Photo by: Justin Bailey
Even people who have nothing left to prove like to prove things to themselves.
Grammy-winning, multiplatinum-selling singer/songwriter/guitarist Lindsey Buckingham was the sonic architect behind Fleetwood Mac—one of the most popular rock bands of all time. Alongside Stevie Nicks, Mick Fleetwood, Christine McVie and John McVie, Buckingham crafted such timeless hits as “Go Your Own Way,” “Don’t Stop,” “Big Love,” “The Chain” and “Landslide.” But the band’s stratospheric success was coupled with personal turmoil.
Buckingham and Nicks, who joined the band in 1975 as a couple, broke up. That emotional turmoil can be heard throughout the group’s blockbuster 1977 album, “Rumours,” which went on to become one of the best-selling albums of all time.
Tension remained over the years, and in the `80s, members released solo albums with varying degrees of success. By the `90s, the group had scattered, only to be reunited in 1993 to play President Clinton’s inauguration ceremony. Clinton used the band’s “Don’t Stop” as his campaign theme. The group made a full-fledged reunion and tour in 1997; in 1998, members were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
That same year, Buckingham and his then-girlfriend, now-wife, Kristen Messner, had their first child. The couple, who married in 2000, now have three children, ages 8, 6 and 2. “It really is the best time of my life, right now,” Buckingham said in a recent phone conversation from his home in Los Angeles.
Last year saw the release of his fourth solo album, “Under the Skin.” The stripped-down record showcases his signature guitar playing and penchant for introspection.
Buckingham, 58, kicks off the second leg of his “Under the Skin” solo tour Jan. 12. He spoke about his continued evolution, both musically and personally.
Q: It’s been 14 years since your last solo album. Why the wait and why now?
A: Well, you know, it isn’t for lack of intent in terms of putting out a solo album. I think one of my main exercises for many years has been to try to tend to the needs of the bigger picture, that being Fleetwood Mac. All along, I wanted work the other side of it as well. The solo work being the more experimental work—the left side of the palette. A couple of times since my last solo album, I had gotten to a certain point with my work, but then the band wanted to do something else. So that material ended up on the last studio album Fleetwood Mac did (2003’s “Say You Will) .We got done with the last tour and a lot of things happened. I had gotten married and had three children, all of which happened relatively late in life for me. That informed a lot of the subject matter (on the new album), someone growing up a certain way, after defining oneself in one way.
Q: The album, “Under the Skin,” is stripped down musically. Why did you want a scaled-down sound?
A: I had been thinking about a couple of songs from before that had started as ensemble pieces—like “Big Love”—and ended as single guitar pieces.
They were so effective in connecting with an audience live. I wondered how to take that idea and represent it in a studio. To work with very little was the musical inspiration for “Under the Skin.”
Q: How has that stripped-down sound translated to the tour?
A: It’s not what you got, but what you do with what you got. The approach we’re taking may be executed by a few people, but it’s really about putting it all together where it has the same lift and fidelity as the recorded version. We’re using some samples here and there. It has been going over amazingly well. It seems like we’re up there for a half hour, it goes by so quick. We have a nice combination of new stuff that all seems to fit really well with the older things. Toward the end of the set, we let it rock.
Q: How did you develop your unique finger-picking style of playing electric guitar?
A: I started playing very young. I was probably 7. My brother brought home “Heartbreak Hotel” by Elvis and that was a revelation, like it probably was to many people. I had a small guitar and I didn’t take lessons. No one ever showed me what to do. I never gravitated to a pick, I was just strumming with my hand. The hand seemed like it wanted to be directly connected to the guitar. When the first wave of rock `n’ roll settled down and got tainted by Fabian or whatever, suddenly I listened to a lot of folk music. That is the point where I started to get interested in finger picking. I fooled around with some banjo for a while and also there was a little classical influence. It’s very hard for me to analyze anything I do. Terminologywise, I am sort of a refined primitive.
Q: How has being a husband and father affected your music?
A: Lyrically it has answered a lot of questions that maybe had been left hanging out there for a long time. The early successes of Fleetwood Mac was a bittersweet thing for me. I was dealing with a breakup. I was dealing with having to make hits for Stevie and lead the band on a production and musical level, while never having gotten closure with any of these emotional issues.
Having to see this person every day, you have to wall up your feelings and go along with the task at hand. The aftermath left me remote from certain things.
Then suddenly you’re lucky enough to meet someone and have those questions answered. Lyrically there is a lot about myself growing up. The fact that the narrow line you walked as an artist—forgoing a richer emotional life—even if it got you to a good place musically, you have to look at it as a thing in the past. Here you are with children, who are very much in the present. They’re looking at you and they don’t understand the push-pull.
It’s a good shake-up for your priorities.
Q: So how do you balance your personal life with your Fleetwood Mac and solo work?
A: Right now, I am just dealing with solo work. I’ve been waiting to do this for a long time. I am going to do this album and will be touring off and on through the summer. And then I’ll do one more solo album and after that get back into some sort of Fleetwood Mac situation. Right now, it’s a wonderful balance. I’ve gotten to a point musically and creatively that I’ve been wanting to get to for a while. These albums aren’t about selling a million records; they are about expressing yourself and getting your energy out in the way you want to get it out.
Q: How has your relationship with the band evolved over the years?
A: Fleetwood Mac is more of a wild animal in terms of being able to organize anything. A lot of this had to do with what Stevie was doing (with her solo work). Now it’s about what I am doing. It’s hard to get everyone on the same page at the same time. After I’ve done these two albums, I’m jumping into the Fleetwood Mac scene for as long as anybody wants to do it. We are still—emotionally, as friends and as people, working out all of those things that have been left hanging out there all those years ago—a work in progress. We don’t want to end up in a place where we don’t all feel like friends.
Q: What can people expect from the next solo album?
A: It was being called a rock album and there was a point when people were thinking it would be more of a “normal” album or a more radio-oriented album. But I am sort of putting myself in the position of refusing to go away with this current album. In the context of that, the perception of what the second album will be is evolving as we go along. I’m not sure what it will be.
Q: Rolling Stone called you “one of rock’s most undervalued visionaries.” Do you agree with that characterization? You referenced it in your new album’s first track, “Not Too Late.”
A: It wasn’t so much that (Rolling Stone) made me think, “Oh yeah, I’m a visionary.” It made me take a look at what I’d been doing. If you go back to the “Tusk” album—which was a radical left turn from “Rumours”—when it didn’t sell, there was an arbitrary limit put on what I could do in the band as a producer. They said, now we have to go back and do “Rumours 2.”
That was the only reason I started making solo albums. I couldn’t go back. I wanted to keep that side of my world alive. When you get to that point where you are trying to define yourself in ways that others would not like you to be defined, you find yourself pretty much out there on your own. Over a period of time, you can get the sense of being embattled, you have to be your own best booster. To some degree, that is what came to mind (when I read the quote). It wasn’t that I’m a visionary or underappreciated. But another word for that is “not particularly understood.”