BAM Magazine Cover Story -- Fleetwood Mac
by Jeff McDonald
(First appeared in BAM magazine, 8/22/97)
Redd Kross' Jeff McDonald talks to Fleetwood Mac singer and pop-culture icon Stevie Nicks about old Rumours, the new Dance and her life as a "Living Adjective"
When I first received the assignment to interview Stevie Nicks--who's my all-time rock 'n' roll idol, not to mention a pop-culture icon of legendary status--I was nervous. But upon arrival at her West LA home, I found Ms. Nicks not to be the mystical, witchy, other-wordly pop diva I'd expected, but rather a casual, articulate and very down-to-earth person. As she opened the door barefoot wearing a thrift-store-type vintage dress, she invited me into her home and offered me fresh cherries and ice-water. Immediately, I got the feeling that if I had needed a place to stay, Stevie would've let crash on her couch. She's a very cool woman.
As you know, Stevie Nicks is Fleetwood Mac's charismatic lead vocalist, who brought ballet (along with Freddie Mercury, that is) and brilliant pop poetry to the masses. On the 20th anniversary of their mega-platinum-selling album, Rumours, Fleetwood Mac have reformed for the most-anticipated tour of the year. Along with this nationwide string of appearances, the band--which includes guitarist Lindsey Buckingham, keyboardist Christine McVie, bassist John McVie and drummer Mick Fleetwood--have just released a new CD, The Dance, which is a live recording of their already legendary MTV special.
I'm not a rock journalist so I'm a little nervous.
Don't be nervous.
When I get nervous I get chapped lips.
Want some Chap-Stick?
I think I'll be OK.
Are you sure? We've got a whole house of women here, we've got everything.
I had a little problem with Chap-Stick--I got addicted to it so I've had to give it up, but thanks anyway. Let's start with the MTV performance that you taped earlier this spring. Unfortunately, I couldn't go, but a friend of mine who went told me her hair actually stood up on her arms. And I know that Courtney Love cried three times during the concert. It was so unfair that I had to miss it.
I'm sorry you had to miss it, too.
I did see one song, "The Chain," on video. It sounded so cool, so vital. Not at all "oldies" music.
From the first day on April 1st, I said to myself, if I go up there and it feels like some kind of retro thing, I'm off the stage, I'm out of the hall, I'm not going to do this. But it never felt like that. It felt like we were getting back into rehearsal, just starting up again. Like maybe we'd been off for a year. That's how it felt.
What's it like to go back and perform those songs? In the video, it seems like you're going back to the way you felt when you wrote the songs. Is that a fun thing? Is it painful? Or is it an act? It looked very real, though.
It's totally real. In the first place, when we filmed the MTV thing, we'd only been back together for a few months. So nothing was old. Nobody was tired of anybody. It's all good. So when you burst into those songs and you look at the people you wrote them about and they're there with you, it's pretty easy for that moment in time to slip back into that, to be right back there. You know, when Lindsey and I go back and forth on the songs that were written between the two of us, for that moment, we are back in love again. And it's wonderful. If that didn't happen we would be a really boring bunch of people onstage. So the tension is much less than it was before. Is there still tension there? Yes, there is. And that's what makes it still really good now.
The thing that I find most intriguing about Fleetwood Mac is that you've always appealed to the underground. Which is sort of contrary to what Fleetwood Mac is supposed to be, you know, this soft, mellow memories band. Even when I discovered punk, I always kept Rumours in my record collection. It sat between the Ramones and the Sex Pistols. I didn't really understand why I liked it so much. How do you explain your influence on the underground?
Maybe it's because no matter how fabulous and big time Fleetwood Mac were, there was always a really dark edge to it. Fleetwood Mac were anything but a happy soft-rock band. There was a lot of darkness and a lot of dark stuff going on. And so maybe people relate to that darkness because they knew that it wasn't easy for us and that we went through the drugs, criticism, the big success and the dropping down and going back up.
Fleetwood Mac never had a hippie quality like a lot of the '70s music did. Was it because of the angst and all the tension? I just saw that VH1 special [The Making of Rumours]. Aside from the personal turmoil you were going through at the time, was it a fun record to make?
