Lindsey Buckingham – The guitarist sheds some ‘Skin’ and reflects on his two families
Volume 14, Issue 97
It’s the last day of Lindsey Buckingham’s Hawaiian vacation, but the 57-year-old California native seems happy to discuss his first solo album in 14 years, Under the Skin. It’s an intimate, intricate, mostly acoustic effort – and a significant departure from the sound of his legendary rock band, Fleetwood Mac. Here, Buckingham talks about the future of the mighty Mac, as well as the impact that wife Kristen and children William, Leelee and Stella have had on his life and art.
How has having a family changed what you write about?
Well, they’re all happy love songs now (laughs)! No, but you’re able to look at the world in a more grateful way. It’s funny, a lot of people I knew in the 1970s and ’80s who got married and had children weren’t necessarily around for them very much, and the children suffered. I didn’t want to do that, because I had such a great upbringing. So I waited, and by the time I was ready, it seemed like it was getting a little late [Buckingham was 48 when oldest child William was born]. Luckily, it did happen. It just reminds you that you should have faith in the line that your life is taking.
A couple of times, you’ve turned what was going to be a solo project into material for a Fleetwood Mac album [1987’s Tango in the Night and 2003’s Say You Will]. Do you regret that?
No, not at all. I don’t regret anything. I consider myself very lucky to have even found myself in the situation I was in. Obviously we [Fleetwood Mac] have all paid certain emotional tolls, but then again, who hasn’t?
The sound of this album is so unique, it seems like it would be difficult to turn it into Fleetwood Mac material anyway.
Well, this one we couldn’t (laughs)! There are no drums on it! That’s part of Under the Skin – it’s very close and personal to who I am as an individual. It’s only a step up from what it would be if you were sitting in your living room playing your guitar for someone. That was the idea.
Even at its most elaborate and layered, the album works with very simple elements – voice, guitar percussion.
Yeah, exactly. But in a weird way, having almost nothing on it gives you more space to be … “elaborate” is a good word, or I might say “tasteless” (laughs), with the use of effects and things. There’s so little to compete with that you can run rampant across it with whatever seems exciting to you.
What guitars do you play on the record?
A lot of this stuff was done in hotel rooms when we were on the road with Fleetwood Mac a couple of years ago. Guitar-wise, I probably had one or two acoustics – maybe a [Martin] D-18 or my [Rick] Turner that I play on stage. Most of the recording was done on-mic or direct into a little recording unit. It was really crude. I may have certain things that I’ve gotten to a refined level, but I’m a primitive. I don’t read music, I don’t know what I’m doing, basically (laughs).
What’s the status of Fleetwood Mac?
I had hoped we might have been able to put out another new CD and continue a career as a band – not do what the Eagles have done, which is basically to go out and go out and not have anything new. You’re basically resting on your achievements, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But we were not able to get everybody to want to do the same thing, so whether or not Fleetwood Mac will do a studio album is an open question. Having said that, we are gonna go out and do quite a bit more touring – probably not this coming year, but the year after that and ad infinitum, into the cosmos (laughs). Who knows?
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What does the title of your new album signify?
You’re looking at a piece of work which has a completely different level of approach to it in terms of the musicality, but also [one by] someone whose personal life has changed significantly since the last time I made a solo album—becoming a husband and a father for the first time and being able to look at how important that is. Being able to look at the profundity of that, the fact that maybe a lot of what has driven you to work hard and to keep focusing on new creative endeavors might have been based in things that are no longer relevant. I think one of the things about having a family and being able to live in that world more is that you’re in the present. You’re not dealing with the past as much. It helps to put your past into a perspective and a context that you can understand. Obviously, a family precedes just about anything in terms of importance, and so you’re taking all the things that you’ve been holding in and putting them behind you. You’re able to look under the surface a little more at things that are authentic, not just at things that you’ve been suppressing or trying not to look at.
What kind of things were you suppressing?
