Launch Online (12/21/2003), Return of the Mac
Launch Online, December 21, 2003
Return of the Mac
by Dave DiMartino
Ever since Fleetwood Mac reunited in 1997 for their landmark VH1 performance, live album The Dance, and subsequent world tour, their fans have been waiting for them to get back in the studio and record a full album's worth of new material. Well, it took six years, but finally, in 2003, the group released their long-awaited comeback disc Say You Will--which doesn't include the participation of core band member Christine McVie, but nevertheless sounds like vintage Fleetwood.
LAUNCH executive editor Dave DiMartino recently met up with Mac-mates John McVie, Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, and Mick Fleetwood at Los Angeles's Culver Studios to discuss the making of the new album, Christine's absence, and whether or not they think Fleetwood Mac has a place in today's teen-saturated pop market. Here's what these living legends had to say:
LAUNCH: How was it getting back to being record makers, as opposed to just being live performers?
JOHN: Well, it was exciting and interesting...and quite easy.
STEVIE: Yeah, I think once we did The Dance, we were tuned to do it. And then we were out there in the middle of tour, Christine said, "I don't think I can do this anymore." So, at the end of the 40 shows, it was like we were all looking for work. It was over, very much over--shockingly over. So I think that we all went away to take time to decide whether or not we could do another record without Chris, or whether or not we wanted to do another record without Chris. So it took a while, everyone hemmed and hawed, and then Lindsey, working on his solo project, called John and Mick and they got together and did some playing, and then pretty soon it was like the train was rolling. Then I was getting ready to go on tour for my Trouble In Shangri-La record, and right as I was leaving, July 1st, they moved into a house in Bel Air to record the record, knowing that I was going on this tour and that I would make it as fast as possible and get back as fast as I could. I gave Lindsey and Mick a CD with 17 songs on it and said, "Here's 17 songs, old, new, medium, and there they are, it's as good as I can do for not being there--hopefully you'll like some of them, and if you do, go ahead and record some of them, I trust you. I'll get back as soon as I can. And I got back and we started last February 1 every day, from then until now.
LAUNCH: A Fleetwood Mac album without Christine McVie--what's the major difference?
MICK: I think the layout of the record stems from the fact that with just one [band member] out and much more of a playground to play in with material and dynamics that went on in the making of the album...with Chris's absence it changed quite radically in many ways. There was more space for how this album turned out. From Lindsey's perspective, the body of work was something he had been working on for quite some time. This [process of] finding a way to make it work, and then the outcome of it working exceptionally really well, that's what has come out of Chris not being there. It helped to create this particular album, no doubt, I think.
LAUNCH: Lindsey, if the catalyst to getting together for the reunion tour was bringing former band members to work on your solo album, is the stuff we hear on Say You Will some of that stuff, or completely new material?
LINDSEY: Of my material, it is all of that. So in that sense, that was a completed mission in terms of the creativity of it, in terms of the process of finishing it. But it was just not complete in that I was not comfortable giving it to Warner Bros. They were in a period of transition. The regime there had one foot out the door, were not very focused on the solo project idea. And so, being uneasy about that and Mick having sort of been a part of that, we thought about giving ourselves some options. So we got some songs of Stevie's from her and started cutting those, we got a house and started recording in the house, with the intention if that all worked very well, and it was all seeming to be the right thing, that it would morph into a Fleetwood Mac album. And that's exactly what happened.
LAUNCH: So what is the process in writing and then picking songs for yourself, as opposed to the songs for the band?
STEVIE: My songwriting is pretty much the same as it was when I wrote my first song when I was 15. I'm not really thinking, "Oh, I'm going to write a song for Fleetwood Mac" or "I'm going to write a song for me" or "I'm going to write a song for something else." I just write, and the songs pretty much go where they're supposed to go. The process for me never really changes.
LAUNCH: "Peacekeeper" was the first single off this album. To what extent would you say that Say You Will touches on current political matters?
STEVIE: Well, you know I didn't write [a song like Say You Will track] "Illume (9-11)" to try and be political. I wrote it because I had arrived in New York at 3 o'clock in the morning, in the middle of the night, and had gone to the Waldorf Astoria hotel and got there at 4:30 and then unpacked, went to bed at 7:30, and then somewhere between 10:30 and 11, my assistant came in and tapped me on the shoulder and said, "I think you need to wake up and see what's happening." And so I was in New York for three days, and it was so disturbing, and "Illume" was a poem that I wrote when I got back to Los Angeles at the end of that tour. There was part of me that thought I might never get home. It was so frightening out there. So I wrote this poem "Illume," and when I went home two months later, I wanted to write a few new songs for this record and pulled all of my poetry out from my journals that I had from over that year and the tour, and I pulled out the "Illume" poem. I thought, "Maybe I can very subtly put this to music." I never expected it to be a song that would be anything more than for the people that were in New York City that day. Because I can't write about how everybody else felt--I can only write about how I felt and how I feel New Yorkers felt that day, that morning. So I'm very, very proud of that song. I wanted to say something for those people. That would be forever.
