It's been exactly a decade since Fleetwood Mac released a full album, but that hasn't stopped a new generation of fans from discovering the band. "We're doing the best business we've done in 20 years," guitarist Lindsey Buckingham tells Rolling Stone a few hours before the Tulsa, Oklahoma stop on the band's latest tour. "There seems to be a cyclical re-igniting of interests, and there's certainly a lot more young people out there than three years ago."
Months before they started tour rehearsal, the band cut a four-song EP titled Extended Play with producer Mitchell Froom. "When we finally decided this was going to be the year we were going to tour again, I thought it would be great to cut some new stuff," says Buckingham. "I knew we wouldn't have time to cut a new album. Stevie [Nicks] was still caught up in her solo thing, but I got John [McVie] and Mick [Fleetwood] over from Hawaii. They played their asses off. It was a great experience."
Stevie Nicks arrived at the sessions towards the end, and Buckingham presented her with "Sad Angel." "I wrote that song for Stevie," he says. "She always had to fight for everything. She was coming off a solo album and was in the process of reintegrating herself mentally in the band, and we're all warriors with a sword in one sort or another. She and I have known each other since high school. So I just wrote, 'Sad Angel have you come to fight the war/We fall to earth together, the crowd calling out for more.'"
Like many of the group's greatest songs, "Sad Angel" reflects on Lindsey and Stevie's complex relationship. "All these years later, we are still writing songs that are dialogues for each other," he says. "That was part of the appeal of Rumours, and of the group in general . . . Of all the things we cut, 'Sad Angel' was, for lack of a better term, the most Fleetwood Mac-y. It was really kind of the best stuff that we have done in a while."
They also recorded "Without You," a song that's roughly 40 years old. "Stevie and I had a little disagreement over when it was written," Buckingham says. "It definitely predates our involvement in Fleetwood Mac. I believe it was written when we were in the process of culling material for a possible second Buckingham-Nicks album, before we were dropped by Polydor. She claims it was written earlier, but I'm not so sure. But it's a very sweet song that really harkens back to a time when we were far more innocent. She's writing to me and it's about our relationship, when we'd only been together for a very short time."
Stevie Nicks says that she rediscovered the song on YouTube. "I'm not really sure how it resurfaced," says Buckingham. "She brought it in one day and she brought it by my house. John and Mick didn't really work on that. There's kind of an appropriateness in doing something that predates Fleetwood Mac, because at this stage in time Stevie and I have more of a connection than we've had for a while. That's a nice thing."
"Sad Angel" and "Without You" are performed every night on Fleetwood Mac's ongoing world tour, but the vast majority of the set is devoted to songs from the group's deep catalog. "Creating a set list is like making a running order for an album," says Buckingham. "Certain things get pitted against one another that make more sense. One song sets another one off, or it might diminish it. You're just constantly looking for the next thing that's gonna make sense in a particular place."
The show begins with "Second Hand News," the kick-off track to band's 1976 landmark album Rumours. "It seemed like the obvious choice as the opener," says Buckingam. "There are certain touchstones that you always do. When you've been around for a while, you realize there's a body of work you're going to rely on every time. You're not going to reinvent the wheel every time you go out, because that would disappoint the audience."
After "Second Hand News," the group keeps the Rumours theme going with "The Chain" and "Dreams." "You get that out of the way," says Buckingham. "Then we do 'Sad Angel' and then we're segueing into various twists and turns from there."
A frenetic "Rhiannon" segues into four straight Tusk songs: "Not That Funny," "Sara," "Sisters of the Moon" and "Tusk." "After the success of Rumours, we were in this zone with this certain scale of success," Buckingham says. "By that point the success detaches from the music, and the success becomes about the success. The phenomenon becomes about the phenomenon. Warner Bros. would have very much liked to have seen a Rumours II. There was a need on my part – and the band as well, but I was certainly the instigator – to kind of subvert that notion."
Tusk was a huge bestseller, but the songs were less commercial, failing to live up to the enormous sales of Rumours. "We didn't want to be painted into a corner," Buckingham says. "If you want to be an artist in the long run, it isn't necessarily a good axiom to repeat formulas over and over until they're used up."
The rest of the show focuses on enormous hits like "Gypsy," "Go Your Own Way" and "Gold Dust Woman," but "Don't Stop" is the sole number written by former Mac keyboardist/vocalist Christine McVie. "On the last tour we did 'Don't Stop' and 'Say You Love Me,'" says Buckingham. "But it's hard to sustain her presence. There's no real reason to do it. She had some great songs, but it becomes a little schizoid to go out there and try to recreate her thing."
Christine McVie did participate in Fleetwood Mac's 1997 comeback album The Dance, but she left after the tour. "She was just in need of a radical life change," says Buckingham. "She pretty much burned all her bridges in Los Angeles. She sold her house, ended her relationship, quit the band and moved back to England. It was a fairly sweeping set of changes, and something she needed to do for her reasons, though I'm not particularly clear on what those were."
The group took a break after McVie quit, but regrouped in 2002 to begin work on Say You Will. "We all miss her, and we miss the equation that fivesome made," Buckingham says. "It's a different equation with the four. But for me, it actually opened up an opportunity to be a little more myself onstage. When you divide the material more or less down the middle, it gives me more of a chance to be the guy, and to be the kind of presence and energy I am onstage."
The adjustment has been more difficult for Stevie Nicks. "She misses the female camaraderie," says Buckingham. "So it's been a double-edged sword for her. But as the band evolved as a four-piece, it became less relevant to put songs of hers in there. We haven't felt a need to do that, even though she had some hits. It's just . . . it is what it is. The band is a different band now. On the other hand, 'Don't Stop' is just one of those anthems with a strong message. That's why Bill Clinton latched onto it. It's a very effective encore song for us."
The show wraps with "Say Goodbye," the only song of the night drawn from the group's 2003 LP Say You Will. "As I said, Stevie and I have probably more of a connection now than we have in years," says Buckingham. "You can feel it. It's tangible on stage. In many ways, that song is the embodiment of that. When you look at 'Without You,' it's Stevie writing a song about me when everything was before us and all those illusions were intact. 'Say Goodbye' was written 10 years ago, when most of our experience together was behind us. Part of those illusions had fallen away."
Much of their story may be behind them, but Lindsey and Stevie are still taking the stage together night after night and collaborating on new material. "It was difficult for years to get complete closure," Buckingham says. "There was never any time to not be together. It was kind of like picking the scab off an open wound again and again. That's part of the legacy of the band. But 'Say Goodbye' is a very sweet song, and it's about her: 'Once you said goodbye to me/Now I say goodbye to you.' It took a long time. All those illusions have fallen away, but that doesn't mean that there isn't resolve and hope and belief in the future in a different context. That's really what the song is about, and we end the set with just the two of us singing that song."