It has taken a long time for everyone in Fleetwood Mac to get to a certain understanding of what [being in] the largest band in the world did to distort your self-image, what it can do to fragmentize your social and personal life. But more importantly, we had a band with two couples that broke up and continued to work together, but never really worked things out or got any closure on a personal level. There was a lot of emotional compartmentalizing that went on. For me, when I left the band in the late ’80s to seek more sedate pastures and to try to create an environment that was a little more nurturing to new creativity, Fleetwood Mac still loomed in the background. For one reason or another, I was a few times pulled back into that situation—by my own choice. There’s a group of people there that you’ve been through a lot with, and people that you know better than anyone, and you’ve got to keep that in mind and look at the big picture sometimes. So that’s one reason the catalog of solo work is slimmer than it could be, but you get past all that.
What is your writing process like?
People always ask, “Are you writing?” But the difference between writing and not writing is not necessarily that suddenly you don’t have the ideas. It’s when you’re in the mode of wanting to take a small seed of an idea and take it to the next step. You can be riding in the car and go (hums) “Hm, hm, hmm.” It’s the difference between having a digital thing in the car to hum into because you’re motivated, or not. And maybe that idea never gets heard again, except in your head. So you start with that. You might have a rough idea for a melody and possibly lyrics. Then you go in and start playing around with some instruments, and then the life of any one thing that seems to have life or validity to it then will have an influence on the finer points of where the melody or lyrics go, and then that may in turn influence some of the actual music you put down. It’s a slow, bit-by-bit thing that emerges over a couple of days or a week. But because I don’t think of myself primarily as a lyricist—although I’m pretty happy with the lyrics on this one—it’s kind of a dabbling process.
When you’re writing, do you have the full sonic picture of the finished product in your head?
Yes and no. I think more than anything, you have certain ideas about what you want, how you want to use it. I was very clear that I wanted to use a liberal amount of delay on the vocals [on Under the Skin]. That was something that was a given going in. And to use it in a way that was liquid and cascade-y, in a way that seemed suited to an acoustic guitar. I guess you could say the album is as much about what I’m not doing as what I am doing, and that was a mentality that carried through the whole process. I knew I didn’t want to have any drums on it. I was pretty sure that if there was something like a bass instrument, I wanted it to be underneath and supporting a basic guitar part. And in the confines of that, you free-associate and it goes where you take it. That’s the fun thing about working on your own a lot. It’s like painting. You may have an idea for what you put on the canvas, but as you get more and more drawn into the process it becomes subconscious and the painting starts to lead you a little bit. I think that happens working alone.
How did you decide to cover the Rolling Stones’ “I Am Waiting”?
It’s funny—there was a point in time a few years ago when I was completely enamored with all these obscure Jagger/Richards tunes, and I had put four of them down in a couple of sessions. There was that one and “She Smiled Sweetly” and “The Singer Not the Song” and “Blue Turns to Grey.” These were songs that anyone who was thinking of the Stones in terms of their hits probably wouldn’t have heard, but they’re all such great songs. The other three had a more specific subject matter, but “I Am Waiting” seemed like such an abstraction. I almost took the original intent of the lyric to be more ominous about the state of the world, waiting for something catastrophic to come out of the corner. Whether or not that’s right, I don’t know. It could be just that at the time I recorded that, I hadn’t quite become a father yet, and there was a slight void that I could sense was about to be filled in my life. There’s all sorts of things.
And you’ re planning to release another album next year, correct?
Yeah, that’s the plan. The record company wanted me to make this into more of a normal album and put some rock songs on it. But part of the validity of this, for me, was the fact that it held such a line in terms of what it isn’t, musically. And yet I have a bunch of rock ’n’ roll songs with lead guitar and drums that are blocked out. We’re gonna go in with a producer yet to be determined, rework some of those, finish them off and write a couple of extras. Probably sometime next year we’ll do that.
One last thing: Hardcore fans have been waiting for many years for your pre-Fleetwood Mac album with Stevie, Buckingham Nicks, to be released on CD. Is that ever going to happen?
My understanding is that the masters for that are hidden away somewhere in Stevie’s management’s vaults. I think everyone would be waiting for a situation around which there could be marketing for that album. I don’t know what that means, even (laughs). But I think, yes, it would have to come out on CD sooner or later.
Thanks to Sarah at The Ledge who transcribed this article