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Home » Stevie Nicks: The return of Fleetwood Mac

Stevie Nicks: The return of Fleetwood Mac

Stevie Nicks: 'I always wanted to be a songwriter: I told my parents when I was 15 and a half.' (Jason Bell/Camera Press)
Stevie Nicks: ‘I always wanted to be a songwriter: I told my parents when I was 15 and a half.’ (Jason Bell/Camera Press)

Stevie Nicks’s tumultuous life as a rock queen led her to addiction, heartbreak and ‘insanity.’ As Fleetwood Mac reunite, she tells Caspar Llewellyn Smith why she’s going back for more.

Before I meet Stevie Nicks, I hear her. She is downstairs somewhere in the house she’s renting on the beach in Malibu — a short drive, traffic allowing, up the Californian coastline from the two homes she owns in LA — and looking for her dark glasses. It’s early evening in December and has long since turned dark outside, but if you’re the ultimate rock goddess — NME‘s recent description, testament to an ongoing revaluation of interest in Fleetwood Mac among the younger generation — wearing shades at night goes with the territory.

Scented candles are spaced throughout the room and there’s a well-thumbed copy of the first book in The Twilight Saga on a side table — signs that suggest that the 64-year-old singer is comfortably in residence. Plus there’s her Yorkshire terrier, getting stuck continuously under my feet. But, as Nicks says, when all five feet one-and-a-half inches of her does emerge at the top of the stairs, she can’t seem to settle.

In fact she shouldn’t be here at all (and wasn’t planning any interviews), but on holiday in the Florida Keys she was getting bitten to death by bugs and, besides, felt bored. Going home to either of her places in the city wasn’t an option because right now she’s “making a molecular change”: parking her solo career, which saw her tour the world with her solo album In Your Dreams for the past two years, and getting ready for the return of the Mac.

Instead she asked to see if this place, which she’d rented previously, was available. “I’m trying to rest and it’s really hard to rest because in either one of my own houses I feel like I should be working,” she explains. “I’ve been coming here off and on for nearly 10 years and there’s absolutely nothing for me to do except draw or sit and write poetry or bring the electric piano down.” Problem is, “I’ve been here since Tuesday and I haven’t managed yet to actually come up here at three in the afternoon and go sit on that miserable couch and draw for a few hours — because that’s when I know I’ve made a change.”

Despite the homely touches, the house looks perfectly nondescript from the outside, and it’s modestly apportioned by the standards of LA rock aristocracy. But then Nicks doesn’t play the diva either — kooky fan of fantasy, yes (her fondness for the oeuvre of Stephenie Meyer and liking for US fantasy TV series Game of Thrones fits right into that), but not the figure who insisted during Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk tour that every hotel room she stayed in be painted pink and must house a white piano.

It is now 40 years since her first album, Buckingham Nicks — the fruit of her relationship, both musical and romantic, with Lindsey Buckingham — and life is coming full circle. Later this month, the most classic of all Fleetwood Mac albums, Rumours, gets the full reissue treatment, and the band will hit the road again for a US tour that will also likely come to Europe. (Of the rumours that they’ll headline Glastonbury, Nicks is noncommittal, though she does say she’d love to do it.)

There is also the likelihood of the first new Fleetwood Mac record in 10 years — and even the prospect of a second Buckingham-Nicks album. For fans, this news is as exciting as it might sound improbable. Nicks once said herself that “to be in Fleetwood Mac is to live in a soap opera. And it has been pretty scandalous and incestuous…” And of all relationships, it’s been that between her and Buckingham that has provided the richest story lines of all.

Born in ARIZONA, Nicks was in her senior year in high school in San Francisco when she first met the budding athlete a year younger than her. She already knew she wanted to be a songwriter — “I told my parents when I was 15 and a half” — and he was in the folk group Fritz that she then joined before they formed a duo. For their debut album sleeve he insisted she pose topless (half hidden behind him), even though she was in tears and told him: “This is not art… this is taking a nude photograph with you, and I don’t dig it.”

