Interviews

Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie Explain How They Wound Up As a Duet

Mikael Wood
Photo: Luis Sinco (Los Angeles Times / TNS)
Los Angeles Times (TNS)

It's those dreamy love songs, all written by it’s those dreamy love songs, all written by Christine McVie, that have come back into vogue lately among stylish young admirers such as Haim and Phoenix.

It was an only-in-Hollywood moment: Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie, two members of perhaps the most famously fractious rock band of all time, rehearsing inside a Sony Pictures soundstage where “The Goldbergs,” ABC’s sitcom about a dysfunctional family, is filmed.

But this wasn’t Fleetwood Mac running through its twisted catalog on a recent afternoon.

Instead, Buckingham and McVie were using the stage, equipped with the type of lights and sound system they’ve long favored, to get ready for a tour behind their new self-titled duets album. The record marks the first full-length collaboration between the two singer-songwriters since Buckingham and his then-girlfriend, Stevie Nicks, joined Fleetwood Mac in 1974.

Accompanied by several backing musicians (and facing what appeared to be the Goldbergs’ living room), Buckingham, 67, and McVie, 73, started the rehearsal with “In My World,” a thrumming pop-rock tune whose polish belied Buckingham’s claim that they hadn’t yet figured out how to play the music live.

“OK — time for a break?” he joked when they finished the opener, and the room broke out in knowing laughter.

The easygoing vibe was in keeping with the sunny quality of the duo’s album, which sets thoughts of love and devotion against bouncy grooves that recall mid-‘80s hits like “Hold Me,” “Little Lies” and “Everywhere.” In the years after Fleetwood Mac’s heyday, that stuff wasn’t remembered quite as fondly as the thornier sound and the gothic-hippie iconography of the band’s 1977 smash, “Rumours.”

But it’s those dreamy love songs, all written by McVie, that have come back into vogue lately among stylish young admirers such as Haim and Phoenix. And that’s what makes “Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie,” with its crisp beats and carefully sculpted synth textures, feel surprisingly current, even as the two prepare — somewhat begrudgingly — to indulge Mac fans’ nostalgia at next month’s Classic West and Classic East shows.

“I think our dynamic making this record was actually more effective than it had ever been,” Buckingham said, gesturing to McVie as the two sat on a sofa during a break from practice. “We kind of blew our own minds.”

The album began taking shape when McVie, who’d left Fleetwood Mac in 1998 (due in part to a fear of flying she’s since defeated), came back to the band in 2014. Before the launch of a lengthy reunion tour, she and Buckingham got together at the Village Studios in West Los Angeles, each with songs they’d been working on individually.

“We were just laying a foundation of familiarity,” Buckingham said, “exploring the landscape of what we used to be about.”

The recording studio was where Fleetwood Mac made “Tusk” in 1979. And the two singers got the band’s trusty rhythm section — drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie (also Christine’s ex-husband) — to flesh out the music. But if the tunes were once destined for Fleetwood Mac, which last put out an album in 2003, that quickly changed, according to Buckingham.

“Could this have been a Fleetwood Mac album? Possibly,” he said. “There was no agenda for it to be any one thing.” (Nicks, for her part, was busy making a solo record at the time.) “But within the first week, we started to become protective about what it should be. We started saying to each other, ‘This feels like a duets album.’”

“Why hadn’t we done it before?” McVie added.

Although Buckingham and Nicks’ relationship tends to dominate the Fleetwood Mac mythology, McVie said she and the guitarist formed an “intense” bond as soon as he joined the group.

“We were the only people in the band that actually played more than just a single note,” the keyboardist said with a dry chuckle. “He and I play chords,” which resulted in a “shared harmonic understanding,” as Buckingham described it.

That musical connection reached a high point on “Tango in the Night,” Fleetwood Mac’s 1987 album that was its last featuring both McVie and Buckingham, the latter of whom quit later that year before returning in the ‘90s.

Glossier and more electronic than the band’s earlier records, it’s a sophisticated soft-rock production in which Buckingham’s inventive arrangements draw out the wistful romance in McVie’s melodies.

That happens again on the duo’s album, in songs like the funky, percussive “Too Far Gone” and “Feel About You,” in which McVie compares a lover to “the sky at night” over an elaborate pattern of wordless backing vocals.

Buckingham said the record has a lot of heart; McVie said it was soul. Either way, they’re happy enough with their work that they plan to play eight of its 10 songs on their tour.

That’s more new material than many veteran acts do on the road, but Buckingham said his solo gigs have shown him that his audience is eager to follow him wherever he goes.

“You ever get people screaming out for Fleetwood Mac songs?” McVie asked.

“No, never,” he replied. “The people that come to see me — all 12 of them — they appreciate not only what I’m doing but why I’m doing it.”

Still, the requests for “Landslide” and “Don’t Stop” are sure to come when Buckingham and McVie team with their old bandmates for the Classic West and Classic East festivals: a pair of two-day concerts — July 15 and 16 at Dodger Stadium and July 29 and 30 at New York’s Citi Field — with Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles, Steely Dan, Journey, the Doobie Brothers and Earth Wind & Fire. (Think of the event as music-industry veteran Irving Azoff’s response to last year’s super-successful Desert Trip festival in Indio.)

Asked how he felt about playing a show explicitly geared to evoke memories of the old days, Buckingham cringed.

“It doesn’t necessarily speak of the aspiration to present anything in the way that Fleetwood Mac would want to present it on its own terms,” he said. “But we’re all very close to Irving, so it was just sort of a ‘Why not?’”

Pretty diplomatic for a rock star.

“I was going to put it less diplomatically, but I stopped myself,” he said.

“Do the undiplomatic version,” McVie chimed in. “What were you going to say?”

“I was going to say, ‘Just close your eyes and take the money,’” Buckingham answered, and the soundstage rippled with laughter again.

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