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Fleetwood Mac

Interview Magazine, June, 2003,
Matt Diehl


For the members of Fleetwood Mac, drama was always more than just a modus operandi--it was their calling card. Their missteps with relationships and drugs were gloriously documented in hits like "Go Your Own Way." Now, 26 years after its release, the band may be leading more stable lives, but their vital new album, Say You Will (Reprise), is as personal and catchy as ever. The band members--guitarist-vocalist Lindsey Buckingham, drummer Mick Fleetwood, bassist John McVie, singer Stevie Nicks, and keyboardist-vocalist Christine McVie (who opted out of the new album and tour)--did indeed go their own way: Say You Will ends a 16-year break since the band's last studio collaboration (in 1997 the quintet released a live album, The Dance, to accompany a tour). The wait has been justified by the results, however, which exude much of the magic captured on Fleetwood Mac's timeless classics. The new album has the emotional pull of Rumours (1977) combined with Tusk's (1979) shock of the new.

So, move over, Osbournes: Rock's most gloriously functional dysfunctional family is back in town--and, this summer, back on the road.



STEVIE NICKS: How are you?

MD: I'm awesome.

SN: Great! [laughs]

MD: I don't mean to sound like an obsequious sycophant, but I really love this new record.

SN: You do? It's heavy, isn't it?

MD: Your new songs on Say You Will--"Say You Will," "Destiny Rules," "Illume," and "Silver Girl"--are unbelievable.

SN: All of them were written in my house in Phoenix, Arizona. I had just come off my own tour, which went way longer than it was supposed to. The band had been in the studio for months, so when I got home I listened to my songs that they'd recorded, and I was struck that I needed to write a few more. You know, when you're a songwriter and you sit down to write a song, you feel lucky to get even one--and really lucky to get two. I never in a million years expected to come out with four. I worked from midnight January 1 until February 1 [2002], when I got on a plane and went back to L.A. with my new music. It was the most amazing period of songwriting I've ever experienced.

MD: What can you tell me about "Illume"? How did that song come about?

SN: It's about 9/11. I was in New York City the morning the planes hit, staying at the Waldorf-Astoria. We had done a show the night before, on September 10, in Toronto, and I had decided to take my day off in New York. I arrived the morning of September 11 at about 1:30. We were there for three days--the scariest three days of my entire life. We had big, wet towels on all the windows to keep the air out because it was acrid and horrible. I thought I'd never get home. The day I finally got back to Los Angeles, I walked through the doors of my house and I sat down and there was one of those Illume candles sitting in front of me. So it started out, "Illume I says the candle that I burn I a reflection in the window." It was very heavy for me.

MD: These songs seem like some of the most frank I've ever heard from you.

SN: You're right. The reason is there was no time to change stuff. All the poetry was pulled straight out of the journals from the tour. All those words are exactly as they were written in my diaries during the post 9-11 period.

MD: The album seems to encapsulate not just the different eras of Fleetwood Mac, but also the various solo albums by the different band members. Was that on purpose?

SN: I think it was pretty much accidental. We are just a very lucky group of musical people, in that our music from years ago seems to intertwine with what we're doing now. We appreciate every day that we are still in this great band, so none of us wants to duplicate anybody's solo work. We want it to be as band-esque as possible.

MD: Why did you get back together now?

SN: We felt that we should go around this trip one more time because we could. We knew that Fleetwood Mac, as a band, could make another studio record that the world would love. We felt we should put everything else on hold and do this heart-and-soul, with every bit of our energy.

MD: I know Christine McVie decided not to be a part of the reunion, but did she contribute to the album in any way?

SN: She did. We used some recorded parts she performed in 1996 [for Lindsey Buckingham's solo album]. She does some ooh-ooh-oohs on one of the songs, and she plays a little keyboard on another. It's all very subtle. In a million years, she would never have thought that those little parts would end up being on a record in 2003. It was hard for me when I went back in and there was no Christine. Did I miss her? Every day. Did I wish she were there? Absolutely. But she did not want to go on the road. It's not that she wouldn't have done this record; she would have. But if she couldn't go on the road [to promote it], what would we have done if her songs had been the singles? We all tried to talk her out of her decision. Each one of us did. But there was a point in time where she looked at me and said, "I don't want to be a road dog, ever again." It's that look in somebody's eyes, when you know it's for real. Her eyes said, "I can never go back." So I said, "Okay. I release you."

MD: The relationships within Fleetwood Mac have always been a big part of the material. It's one of the few groups that never shied away from including that.