It was totally great. Again, everybody loves to focus on the darkness and everything that went down that wasn't cool, but, at the same time, the music was really great. All the fighting between Lindsey and I, Christine and John, played a part in making Rumours so good. Fleetwood Mac had an irresistible quality, because there's so much that goes on between two couples who had been in love with each other and then gone on and tried to work it out, tried to still be friends and work together.
So that painful tension was a necessary evil? What about now that you're all more grown-up and happier in your lives. What's it like to be creative in that family again?
It's really good. Nobody is angry anymore. That is not to mean that we don't have disagreements. But what has happened this time around is that we've been able to sit down and talk about our problems. There's been some big arguments, but we've never let anything get too out of control. Now, we actually sit down, the five of us, and, rather than let our managers and everybody else work things out, we talk about it between ourselves. And it's worked. We can communicate to a point of not letting anything destroy us, you know, all the stupid stuff that goes on, picking the pictures. Getting five people to agree on anything.
A relationship with two people is next to impossible, but five! How do you get five people to look good in one photo?
[In a mocking voice] "You can't possibly pick that photo." [Laughs] "But that's the best picture I've ever taken." It's nearly impossible to choose a photo. When we were rehearsing or just doing music, everything was great. As soon the MTV special was done, when we started mixing the record, that's when everyone started getting really uptight. There were so many decisions to make and it was so hard to get five people to all agree on one thing.
I've recently discovered the early, Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac and it would seem, on the surface, that when you and Lindsey joined the band, it was this completely different thing from what Peter was doing. But if you listen to Peter's songs like "Green Manalishi," you can hear the similarities. You could almost directly connect it to "Rhiannon." They both have this very mystical quality.
That's exactly what we connected with in the very beginning. When we got the phone call from Mick Fleetwood asking us if we wanted to join the band, Lindsey and I went out and bought all those records from the beginning of Fleetwood Mac until then. We listened to them back to back, very carefully, to see if we could add anything to the band, or if they could add anything to what Lindsey and I were doing. We wanted to know if this was something we were gonna do just for the money, or if we were gonna do this because we could improve upon it in some way. And what we connected to, of course, was Peter Green. It was his mystical influence that drew us in, that made it OK to stop doing Buckingham Nicks and join Fleetwood Mac.
You and Lindsey are from the [San Fernando] Valley, right?
No actually, we both moved down here from San Francisco. I met Lindsey in high school, near Cupertino. We played in a band there from 1968 to 1972. That's when Lindsey and I packed up and moved down here. When we were in a band up there, we opened up for all of these really big bands. We played up and down the Peninsula to Monterey and came down through the other side of San Francisco and all the way to Sacramento. Every Friday and Saturday we opened almost every big rock show that came through the area. Even though I only lived up there for my senior year in high school, that's where I feel like I'm from because that's where the music all happened.
Let's go to Tusk. I'm a musician too, and lately, when I've done interviews I'll be asked what I'm listening to and I tell them that I've only been listening to Tusk by Fleetwood Mac. And, usually, the interview will then focus on the brilliance of that album--the vinyl version vs. the CD version, Lindsey's experimental songs, "Stevie's Storms," the edited version of "Sara." It's amazing how many journalists and musicians are starting to study this album. What are your feelings about it now that it's been...how long?
It came out in 1980. I didn't understand Tusk when we were recording it. I really liked the idea, but I didn't really understand the concepts, like the dog biting the leg on the cover. Needless to say, I wasn't part of any of that. It took 13 months to record Tusk, and that's a long time. And that 13 months was spent mostly in one studio. We kind of lived there--we really did. We brought all of our stuff down to that studio. It took like a semi truck to move us out of there.
Tusk was so the opposite of Rumours. It was so important to Lindsey and Mick to do something that was nothing like Rumours. For me, it was almost like we were trying way too hard. Like, it doesn't have to be this difficult. I mean, we were just making another record, for God's sake.