LAUNCH: How does criticism within the band affect the making of music now?
JOHN: I think I'm a lot more open!
STEVIE: You know, just to keep a band together is hard. You have to work at it all the time. It's like a relationship. And it's not just two people, it's four or five, or whatever. You have to work on it hard every day to make it work, and that doesn't change. There are arguments, there are fights, there are disagreements, and there are things that are like, "No way, I'm not doing that, I don't like that!" And then, "Well, OK, let's talk about this." And then it's, "What are we going to do, if you don't like this, how are we going to change it, how are we going to make it so you like it, and how are we going to make it so I like it too?" And this goes on constantly. And that's the process from which those songs form.
LAUNCH: The Rumours album was clearly about personal things that were going on in the band at the time, but this record, I think, is a little bit emotionally different...
STEVIE: I don't think it's easier now. I think that it's just as hard to make a record now as it was to make a record in 1976. We're all very passionate about our beliefs and we're all very stubborn and we're all a little immovable in certain places, and this last year was very difficult in many ways. But I feel this is what makes a great record. If we had walked into the Bel Air house every day and said, "Oh ,that's great, that's terrific, sure, whatever you want," this record would not have been that studio record that we started out wanting to make. We wanted this to be a great record, we didn't want this just to be a record. So we all stood our ground every single day, on many, many things. And we got it together. Like in a relationship, we worked it out. And we're still standing at the end of the record, which is what we were all hoping from the beginning: that we would all come out of this with something that we were very proud of and that we're all still very close to one another and all still love one another. And we're a band. Above all, we're a band.
LAUNCH: You're obviously all at a point where you don't have to work--so why continue?
STEVIE: 'Cause it's what we do. We don't have another job. This is what we do. If we didn't do this, what would we do? We would not enjoy just sitting around and doing nothing. It doesn't matter how much money you have. Do we have to work every single day, would we have to get a day job if this all didn't work out? No. But what would we do? This is our job, forever.
JOHN: And has been.
STEVIE: And has been for so long that we can't even remember the last job we had before this job!
LAUNCH: Who do you guys think is going to go see you perform, who is going to go buy your record, and who is going to play your record on the radio?
STEVIE: Now, you have to imagine, when we joined the band, I was 29, Lindsey was 28, and we had fans that were in their 50s, so dig that! At 54 years old, that's like people that are in their 70s that are rocking. So, those people are going to come to see us.
JOHN: And their kids, and their kids...
STEVIE: And then their kids, in the fanmail that comes in, the statement that I hear is, "Fleetwood Mac fans' children are really wanting to know about Fleetwood Mac because they've been hearing it their whole lives." We've been so like lucky, 'cause we have three generations of people that are listening to our records, and there are younger people listening--I know it, because I hear from them. I know this is going on. So I think there's going to be a group of amazing young people up to probably to people that are pretty old, and they'll be there rocking.
LAUNCH: Are you pretty confident that the market is still there?
LINDSEY: There is an odd thing that part of our success, during the Rumours time and even after that, was based on how we had been two couples and that our emotional struggles were laid bare for everyone to see. It sort of tapped into the voyeur in everybody, and it sort of tapped into a protectiveness that people had for us. So I think that now there's an element that remains in terms of appreciating us as people and that there's vulnerability underneath whatever else may be presented. That's never been very far from the surface, so I think that there's a humanizing effect that all of that has had, in terms of the perception that people have had of us. And I think that in many ways, it's not that hard for a 20-year-old to see that, if they've been exposed to the music. It's something that's reassuring, that there are people out there who are managing to persevere and to keep their idealism--not to mention that their craft keeps improving--and to remain cohesive not only as a musical unit but an emotional unit, as an extended family, that has the subtext of care and mutual respect. And I think that has a lot to do with people responding to us on that level, and not just on a musical level.
LAUNCH: I wonder if building that kind of long-term fanbase is even possible these days.
MICK: Sadly, I think you're more correct than not that the industry has dictated that that type of longevity and being able to be around for more than five minutes, as it were. I really hope that it's somewhat changing, 'cause I think the talent base is still there. It just isn't allowed to breathe in a sense, where it's not constantly looking over your shoulder to see whether you're in or out of business, are you right shape, are you whatever else that's going on. The music business has in many ways really become an entertainment business, and that part is not a sin, but it is a great shame in the sense of what you're talking about: Does it spawn bands and artists that have a hope in hell to have a lifespan? I really hope that people are waking up, because I think the business itself, it comes back to bite the people who like to make money and everything else, because they're not building catalog, they're not building song content that goes on for years. I think there's people out there now who are starting to get the gist that maybe a change is a bit appropriate, to pay attention where you cradle something and actually stay with it and have the chutzpa to say, "We're behind these people." It's sadly much disappeared.
Thanks to MS for the submission.
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