The return of Christine McVie to Fleetwood Mac has been a poorly kept secret over the past few months, but it's still shocking to hear her voice on the phone for an interview about the group's upcoming reunion tour entitled On With the Show. She's the songwriter and vocalist on some of Fleetwood Mac's most enduring hits - including "Don't Stop," "Little Lies," "Everywhere" and "You Make Loving Fun" - but she quit the group in 1998 and disappeared completely from the scene. The remaining members said over and over again that she'd never return.
Rolling Stone spoke with her about leaving the band, what she's been up to during the past two decades and what the future holds for Fleetwood Mac.
Let's go back to 1998. Why did you quit the band?
Well, I initially developed a great fear of flying. It was a real phobia. I also bought a house in England and decided, to a degree, I was really tired of the road. I wasn't just burned out, but I was tired of traveling and living out of a suitcase. I’m quite a domestic person by nature and the nomad thing had got a bit stale on me, really.
It was never anything personal between the five of us. It was just that I felt my time had come and I just thought that I really wanted to leave Los Angeles and make a home in England. That was the root of it, really. And the earthquakes—I was terrified of the earthquakes. So I came back at the right time because we just had one [laughs]. Good timing.
Leaving when you did must have been a hard decision since the group had just wrapped up such a hugely successful tour and you'd stuck around through some pretty lean years.
It was a hard choice, but I made the choice a few months prior to that. Like I said, I had already bought the house in England and I was having it restored. I had planned to move at some point back there, but I hadn’t because of the band touring. I did say to them at the beginning of the last tour we did that this would be my last one.
When you left, did you think there was even a tiny chance that you'd return?
Not as I left, no. But as the years went on, I had some deluded idea that I wanted to live the "Country Lady" life — basically hang out with my Range Rover and my dogs and bake cookies or something. I don’t know what I was thinking, really. I just wanted to live a normal, domestic life with roots.
What filled up your days during all those years?
Looking back at it now, I guess there was an awful lot of restoring going on, a lot of building work, a lot of making the house just as I wanted it, which took a couple of years. There wasn’t really a lot of writing involved at that time — I didn’t really do much playing.
Did you ever sing, even just for fun?
Well, music left my life for a while, to be honest. It wasn’t that I didn’t like it, but you know, I’m not really a solo player. I have always needed other musicians to bounce off. And of course, the ultimate band being the band that I have just rejoined, so, I couldn’t imagine doing anything with anyone else.
I did make a solo album in my house when I was there. And because I was just afraid of flying, I wouldn’t promote it and I wouldn’t tour. Actually, it wasn’t a very good album anyway — it got buried underneath the pits of Hell, I suppose [laughs].
Were you talking to your bandmates during this time?
Well, when they came to England, I did. John and myself have stayed in touch. Mick and I have stayed in constant touch over the years. I had also gone through a divorce and got very isolated and hardly ever went to London. I found that I was spending a lot of time in the country on my own and it started to play tricks on me and made me quite ill and depressed. This had all happened about five years ago, really. I’ve gravitated back to the piano and started diddling around. I don’t think talent or the gift ever goes away. I just think that it had got so buried.
Did you watch Fleetwood Mac play during this time?
Yeah, quite a few times.
That must have been weird for you.
It was weird, but it was fantastic at the same time to be a fly on the wall watching them without me. I went down to the soundboard and watched with the sound guy. They just sounded fantastic; as good as they ever were.
How long ago did you start feeling the first inklings that you might want to come back?
About two years ago. I started to think, "What am I doing? I really miss that camaraderie with those four people. I miss everything about it." I missed the music, to be able to create again. I couldn’t imagine doing it with anyone besides Fleetwood Mac. I knew that they were my musical family.
How did you get the ball rolling to come back?
It was an epiphany because I suddenly knew I wanted to join the band again. Obviously, my muscle memory was a bit challenged, but I just thought, "I got to go for it. I can’t just sit here in the country rotting away. I have to do something, and something special."
I’d finally went to a therapist to talk about my fear of flying—and as serendipity would have it, Mick was happening to be coming to London to promote the upcoming Fleetwood Mac tour in Europe. He lives in Maui. The therapist said, "Where would you like to go most of all, if you could get on a plane now? Where would you go?" And I said, "Maui." So I got on the phone to Mick and said, "Hey Mick, I’m going to come to Maui, I’m going to get on a plane." And he said, "Fantastic, fantastic. But listen—I’m coming to England, blah blah blah, so why don’t we just go back together?"
