Music: Lindsey Buckingham in Two Worlds

Feb 1, 2011 9:00 AM, By Blair Jackson



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So, if you’re going to milk the Fleetwood Mac catalog, do you have somebody working to get a special episode of Glee with your music on it?
[Laughs]. Not that I know of, but that’s not a bad idea! There have actually been a few ideas about some kind of Broadway musical—jumping on the American Idiot bandwagon, I guess—but there’s nothing in the works right now.

Who’s doing your engineering these days for your new album, or are you doing it mostly yourself?
I’m afraid so. I have to plead guilty to that. [Laughs]

Is this Pro Tools HD and a bunch of cool boxes?
Some of that. But I’m also still doing some work on a reel-to-reel Sony 48-track, and even if I’m working in Pro Tools or whatever, I always like to mix it over to 2-track to get that tape sound. Then we’ll dump all the mixes into Pro Tools and get it ready to be mastered.

What are some of the things that are influencing your writing?
Well, it’s all guitar-driven, I guess. I’ve also been listening to a lot of college radio. About six months ago, I had to turn off KIIS-FM because my kids turned on the hip-hop songs and then it was the same ten songs over and over again. Then I started hearing Phoenix and being aware of that, and Vampire Weekend—a lot of groups where you’d hear one song and it would catch my ear. There’s actually a lot of great stuff going on. I don’t know who’s hearing it… I guess Phoenix has sort of pushed through, but a lot of these groups that seem to be doing interesting things, I wonder if more than 50,000 people are hearing them or not.

So, you’re in good company with this TEC Award you’re getting…
Yeah, I saw the list. It’s impressive… I’m not sure why I fit in with that group.

Well, because you’re a talented and successful musician who’s also always been interested in technology. Is it true you were doing your own recordings back as far as Buckingham Nicks?
Yes. When I was about 21 some relative I didn’t even know left me something like $10,000, so one of the things I did with that money was go out and buy an old Ampex half-inch 4-track—like the kind they recoded Sgt. Pepper’s on, I guess. At that time, my dad had this small coffee plant in Daly City [south of San Francisco]—they were coffee roasters—and at night I would go up there with Stevie, and a lot of times just by myself, and work on songs and demos. That machine then made it down to L.A. when we moved down there, and we had it downstairs where we were living, and some of work on the album we were making got done down there.

Of course that whole idea came from Les Paul originally. When I was maybe 19, I read how he had these two mono machines and he would play all this stuff himself and bounce it, and at that point I went out and got a Sony stereo consumer reel-to-reel recorder that had sound-on-sound, and that’s how I started recording myself and layering. Then it went to the 4-track and it on from there.

Was it surprising, then, when you finally made it into a real studio and there you are working with Keith Olsen, who obviously knew a ton?
It was an adjustment, for sure. There are certain quirky things you do when you’re doing it yourself which get lost in the mix in service of a bigger picture. That was a great experience when I look back on it now. I don’t think we were experienced enough to appreciate the fact that we’d only been in L.A. less than a year and we got a record deal. And here we are in the studio playing with [Elvis drummer] Ronnie Tutt and [bassist] Jerry Scheff and Jim Keltner. That was a pretty neat experience. And Keith, of course. I give him a lot of credit for his organizational skills for pulling together a situation that had to be done quickly on the first Fleetwood Mac album we did. That and the fact that he was a gifted engineer.

I didn’t know that album was done quickly.
Well, compared to Rumours

Everything was quick compared to Rumours.
That’s true. But I mean it was done efficiently, and we’d rehearsed and pretty much chosen everything we were going to do before we went in to work with Keith. He did a very good job to pull together a group that had not really worked together before, and that was the case with the Buckingham Nicks album, too. He was a good overseer for both of those projects.

How does working on an album now, by yourself, compare to working on an album then?
I got into this thing where I was interested in pushing myself to learn how to work by myself in the studio. I wasn’t somebody who had seriously engineered, or mixed, but I wanted to look into these things to see how they enhance the overall, because—and I know I’ve told you this before—for me writing a song is something like painting. You go down there [to my home studio] and you’re dropping the colors on, and there’s a certain level of abstraction that goes on. Unless you’re a kind of Burt Bacharach-type person that brings a completed song in and hands it off to the next person to arrange it, and somebody else to play on it, then it’s all experimental as you go on a certain level, and what you start with may not be with what you end up with. With me, at the end of the day, I’m less a writer in the strict sense than I am a stylist. So I guess the idea of being alone in the studio and being involved with the mixing and the engineering, and the whole subsconscious thing, has branched out into being more important to the total process of making my music.

How often do you come up with lyrics and music at the same time at this point?
Not very often. Usually I’ll have a musical theme, and the way the lyrics seem to come these days is kind of a subconscious thing. I’m actually liking the lyrics I’m writing quite a bit, but they’re tending to be a little more abstract and less literal for sure—more of a Rorschach for whoever’s hearing them, which is a good thing.

Oh, you’re going through your Blonde on Blonde phase?
[Laughs] I guess, if you want to look at it that way. There’s a certain freedom in being able to come up with something which feels poetically interesting and right and doesn’t necessarily have to mean any one thing. I find that to be forward motion. A lot of times with lyrics, I’m not even sure what I’m going to say. I’ll start writing and little bits of things will come together from various takes and finally you arrive at something—“Okay, I see how that works, and it sounds musical,” and you build off it. I’m not a person who can sit down with a pen and paper and write a bunch of lyrics on a page.

Has the relative domesticity of your life affected your writing?
That’s a good question? I don’t know if I can be too objective about that.

Well, as long as you’re not writing songs like “Cook of the House” by Linda McCartney.
It’s probably only affected me in a small way. Being married and having a family have certainly provided more peace of mind, and more freedom to go down there [to the home studio] and think of that work as this linear, stable thing I do. For years, I saw so many people I knew who were parents and spouses who were just not there for their families. And it wasn’t necessarily their fault, but I guess we were all doing what we thought we had to do to be creative in that subculture, which turned out to be a load of bullshit, really. It’s very easy for me to reconcile the two worlds now. I can go downstairs and spend five or six hours a day working, or sometimes more, and come up and hang out with the family. In fact, the two actually help each other—the fact that I am fulfilled downstairs and I’m not coming home from some job I hate, and the kids are certainly intrigued by what I do… Although, I don’t think they want to follow in my footsteps particularly.

Do they like your music?
I think so. I know they like certain songs. Overall I think they think, “Yeah, it’s OK.” That would be my guess. [Laughs] It’s probably hard for them to be objective about it—after all, it’s dad. Maybe if they heard it on the radio they’d like it more. Like, right now my wife has a running CD of stuff from the new album and she’s been playing it for them in the car when she takes the girls out riding, and they sing along to it. I take that as a good sign.

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