On New Year’s Eve 1974, the pair joined Fleetwood Mac at the invitation of Mick Fleetwood, following the departure of late guitarist Bob Welch. The group’s history was tortuous already, and the new arrivals introduced a new dynamic, with Nicks dressed in flowing chiffon and channelling the spirit of the “old Welsh witch” (her phrase) in her hit “Rhiannon”. But the album on which that song appeared, the eponymous Fleetwood Mac, proved the band’s breakthrough, hitting No 1 in the US and selling over 5m copies.

The recording of its follow-up, Rumours, saw the soap opera at its most lurid: Fleetwood had discovered that his wife was having an affair with his best friend; bassist John McVie and keyboard player and singer Christine McVie had split up after eight years of marriage, and Nicks and Buckingham’s relationship kept hitting the rocks — all this played out in a blizzard of cocaine. “Christine and I refused to be the second-class citizens,” says Nicks of the prosaic business of actually making the record. “But it was different for her, because she was one of the musicians — absolutely as big an influence as Lindsey or John or Mick; the four pieces were equal. I’d sit around and crochet or draw while they were out there working stuff out. And that’s fine, because I wanted to be a lead singer — I didn’t really want to carry around a 21lb Les Paul.”

She is modest about her own songwriting abilities. Nicks contributed “Dreams” to Rumours (an upbeat song about splitting up directed at Buckingham), which became the group’s only US No 1 hit single, while Buckingham was responsible for the evergreen “Go Your Own Way” (a venomous kiss-off directed back at her), but she insists that “Christine wrote most of the hits for the group — she was the major pop songwriter, not Lindsey or me.”

“It’s hard to do that,” she continues. “I can’t sit down and write a hit single and plan it, and no amount of listening to other people’s records or music is going to make you a different songwriter.” She’s a fan of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe “— “I walk around singing it all the time” — and would love to emulate it, but “I don’t think that’s really ever going to happen because I’m more Wuthering Heights, and Heathcliffe and Edward and Bella” — the characters from Twilight — “I’m more serious, dramatic… Shakespearean.”

Nicks always thought she was supposed to be the person in the band who “spreads a little fairy dust here and there”, and it was a painfully literal interpretation of that role that saw her succumb to addiction in the years that followed the huge success of Rumours and subsequent albums, such as Tusk. In 1986 she was admitted to the Betty Ford Clinic because of her coke habit, but then became hooked on the prescribed tranquilliser Klonopin for a further eight years. She had entered into a relationship with the Eagles’ Don Henley and then dated Mick Fleetwood before briefly marrying Kim Anderson in 1983, the widowed husband of her close friend Robin Anderson, who had died of leukaemia — an episode she has subsequently described as “insanity”.

Now clean and sober, she also insists that she is happily single, but until not so very long ago the flame she carried for Buckingham still burned. There is, for instance, a song on In Your Dreams called “Everybody Loves You”, co-written by her collaborator on the album Dave Stewart but based on one of 40 poems in her journals that she concedes is about Buckingham. “No one really knows you,” Nicks sings. “I’m the only one.” To one interviewer at the time the album was released she said she only admitted that their love affair was over when he had his first child with future wife Kristen Messner in 1998.

In February last year, Buckingham, Fleetwood and John McVie went into the studio to record a handful of new songs, but Nicks was in mourning for her 84-year-old mother Barbara, who died after a battle with pneumonia in late December 2011. “I couldn’t do anything — I didn’t leave my house, I didn’t even talk to my really good friends,” she says now. “I just went underground to try to deal with the fact that she wasn’t supposed to go… she had emphysema after smoking for 60 years, but we all totally thought she was going to pull through. It was like: ‘What? Did that really just happen?'”

