The Fleetwood Mac guitarist Lindsey Buckingham talks to James McNair about his new album and fatherhood late in life
In 1974, when the drummer Mick Fleetwood asked Lindsey Buckingham to join his band, the California-born guitarist insisted that he and his girlfriend Stevie Nicks should come as a package.
"It wasn't a slam-dunk, 'Oh my goodness, this is our big break thing'," Buckingham tells me on the line from his home in Los Angeles. "Stevie and I could have made another Buckingham Nicks album - and who knows what would have happened if we did?" History records that the couple did not, of course, and when the gifted and glamorous duo joined Fleetwood Mac, they helped transform the group from esteemed British blues outfit to drive-time radio colossus.
Formerly led by the troubled guitar magus Peter Green, the band became an Anglo-American entity whose eponymous 1974 debut reached number one in the US. The new recruits' song-writing talent sat nicely alongside that of the keyboardist, Christine McVie, whose bass-playing husband John was also a long-term member.
Amazingly, the success of Fleetwood Mac was surpassed by that of the group's 1977 follow-up album, Rumours. Essentially a document of two relationship break-ups - Buckingham and Nicks were separating; ditto the McVies - the album has since gone on to sell more than 40 million copies. The band was indulging in all kinds of excess, and songs such as Go Your Own Way and Dreams aired their dirty laundry in public. Not for nothing, then, has Rumours been dubbed "rock's greatest soap opera".
"We can laugh about it now," says the soft-spoken Buckingham, "but at the time it was incredibly painful. The instinct was to run away, but we had to make the right choices for the band. Rumours brought out the voyeur in everybody, I think, but we learnt to be philosophical about that and use it to our advantage. I'm just glad it wasn't today's media covering the story - there was no phone hacking or people rooting through your trash back then."
Now 61, Buckingham is about to release his sixth solo album, Seeds We Sow. He recorded it in his home studio, where a poster of the Beach Boys' Smile album hangs for inspiration ("I also have a little teak warrior figure standing between the speakers to remind me that I have to fight on"). The new record packs echoing lattices of nylon-string guitar, songs such as Illumination and That's the Way confirming Buckingham's pop sensibility is still highly attuned. The album also benefits from the guitarist and singer's left-field production technique, something that, in Fleetwood Mac, was only ever let loose on the brilliant, defiantly uncommercial Tusk, an album the band's record company later dubbed "Lindsey's folly" despite its selling four million copies.
Buckingham says his new album is about "karma" and how the decisions we make influence our lives. So is he happy with his own choices? "Yes, I think so. With the music, my small, independent projects allow me to take risks, and that has a positive effect when I go back to Fleetwood Mac. More personally speaking, I think it was good not having children too young." He and wife Kristen Messner had their first child, William, when Buckingham was 48, and have since had two daughters, Leelee and Stella. "I've seen a lot of parents not really be there for their kids, so I'm glad that gift came when I was ready."
Chatting more about the new album, Buckingham explains that When She Comes Down was written for his wife. "When we first met, it took Kristen a while to open up and feel safe with me," he says. "I just had to wait and have faith." Happily married the couple may be, but for Fleetwood Mac fans, Buckingham will forever be romantically linked with Stevie Nicks, the girl he first met when they were pupils at Menlo-Atherton High School in Atherton, California.
In May of this year, Nicks released her seventh solo album, In Your Dreams, and, much to the delight of Mac fans, Buckingham sang and played guitar on the song Soldier's Angel.
"It was great," he says of the dynamic between them. "We spent more time together than we had in while, and we even talked about trying to get the [long deleted] Buckingham Nicks album out again and perhaps doing some kind of tour around it."
There are plans for new Fleetwood Mac projects, too, and Buckingham says that once he and Nicks have finished with their respective solo album commitments, their thoughts may well turn to another Mac studio album and tour. At 64 and 65 respectively, the band's titular rhythm section Mick Fleetwood and John McVie are still game, but Christine McVie - who retired from touring in 1998 and only fleetingly appears on 2003's Say You Will album - is unlikely to return to the fold.
"You could call Chris and ask her," laughs Buckingham, "but she quite deliberately burnt her bridges some years back. As far as I can tell, she's living the quiet pastoral life back in England, but I would imagine that must get a little one-dimensional for her from time to time."
For all his gentle ribbing, Buckingham, too, has clearly taken his foot off the accelerator ("Have I mellowed? Oh, I hope so!"). As for Buckingham, he's happier than ever. "I just want to be a consistent and present parent and not let anything get in the way of that. I don't have any big burning ambition, or anything I feel is just out of my grasp.
"One of the most frustrating things about Fleetwood Mac," he adds, "is that you don't get everybody wanting the same things for the same reasons at the same time, but it would be nice to reach a place that dignifies where we started. I find it rather touching and sweet that Stevie and myself might be able to share something beyond the formal designations of recent years. I think there are still a few chapters of our story to be written."
Seeds We Sow is out on September 5 on Cooking Vinyl