Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie on Their New Fleetwood Mac Spinoff

The pair didn't want to stop after the Mac's last tour. So they hit the studio for the first time in decades

Fleetwood Mac's Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie explain how they revived their studio collaboration and made their first-ever duo LP. Credit: John Russo

Back in 2014, something wonderful happened to Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie. They tried writing songs together for the first time in ages – taking a tentative, low-stakes approach – and were overjoyed to discover that "within the first hour," as Buckingham puts it, "it was like, 'Holy shit, whatever we used to have—'" "—is still there," says McVie, sitting a few feet away. It's mid-May, and the Fleetwood Mac icons are on a soundstage in L.A., about to rehearse. Those new songs grew into an album, Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie, which will imminently give way to a new tour, so they've booked this space for five weeks of practice.

The pair's success was in no way guaranteed. Sure, back in the late Seventies, while working on Rumours and Tusk, McVie wrote epochal smashes like "Don't Stop" and "Think About Me," which Buckingham helped shape in the studio. (He also wrote plenty of hits, like "Go Your Own Way.") But the making of those LPs had been famously turbulent – drugs, fights, love triangles – and the ensuing years hadn't exactly been idyllic. "The Sixties-into-the-Seventies lifestyle ramped up, and by 1987? I don't know how we ever got Tango in the Night done," says Buckingham, 67. "We saw Stevie for a couple of weeks out of an entire year. Everyone was at their worst. Hard living."

Buckingham left the band for the better part of a decade. Not long after he rejoined, in 1997, McVie called it quits and returned to her native England. "I thought, 'I want to be home.' My dad was sick. I bought a house in Kent, and it had to be rebuilt brick by brick. I did that quite lovingly. Then my marriage [to musician Eddy Quintela] fell apart, and I found myself in this huge place, alone in the middle of nowhere. I got myself in a bit of trouble, really. I fell down the stairs, hurt my back and started taking pills for the pain. La-di-da, one thing led to the other, and I got a bit ...  isolated." She eventually "sought help with a therapist, and discovered I had other issues. Eventually I had to figure out what the hell I was going to do with my life." The answer? "I needed to find my way back to Fleetwood Mac."

She signed up for the band's 2014–15 On With the Show world tour. Before it started, she sent Buckingham some "nuggets of ideas" to reorient themselves. But creative sparks flew in both directions. "She'd take my stuff and come back with something magnificent," says Buckingham. Adds McVie, 73, "We've always connected musically in Fleetwood Mac, because" – as the band's guitarist and keyboardist, respectively – "we're the only people who play more than one note. I'm not the best pianist, but I know how to interlace around what Lindsey's playing." They vowed to return to the material, and there was a chance it would turn into a new Fleetwood Mac album, but Stevie Nicks was "busy with projects of her own," McVie says. ("I needed my two years off," Nicks said.) A duets album took hold. They started taking liberties with each other's songs in a way that wasn't previously possible. "In the context of the band, there might have been more politics," Buckingham notes. It helps that, amid the many romantic entanglements that crisscrossed the group, there was no such history between the two: "We are free of baggage," McVie says, chuckling.

Buckingham/McVie, featuring contributions from drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie, sounds crisp and upbeat, even when the pair are reckoning with subjects like what McVie calls her "hibernation." On tour, they will sprinkle in Fleetwood Mac numbers, and the Mac themselves will reassemble for bigger shows later this summer. Which Buckingham considers miraculous. "We were a dysfunctional family," he says. "But somehow we had the strength. ..." McVie grins and listens. "The heroics that got us through Rumours," he adds, "when everyone was crumbling and we realized we had a destiny to follow? That same strength has kept us all together."