Lindsey Buckingham is in the best place creatively of his career. Every couple of years or so, the behemoth known as Fleetwood Mac comes together and knocks out another platter of pop brilliance. In between those times, he has a compelling solo career. With his undeniably astute guitar-playing leading the way, Lindsey creates material that is not entirely as immediately palate-friendly as the Mac, but nonetheless never fails to travel a highway that sends your ears into a state of aural nirvana.
Lindsey has a fantastic new disc Gift of Screws and with its buoyancy and learning to a more rocking flavour, balances out the more sedate Under the Skin from 2006. Together they are a solid book-end collection that he can certainly be proud of. Being a fan from the very first Fleetwood Mac record with him and Stevie Nicks onboard, it was a tremendous thrill to have a few minutes with him recently to talk about his new record:
antiMusic: Your last record Under the Skin was largely an acoustic record. Gift of Screws has you rocking out more. Was it purposeful to divide the two records into these collections or was this just the material that presented itself to you in both instances?
Lindsey: Well you know, I did have a very specific idea last time of just taking the finger style and applying production values to it and it was as much about what I DIDN'T do, you know, the lead, and probably very little bass or drums. I was kind of was thinking I was going to approach Gift of Screws in a similar way, maybe stepping it up a little bit. But I certainly didn't think it was going to end up rocking as much as it does. It's just...it's basically what you said you know, you start working on something and you have to sort of be open to where the work sort of wants to lead you, and in fact it seemed to want to lead me in a direction where it was sort of hitting the wall rocking so, you know, I sort of let it do that.
antiMusic: Was some of this material sort of left over from when you were writing Under the Skin?
Lindsey: Well there were actually 3 songs leftover from earlier. The title track and one called "Wait for You", and then another one called "The Right Place to Fade". You know I was going to put out an album, solo album in 2001 and then the band came in and said they wanted to make a studio album, so I kind of folded over the bulk of that material into the Fleetwood Mac album that came out in 2003, Say You Will. And there were a few stragglers and those three were sort of put on the shelves. And I really didn't expect them to find a home this time, because as I say, had I sort of gone in a lighter direction, I don't think they would have really been appropriate. But once these songs started wanting to rock, I realized that these songs had in fact found a home. yeah.
antiMusic: How did this record come together following your tour for Under the Skin?
Lindsey: Well I mean I had this plan. As I say, there have been many instances in the past where there's been an intention to put out solo work, and the band has sort of intervened if you will, and so at the beginning of that time, after we got off the road, I said, well actually it was before that, it was before Under the Skin, I said, look I want to put out two albums, in relatively short order for me and I want to tour behind both of them. So just please don't come knocking on my door. The band actually honored that. And that allowed me to follow through with this plan. So basically once we got off the road, I kind of started to write, and you know, eventually I got my road band in the studio and we just started to cut. And that's what happened.
antiMusic: Under the Skin was put together solely by you with just Mick and John guesting on two tracks. Was that the case again with this record?
Lindsey: We had some drum work by Walfredo Reyes who is my road drummer and there was a guy named John Pierce in L.A. who played bass on one song and there are a couple of tracks that have Mick Fleetwood, and John McVie on them and I think for the most part I did everything else. I'm pretty sure. There might have been a few little bits here and there but, yeah.
antiMusic: Do you feel it's just generally easier to get your musical ideas across with you executing all positions?)
Lindsey: Ah, I don't know if it's easier or not, but you know, it's two different things. When you work with Fleetwood Mac say, obviously you've got to go in with something that's a little more fleshed out as a song because you have to present something tangible. I think the actual process of making a song from start to finish is probably a little more like movie-making when you're talking about working with a band because it's way more verbalized. It's certainly more political, the choices you make, you talk about them. It's obviously a synthesis of everyone's sensibilities.
When I work alone, I mean, that's a whole other way of working. It tends to be at times. It may not have been on Say You Will because all of that material pretty much had been completed. But on most of the solo work, you could make the analogy that it's more like painting because I don't think you necessarily have to have the song in as completed a form. And normally when I'm working on solo stuff, I leave the songs in a less fleshed out form purposely. Obviously that wouldn't work if you were trying to sit down with four or five other people and say, what are we playing? And I'd say: well I don't know.
It's more like a painter who may have a sort of intention or sort of a clue about what he wants to do but he's not that worried about where he ends up. And you start slopping the paint on the canvas and it eventually will become something. And the writing and the actual recording of the song almost become one thing. So I guess that's how I look at the solo work or why I tend to do a lot of things myself, because it becomes part and parcel with the writing.
antiMusic: Can you tell us about a couple of the tracks, either what they're about or something memorable that happened while recording?
Lindsey: Well, you know, I think a lot of the tracks generally reflect what's gone on in my life in the last 10 years. I think there was a long period of time where I was pretty emotionally well-defended and I had also seen a lot of my friends in years past who were spouses and parents and/or parents I should say, but were not really there for their families and I didn't want to be one of those types.
And so at a relatively late point in my life I met my wife and I now have three children so you know, you've got a situation where, I think we all thought "ahh children are death to the artist", that whole thing. Which turns out not to be true, at least not in my case. I mean it was a profound corner that I was able to turn personally and emotionally and obviously it reprioritizes your life and at the same time it has given me this sense of optimism and a new kind of resolve in order to continue being creative. Perhaps a little more on my own terms and a little more often. Which you would think it would almost have the opposite affect.
