Cincinnatti City Beat Interview Re: Under The Skin
Lindsey Buckingham's Fleetwood Mac reunion feeds into introspective solo album
Interview By Brian Baker
Photo By Frank Ockenfels II
Reviled for Fleetwood Mac's pop successes, Lindsey Buckingham is now revered as a visionary, a journey he expresses on his quietly gorgeous new solo album, Under the Skin.
Everything concerning Fleetwood Mac ultimately grew to legendary proportions after the arrival of Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham in 1975. The success, the turmoil, the work, the acclaim, the derision and the creative toll all eventually became the story rather than components of the story -- and in many ways guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Buckingham was the lightning rod for much of the backlash against the reconfigured and commercially viable Fleetwood Mac.
To be fair, Fleetwood Mac had shifted numerous times before Buckingham and Nicks joined. Beginning as an incendiary Blues band in the '60s under the guidance of hallowed guitarist Peter Green, the Mac had moved toward a more Pop-based sound with the additions of Danny Kirwin and Bob Welch. Buckingham and Nicks merely tweaked the formula and spun gold (and platinum) in the process.
History might look a little more kindly on Buckingham's role in Fleetwood Mac's rise than the band's contemporary critics, many of whom bristled at their Pop transformation and were horrified at its almost universal commercial acceptance. To date, Rumours, the second Mac album to feature Buckingham and Nicks, has sold nearly 30 million copies since its 1977 release, making it one of the most successful albums ever. And yet Tusk, its 1979 follow-up, both hailed and reviled at the time, has long been considered the poster album for excessive studio tinkering and self-indulgent largesse.
Dichotomies abound in the Fleetwood Mac story, and Buckingham has been slightly bemused by most of them. He exited the band in 1987 to start a solo career, which has been critically lauded but not particularly lucrative commercially, a curious fact for someone who was long considered the spark plug for Mac's superstardom.
Buckingham last tested the solo waters with 1992's Out of the Cradle, an album that drew critical praise but was no blockbuster. Since that time, he's returned to the Mac camp twice, for 1998's retrospective live album The Dance and its subsequent record-breaking tour and 2003's platinum reunion album (albeit without Christine McVie), Say You Will.
In both cases, Buckingham set aside solo work to concentrate on Mac concerns; he's also married and a father of two, which has naturally reordered his priorities. Given all that, Buckingham has an interesting perspective on his new solo project -- the quietly gorgeous Under the Skin, his first album on his own in nearly 15 years -- and the events that forestalled it.
"It was, in retrospect, a good thing, but probably more specifically because what would have been the solo album would not have been what you're hearing," says Buckingham of the Mac-caused delays. "It would have been largely what's on Say You Will. Part of the process of getting interrupted the second time was actually just giving over the material. I can see now that it was just meant to be that way, because that stuff hearkened back to a few years earlier, literally right before we did The Dance. It's got Mick (Fleetwood) all over it, and it's just a different thing. Since the time I recorded those tracks with Mick and Rob Cavallo, my whole idea about what I want to do solo-wise has changed dramatically."
Buckingham recognizes now that he was probably subconsciously writing a Fleetwood Mac album when he conceived the tracks that became Say You Will. In contrast, much of the material that comprises Under the Skin was written on the road while he was touring Say You Will with Mac, making these songs, in some ways, a reaction to the songs he'd relegated to Mac status.
"I had a cheap Korg 16-track in my hotel rooms, which I would use on my days off," Buckingham recalls. "I had not written any new material in quite a while, because I guess in some way I was waiting for this other group of tunes to find a home, and once it finally did it was like taking a laxative. Although that's not a good analogy. It might sound judgmental on the songs."
The result of this process, along with everything Buckingham had experienced in the previous decade, was a more stripped back, contemplative and introspective set of songs. Under the Skin is a lyrical examination of his profoundly different new life as a committed father and husband and a musical evocation of his role as evolutionary studio scientist and finger-picking guitar ninja.
"On a musical level, I had seen quite a few of my songs that were originally ensemble songs that I had converted to being just simple guitar songs -- 'Big Love' and 'Go Insane' and those kinds of songs -- and I had come to the realization that there was something so effective in that empty approach," Buckingham says. "It was about getting back in touch with an orchestral style of playing and thinking about that as a valid approach for an album, but still not wanting to make an album with just voice and guitar.
"We weren't looking for Woody Guthrie tracks. It still had to have certain production values. So what I ended up doing with these songs was about what I didn't do -- I didn't use bass or drums, and I wanted to present the songs in the spirit of someone sitting in their living room playing, with production values."
Critics are now seeing Buckingham's Fleetwood Mac and solo excursions -- outside of the romantic, musical and chemical entanglements that clouded their original contexts -- as the bold sonic experiments he intended them to be in their times.
"The very thing that made Fleetwood Mac as interesting as it was also made it very difficult, because we were probably a very unlikely group of people together," Buckingham says. "It became apparent that we didn't all want the same things for the same reasons. So in my environment as it existed in Fleetwood Mac, and maybe all of the residue that exists in people's perceptions about it subsequently, is that in order to maintain a sense of yourself as an individual and your own definition of success and growth you sometimes have to think of yourself as someone who has not necessarily a vision, but something that elevates on some level beyond the concerns other people have."
In that spirit, Rolling Stone praised him as "one of Rock's most undervalued visionaries," which he addresses in Under the Skin's opening track, "Not Too Late": "So that's been a problem, feeling unheard/ So called visions always deferred/ It must be the reason I developed this need/ You know you should never believe what you read." Buckingham is clearly reticent about accepting that particular accolade, but he understands its implications.
"No one else is going to be there to tell you, 'Yeah, let's take these chances,' " says Buckingham. "What's that great Brian Wilson song? 'I Wasn't Made for These Times.' It's the same thing. He's talking about how every time he tries to think of something new, he can't find anybody to get excited about it. He's the only one who will transcend the stereotype. You have to learn to be your own biggest booster. I would never call myself a visionary -- I think Bud Scoppa wrote that -- but I do appreciate what he meant.
"That's what ('Not Too Late') addresses. It's about having to carry some stalwart version of yourself around in order to just to get through the belief that you want to implement on a musical level. Of course, the irony is that at the end of the song I'm sort of disclaiming the whole thing, and that is the problem that people fall into.
"There are all sorts of things that you get defined as when you are visible, none of which are necessarily true. The only real surety in that song is that here's a person who's been very stalwart about doing something for a very long time, even to the point where he's wondering if his own kids are wondering what's wrong with Daddy. And that's part of the push/pull, following through on some seeds you may have planted years and years ago that you still feel you have to be responsible for and being a parent at the same time."
2006-10-18 Number of views: