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Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie Talk New Duets Album, and the First Time Playing Together in Fleetwood Mac

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John Russo

Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie aren’t exactly strangers. Their rich musical history stretches back to the mid-‘70s, when they scaled the highest reaches of the charts with Fleetwood Mac. So when the pair recently joined forces for their first duets album, Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie, they had to wonder: What took so long?

The union marked McVie’s return to the studio after effectively retiring from music for more than a decade, but some additional friends made her feel at home—Fleetwood Mac’s rhythm section, drummer Mick Fleetwood, plus bassist (and her former husband) John McVie. The old musical friends found themselves in familiar territory, working in the same custom-built Los Angeles studio where the Mac had recorded Tusk in 1979.

Buckingham and McVie spoke to PEOPLE about their new music, old friendships, and their early days working together in the “dysfunctional family” known as Fleetwood Mac.

You’ve been making music together in Fleetwood Mac for 42 years—what took you so long to work together as a duet?

LINDSEY BUCKINGHAM: We’ve been asking ourselves the same question! Christine made the overture to [Fleetwood Mac drummer] Mick [Fleetwood] first, and then I get a call from Mick saying, “Well, Christine would like to rejoin the band.” And my reaction was, “I’d love that, but she can’t leave again.” And she’s not! [to Christine] You’re not leaving again, are you?

CHRISTINE MCVIE: He said, “You’ve got to commit, Chris, you’ve got to commit!” So I said, “I commit, I commit!”

LB: She was interested in getting reconnected with her creative process, so she started sending me demos of stuff and that sparked my own material. To be honest, it sparked something that had been dormant in me since the last time we worked together. That got me going on a track, and we just thought we’d go in the studio and see where it was going to go—just to see how it felt, and [also] as sort of a gesture to welcome her back in before we started rehearsing [for a tour]. We’d been in the studio for less than a week and it took on such a life of its own. We were saying: “What took us so long?!”

This isn’t Fleetwood Mac, and it’s not a solo work—it’s something totally new. Did that mentally give you freedom to explore new musical directions?

LB: I think it was sort of the other way around. Because it wasn’t Fleetwood Mac, and there was nothing political or any set of labels or preconceptions that we had to follow, we were more ourselves as the two of us, in a strange way, than we might have been had there been any specific ideas about what we were trying to accomplish. I think a lot of it had to do with just the purity of the dynamic of the two of us together. It became a different equation and allowed us to find a more defined center than what Fleetwood Mac might be with three writers. And perhaps it allowed us to find a more defined sense of heart in terms of the shared sensibilities that cross over to make something that feels extremely unified.

You also have to throw into that the fact that it had been over 15 years since Christine had been with us. When people just decide they’re going to reconvene, there’s no guarantee that they’re going to have any of that chemistry. Sometimes people try to do that and it’s a struggle to try to recreate what once was. In our case, I think our individual journeys had led us to this place. It was almost more of a summation of everything that had come before and it allowed us to be constantly surprised by the life that it seemed to have of its own. Again, it kind of brings us back to your original question: what took us so long to figure it out? Maybe that’s what it was. It just took the equation of time.

CM: It didn’t seem to be a struggle. It was very natural. I think that has to be the synergy between Lindsey and myself. We always have been like that over the course of our careers. We’ve had that musical connection, which fortunately hadn’t gone anywhere.

LB: I think it had actually gotten better. Perhaps back in the earlier days it was just harder to appreciate. With a perspective of time and distance, I think we were blown away by how potent that was.

CM: And then of course we shelved the record while we toured for a few years. And then we decided it was a pity to leave it sitting there on the shelf and we should go ahead and finish it off, which we did last November.

What were your first musical impressions of each other back when you first began making music together?

CM: I remember what I thought. I thought, “I’d better up my game here, these guys [Buckingham and then-girlfriend Stevie Nicks] are brilliant!”

LB: I’ll tell you what I remember. Before we went to do that first album [1975’s Fleetwood Mac] we went down in the basement of the old CMA building, which was a talent agency. And we just tried to figure out what we were going to do so we would be somewhat prepared. And for me as a guitarist, it was a bit daunting because I knew that how I had defined myself as a guitarist up to that point, before Fleetwood Mac, wasn’t going to apply. For me, far more than for Stevie, it was going to be an exercise in adaptation. I didn’t know what that adaptation would be, but one of the first things I remember about Christine was that we started to play rough versions of “Say You Love Me” and “Over My Head.” I immediately saw that there were things that could be improved about those arrangements and I was not shy about voicing my opinion. Christine, who could have been a bit more territorial, was completely open to those changes, and at that point I knew that she and I were going to be great band mates and great soul mates on that level.

CM: I also remember that when it came to the chorus, and you and Stevie piped in with these faultless harmonies, I think everybody got goosebumps in the room at that point. That was quite a moment.

GAB Archive/Redferns

How aware were you of each other’s work up to that point?

CM: I just knew Stevie and Lindsey from that record, the Buckingham/Nicks record.

LB: We had the one piece of work, so that was the only thing they could wrap their heads around. Mick called me—he had heard my guitar playing and then a couple of weeks later [guitarist] Bob Welch decided he was going to leave the band. Mick actually asked me to join first, and I said, “Well, you’ve gotta take my girlfriend too.” And he says, “I’ll get back to you on that.” I think he had to ask you [Christine].