So a lot of these songs have to do with that, with looking back on the period of time when I was sort of submerged for a long time. And now I have sort of turned a corner and am looking at that from a slightly higher perspective.
antiMusic: Gift of Screws. Where does the title come from and why did you decide to use this as the title track?
Lindsey: Well, it's not as rude as it sounds. It's actually from an Emily Dickenson poem. And I was just leafing through a notebook of her poems one day and I came across that and I had to read it a few times really to get…and .I hope I got it right…what she meant. But the way I took it was that you have to turn the screws of the press yourself to get the oil from the flower petals, to get the fragrance out. In other words, you can't just sit there and watch the flower grow and expect to come up with something from that. If you want to have something happen from the gifts that are around you, you've got to apply your own vision first of all and then your own love and your own effort. So anyway, that was kind of something I bought in to.
antiMusic: That's cool. Your guitar playing is just as stunning as it always has been. Do you spend a lot of time working out patterns and riffs or does it all just fall out on command?
Lindsey: Well, no. I believe it's not what you've got, it's what you do with what you've got. I don't sit around and practice. I'm self-taught. I don't read music. I'm sort of this refined primitive I guess you could say. It's all intuitive. It's all about how you think…it's all about the idea. It's not about the knowledge. I think imagination tends to be more important, at least in my case, than the knowledge. It's about thinking about; okay I have this idea…
I'll give you an example: there's a song on there called "Time Precious Time", which is the second song on there. It's just a guitar piece with this sort of arpeggio that goes up and down the neck. And the idea came from watching Terrence Malick's The New World where he uses, many places in the movie…it's a long movie…but he keeps using this sort of atypical Wagner piece which is this kind of liquid swirling up. It's an orchestra but it's all kind of impressionistic swirling up and up and up and back down again and up and up and up and back down.
And I was just hypnotized by the piece of music. And I thought: wouldn't it be great to try to figure out something like that. So what I had to do, because I wasn't going to be able to play that in a normal tuning. It was a very specific application. I had to find a tuning that was specific to what was in my head and you know, learn inversions up and down the neck that would come close to what I was hearing. It was all about finding a way of doing something that was quite peculiar and probably the tuning is completely useless in any other context, but that's just the way I work. You just try to figure out how to do something on your own terms and you make it work.
antiMusic: Your guitar sound is very distinctive and you use a lot of subtle coloring, How did you get the tone you did on material like "Rhiannon"?
Lindsey: On "Rhiannon"…well I think that was Les Paul of all things, as I recall, that's a long time ago. If I were to guess, I would say it was heavily compressed. That was Keith Olsen that was engineering that. I think it is a combination of that and what I would guess is a kind of scooping out of certain frequencies that were usually identified with a Les Paul, you know some of the mids, the ugly mids, the 1 k kind of area in there, I'm guess. And then of course, you've got to look at the part itself, you know, because whatever you play it on, or however someone records it you have to look at what is being recorded as having a lot to do with what it sounds like.
And you know that was a case where Stevie had this little two finger thing she'd done on the piano. This is one of the odd things about how Stevie and I can interface; she can come up with really real basic things, which are inherently full of substance but are not necessarily articulated. I think the way she wrote that was on the piano and she was just with two fingers going dee dee dee diee, dee dee dee you know. And so to take it from that to something where you're applying an eighth note thumb pattern, you know, like a first and third interval up and down the neck, from her great idea. It as just the application of that idea into my style and I think that has a lot to do with it too.
antiMusic: You've managed to achieve greater commercial success than a good percentage of the music industry put together. You've also "Gone On your Own Way" and allowed yourself to indulge and investigate music that did not take the easy middle road. Are you happy with the way your career has turned out or are there some things that would you do differently, if you could start it all again?
Lindsey: If you go back to right after Rumors, I think we were kind of in a position of having many expectations from the outside and to some degree from people in the band, to make a Rumors 2, and obviously we didn't do that. That was sort of the beginning of the line in the sand that I drew, you know, where you come to realize that that kind of success is a double edged sword.
It gives you freedom and it gives you choices, but you have to use those choices, and you know, there is a tendency, once you've had that kind of success to have people kind of encourage you to not take any more risks or to go to places where you haven't already gone. And that's the beginning of painting yourself in a corner.
The Tusk album in a way, was a line in the sand that I drew that has continued to define how I think and what I think is important and the irony is that it has been all made possible by the larger machine that is Fleetwood Mac. I see that as a luxury but you know, it takes a certain amount of constant vigilance and sort of self-monitoring to make sure that you're still thinking that way. Because you know, people sometimes drift and they don't know they're drifting.
But I guess, the freedom that I have and the way that I think about it is that on the one hand you've got this big machine, on the other hand you've this smaller machine and what's great about it is I can go in and do the work for the work, and hopefully it will advance my growth as an artist, hopefully, and as someone who wants to keep going on whatever I learned from the last one.
And without having any particular expectation as to its outcome on a selling level. Because that's not what it's about, really. You have to assume that the people who appreciate it and are interested in seeking it out will hear it and appreciate it. If the broad number of listeners tend to fall away in that context, then that's just part and parcel with the game. I'm completely happy with that. I mean I think in a way I'm probably in the best place I've ever been, creatively. I think I'm doing the best work I've ever done. I think one of the reasons for that is because I've managed to kind of walk that line. So I am. I'm very happy with the way things have gone so far.
Morley and antiMusic thank Lindsey for taking time to do this interview.