SN: When we get back into a room together, all those crazy relationships-the loves, the hates, the non-acceptance, the acceptance, the ways you live your life-all those things come up. Believe me, we talk about everything.

MD: It's interesting that you chose to get back together now, because in many ways I feel like Fleetwood Mac is more relevant than ever. Courtney Love recorded a version of "Gold Dust Woman" [on The Crow: City of Angels soundtrack, 1996] and Smashing Pumpkins did your song "Landslide" [on Pisces Iscariot, 19942.

SN: Don't forget the Dixie Chicks! [laughs]

MD: Were you pleasantly surprised by their decision to cover "Landslide"?

SN: It blows my mind. The most interesting thing about it is something that Natalie [Maines] tells people, which is that I was 27 when I wrote that song and she was 27 when she recorded it. So, after having her baby and going through a lot of life recently, she is now able to understand what I meant when I said "and I'm getting older too." Because I wasn't old, and yet I felt it. I think it's a really good song that just needed to come around again. And maybe in 20 more years it will go from Natalie to the next group. That song has a mind of its own.

MD: Why do you think so many other artists are responding to your music right now?

SN: I think it comes down to the songwriting. I'm a tunesmith. That's all I do. I'm not married. I don't have children. I just set out to write something that's relevant. It's my job.

MD: Mick said something that I thought was right on the money, which was that because Fleetwood Mac really writes about their feelings, there's an innocence to the music.

SN: I think he's right. And maybe that's because happiness has been so elusive for all of us. I live in a world of romantic possibility. Mr. Right, for me, could always walk around the corner. I tend to think he won't, but there is that possibility, and as a songwriter that puts me in an innocent place. I've never had a bad marriage; I don't have three grown-up, delinquent children; I've never gone through a divorce; I've never been left for a 22-year-old. So I'm still able to write about love in a way that is very innocent because I'm still looking for it.

MD: If you just write from the heart, people are going to relate to it.

SN: I made a promise when I was 20 years old: I will never lie in my songs. I will never say that I broke up with somebody if they really broke up with me. As long as I am totally truthful, then nobody can ever question it.

MD: With songs like "Illume" and "Peacekeeper" and "Murrow," there seems to be a kind of social consciousness at work in the band. I really appreciate that because, even though the world's going through this intense period, there seems to be almost no corresponding social consciousness in music right now.

SN: The state of music concerns me. I think our album is a wonderful piece of musical art, something that's very, very hard to find these days. Who does that anymore? U2 had a great album. I just keep hoping that some of those little bands that are coming up are going to somehow push through the system. But it's so hard now--it's very hard for record companies today to nurture acts. You used to be given time to develop, but that doesn't happen anymore. If Lindsey and I had moved to Los Angeles now, and we were 21, would we be able to break through? I don't know.

MD: This seems to echo some of the themes in your song "Silver Girl."

SN: I wrote it about Sheryl Crow, someone who in many ways would have been much happier being part of that musical generation from 1965 to 1975. That song is sort of saying that it's harder to hold on to your integrity today. Sheryl's amazing. She never wanted to be judged on how she looked or what she wore, but she's been pulled into that--she's had no choice. And luckily she's gorgeous, because otherwise it would have been hard for her.

MD: Sheryl Crow, of course, has been very open about her own admiration for you, and in fact, it's something I hear from a lot of young women artists I interview--you and Madonna keep coming up as icons.

SN: Well, don't you think that comes out of the songs? I'm certain that a 15-year-old could listen to 'Silver Girl" and relate to it. And Madonna has the same thing. She writes incredible songs, which by the way she pulls out of the air. She is an amazing songwriter, besides being beautiful and changing constantly.

MD: I think that you both have a kind of survivor quality that appeals to kids.

SN: There were a lot of things I survived. There were drugs, and I did survive them.

MD: You also survived men.

SN: I had wonderful relationships and had lots of fun. That's why when people ask me, "Does it bother you to be alone?" I want to say, "I was never alone." But I've been alone for a while now, and it's a nice reprieve. I had so many fun relationships, so many incredible experiences. Someday, when I write my intense autobiography, everyone will know just how much fun I had.


MATT DIEHL: Is it true that this new album started as a Lindsey Buckingham solo project?

LINDSEY BUCKINGHAM: Yes. It was in the early '90s. After I played the songs [to the record company] that I had intended for my solo album, I got a call back saying, "We don't hear anything. We don't really like this stuff." But then we put the same material into the context of Fleetwood Mac, and suddenly people are loving it!

