Lindsey Buckingham on exploring the challenges of love for his new solo album
Lindsey Buckingham answers the door to his Brentwood home himself. The house is artfully decorated in shades of black and white, far more soothing and tasteful than one might expect from a 1970s rock star. Buckingham appears to be the portrait of Zen, upending expectations for a guy whose name keeps popping up in the press for an ongoing feud with Stevie Nicks that he says culminated in his 2018 firing from Fleetwood Mac (she denies it). Before we can sit down, he's chasing the dogs across the front lawn and chatting with his kids, still in their pajamas, while they make lunch in the kitchen.
In short, the 71-year-old performer is more This Is Us than This Is Spinal Tap. That breezy, mellow temperament extends to his new self-titled solo album, a California pop-rock meditation that draws on his Golden State roots and probes what Buckingham knows best: the intricacies of relationships. Buckingham admits the project is a reflection of his own life (his wife of 21 years filed for divorce in June, but now says they're working on their marriage).
"There are many songs on the new album that celebrate the long-term relationship through its challenges and yet remain optimistic," he tells EW. "And there are others that look at it slightly more harshly and perhaps with a more pessimistic view about things. That's marriage."
This record is Buckingham's first solo effort in nearly a decade, but has been several years in the making. He says it was part of the cause of his break with Fleetwood Mac, with tension arising after he asked the group to give him a few months off to release the album and do an accompanying tour.
But turmoil with the band (including a lawsuit), along with emergency open heart surgery that temporarily damaged his vocal cords and a global pandemic, ended up delaying the project significantly. "It started to become a running gag of 'We'll get this album out some time, but who knows when?'" he says.
In many ways, Lindsey Buckingham feels like a departure from his usual output, more in line with his 2017 duet record with fellow Mac member Christine McVie and his pop hits for Fleetwood Mac as opposed to the experimental hallmarks of his singular efforts. And that's exactly what he set out to make.
"This album is a little more California, because it is a little more pop," he says. "It does harken back to wanting to present things in a slightly more accessible form. There are things on there that are very strange around the edges, but you come to terms with the fact that people want to hear the body of work that you've already done and, over time, that becomes more and more appropriate because you start to see you've done your work properly. You see maybe three generations of people out in the audience that it's making sense to."
Buckingham, who was born and raised in the Bay Area, says that distinctive California sound is in his blood. Many of his earliest musical influences were California-driven, including Brian Wilson as well as the Kingston Trio, who inspired his distinctive finger-picking style and desire to merge folk and rock music. "I grew up valuing craft and melody and the sense of lift that California music has," he says. But Buckingham also admits he probably never would've come to Los Angeles to try and make it in the music business if it weren't for the insistence of then-girlfriend and creative partner Nicks. "She was the one who said, 'Lindsey, we've got to move to LA,' and I was like, 'Okay.' But I wouldn't have done it on my own," he reflects. "She [grew up] having to move almost every year, so she was far more comfortable picking up roots and moving down here."
Other than a reflection of his love for California-based pop, Buckingham also feels the new solo album showcases his growth as a lyricist. "I go back and look at lyrics of mine from the '70s, and I look at what I'm doing now, and it's a different thing," he says. "I don't have to write them all down and say, 'That's what I mean.' You can be more poetic about it, and you can do it in a much more haphazard way where it can take on multiple meanings. I feel like my lyrics have got better over time because they're a little less literal. And yet, the feelings underneath remain — you just want to put them out there in a way that has some sense of elevation to it."
One example of that is "Blind Love," which contrasts with one of Buckingham's earlier meditations, 1987's "Big Love," even though both explore the darker side of romance. "I'm not sure if either one is accurate of love as a whole," he says with a laugh. "'Big Love' was not really a love song; it was about alienation. I was looking out for myself against love because I'd had enough traumatic experiences and yet, at the same time, I'm lamenting the fact that in the context of it being so well-defended I'm feeling very alone. That's an anti-love song."
"'Blind Love' is looking at a relationship where things have got stereotypical in terms of the roles each is playing and that can be blinding," he adds. "No matter how long you're with somebody, you're never going to know everything about them. You've got to accept that, but you've also got to try to be truthful. In that moment [when I wrote it], I was feeling there was a certain level of, not deceit, but omission going on. I was reaching out for someone to give off themselves a little bit more because it was needed in that part of our lives."
When asked what he thinks the unifying theme of the album is, he ponders it for a moment. "I would say it's trying to make sure you're aware of your surroundings and to be thankful for what you have, but to also be strong enough to roll with the punches," he says. If that doesn't sum up where Buckingham stands after the last three years of dramatic circumstances, what does?
Though Buckingham is touring in support of the new LP through June 2022, he's not sure what comes after. He'd like to go back to Fleetwood Mac, if they'll have him. Or perhaps he'll return to a more experimental solo sound. "I'll always keep clutching at the weird," he says.
But for now, he'll let the new album stand in for everything he wants to say. "It feels like a unified thing. It really is representative of the place I was in musically at that time. I was really creative and prolific, and it just kept coming out. I was slightly surprised; it just had an entirety that had its own life."