Lindsey Buckingham Wrote a Song That Changed Omar Apollo’s Life | Rolling Stone

Rolling Stone
OCT 24, 2023

A genre-hopping young star and a rock icon compare notes on songwriting, Fleetwood Mac, relationships and much, much more

I DIDN’T BRING my stilts,” dad-jokes Lindsey Buckingham as he eyes Omar Apollo, all six feet five of him. Apollo lets out a chuckle as he leans against the recording console, where Buckingham’s band, Fleetwood Mac, happened to have made Tusk 45 years ago.

Buckingham, a 74-year-old guitar hero, might seem an odd pairing for a 26-year-old Mexican American star who makes tear-jerking alt-R&B. But as Apollo, who asked Buckingham to join him for Musicians on Musicians, puts it: “I got layers, you know?” (That’s evident as the singer jumps between playing the Cocteau Twins and norteño legend Ramón Ayala during the duo’s photo shoot.)

Once the men sit down for their chat at the Village, the legendary L.A. studio, they realize their connection is more than just musical. Perhaps, fateful. Buckingham made Tusk here. Apollo dropped his breakthrough album, Ivory, last year. “That’s crazy,” Apollo says. “We both have the elephant thing.”

Apollo’s conversation with Buckingham arrives at a pivotal moment in his career: He earned a Best New Artist Grammy nomination earlier this year, his song “Evergreen” just went platinum, and his excellent new EP, Live for Me, came out Oct. 6 — the success is coming swiftly, and he’s at a clear turning point. Buckingham knows that feeling all too well: It happened after Fleetwood Mac dropped their blockbuster album Rumours. He has some advice to impart about fame, songwriting, and going your own way as an artist.

Omar, you wanted to talk to Lindsey. I would love to hear why.

Apollo: Well, there’s a song that you made that has so many memories attached to it, that I’m obsessed with, that literally changed how I wanted to look at music and make music.

Buckingham: And what song was that?

Apollo: It was “Never Going Back Again.”

Buckingham: Oh, wow.

Apollo: Actually, there was this guy that I had a crush on. He was in love with that song. And so, I was like, “I’m going to learn it.”

Buckingham: And did you?

Apollo: No, I couldn’t learn it. It’s impossible! I literally was sitting on tour having my friend teach me. “Teach me how to do this picking. I can’t do the picking.” It is such a specific pattern and rhythm. And my head is hurting. I was losing it: “It’s so hard.”

Buckingham: The song has changed a lot. If you listen to it on Rumours, it’s one thing, and it evolved into something different onstage over the years.

Apollo: I watched a live video of you singing it. And you don’t say it on the record, but you say it in the live version: “I’ve been down three times.” And I was like, “Man.” I remember driving in my friend’s Mini Cooper in the desert, we had gotten done a big night of partying. And then I just blast this song, and I just remember feeling like, “Oh, every time I put this song on, it makes me so happy.” And that’s something that I feel is very rare in music — for something to just affect me like that. I just want to do that one day, you know what I mean?

[Buckingham nods.]

Buckingham: I love how you use vocals on Ivory. What’s the fourth track called? The one with Daniel Caesar on it?

Apollo: “Invincible.”

Buckingham: Yeah, your use of vocals is just so sublime. And “Killing Me.”

Apollo: That’s crazy to hear you say that.

Buckingham: Are you playing a lot of the stuff on that?

Apollo: I’m playing a lot of the acoustic guitars on that. That was me on “Invincible.” Kind of folky, then it turns into this Radiohead drummy thing.

Buckingham: That’s part of what’s interesting, is you’re cross-breeding. You’ve got these elements of R&B and soul, but then you’ve got beats that are more referencing hip-hop. The only thing I didn’t like about it was it’s too short.

Apollo: You thought it was too short?

Buckingham: I mean, it was just an intro piece. I was thinking, “Oh, he could do a whole song like that!” It’s so delicate. It’s what you’re not doing in a lot of ways that’s so great, too. What I think your challenge will end up being.… You’re poised to get to the point where these external forces are going to expect a certain thing from you. I got to that point post-Rumours. Rumours started off about the music, then the success eventually became about the success. The key is to remember who you are and to be yourself.

