Fleetwood Mac Create Tusk, 1979
After a huge world tour, Fleetwood Mac reconvened in an expensively customised Los Angeles studio to make the follow-up to the biggest-selling rock record of its time, Rumours. So how did they spend $1 million in the process? And why did it sell a tenth of its predecessor?
Part 1: “Complete Crazy Land”
Stevie Nicks on fractured love lives, crocheting scarves and the record they thought they were going to make.
Stevie Nicks: “Rumours was a perfect, off-the-top-of-our-head thing that turned into a huge-selling, amazing record. It wasn’t planned, but we were not going to make that same record. Nobody wanted to do exactly the same thing each time, that’s just five people being creative. This was different though, this was Lindsey [Buckingham] really making a stand. ‘I’m not going to do a remake of Rumours. I don’t care what anyone says.’ And the rest of us were like, ‘What do you mean? Why would any of us want to do Rumours over, we just want to make a great new record.’ If you want to go down some different pathways, study and research some different genres of music and change it up, everybody was fine with that, but Lindsey was just so adamant about doing something that was the total opposite of the previous records. He announced it so viscerally, so demandingly that I think he scared all of us. We were like, What the ****?
Mick [Fleetwood] wanted to make an African record. He was saying, ‘Let’s do chants and amazing percussion’. I love all that too, so great, and Christine [McVie] too, and John [McVie] would have liked to have been in an all-black blues band, so he was all for that. We were definitely all on the rhythm train. So we set off on this journey, and this record started to unravel itself in the Village and become something extremely different.
I think Tusk is a spectacular record. But when we were making it for that 13 months we were locked up in the Village – we’d completely redecorated this Studio D, we had shrunken heads and leis and Polaroids and velvet pillows and saris and sitars and all kinds of wild and crazy instruments, and these tusks on the console, it was kind of like living on an African burial ground – it was heavy, intense heavy. Sometimes it wasn’t very happily heavy either. We were all down with getting heavy, but Lindsey was really trying to make it weirder and heavier than any of us were able to quite comprehend. But we went along, we followed him up the mountain.
My affair with Mick went on for the first three months of Tusk. We broke up, my best friend Sara fell in love with him and that just turned into a nightmare. She moved in with Mick overnight and I got a call from Sara’s husband telling me the news. Neither of them bothered to tell me. I went and sat up on the mountain for three hours and watched my life pass before me, then I had to get up the next day, get dressed and go into work, and not ever look at Mick for months. It was horrible, horrible, months of sitting in that room, five days a week, all day long, and all night sometimes, sitting on the couch just watching, writing in my journal and watching some more, and crocheting scarves by the dozen, it was a very strange atmosphere. I’d have been happy to sit it out in the lounge, but I wasn’t gonna not know what was going on, not be a part of the music that was being made in my name. So I was gonna sit there and watch everybody, even though I would have liked to have been anywhere else. I was like, ‘Lindsey with your new ideas be damned. Mick, you be damned also – Christine, John and I will watch and make sure that you guys don’t go completely round the twist and mess up everything for us. We’ll be the keepers of the gate while you guys go to complete and utter crazy land.’
I didn’t understand the title, there was nothing beautiful or elegant about the word ‘tusk’. All it really brought it mind was people stealing ivory. Even then in 1979 you just thought, the rhinos are being poached and the tusks are being stolen and the elephants are being slaughtered and ivory’s being sold on the black market. I don’t recall it being [Mick’s slang term for the male member], that went right over my prudish little head. I wasn’t told that until quite a while after the record was done, and when I did find out I liked the title even less!”
Part 2: “Our Place Of Worship”
Mick Fleetwood on replica bathrooms, par-taying and working ones’ balls off.
“Our lifestyle was well and truly changed by Rumours, riding a wave of personal and musical success beyond any measure. The whole thing was like a Fellini flick. There we all were, busted up as usual, at the height of our success. Stevie and I were very prone to living the rock’n’roll lifestyle, more than anyone else in the band, we were the par-taying group leaders. That was alive and well. But it didn’t detract from what we doing. Studio D at the Village was our place of worship. It was really a trip.
That studio was everything we’d ever dreamt of, including replicas of bathrooms that Lindsey Buckingham liked at home. It sounds like an indulgence, but in truth it’s very much not. I think it’s a really cool thing that a bunch of people don’t go in and say, ‘Hey, let’s just feed them fish, make an album in three months and get the **** out of here.’ We worked our balls off, willingly and lovingly, and we always do. And, by the way, that’s our money. We were funnelling our resources back into our art. We learnt not to go for the cheap one, I’m glad that didn’t happen.
I remember Lindsey sitting on the lawn with me saying, ‘Can I do this, bring stuff in from home?’ And I said that it was not going to be a problem. However, this is a band, at some point it has to be integrated. [He was doing] a lot of experimental stuff excluding our direct input, but I had muscle memory of Peter Green doing that, so it wasn’t that shocking. Like Lindsey playing a Kleenex box as a snare drum and getting me to overdub. That didn’t freak me out because John and I remembered that happening on Then Play One, Peter playing the timpani part or something. It’s fair to say Lindsey felt he had to fight to get this to happen. I think that all went away. When we went into making this album there was no trepidation at all.
We referred to Fleetwood Mac as The Bubble. We lived and coexisted in that for many years, the touring and the studio was one big journey, one commitment. We were very focused. Because we managed ourselves we didn’t have a paranoid Svengali going, ‘It’s gonna be the kiss of death if you do this’. So we did it.
Tusk stands as a testament to Lindsey, who really foresaw that pitfall that happens to some artists who can end up with a form of complacency, which leads to, ‘Oh, we’re sort of done.’ Tusk stands as a great body of work, a creative milestone and a lesson learned, that if you want to keep creatively stimulated you have to take risks. Fellow musicians and young bands are discovering it all the time, which is very gratifying. It truly is my favourite album.”
Jim Irwin / Mojo Magazine / January 2016