Fleetwood Mac has always been less a band than a constellation of volatile personalities, especially in its hit-making incarnation that began in the mid-1970s. The sparks, tension and full-on fireworks produced glorious music, but all that drama also made for a difficult co-existence.
So it is that the latest album to emerge from the Fleetwood Mac galaxy is a low-key affair, “Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie” (Atlantic Records). It’s singer/keyboardist McVie’s first on-record appearance within the group’s orbit in close to two decades; and with drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie both on board, four of five core members are present – everyone except Stevie Nicks.
Still, this is a separate subgroup, so don’t come to Saturday night’s show at Red Hat Amphitheater in Raleigh expecting nothing but the old “Rumours” – vintage hits. We caught up with the 67-year-old Buckingham by phone, calling from Atlanta just before the first date of the tour.
Q: Who is your rhythm section for the touring band? Not Mick Fleetwood or John McVie, I’m guessing.
A: No, or it would be Fleetwood Mac (laughing)! We have a drummer named Jimmy Paxson, who I’ve never worked with before and is really great. And on bass, Federico Pol, who I toured with extensively during the “Out of the Cradle” days. He’s always someone who kills on bass, so we’re lucky he was available. We also have Brett Tuggle and Neil Heywood, from my solo touring band and Fleetwood Mac’s backup band.
Q: After five decades of touring, do you still enjoy it?
A: Well, there are all kinds of touring. Fleetwood Mac is one thing, and at the other end of the spectrum are the solo tours I do. Those are much more no-frills, and way more entertaining and enjoyable in some ways – they promote camaraderie a little more, and of course the audiences are smaller and more intimate. The solo shows are not only a reflection of what I happen to be working on in the moment, but how I redefine myself and aspire to grow as an artist.
So if Fleetwood Mac is the big machine and me solo is the small machine, this might be the medium machine in the middle. There are a lot of aspects to touring, how you take it in and are enriched by it. Like most things, it’s what you make of it. I still like it. Touring is a rite of passage no matter what the scale is. As long as I invest as much of myself as I can, there’s always something worthwhile about it.
Q: With the days of a record like “Rumours” selling in the tens of millions long gone, what is the music industry like to deal with nowadays?
A: If you look at the model that used to drive young acts and nurture new talent, a lot of that has broken down. The decision-makers now have less ability and autonomy now. Mo Ostin, who was the legendary president of Warners all those years, kept Fleetwood Mac on the label when it was a band with people like Peter Green and Danny Kirwan floating in and out and every album was a bit of a non sequitur. I don’t think they were making the label any money, but Mo still had the instinctual smarts to say, “They’re not doing it right now, but they’re interesting, so let’s just wait and see what happens.” Then Stevie and I showed up. Those accidents don’t seem to happen as much today, at least not from the top down.
Q: Are there newer acts out there these days that you like?
A: There’s great stuff now from the bottom up, artists making records on laptops in their bedrooms, and it’s a great thing. Phoenix is a wonderful example. And Sylvan Esso are brilliant, a great mix of folk sensibility in how she sings and to some degree the song structure, but with this techno thing underneath. It’s such a nice combination. The industry’s machinery has generally not embraced these groups so much, but there’s a lot of democracy in how stuff is coming up now.
Q: James Taylor has said that “Fire and Rain” is not a song he plays for himself anymore, but he still does it because it means so much to people. Are a lot of the old Fleetwood Mac songs like that for you?
A: Yes and no. It’s a little harder to be up there doing a song as centered and singular as “Fire and Rain.” I think there’s something more visceral about what we do, it’s a bit more of a rite of passage. But obviously, at some point you have to come to terms with the fact that people are not necessarily interested in hearing anything too new. They’re there to hear a body of work, which is not inappropriate when you’ve been around a while. It’s all in how you embody the performance every night, to make it a rite of passage where you share the energy with the audience. It’s always a balancing act between that big-machine status quo of Fleetwood Mac and the small and medium machines.
Q: Fleetwood Mac has a couple of stadium dates in Los Angeles and New York this summer, between your Buckingham/McVie shows. What’s next for the group beyond that?
A: The mother band is planning a tour for the summer of 2018, although I don’t see anything like another album on the horizon. The politics make that all the more tenuous. That’s also what make Fleetwood Mac a band of five people that don’t seem like they belong together. It creates a synergy. But with the diversity of personalities, we very seldom all want the same things at the same time.
Who: Lindsey Buckingham & Christine McVie
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Red Hat Amphitheater, 500 S. McDowell St., Raleigh
More info: redhatamphitheater.com