Now, when I listen to it, I'm really glad it took 13 months and all that time went into it, because I really like it. It was a lot of music to be stuck with for 13 months and to listen to over and over again. And there was that whole kind of Hawaiian, African chant-like Tusk thing that went all the way through. When you listen to all those songs together over 13 months, it was a drain. Now I can listen to it and I really enjoy each song, but when I was there it was a one big rumpled up ball of Tusk-ness. So for me, it was way ahead of its time. I was there and I sang on it, but I didn't have a real connection with it. And now, I really, really like it. I have these incredible speakers, I like to just lie on the floor and listen to it. It sounds so cool.
Lindsey's songs are almost lo-fi, yours are really sparse and beautiful and Christine's songs are almost Velvet Underground-esque. It's like a great compilation tape. After a record as successful as Rumours, most groups would've played it safe and never would've considered making such a bizarre, experimental record as their follow-up. With the exception of the Beatles, Fleetwood Mac is the only super-group to have the balls to go out on a limb like that.
It was bizarre. And we knew it was bizarre when it was being made. We knew from the beginning that nobody would ever say that we were trying to make "Rumours II." Tusk was entirely the other side of Rumours. Nobody will every try to compare them. They're two different records. If you're in one mood, you'll listen to Rumours. But if you wanna go to Hawaii, rent a house and live over there for three months, then you'll play nothing but Tusk. In the long run, it ended up to be really great that the two albums were so completely different.
An interesting stop on any Fleetwood Mac tour of Los Angeles is the Village Recorders where you recorded Tusk. Did you know your original vocal booth is still intact with the bamboo-Tiffany hybrid lamps and the artificial Hawaiian sunset? I was making a record there and I would go into that booth just to feel your vibe. It's still there, you know?
We loved it there. When you're at a studio for 13 months you really start to feel like you really live there.
Another important tour stop is Sound City in Panorama City. That's where you met Mick and eventually where you recorded Fleetwood Mac.
Actually, it's where we recorded Buckingham Nicks and Fleetwood Mac.
And part of Rumours?
I don't think any of Rumours was done there, but we returned to Sound City many different times. That's a really cool place. That's the first studio I went to when Lindsey and I first came to town. And it still looks exactly the same as it did in 1973.
It's an LA landmark. Have you ever thought about the fact that both "Rhiannon" and "Smells Like Teen Spirit" were recorded there; two of the most important records of their respective decades were made at the same studio. And it's kinda funny that such artistry was created deep within an industrial park in the San Fernando Valley.
[Laughs] Actually, the first time Lindsey and I saw that studio we thought it was the most fabulous big, huge, incredible rock 'n' roll studio. We had never ever been in such a big studio before. We'd only been in little tiny ones in San Francisco.
When Fleetwood Mac was the biggest band in the world, you embarked on a solo career and released Belladonna. How did you survive that time?
When Belladonna came out, Fleetwood Mac was at the top of their game. It was the most incredible time. But then my best friend, Robin, was diagnosed with leukemia and that overshadowed everything. I really didn't get to enjoy Belladonna. I found out that Robin was dying on the same day it went No. 1. I never really thought about it until now, but that's what happened. That should've been a time when I was the most happy and felt the most self-confident and successful. But actually, I really felt the most helpless, because all the money in the world couldn't save this woman's life. It was a very sad, yet balancing, thing for me.
Were you working the whole time?
Yes. For the Belladonna tour, we only did 12 shows and I had to go right back to Fleetwood Mac. I was on the road when Robin died. I didn't even have the time, or the luxury, to sit around and be sad about her death. I've been thinking about this a lot lately. How unfortunate it was that it all had to happen at the same time. People ask, "Wasn't it incredible when Belladonna was No. 1 and sold 3 million albums?" Yeah, it was totally wonderful except that I was watching one thing go up while I was watching another thing go down. It was really, really hard.
Who was your favorite singer when you were a kid?
I listened to a lot of r&b soul radio. I loved listening to the radio. When I was a child I was so enthralled with music. I can remember sitting in the backseat of our car with my mom and dad in the front and [starts singing "Diana" by Paul Anka] I would be singing and my parents would start talking. I remember one time I said, "I'm trying to sing and you guys are talking. I would really appreciate it if you would keep it down." That was in the fourth grade and that was as early as I remember keying into the radio thinking, "Man, I really love that song."
