Songwriter, producer, vocalist and guitarist Lindsey Buckingham is best known for his central role in the massively popular rock band Fleetwood Mac. His new solo album, Seeds We Sow, comes out Sept. 6, and he’ll be appearing at John Ascuaga’s Nugget, 1100 Nugget Ave., Sparks, on Sept. 9 and 10.
There’s a lot of nice finger-picking on your new album. Can you talk a little about that style of playing?
It’s a little hard to analyze. I started playing when I was very young, when my brother started bringing home Elvis Presley records. Scotty Moore probably had a little to do with it—he used a pick, but he also used his fingers. So there was a bit of an orchestral style I was picking up from some of the rock ’n’ roll back then when I was very young. I did not take lessons, so I kind of figured it all out for myself, and then there was a kind of barrage of folk music that filled the void before The Beatles showed up. So, I don’t know. I just never took to using a pick. It just became part of the style. In more recent years, it’s something that I’ve pursued more actively. There was a point where the song “Big Love,” which was actually an ensemble piece originally—it was the first single from Tango in the Night—eventually made its way to the stage as a single guitar piece. … And I realized it was just something to pursue a little more thoughtfully, in terms of just having a single guitar doing the work of a whole track and then still putting production values over that. So that’s something I’ve gotten very interested in doing over the last 10 years.
What about that song dictates those decisions? What about that song made you think, “Oh this would be good as a single guitar track?”
“Big Love,” you mean? That’s a very good question. I do not remember the moment when we were sitting around saying, “Hey let’s just try this on a single guitar.” I can only imagine that it was one of those things that it maybe never really translated that well live as a band song. And it was a single, and I was probably just sitting around at home, playing the basic part and expounding on it and making it into something more complete and probably took it to the band at rehearsal. I think the first time I started doing it like that was probably the late ’90s. I wish I could tell you what the thought process was. It was just something that—to some degree, it’s funny because I was doing more of that as an integrated part of the record-making process before Stevie [Nicks] and I joined Fleetwood Mac. You know, we did that one album, the Buckingham Nicks album, and there was a lot more of that kind of playing integrated into the production. And then, what I experienced in joining Fleetwood Mac was that I had to pare back a lot of what I would do naturally because there was an existing sound the band had. John [McVie] was a very melodic bass player. There was a lot of space that was already filled, so I had to find the holes. So I think over a period of about 10 years, that style just wanted to rear its head again. It kind of asserted itself back into the landscape.
It’s really prominent on the new album.
That’s something that I hope I can keep doing. It is something that’s effective, and it’s something that I do very well. It’s probably the thing I do best as a guitar player. If you can use it in the context of good record-making, then why not?
“The context of good record-making”—what do you mean by that?
There’s a difference between a good song and a good record—though they don’t call them records anymore, because they’re not vinyl. But the idea of a record being a production, a recorded effort. You can have a good song, and you can mess it up, and make it into a bad record. It might still potentially be a good song. Conversely, you can have a lot of songs that are maybe borderline in terms of having strong melodic content or having a strong focal arc, but they can still succeed because of what you do to them. I guess. This is just the way a producer thinks, someone who was always in the trenches producing the Fleetwood Mac stuff, and someone who plays pretty much everything on his solo albums. You think in terms of colors. That’s what I mean by record-making.
Do you think of yourself as a producer more than as a songwriter?
Not more than, but I probably generally think of myself less as a writer and more as a stylist. When I’m working alone, it’s almost like painting. When you work with a band, you’ve got to bring in a completed song, much like you’d have to have a script to shoot a scene in a movie. It’s probably a lot more like movie-making. More steps to get from point A to point B. It’s a more conscious, political process. When you work alone, and you’re playing all the stuff yourself, it’s like a painter with a canvas. You’re slopping colors on the canvas. So the writing can became much more opened up, and more subconscious, and you can, to some degree, let the work lead you where it wants to go.
Fleetwood Mac is a band known for the interpersonal drama affecting the music …
… As someone capable of doing everything on your own, can you talk about what you draw from working with other people and creative collaboration?
I’m not someone who goes out and looks for a lot of situations as one-offs to collaborate for the sake of collaboration, but if you want to compare just the Fleetwood Mac situation to solo, it really … with something like Fleetwood Mac, which is such a big machine, you have to factor in the politics as they exist within the band, the politics as they exist outside of the band. When you have an album like Rumours, which has been so wildly successful …
One of the top 10 best-selling albums of all time.
