Christine Talks to Tulsa World (July 1990)
NEW YORK - Christine McVie was concerned about the new Fleetwood Mac album. Everyone was getting along so well, but all the songs seemed so sad. Something had to be done.
"Everything was getting to the point of where it was a downer album," explained the singer and keyboardist, who dashed off the upbeat "Skies the Limit," with its vow: "The sky is the limit now. We can hit it on the nail." "It sounded like this was a potential suicide band, which it wasn't. I decided to write a song that was really up, it was a rally song."
That's about all the drama involved with "Behind the Mask," a letdown, perhaps, to fans used to the breakups, freakouts and dropouts of the band's 23 years. All the heartbreak of this album is on the album, like the title track, written by McVie, or Stevie Nicks' "The Second Time."
This is Fleetwood Mac, Phase IV, an easy-going combination of Phases I through III. The current lineup: original members John McVie on bass and Mick Fleetwood on drums; Christine, who joined in 1970; Nicks, a member of the class of '74, and new guitarists Billy Burnette and Rick Vito, replacements for Lindsey Buckingham.
And the band's getting all just fine, Christine insists. Life has become as dramatic as an outdoor barbecue, finally living up to Fleetwood Mac's sound of endless summer.
"It was actually a joyous year. There were times when we thought that we had to be unhappy to do well, but that's a fantasy," she insisted in a telephone interview from her home in Los Angeles.
"`Rumours' was made under great duress, with huge emotional problems all over the place," said McVie, referring to the best-selling 1977 album recorded while two marriages in the band were breaking up.
"That's not the ideal recording situation or the ideal writing situation. I don't write great songs when I'm miserable. I don't write when I'm miserable."
Pop with a twist has long been the secret for Fleetwood Mac, authors of "Go Your Own Way," a good old-fashioned rock 'n' roll divorce song, and "Tusk," which introduced radio to the tribal beat of tissue boxes.
Then there's "Hold Me," a hit single in 1982. As written by McVie, it's a pretty mid-tempo ballad, with some neat lyrics - "slip your hand inside my glove" - and a nice, fluid rhythm track pushing the song along.
But then Buckingham steps in for a little "additional engineering," the kind that caused three-year waits between albums.
Harmonies rush in and out like the waves of the Pacific, McVie's voice almost lost underneath. A harpsichord jangles in the background. Two lead guitars are used during the break. The sound of a strummed acoustic guitar pops up and quickly disappears. Tuning and studio distortion make the plucking of strings from another guitar sound like a broken cuckoo clock.
"It would be trial and error with Lindsey," McVie said. "He would take a song and treat it like a huge canvas, an oil painting. He would put down something he thought was good, start to erase things and paint it blue. It would sound nothing like the original.
"But I was always close behind Lindsey's back. I'm something of a studio junkie myself. I learned a lot from Lindsey and tried to carry it on into this album, trying to make sure that everything fit.
McVie has bailed out the band before. In 1970, guitarist Peter Green, a founding member, quit the then-British blues group a month before they were to begin an American tour. McVie, who had given up a promising singing career to keep house, was hastily recruited.
"I thought the whole thing was really bizarre when I was asked to join," she recalled. "I had been a big fan of Fleetwood Mac with Peter Green and (guitarist) Jeremy Spencer. On my night off, I'd go to see Fleetwood Mac and ending up dating John.
"We were all living in the same house. We were all very much like a family, tie-dyed T-shirts, smoking pot. After rehearsing on the road, the band decided it wanted to augment the sound with a keyboard. Since I was there, they just turned around and said, `Chris, you come along."'
Four years later, it was McVie's turn to make room for new faces. In 1971, Spencer disappeared for five days before the band discovered he had joined a California sect called Cult of God. Spencer's replacement, Bob Welch, quit the band. Another guitarist, Danny Kirwan, was fired.
Reduced to just the two McVies and Fleetwood, the band took a chance on an obscure California husband-and-wife team with an album called "Buckingham Nicks." Christine quickly gave them a tryout.
"That was the biggest thrill of my life," McVie recalled of their first meeting. "I had written `Say You Love Me.' I sang the chorus to them and, immediately, Stevie and Lindsey came to me with these amazing harmonies. I remember getting these chills inside.
"We immediately liked them both and they liked us. We were all very close. We socialized a lot at the beginning, did the old Mexican food runs. I shared an apartment with Stevie for a while. We're more like family now than friends, We get together for holidays or I'll have a party at my house."
That hardly sounds like a group ready to split. Nicks, who has made several solo albums, was once considered the most likely to leave, but now swears she's in for keeps. Fleetwood and John McVie aren't going anywhere, they're best friends and it's really their group. Vito and Burnette are just starting out, still grateful to be included.
So, half relieved, half disappointed, Christine says the long-expected breakup will never come, and wonders how life with this ever-changing band could become so stable, so comfortable.
"It seems to be like we've grown roots, like big old oak trees," she laughed. "Maybe we should chop it down or it's going to keep growing.
"We'll never really stop playing with each other unless we really couldn't stand up anymore. We've barely scratched what we're capable of doing."