Apollo: Like lean into it.

Buckingham: Lean into it, or subvert people’s expectations for the sake of your own growth. I did something really radical after Rumours, which was that I made the Tusk album. It was just a whole other palette. It wasn’t Rumours 2, but it set me on the right path for always valuing art over commerce.

Apollo: And it aged really well. When I made my first projects before Ivory, I was broke. I wasn’t really thinking about it. It was just pure.

Buckingham: After Tusk, there was a backlash, and Mick [Fleetwood] says to me, “Well, we’re not going to do that anymore.” I had to try to get back to the spontaneous mindset we had that led to Rumours. If I was going to keep following my heart, I had to start making solo albums. The people that were fans of mine, in the context of Fleetwood Mac, you lose nine-tenths of that. [With solo music], you can bring a whole other approach, on a production level, in the studio, and onstage. You’ve got some Spanish on the album, right?

Apollo: Yeah, a little bit. My mom and dad, they’re from Mexico. They knew Michael Jackson. And my dad knew the Beatles, so that was it. He showed me “Yesterday,” and that was one of the first songs I learned on guitar.

Buckingham: Not a bad place to start. Those guys could write. See, I think of myself as a stylist.

Apollo: As a stylist. Why?

Buckingham: If you think of a real writer, there are people who come from the Tin Pan Alley tradition, or Lennon and McCartney, people who just have a certain level of skill that takes them to that place. And then you’ve got something that is equally valid, which is more based on style.

Apollo: Even with “Never Going Back Again,” the lyrics, your cadence. You said so much by saying so little. And I think that’s really what I want to do. I wanted to ask you about how you wrote it.

Buckingham: Well, it helped that I was in a band with someone who had broken up with me.

Apollo: You guys were broken up for a while?

Buckingham: In Stevie’s [Nicks] case, I think she was drawn to a new version of herself she couldn’t see before she joined Fleetwood Mac. She saw an opportunity to step out into the light a little more. I think that played into our breaking up. What I’m saying is that to have someone that you never had the luxury of having closure with made it hard to be emotionally healthy. But it might have also made it that much easier to write a song like “Never Going Back Again,” because it was the farthest thing from being academic. It was completely visceral.

Apollo: It gave me chills hearing you talk about it. There are these harmonies that happen in the middle of the song that don’t happen again. I started doing that with my songs. But that song, it woke me up.

Buckingham: That’s what it’s for, man. To pass it along for someone else to pick up on the meaning and make their own meaning.

Apollo: I love making music. I’ve realized that I just have this creativity, I feel like I have to honor it right now in this time of my life. I’m like, “In 20, 30 years, am I going to have this same drive?” It’s actually so hard to make albums.

Buckingham: It’s OK if you don’t — that’s a long ways away. You’re right at the beginning. It’s very exciting.

Apollo: I’m about to put out this four-song EP, and it’s literally the best music I’ve ever written. It’s like I can’t stop listening to it.

Buckingham: It should go like this, you know?

Apollo: It’s interesting because only one song is about love and the rest is just about family. You just change as a writer. It’s interesting when you get out of survival mode. It’s like the switch is on and now it just can’t stop.

Buckingham: It’s funny, isn’t it? Because it seems like there’s always stuff passing over your head in the ether somewhere. Snatch it, and take it to the next step. Because you can have an idea and 10 minutes later, it’s like, “What was that? I don’t know. It doesn’t matter.” Do a voice memo at least!

Apollo: How did you guys do voice memos back in the day?

Buckingham: Cassette players a lot of times.

Apollo: Just in your pocket?

Buckingham: Yeah, or you just didn’t. The way I work, writing and recording can become one thing.

Apollo: I had a song and it went platinum, called “Evergreen.” It’s about watching another relationship form in front of me. I was like, “Oh, people are reacting to this song emotionally.” So I figured I needed to make even more sad music. If I can just amplify the sadness, I feel like that is what’s going to feel authentic for me: “Oh, this is how it’s being perceived. How can I keep it authentic to me but still—”

Buckingham: There’s nothing wrong with taking in external input, but at the end of the day, you can’t let that be a driving force. A lot of artists who do what’s expected of them forget who you are and why you got into it in the first place. It sounds like you already know that intuitively, so that’s a good place to be.