So you were a real pop head? Did you have an allegiance to any particular artist? One who had a profound impact on you?
No, not when I was that young. On my 16th birthday, I wrote my first song. Right then, I made a decision that that's what I wanted to be--a songwriter. The next year, I moved up to San Francisco and finished high school. At that time, I was totally into Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. Two years after that, I joined a band and played on the same stage as those people. It happened so fast, I had no idea what would happen, but it just worked out. And then I felt as though I'd been in a rock 'n' roll band my whole life.
Do you remember the first time you collaborated on a song with Lindsey? When you showed him one of your songs and you guys started working on arrangements?
I showed him all my songs. I mean, "Rhiannon," "Gold Dust Woman" and "Landslide" were written a year before we joined Fleetwood Mac. I'd sit down and play a song for Lindsey and he'd go straight to his tape recorder. All I had to do was write it, play it for him and 24 hours later it was recorded. That was so great for me, because I wasn't a great guitar player, and I'm still not. All I had to do was sing it and get the vibe over to Lindsey and then it would be recorded perfectly. He could play really well, so I never had to mess around with any of that stuff.
Some of the greatest writers can barely play or sing. A friend of mine saw a documentary on Burt Bacharach...
Burt can't sing. But boy, let an incredible bunch of musicians at his songs and then it's amazing. For songwriters, you need to have somebody to help you with the work.
You're the first living adjective I've ever met. When people describe a certain look or vibe, they'll say, "Oh, that's very Stevie Nicks." And you know, casting agents will say they're looking for someone who's "Stevie Nicks-esque." Are you aware of your influence?
I'm not around to hear all of the details. But I know what you mean. I, myself, can see it, too. I'll see something that reminds me of this whole little look I put together 20 years ago. I'll be watching something like House of Style on MTV and somebody will say, "Oh that's so Stevie Nicks of you."
So you can step outside and see yourself, kind of an out-of-body experience.
Yes. Oh, come with me and bring the tape recorder. [Excitedly, Stevie leads the way into her room filled with racks of costume clothing] These are all my stage clothes. This is what I was wearing on the cover of Rumours [points to the dress]. These are all my clothes I wore on stage over the last 20 years.
And you saved them all?
Absolutely! They're all still so beautiful. They were made out of such beautiful fabric. Here's the dress I wore for the "White Winged Dove" thing.
Did you design your own clothes?
Well, I didn't go and cut patterns, but I pretty much told 'em what I wanted. All of this stuff came from me. So when people say, "It's so Stevie Nicks," it really does exist and here it is.
What's the story behind the song "Silver Springs"?
"Silver Springs" was on Rumours. It was on the track list, it was gonna be on the record, but at the very last minute it was taken off, much to my disbelief. And the reason was because the song was way too long. It was really heartbreaking because it's such a wonderful song. And because it was taken off [Rumours], we've never performed it live. 'Cause, you know, when you go out on tour you can only do two or three new songs. You can't bore the audience or they'll just walk. Anyway, a few months ago we decided to do it again. When we went into rehearsal, we played it and it sounded really good. The neat thing is that I had given this song to my mom--writing, publishing, everything. So when it was taken off the record, it was really a double disaster.
Especially that record! [laughs]
It was released as the B-side for the "Go Your Own Way" single, but you know how it goes, singles get released, people lose them, nobody has them anymore. Pretty soon, it's gone. So now "Silver Springs" is on the new record and my mom's totally excited. She has an antique store that's called "Silver Springs" and the phone is ringing off the hook. It's just gonna be great! After all this time, my song, well her song, actually gets to be what it was supposed to be 20 years ago.
What's in the future for Fleetwood Mac?
We're gonna tour for the next few months and we'll see how it goes from there.
"Tusk II," perhaps?
[Laughs] Yeah, we'll see.
(c) 1997 Jeff McDonald
Thanks to C.L. Moon for the posting this to the Fleetwood Mac newsgroup.