Interviews & Features

Going His Own Way

Lindsey Buckingham talks about his collaboration with Fleetwood Mac mate Christine McVie

By Gary Graff
July 21, 2017

When Lindsey Buckingham joined Fleetwood Mac — along with then-girlfriend Stevie Nicks — in 1975, nobody could have guessed it was the emergence of one of the most fascinating and adventurous musicians of the rock era. Buckingham proved his playing and singing chops and songwriting acumen early; but starting with the group’s polarizing Tusk album in 1979 he stepped out as a creative force with unique and distinctive — not to mention fearless — ambitions, taking mainstream pop music into new and challenging areas while still keeping it palatable enough for platinum sales and hit singles. Buckingham has held strong over the course of six Fleetwood Mac albums and another six solo sets, while this year he and Mac mate Christine McVie, who returned to the band in 2013 after a 15-year hiatus, joined forces for a duo project of their own (supported by the Mac rhythm section of Mick Fleetwood and John McVie), with a tour to promote it as well as Mac’s two shows at the The Classic concerts in Los Angeles and New York.

FGPO: The Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie album came as something of a surprise. When you went in the studio during 2014, it was assumed they would be songs for the next Fleetwood Mac album.

Buckingham: When we went into [the studio] before the last tour I think the gesture and the impulse was more to welcome Christine back into the band in a way that wasn’t just jumping into rehearsals. I don’t think we really knew what it was going to be at that time, and I don’t think we cared. We didn’t go in saying we were making a duet album or it was any particular thing. It was more just the idea of giving her as much of a complete reorientation into our world as possible and being mindful of the fact we had these songs and we wanted to explore that dynamic again and welcome her in that way.

FGPO: So was there a “Eureka!” moment where you knew this might become what it did?

Buckingham: I think about a week or so in it was so clear to both of us that it was something that had a life of its own. If someone leaves for 15 years and comes back, I would think more often than not trying to regain that moment or that set of musical reference points or the vocabulary that you shared in a creative process might have gone away or might be hard to re-establish. But in this case, there was something about her distance from the band and coming back that was a sense of reaffirmation of her creativity. And I’d done more solo work, small-machine work, if you will, and grown in that way. The two things combined added up to an enhanced dynamic for the two of us. So I don’t think it took very long of being in the studio, even though we didn’t go in with any intention. I think we started to realize that there was something magical happening between the two of us, and you tend to get a little protective over that, you know.

FGPO: It’s always been obvious that you and Christine have had a unique chemistry. Can you even explain what it is that you two do that’s so special and unique just to the two of you?

Buckingham: Well, I think it’s a little hard to be objective about that. I mean, you could say the same thing about Fleetwood Mac; it’s a group of people that don’t necessarily all belong to the same band together on paper, if you look at the parts it doesn’t really add up, but it creates something that’s more than the sum of its parts. I remember being in rehearsals with Christine and the rest of the band before we cut that first album, and we were running down song ideas. I wasn’t even sure what my role was gonna be at that point; obviously it was kind of a lesson in adaptation for me, and maybe giving up on certain things and concentrating on other things which were maybe strengths for the good of the band. But it was so clear that right away that Christine and I had this thing. She was just really looking for direction. She was open to me taking liberties with her songs. So early on, that was probably the first thing that hit me about being in Fleetwood Mac was being extremely aware that I had something to contribute to Christine’s songs as a producer and possibly as a co-writer.

FGPO: Which had to be heady since she had been a member of this established band for a long time already and you were some young upstart.

Buckingham: [laughs] It just came from this sort of chemistry that I can’t really analyze. I think we just have this mutual respect as musicians and as artists. We’re both really grounded in our craft, and I think in the same way she’s filled in the middle ground between one pole and another pole that Stevie and I might represent, you know, on the right and the left, I think that when you make it just the two of us, it’s that thing. It sort of naturally unites.

FGPO: Is it a surprise that Christine is back in Fleetwood Mac?