CM: Mick said, “Well if Chris likes her, she’s in!”

LB: In order to come to a decision whether this was something that made sense for them and for us, we had to go in and do a lot of homework, and that entailed listening to a lot of the albums that had been done.

CM: In the beginning we had to do a lot of old Fleetwood Mac material to get a set together. We only had the one record—the eponymous album, the white one.

Lindsey, on some of your solo albums you’ve played all instruments, including percussion and bass. What made you decide to bring John McVie and Mick Fleetwood (Fleetwood Mac’s rhythm section) in for some of the tracks?

LB: There were a couple of reasons. One was that before the previous tour, the last tour we did, John and Mick and myself had cut some of my material. For no particular reason, but we knew we were getting ready to do a Fleetwood Mac tour and I had a bunch of stuff sitting around and we just went in. It had been so long since we’d been in the studio we just thought we’d see how that felt. And then that got shelved because there was no real agenda to really try to do anything with it. So you had stuff of mine that for the most part already had John and Mick on it. There’s one song where I’m playing everything on this, “Sleeping Around the Corner,” but everything else is with John and Mick. So when Christine started sending me these demos of her stuff and we realized that there was a creative life beyond, “Oh, she’s back in the band in a live context,” we decided that we would welcome her back into the fold by spending a couple of weeks pursing some of these new ideas.

John and Mick were in town anyway for rehearsals and we thought it was a natural thing to think about them. For two reasons: first, they’d already been playing on material of mine, and secondly it just seemed like a way to provide a familiar environment [for Christine]. She’d been over in England for 15 years, completely divorced from everything that we’d been doing in terms of any day-to-day interaction, so John and Mick would make it as comfortable and familiar for her in this situation.

CM: It completely did do that. It was like walking back in to family, from my point of view.

Speaking of familiarity, you recorded in Studio D at Westlake Studios in LA. That place has a lot of history for you.

LB: Studio D has a lot of symbolism for me. There’s this whole idea of, if you want to aspire to be an artist, once the formula of your commercial success has been identified, there are always forces from the top down that are going to get you to repeat that formula and, at some point, start to run it into the ground. At that point you can begin to lose your perspective on why you got into doing this in the first place. And the Tusk album was sort of a rebellion against this huge phenomenon that [1977’s] Rumors had been on any number of levels: a commercial level, but also just an ability level. To some degree it worked its way into the social fabric, the musical soap opera of it. So the Tusk album was representative of trying to keep one’s feet on the ground, trying to remember that it’s important to take risks, trying to remember that in order to aspire to be an artist, you’ve got to sometimes defy expectations.

All of that came right back to me when I walked into Studio D, and it resonated with this project [Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie]. We didn’t know we were going to be doing a duet album at that time—we were just having fun. But in addition to that, the actual cosmetics of the studio, I don’t think they’ve changed one iota in all that time. The tile in the bathroom, everything is just the same as it was then. So there was this sense of déjà vu. And there was also this reinforcement of that ideal of aspiring to be an artist, which we were putting into play with this duets album.

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Christine, I’ve read that your mother had healing powers. Do you feel there’s something supernatural in writing music?

CM: I can make one comment regarding that. For some peculiar reason I wrote [Rumors standout] “Songbird” in half an hour. I’ve never been able to figure out how I did that. I woke up in the middle of the night and the song was there in my brain, chords lyrics melody, everything. I played it in my bedroom and didn’t have anything to tape it on. So I had to stay awake all night so I wouldn’t forget it and I came in the next morning to the studio and had [producer] Ken Callait put it on a 2-track. That was how the song ended up being. I don’t know where that came from. I wished it would happen more often, but it hasn’t. [laughs]

John Russo

You’ve been through so much together, the two of you, and with John and Mick too. Yet you still get together and make this beautiful music. How did you find the strength to move forward with forgiveness?  

CM: There’s no other way but to move forward.

LB: That’s right. Sometimes you can do the work in the moment and you don’t know whether it’s going to really have meaning once time has elapsed. We are at this place now where when Fleetwood Mac does shows, you’ve got three generations of people at the show and at that point you know that you’ve done your job right and really that’s what it’s all about. Obviously having the commercial success and what that can do in terms of making your life more comfortable—that’s nice, but it’s really about putting something out there that means something and has a spiritual connotation and a nurturing connotation. Clearly something we did has accomplished that, and like Christine says, there’s no way to move but forward. But it helps to put everything in perspective—all the struggles that we have been through.

Yes, you could say that Fleetwood Mac is a bit of a dysfunctional family, but we are a family. We’re certainly a family, and I think it’s easier for us to appreciate that at this point because of that. Obviously the sacrifices, if you want to call it that, that were made on an emotional level have taken root and with the meaning of what we’ve done as a body of work.

CM: There’s an ageless quality with these songs, and I think they resonate with the generations, from the people that first bought Rumors back in those days, and those who play them today, and whose children go out and buy these records, and grandchildren. So there’s a sort of timeless quality about these songs that sound as fresh today as they did 30 or 40 years ago.