Yeah! There’s this kind of axiom from the business side, which is, if it works, run it into the ground and move on. It basically means, “What is the brand? Let’s identify the brand, let’s repeat the formula of the brand until it’s used up and move on.” And that’s probably a completely valid notion from a business point of view, but it’s certainly not a valid notion from an artistic point of view. So part of the challenge in a group like Fleetwood Mac is that it is a big machine and it always will be, so you’ve always got to deal with that. If you want to keep the analogy to film, maybe there are some filmmakers who make mainstream films and then they’ll go off and they’ll do independent films. That would be the analogy to the solo work. It’s really much in the way you would find directors who would say it’s those independent projects that get them where they live. It’s the small machine that allows you to keep growing as an artist, that allows you to keep taking risks, and potentially gets you the most in touch with where your heart is. It’s an interesting thing for me, because some of the choices I’ve made—and I think this album does reflect the idea that where you end is having to do with the accumulation of the choices you’ve made and also acknowledging that you can’t always know whether the choices are good without the perspective of time. But I think I’ve somehow been able to walk this road between this big machine and this small machine, that even though the two would seemingly be opposed and may even have been opposed at times, over the long haul—and that’s the key, because business tends to think more in the short term—in the long haul, they actually supported each other and made something larger. I’ve been able to bring a lot back into the fold of Fleetwood Mac. Most people who have been doing this as long as I have, have not been able to hold on to their ideals the way I have.
How do you balance the creative and commercial aspects of music?
Well, there was a time when we made the album Tusk, which was after Rumours, and that was an attempt to … explore the left side of the palette a little more, and the band was really quite enchanted with that whole idea, but when it didn’t sell … there was this sort of backlash. I don’t begrudge the band this, but this edict came down, well, we’re not going to do that anymore. And that was the beginning of solo work. There was a time when possibly there was the potential to integrate the commercial and the artistic side of things in one place, and the Tusk album was the closest we ever got to that. And had we somehow continued—had everybody wanted the same things for the same reasons, probably I never would have started making solo albums, but there was this kind of reactionary tendency—but there was this whole left side of my palette which needed to find an outlet, and that was the beginning of my solo work. … Which is not to say that Fleetwood Mac doesn’t get artistic, because it does. I think the last album, Say You Will, had a lot of really arty stuff on it.
What’s the current status of Fleetwood Mac?
Well, you know, we’re a band that goes away for a while and then comes back together. We’re never broken up; we’re just not actively pursuing that thing. So I’m doing this. Stevie’s finishing up some touring behind a solo album. The status is probably some time next year we will get together and figure out what we want to do. We haven’t decide what that is, whether it’s just a tour or possibly maybe an album and a tour. There’s nothing really on the books, but I would be shocked if we didn’t do something next year.
You were on Saturday Night Live a few months ago. How’d that come about?
Well, you know Bill Hader’s been doing me in this sketch for I guess a couple of years now.
What was your first reaction when you saw that?
Well, my first reaction when I heard about it, before I saw it, was oh, geez, that’s kind of obscure. You think, well, is that even going to play? It’s not like people don’t know the name, but it doesn’t really have enough of a context—but I guess that was the point really. The fact that he didn’t let me talk in the sketch, which was sort of the punchline of the sketch, it kind of hit close to home! Because there is a part of me that has struggled to be understood and be heard. So I took it that they were sort of making a little comment there. Whatever they were doing, I took it as a compliment. And then when I saw him, it really cracked me up, because he had the outfit I had on the last Fleetwood Mac tour, and he had it down pretty well. So that was something that had been running for a while, and they were getting close to the end of last season and Irving Azoff, who’s my manager, just called up Lorne Michaels and asked if they’d like me to do a walk on and Lorne said sure. So I flew out for like two days and flew back.
Did you talk to Bill Hader about doing you?
Oh, we didn’t talk much about that! The thing that really got me was just how gracious everybody was—what nice people they all were. And how hard they work. Oh my god! That’s like the last legacy of live TV. It’s not something you could do beyond a certain age, I don’t think. I think they kill themselves doing that show. But it was just great. Bill was just the nicest guy and I’m a fan of his work in movies, and his wife and his little daughter showed up, and I got to hang out with them for a little while. It was just a lot of fun.