I played in Mick’s little blues group on the island and the ball just started rolling, one way or another. Neither of us can remember just quite how it happened, but it eased into the situation where Mick spoke for the rest of the band and we had conference calls with Lindsey and Mick. I called Stevie, spoke to John, and they obviously were saying, "If she does rejoin, she has to commit and understand and remember how hard the work is. Can she physically do it?". I just said with a big capital "Y," "Yes—I’m going to challenge myself and I want to do it more than anything in the world." It’s just such a joy. It’s an affirmation of something so magical, there’s just a chemistry between us that’s just phenomenal.
Going back a bit, how was the flight from England to Hawaii? That's a long time on a plane.
Well, it was with Mick, and I don’t mind jumbo jets [laughs]. I did, but I had this sort of therapy and I knew how to breathe and what to think when there were bumps, and la-dee-da-dee-da. But I was with Mick so we chatted the whole way there. It took all the pain out of sitting on my own. Since then, I went to Africa, and flown around in 12-seaters in safaris, of all things. I don’t even think about it now.
The band toured last year. At what point was it firmly decided that you were coming back?
I went over to Dublin and it was decided that I would go on stage and do "Don’t Stop" with them at the O2. We rehearsed it in Dublin and everyone was looking over at each other smiling thinking this was fantastic. For me, I was looking over at my family again and it was effortless. I don’t know. It felt comfortable. It felt right.
What's the plan now?
Well, the plan is we’re going to start rehearsing in July and go on the road in September. The tour starts in Chicago and we head west and come back east again, finish at Christmas and pick up end of January and complete America and we can do the world, really. And there’s a studio album somewhere in the mix too. We’re playing around in studios now.
How has John's health been since his cancer diagnosis?
John’s health is on the up. He’s still doing chemotherapy and gets tired quickly, but he’s definitely been on the mend. He’s been such a man about this whole thing. I have renewed respect and love for him.
What music are you recording now?
We’re really running through some demos that I sent Lindsey. My demos are rough, [but] we’re just trying to construct some proper tracks from them and the chemistry is magic.
Is the whole band there right now?
Yes, we’re all here. We’re doing some photo shoots and everything for the tour and getting on with the show really.
It must feel like a time warp for you to be back with them after all these years.
It is a time warp; it is very, very happy. None of the nonsense with the drink and the nasty stuff. We’re all grown up, of course. One thing that we definitely have is chemistry and respect for each other's music, and Lindsey and I play well off each other. We have great rapport; he loves working on my songs and I love what he does with my songs, not to mention the fabulous rhythm section. So I’m a pig in a pile of poo really.
Have you guys plotted out a setlist?
We haven’t actually sat down and written a list. We just know we have so much to choose from. All my hits haven’t been aired for years live, so you have all that chunk. Then you have a whole other chunk of Stevie and Lindsey’s stuff, maybe some more obscure tracks from well-known albums. It's mind-boggling.
Any chance you'll do Rumours straight though at some point?
That’s a concept. I think we probably did think about doing it for a special gig somewhere. Who knows? That's something certainly to think about.
How's your singing voice? Have you been doing any exercises to get it in shape for the tour?
Yeah, [we have] a guy who’s been on the road for years that does vocal exercises and I’m sure he’ll come with us this time. My voice is hanging on pretty well. I’m not doing lead vocals right now, but rough vocals and I’m happy with it. My pitching is really on, so I feel no worries about that either.
How long is this tour going to last?
Who knows? This tour will be a world tour. Then we just have to see what will happen after that. A year is a long time. The thing is that we’re all committed to keep on going until one of us says stop it.
The fans are so happy that you're back. This is just so clearly where you belong.
Yeah, I belong here. Not to mention the peripheral people: the managers, the crew, have welcomed me back so warmly. I feel I am in a big family again, it's fantastic. I really had no question that they would want me back. I don’t think I ever worried about it too much. I had e-mails from Stevie offering me money to come back. She said, "Just don’t leave me in this wilderness!" And I know I said to Mick when I left, “Mick, don’t ask me back." And I did mean it then.
Do you regret leaving now?
I don’t think you can spend your time regretting what you did in the past, but you can look to the future and try and glean the very best, sweetest time one has left.
Are you worried the strain of the road is going to drain you?
No, because myself and Mick are on a fitness campaign. We’re working out and doing rigorous training. I need to get my body in shape. I’m doing yoga and breathing exercises—I’m fit as I’ve ever been, so I’m not worried about that.
You mentioned earlier that you had suffered from depression. It's hard to think of a better cure for that than old friends and music.
Music and old friends, and the music happens to be really special in my view. Really lovely songs. As a final note, I'd just like to say, this is unprecedented—band members leave and other people take their place—but there was always that space where the piano should be. I had all my keyboards in storage in Los Angeles. I never shipped them to England. About two years ago, my manager said, "Oh, we should just sell them or give them to the band members." And Stevie said, "I'll take them!" And yesterday, we went to her house for a photo session and went to a room where she kept them safe. She didn't know I was going to come back, but she left them in great shape.