Buckingham: Well, sure. For years I was telling everybody she’ll never be in the band again. She’s gone. I really believed that, that she’d burned all her bridges and needed to get out of L.A. and needed to move on from that scene. Then Christine starting having conversations with Mick expressing her want to rejoin the band, and in the interim she had reconnected with her muse and kept sending me all this stuff. It just really organically played out in a way, which seems appropriate. And if you’re talking about Fleetwood Mac having maybe one more act for this play, or whatever you want to call it, I can’t think of a better way to do it.

FGPO: Did you get to do anything guitar-wise on the album, that felt new or like something that you hadn’t been able to tap into for awhile?

Buckingham: Oh, I don’t think so. That wasn’t really so much my agenda. I think the closest thing to that is “Love Is Here to Stay,” which is based on a guitar-picking piece. But there’s not so much in that style that I’ve been trying to touch on in my solo work, like “Big Love” and some of those other ones would. And it wasn’t really something I was too worried about.

FGPO: This was more of a songwriting album, it sounds like.

Buckingham: Yeah, it is. It’s funny; I have a solo album, which is just about done and probably should be coming out at the beginning of next year, and for some reason that sort of ended up being a pop album, too. I’m not sure why. It doesn’t really have that sort of single guitar representation either, you know. So maybe I’m just going through a phase here. [laughs.]

FGPO: What were some of the best creative adventures on the album?

Buckingham: Well, there was more co-writership on this than we’d ever done before. Part of that was a function of her openness and even what you would call vulnerability of coming back into the band and coming into the creative process again. Part of it was something I think she was asking for from me, in a larger sense, than maybe she thought about doing before. Part of it was me, again, applying my own growth and perhaps even being proactive about taking, if you want to use the word, liberties. So a song like “Feel About You” had a completely different thing; it’s still basically her song, but it got completely removed from the feel and from some of the melodic applications that she had going, and enough so that that became kind of a co-writership kind of thing. That was one way in which we interacted. Another way, which was even more—sort of—by the book, was that I had had a lot of tracks that I had done by myself here at the house, in the studio, that were basically chord changes, riffs, beats — basically, like a produced track with some kind of melody played on, like, a lead guitar, and arrangements and sections.

FGPO: With a song like “Too Far Gone” it’s nice to have something on there that really kicks it more than the others.

Buckingham: Yeah, and that one does refer back to her blues roots a little bit, which was great. That and something like “Red Sun” had just these beginnings of what the melody should be or what I thought it should be, on the guitar. And then I gave those to her, and she took the ones that she felt good about and wrote lyrics and completely articulated the melody in a much more rhythmic and sophisticated way than I had done on the guitar. So that blew my mind that she was taking the basic seed of what was there for me but was enhancing it a great deal. So that was a little more by the book of two people having a little more delineated sense of coming up with a co-writership.

FGPO: It’s important that Mick and John were playing on this as well.

Buckingham: Absolutely! I mean, again, when we went in the studio that was done for a comfort level for Christine, creating the sense of family in the studio for her as part of her return. But obviously on another level, they’re just the best, you know? You couldn’t ask for a better rhythm section to play on this group of tunes, for sure. So we were very happy on a number of levels to have them there.

FGPO: Do you think you and Christine will do more shows to promote the album?

Buckingham: We certainly could end up doing another leg. There was some talk about going to Europe. Again, in the same way the albums started off as sort of a lark, we don’t have any agenda for any scenario here. I’m just thinking the shows are going to be fun no matter what we do, and we’ll see where it goes. We’re just enjoying each other’s company and enjoying revisiting our dynamic. I just think it’s such a surprisingly positive thing, this whole project coming together and the way that it did, and how it turned out. So I’m just happy with whatever happens.

FGPO: What’s on tap for Fleetwood Mac down the road? Are the Classic West and Classic East shows likely to launch something? 

Buckingham: You know, I think the earliest anyone expected to be back on the road with Fleetwood Mac might’ve been spring of 2018. Stevie, my understanding is that she’s all ready. I think she’s gonna go to Australia for a couple of weeks, but my understanding is that she was ready and now, y’know, because I’ve got this solo album, I’m the one who’s holding it up. But, you know, that’s typical for us. There’s a lot of moving parts so, you know, you gotta wait for everyone to be ready.