In her absence from the studio, Buckingham said he’d try to look at things through her eyes — “and I said: ‘Well, you probably can do that, Lindsey, you certainly know me well enough”‘ — then when she did make it there, there were two new songs waiting for her. “I put vocals on them and they came out great. And they really do sound like I was there.” The result is likely to be a new Fleetwood Mac album at some point this year, but perhaps after that also a Buckingham Nicks record, because the pair also recorded an old song that was originally intended for their 1973 debut. “For some reason it just got swept under the carpet. I mean, maybe it was going to be track one on our second album, which we were actually making when we joined Fleetwood Mac.”

Nicks isn’t sure exactly how all this new material will manifest itself. “I don’t know — I don’t have a computer, I’m not on the internet, so I don’t know how exactly the record company will decide on what to do,” she says, slightly bafflingly. “But we do have product.”

More important than this, though, was that Buckingham and Nicks were able to relax in each other’s company. “We spent 80% of our time talking just like this, telling my assistant Karen all the crazy stories of everything that’s happened to us from 1966 until now. We laughed and we laughed — and we probably cried a couple of times. It was very cathartic. And I think that we came a long way during those four days.”

The result is that the band promise they won’t just be going through the motions when they hit the road this year — unlike last time around. “I’m thinking,” Nicks says, “that this is going to be a very different tour. The audience is going to see a very different Fleetwood Mac up there — we talked about how we really need to appreciate what we have and who we are and how far we’ve come. I said to Lindsey: ‘I wish your mom and dad were still alive — they’d be just like: Way to go, Lindsey Buckingham! Boy, damn we’re glad you dropped out of swimming — you know, he could have been a famous swimmer — We’re so glad you stopped and went for rock’n’roll.'”

For sentimental fans, the highlight of any Fleetwood Mac show is still that point at which Buckingham and Nicks join hands together on stage: it’s a very human moment, one that rekindles a sense of what’s been and might be yet for all parties involved. Or as Nicks herself puts it: “People love to see people in love. Not that we’re in love, but we have been in love and we have that on stage. And if we’re getting along and we’re happy with each other, that part comes out.

“I think we’ve got to a place now where we’re both: ‘Why not? Why can’t we be those two people on stage?’ It doesn’t carry on after you walk down the stairs and go back to your hotels and rooms, it’s never going to carry past that. But what it does do is allow you to walk up on stage and be dramatic with each other. And we have walked up on stage and been absolutely the other side of dramatic — we have been like waiting-for-a-bus undramatic. Like, you know: ‘Lindsey, what am I going to get for room service later? I think I’m going to get a grilled cheese sandwich and some tomato soup.’ Because that’s what happens in bands if you’re not happy. This is not going to be that tour.”

If there is one regret, it’s that Chris McVie won’t be with the band, after quitting in 1998. “We all did everything we could do to try and talk her out of it,” Nicks says, “but you look in someone’s eyes and you can tell they’re finished. It’s like when somebody breaks up with you and says: ‘We’re done.'” Or, she helpfully points out: “As Taylor Swift would say: ‘We are never ever getting back together ever!’ That’s what Chris was saying… But I’d beg, borrow and scrape together $5m and give it to her in cash if she would come back. That’s how much I miss her.

“I miss her,” she adds, “like flowers need the rain.”

She might be dressed down and not wearing any make-up (the candlelight and shades help, she says), but Nicks is still a compelling presence. In an age of identikit pop stars, it’s easy to see why artists such as Florence Welch idolise her. The odds of Nicks surviving might have been stacked against her, but she’s where she is now to work, and there’s no sign of stopping.

“I don’t know how to explain it,” she says, smiling in the half-light, “other than to say that you know when you’re done.”

Expanded and deluxe versions of Rumours are released through Rhino on 28 January.

Caspar Llewellyn Smith / The Observer / Saturday, January 12, 2013 (republished for QWeekend on November 3, 2013)

Warner Bros Records helped to pay for Caspar Llewellyn Smith’s travel to Los Angeles.



Stevie Nicks

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