With their 35-year-old album back in the charts, the Fleetwood Mac drummer Mick Fleetwood talks to Neil McCormick about its stormy story and long legacy.
‘It’s good therapy,” says Mick Fleetwood, settling back to talk about Rumours, an album released 35 years ago that continues to haunt the lives of everyone involved. “There’s still a fascination about it, it’s who we are and what we are, the reason why we made all that music. It forces you to think about yourself, how you’ve developed or undeveloped, screwed up or not, what you learnt from that, and whether you have truly moved on from the hurt, fear and loathing.”
Fleetwood Mac’s classic 1977 album is back in the charts, a reissued expanded edition going straight in at No 3 this week. “It’s this mutant thing, with a life of its own,” says Fleetwood about the enduring appeal of an album that has already sold more than 40 million copies. “It shaped me as a person, because we went through a damage, making that album,” admits the tall, hirsute, elegantly attired 65-year-old drummer. “I know it sounds like, ‘Oh my God, when will those people grow up?’ Well, the reality was maybe we didn’t actually ever grow up. But it’s never too late. We’re not finished yet.”
In February 1976, the five members of the Anglo-American rock band convened at the Record Plant in Sausalito, California to record a follow-up to the previous year’s four-million-selling Fleetwood Mac album. After eight years of shifting line-ups and stylistic changes, the band formed by Fleetwood with bassist John McVie had achieved new success. But on a personal level, they were in deep trouble. The bassist and his wife, keyboard player and vocalist Christine McVie, were in the throes of divorce, ending nearly eight years of marriage. The other couple in the band, guitarist-vocalist Lindsey Buckingham and vocalist Stevie Nicks, were high-school sweethearts whose intense 10-year relationship was falling apart.
Drummer Fleetwood had domestic problems of his own, his marriage to model Jenny Boyd at the end. “It was a poignant moment,” says Fleetwood. “It could have exploded and imploded the band right there. We could have got half-way through and everyone tell everyone to —- off.
“But because we kept going, we emotionally crippled people, we’ve carried this with us ever since.”
Rumours is justly celebrated as one of the great break-up albums, conjuring up a bittersweet tension between the strong emotional content of songs like Don’t Stop, Go Your Own Way, Dreams, Songbird and Oh Daddy and the gently rocking, beautifully harmonised, shimmering arrangements. “There’s a duality to the album,” acknowledges Fleetwood. “It sparks all of the personal stuff but I don’t listen to the music differently. I’m really happy that we didn’t overproduce, because we were all of a mindset of being pure.
“It’s not full of fluff and, to my perception, it doesn’t sound dated, because there’s no weird echoes or plastic drums. A lot of our contemporaries were doing funny things in the studio that spoils stuff from that period. But Rumours could have been made yesterday.”
Stylistically, he says, there was no masterplan, it was just a culmination of the music they all liked, embracing a Laurel Canyon singer-songwriter blend of intimacy and melody with sleek, harmonic Seventies Californian soft rock and an undercurrent of the grittier British blues-rock roots of the long-serving rhythm section. “We knew, in a very organic way, that something was horribly right about what we were doing. We were in charge of our own destiny, and yet our destinies were all falling apart on a personal scale.”
Fleetwood claims that recording was straightforward, on a musical level at least. “We made decisions on songs fairly early. The real work was stripping it down to stuff that sounds very simple, and then layering it up, especially the vocals.” Two CDs of out-takes (released as part of the new Rumours package) illuminate the process, both in terms of the care taken with arrangements and the core strengths of songs that sound perfectly formed even as rough demos. Emotionally, it was another story. “It’s not the easiest thing to imagine having to be with someone 24-7 when you don’t want to be or, even worse, you want to be with but can’t.”
Fleetwood characterises the band’s whole career ever since as being one of dealing with the aftermath of Rumours. “The album was our baby. You and your wife break up, you wanna do the right thing, not to hurt the children. That’s what made an impossible thing possible. It was like, ‘Let’s do our best to turn up and go to that play together and let those children know Mum and Dad are here.”
For Fleetwood, there was a long period of denial and escape. “You anaesthetised yourself emotionally. The wound was cauterized but underneath was chaos. Fleetwood Mac became the bandage, just wrap it up and keep it wrapped up.” For he and Nicks (who had an affair behind the back of Buckingham during the recording of 1979’s experimental double album Tusk) “the bandage included a whole lifestyle of toys and substances, a big old circus that never stopped, with loads of jugglers with balls being thrown up and catching them just in time.
“And that’s what Lindsey eventually ran away from. And I don’t blame him.”
Buckingham left the band after the recording of 1987’s Tango in the Night.
McVie retired in 1998, and though relationships remain strong she has made it clear she does not wish to be involved any more.
“I’ve had to agree to stop asking her,” notes Fleetwood, with a guilty smile. In 2003, Buckingham returned to the fold, which seems to have opened up old wounds and helped heal others. “Me and Stevie are very similar, a couple of old drama queens who got into the whole drug thing. We were nuts, totally out of our minds at one point. Lindsey was just not that type of guy. He’s very metred about stuff. Well, to see Stevie, just a week ago, saying to Lindsey that she understood that he left because he couldn’t stand to see her destroy herself in front of his eyes. Because he loved her.
“It was a heavy, good moment.” Fleetwood gets suddenly moist- eyed. “See, I’m moved even talking about it,” he sniffs.
Although they last toured in 2009, the band haven’t released an album since 2003’s Say You Will. But Fleetwood reveals that they have been recording again. “The seeds have been sown. I will be cheeky enough to say it’s the best stuff Lindsey’s done since I first met him. It’s all coming good.”
Fleetwood Mac have announced UK dates for September and October this year, and Fleetwood hopes they will have new music out by then.
“The biggest misconception to me is that these people really don’t like each other. That’s the worst rumour about Rumours,” says Fleetwood. “There’s bands out there, usually a bunch of guys, who don’t give a —- about each other. They just come to an arrangement. We can’t do that! We’re all ex-lovers, so we don’t have that corporate, guy thing where it’s just ‘get the job done’. I think it bodes in our favour that, in a funny, shaky way, there is some integrity. We do actually love each other, for real. Unfortunately. ‘Cause it’s tough.”
By Neil McCormick / The Telegraph (UK) / Wednesday, February 6, 2013