MD: How did the group get back together?

LB: Around '93 or '94, I got a call from Mick, whom I hadn't spoken with much since I'd departed the band [in 1987]. Our most recent group album at the time, Tango in the Night (1987), was so difficult for all the wrong reasons, and I couldn't contemplate going on tour. Everyone was probably at their worst in terms of their own personal struggles and substance abuse--anything that could detract from creativity.

MD: Wasn't it always like that in the band?

LB: It was. But this time was very difficult. Leaving was a survival move for me. I said, "I've got to grow in some way. I can't do this anymore." And maybe doing that, which no one in the band was too happy about at the time, was the only way to sow the seeds for what's happening now. So when Mick came to me, he had done a lot to work out his struggles, and I had done a lot of growing. He asked if I wanted him to play on some of my tracks. In retrospect, my paranoid self might've suspected that this "synchronicity" was organized. It doesn't really matter, though--the joy that came out of us was pretty extraordinary. Eventually, John McVie came in, and at some point, with three of us together in a room recording, a lightbulb went off: Someone said, "Well, what about a reunion thing?" Stevie wanted that too, so my solo album went on the shelf.

MD: How was recording this album different from the earlier ones?

LE: This time, there were no drugs involved. The hours were completely normal daytime hours. I think we were able to appreciate the interplay, where before we had taken it for granted. You know, I was never totally thrilled with being a Fleetwood Mac member, but surprisingly, I was having such a good time reuniting with John, Mick, and Stevie. A lot of healing went on, along with some things that weren't exactly healing, too. There's a checks-and-balances system that we don't have as solo artists, but it comes with some aggravation--Stevie and I are always going to butt heads from time to time.

MD: How did your relationship play out in the confines of the band?

LB: When Stevie and I joined the band, we were in the midst of breaking up, as were John and Christine. By the time Rumours was being recorded, things got worse in terms of psychology and drug use. It was a large exercise in denial--in order for me to get work done, I had to seal off my feelings about Stevie while seeing her every day and having to help her, too. But you get on with it. What was happening to the band was much bigger than any of that. Ironically, that was quite a bit of the appeal of Rumours. It's equally interesting on a musical level and as a soap opera.

MD: Can you talk about some of the new material? The song "Come" is Fleetwood Mac's most sexually frank song ever.

LB: Quite honestly, Stevie really didn't want that on the album. Too bad! [laughs] She objected to when I sing, "Think of me sweet darling every time you don't come." She thought people would think it was about her--it isn't.

MD: To me, "Murrow," your song about the great, principled TV newsman Edward R. Murrow, is about loss of integrity.

LB: Right. Murrow allegedly gave a great speech when he left CBS, saying "If we don't do the right thing with television as a tool, then it's going to do us in." That's basically what's going on now: Everything is propaganda. He would be completely shocked if he saw TV today.

MD: Have you felt challenges to your integrity as a band?

LB: All the time. When you become successful on the level that Fleetwood Mac did, it gives you financial freedom, which should allow you to follow your impulses. But oddly enough, they become much harder to follow. You're expected to repeat the formula that got you there in the first place. Confounding people's expectations was a way to maintain integrity. That was my main motivation for making that left turn with Tusk--to break the mold and say, "Look, we're not making Rumours Two."

MD: I'm sure there are still factions that would like you to make Rumours Two.

LB: [laughs] I'm sure.

MD: I know you produced the album--Stevie said, "Lindsey plays the studio as if it was a whole other instrument."

LB: Well, I've always done that at home. Before, in the band, producing was kind of like movie making--delegating and verbalizing ideas to other people. It's a far more chaotic, political process. But when I would do solo albums, I worked alone in my garage studio, and it was more like painting. It's more of a meditative process. And to some degree, this project was more like that for me. It was really exciting and satisfying. It's really touching that we can come back after so long and care about making an album that says as much as this one does. And after all this time, we really do care about each other. Years on, Christine and John still have a deep love for each other, as do Stevie and I--we've been working together since I was 17. Our chemistry is what made us a great band to begin with. That it's still potent after 16 years apart is pretty amazing.


MATT DIEHL: You can hear the influence of almost every member on each track of Say You Will. Was that intentional?