Apollo: I’m trying, man. I love this **** too much. Hearing you say the name of my album and naming off songs means so much to me. I was a little scared. “He’s going to be like, ‘This ****ing young guy.’”

Buckingham: I wasn’t really super aware of you before all of this, but my daughters were.

Apollo: Oh, they were?

Buckingham: Yes. I have three [kids].

Apollo: They got good taste, man.

Buckingham: They were psyched. One of the things that was so cool about touring with Fleetwood Mac, there was a point, probably early 2000s, when I’d see three generations of people in the audience. And you’re going, “OK, well if it’s making sense to the 75-year-old, but it’s also making sense to the 15-year-old, we must have done something right.”

Apollo: That’s what I want. What really sticks is authenticity.

Buckingham: I think it can be hard. It’s probably hard being Taylor Swift. Although she seems like she’s handling it pretty well, all things considered. Not sure about Matty Healy, that kind of came and went. He seems like a loose cannon, that guy.

Apollo: You’re funny.

Buckingham: I mean, I like that band, but …

Apollo: You’re tapped in, man.

Buckingham: I try to keep up as much as I can because there’s good stuff out there.

Apollo: When people say, like, “Oh, no, music isn’t good,” it’s like you’re just not looking for it.

Buckingham: Sometimes it’s better than other times. But if you want a great pop song, listen to “As It Was,” by Harry Styles. I mean, come on.

I’m like, ‘In 20, 30 years, am I going to have this same drive?’
—Omar Apollo

Lindsey, I wanted to ask about this space we’re in and how you used it for “Tusk.”

Buckingham: I used to try to leave here at a reasonable hour, midnight or so. I didn’t want to stay here all night. Mick wouldn’t let me leave. If I wanted to leave, I’d have to say, “Hey, I’m going to the bathroom,” and I’d just walk out to my car. A bunch of times Mick would come out and grab me.

Apollo: That’s how it is in the studio. You look up and it’s, like, six o’clock in the morning.

Buckingham: Crazy. And in those days, with all the substances—

Lindsey, is it weird coming back into the space that they made for “Tusk”?

Buckingham: Christine [McVie] and I were here more recently. We were trying to make a Fleetwood Mac album, but Stevie refused to participate. But we had John and Mick in here, and Christine and me, four out of five, and we did what ended up being a duet album back in 2017, I guess. It was great.

Apollo: There was this one song on it that I really loved, “In My World.” That song is fire.

What’s it like listening to that album with Christine now, a few months after she passed?

Buckingham: I did listen to it once after she passed, and it held up very well for me. It was sad losing her. No one really saw that coming. She’d been ill for a little while, but no one really expected her to die.… I got to take Christine out on the road. She’d never seen what it was like touring outside of Fleetwood Mac and all the politics. I think it was really an eye-opener for her about what the whole thing should be more of. Fleetwood Mac was always a family, but was always a dysfunctional family.

Lindsey, last time we spoke, you told me that you would come back to Fleetwood Mac “like a shot.”

Buckingham: And I would.… I always have been ready to come back if the opportunity presented itself. We could still do it now, even without Christine. But the only way that would happen is if Stevie said she wanted to do it. She’d have to have some kind of an epiphany, and I don’t necessarily see that happening. I think that ending on the proper note would be a better way to do it than the way it has been left.

Apollo: I had this thing that whenever there’s someone in my life I write a song about, that I’m intimately involved with, I send it to them to see if they catch on if it’s about them or not. Or they ask, “Is this about me?” And I’m like, “Yeah, that one’s about you.”

Buckingham: I was still writing songs occasionally about Stevie, not that long ago, but most of the songs in the last 20 years have been about my wife.

Apollo: Recently, I was writing from a perspective from when I was a child, because those are moments that happened and it doesn’t mean that you feel it right now. But you remember.

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