot of defences hanging out there long after the situation had disappeared.
Plus, I had seen a lot of my friends ... I donít know if itís fair to say they screwed up their kids, but certainly they were not there for their kids and they were the wrong kind of presence for their kids when they were there. I wasnít going to do that, so you cut to years later, and Iím maybe 46, 47 years old. And in theory, Iím in a position where I could have children and get married for the first time, but what are the odds at that point? And then, luckily, I did actually meet someone and all that happened.
And it has been a great gift. It has answered a lot of those questions that were left hanging out. It has put everything in a completely different perspective. I think itís allowed me to look at the world far more tenderly, and it certainly has created a whole second act to my personal life, which .... I mean, this is the best time of my life.
So yes, there are times when the logistics can get a little messy in times of how you allot your time, but it has given me, as an artist, a whole other vocabulary to approach music. Thatís why I feel like the material that ended up on Say You Will was meant to go there. It had John and Mick on it anyway. The lag time was so great between its inception and the time it actually did find itself a home, it wasnít necessarily who I was as a person anymore. And being a family member, being a father, a husband ... it puts things in a more intimate context and the music, I think, reflects that. And that seems to connect with the notion that I seem to be interested in paring down and making something thatís more minimal as well. So it all seems to hang together.
Gazette: Let me make sure Iíve got the names right here. Your wife is Kristen?
Gazette: And the children: William is 8?
Buckingham: Mmmm hmmm.
Gazette: Leelee, 6?
Buckingham: Thatís right.
Gazette: And Stella, 2, right?
Buckingham: Thatís right.
Gazette: We hear one of them at the end of Flying Down Juniper. Which one is that?
Buckingham: Thatís Will. We have an intercom on the phone ... well, that was the old house. Weíre not there anymore, but I was working in the studio and Iíd just finished the take, and all of a sudden, ďDinner, daddy!Ē So I had to leave it in. Itís a perfect ending. (Chuckles).
Gazette: Itís great. Itís very sweet.
(Warner Bros. rep breaks in): Bernie, sorry to interrupt. Can you wrap up with one more question, please?
Gazette: Uhh ... yes. OK. Let me see.
Buckingham: You can ask two if you want. (Laughs). Whatever works.
Gazette. OK. Iím roughly in your ballpark age-wise, and I canít imagine having children that young. Mine are grown. What have you found to be the challenges and blessings of having young children?
Buckingham: Well, I donít have anything to compare it to. Iím 57, but Iím a pretty energetic 57. Yes, Iím sure youíre right. This is a time when couples are saying ďAh, our work is done. We can have some adult time again.Ē That would be a downside, I suppose, if you want to look at it as a downside. You donít get a lot of adult time. But, then again, whatís an adult?
I donít know. I wasnít married before. I donít have an older set of children. I donít have a set of comparison points. One thing I will say is that on the other side of the spectrum, my God, my mom and dad got married right out of college. So my mom was, like, 21, maybe 22 when she had my older brother. If itís a choice between being a child yourself and having a child or being someone whoís at least been allowed to go through a process and get to a point where they feel theyíve got a perspective on themselves, I would think, in some ways, youíre better suited to being a parent at a later point.
Gazette: OK. So the last thing I want to ask ... I have to strike a blow for the collectors here because so many ...
Buckingham: (Laughs) Itís the Buckingham Nicks collection, isnít it?
Gazette: You got it. Everybodyís always asking. Are there any plans to issue this thing on CD?
Buckingham: You know, my answer is always yes. And I believe that thatís a truthful answer. Itís the best answer I can give, but itís also a situation which is symptomatic of one of the things that can be wrong with Fleetwood Mac, or certainly with Stevieís and my situation. We canít always get things on the same page or get organized. Thereís a certain inertia to that and thereís kind of a sense of well, when is it going to make sense to do it? Or is it ever going to make sense to do it? So I donít know. I have to say yes, but I donít know. Call up Stevieís people and ask 'em. (Laughs).
Gazette: Itís been great talking to you. Thanks for taking so much time.
Buckingham: Oh, itís my pleasure.
Gazette: And Iím really looking forward to the show next Wednesday.
Buckingham: Good, well, weíll see you there.
Gazette: OK, good. Thank you. Bye.
Buckingham: Take care. Bye.
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