MICK FLEETWOOD: Well, there's no musical snob barrier in the band and hasn't been for a very long time. The reality is that we--Lindsey, myself, and John, being the players in the band--wanted to rejoice in who we are at our ripe old ages. We thought, Let's not drown our style, especially when we're going into new areas. We paid a lot of attention to that, because 1 think that gives comfort to someone wanting to listen to Fleetwood Mac. This time around, it seemed incredibly important to protect what was going to happen and the essence of who we are musically. So Lindsey produced the record.

MD: Not to be overly cosmic about it, but what was the glue that brought the band together again?

MF: I think it was the tour for The Dance [1997]. It was successful. Lindsey and I had not been on the same page for a longtime. But then he asked me to play on the [solo] work that he was doing, and that became part of some of the tracks on the new album. So this grew out of a really long, slow experiment. My three weeks working with Lindsey turned into a year and two months- although we didn't want Lindsey to think it was some long-winded plot.

MD: You especially seem to be very excited whenever Fleetwood Mac reunites.

MF: Oh, I'm totally the cheerleader. I make no disguise that my life has, in many ways, been dedicated to the prevailing winds of Fleetwood Mac. That's what I've been doing since 1967. But the reality is, there's not one of us who can say "We've been forced to do this." It was such a long metamorphosis--skins peeling off, wings growing, losing one foot, and then sticking another one back on. And we've gotten to where we are now.

MD: It's like Fleetwood Mac is. inadvertently, a family. Do you agree?

MF: Well, I think it's a very complicated family at times. I'm not aware of any other band that went through the dynamics that we did--with love affairs and everything else--while making music at the same time. I think that has helped put everything we do today in perspective. We look at some of the stuff we went through and literally sit there with tears rolling down our cheeks, laughing and going, "Oh, my God! How the hell could we have done that? We must have been out of our minds!"

MD: The way people related to Fleetwood Mac's music gave it a depth far beyond being just pop.

MF: Right. We were so sort of open and honest about what we were going through. I think, in truth, because there was so much noncommunication within the band and thus no way of healing, we did it in public. I think you can smell the people through the songs: And there's an innocence in that.

MD: What do you love about being together again?

MF: John would literally crawl to a gig if he had to, and I am very similar. I also enjoy the whole process of getting back in the saddle. I love all the behind-the-scenes stuff--I will spend hours on the phone with my manager, talking about how to do things. Where Lindsey is constantly working on music, I went off and entrepreneured my way through Europe for two-and-a-half years doing dot-com companies. I didn't sit at home. I wish I had. [Diehi laughs] I wish I had spent days and weeks thinking about chord structures. It's one of my inner failings. I still have a dream that I might become a lousy piano player in my late '60s. [both laugh]

MD: How do you feel about the whole journey to this point, and where you are now?

MF: I think we've proved that we can still enjoy making great music. We didn't want to just do the world tour [without making a new album]-- and we could have. We could have not produced another note of music and made a living playing, probably for as long as we wanted to. But that was not how we saw it happening. Where the skittles fall now, we don't really know.


MATT DIEHL: From what I hear, recording the new album was fairly intimate. It was just you, Lindsey, and Mick at first.

JOHN MCVIE: Yeah. Stevie was out on the road. Which helped us get used to the fact that Chris was no longer there, because she was always a studio person and obviously a major contributor.

MD: How did Christine's absence affect things creatively?

JM: I had to think more. [laughs] That hurt. I was just getting used to playing against the guitar and drums without her keyboard fill. I used to play off Chris' left hand, which was playing piano.

MD: Now, obviously, the band did not have to get back together--

JM: Why do you say obviously?

MD: I don't know the state of your finances, but you could survive, I'm sure.

JM: Yeah, doing what, though? [laughs] I have a 14-year-old in school and a Beverly Hills Jewish American Princess wife. But, no, it's not for the money. You know, this is what I do. I don't do anything else, except for a few hobbies like fishing. I've been on the road since I was 16.

MD: How have the four musical personalities in the band evolved?

JM: Stevie's come into her own as a writer, and she's a much stronger singer. Lindsey still pulls stuff out of the hat; he's an amazing player, but he never gets recognized for that. And even though he's the band's producer, he hides his voice a bit. Mick and I are always mentioning, with timid little voices, "We can't really hear your vocals, Lindsey." [laughs]

MD: You've been in this band for 36 years--

JM: 36 years! Good Lord.

MD: How did you see the future for Fleetwood Mac back in 1967?

JM: The future was tomorrow. It didn't go any further than that. Just playing, with the occasional two weeks in the studio to make an album. There was no constructive thought about what we should do. Our journey has been completely haphazard, but with a lot of luck.


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