03/09/1984 Fleetwood Mac's Songbird Flies Solo
I thought this was a great little interview right as Chris's 1984 solo album was released. Its weird to hear her say that she is not sure Fleetwood Mac will tour again but she is sure they will record another record. Its like she knows Lindsey is going to leave over 3 years before he does.
BAM Magazine (03/09/1984), Fleetwood Mac's Songbird Flies Solo: Christine McVie
BAM Magazine, March 9, 1984
Fleetwood Macís Songbird Flies Solo: Christine McVie
by Mark Leviton
Christine McVieís Greatest Hits? Yeah, I have a copy on cassette that I play in my car, but donít go looking for it in the shops. This is a custom job I made up in í82, compiling all of Christineís lead vocals with Fleetwood Mac onto one tape, all the way from "Morning Rain" from Future Games to "Think About Me" from Tusk. Christine is a dusky, sensuous singer and superb keyboardist whoís never received her fair share of the spotlight, and her catalog of love songs, a subject she compulsively returns to time and again, is unmatched. Sheís had her share of big hits like "Say You Love Me" and "Donít Stop," but tunes like "Prove Your Love," "Remember Me" and "Songbird" are too often forgotten. Her contribution to Fleetwood Mac albums like Bare Trees and Mystery to Me has been overshadowed by the more flamboyant personalities of the various Fleetwood Mac line-ups. But last month she released her second solo album (the first was done in 1969 before she joined Fleetwood Mac and is best forgotten) called, for some reason, Christine McVie, and itís already yielded the hit "Got A Hold On Me." It features guests like Eric Clapton, Stevie Winwood and Ray Cooper around the core of guitarist Todd Sharp, drummer Steve Ferrone and bassist George Hawkins, with Christine on keyboards and vocals. McVie had a hand in seven of the songs, although she only wrote one, "The Smile I Live For," by herself. Up until Fleetwood Macís Mirage album, she never wrote with anyone else.
Christine was raised in Birmingham, England, and began piano lessons as a child at the insistence of her father, a classical musician who still teaches violin and plays with the Birmingham City Orchestra. She began to hate her lessons at about age eleven, but took them up again in her mid-teens and developed an interest in blues and rock. She also went to art school and studied fabric printing, silkscreen and painting, in between practicing Fats Domino licks. She worked briefly in London as a window-dresser at a department store before joining up with some Birmingham friends in a blues band at first called Sounds of blue and later Chicken Shack. She met and married John McVie, bass player with another up-and-coming British blues band Fleetwood Mac, and lost her unusual maiden name Perfect. The story of how she eventually joined her husbandís ban is told in the following interview.
Christineís house in Coldwater Canyon was purchased from Anthony Newly, and is the kind of mansion that befits a member of one of the worldís biggest groups. The dťcor combines oriental designs and art deco in stunning combinations, mother-of-pearl inlaid mirrors, silver cigarette cases and golden screen. Thereís a Japanese garden, swimming pool with a view of Beverly Hills, a music room and pub, and the discreet sounds of a maid vacuuming the thick carpets.
I was told that Christine is never seen without a drink in her hand, and sure enough she enters the room holding a tumbler of beer. ("I do like my wine," she says, laughing, when I bring up her reputation for drinking). Although sheís hardly glamorous in the usual sense, Christine does have a particular kind of sex appeal; considering Iíve had a crush on her for fifteen years, I managed to restrain myself quite well. "Just the facts, maíam, only the facts...."
When you started out with Chicken Shack were you already an accomplished singer?
Chicken Shack was as basic as you could get, three chords and twelve-bar shuffles all the time. You can get real tired of that quick. But I didnít consider myself a blues singer, or a singer particularly at all. I barely played piano even. I had to go out and buy all the Freddie King albums I could find. Everything I know I attribute to Sonny Thompson, who was Freddieís cousin, producer and manager, I think. I picked up little licks from his playing.
Looking over your songs, it appears you never wrote one that wasnít about love.
Except for "Donít Stop," which isnít directly connected to love. I write about love, feel comfortable writing about it, but that puts me with many others. I feel pretentious writing about things I donít really feel. Male-female relationships are better for me to write about. And all the songs are not autobiographical. I might just step into a friendís shoes for a while. Theyíre still meant, felt. "Gold A Hold On Me" on the new album is totally fictional, Ďcause at the time I wrote it no one did have a hold on me. If all the songs were autobiographical, Iíd probably be 105 years old by now, I would have gone through so many different emotions.
Your love songs have certain themes, falling in love as kind of insanity, foolishness, a total kind of giving. The word "fool" appears in many of your songs describing the lover. "Ask Anybody" on the new record describes being "driven wild" by a man. Is that how love strikes you?
No oneís ever gone to such lengths to analyze it before, to be quite honest. Those words about "Heís a devil and an angel/Ooh the combinationís driving me wild" were written three years ago, when I was with Dennis Wilson. They fit a certain melody that came up. You know, not everything is unhappy about love. This album is a very happy, very "up" album. Maybe Iím trying to retaliate. Maybe I havenít had a very happy love life Ė Iíve had wonderful relationships but not always particularly joyous. Maybe Iím an idealist and want to have the perfect love. Thatís impossible. I have this "magnificent obsession." Itís something to do with fantasy, the idea of the unobtainable person. Iíll have to think about it...and I certainly wonít use the word "fool" on my next album, alright?
I only meant to suggest a contrast between the new songs, which sound so happy and fulfilled, to the type of tunes youíre known for in Fleetwood Mac?
Itís refreshing, I think. Itís the way Iíve felt, a little more confident. I didnít make this album before because I wasnít sure I was ready for it, didnít want to take the responsibility, either the letdown or elation, the success or failure. I had a wonderful, enjoyable experience doing this album in Montreux.
Do you feel that youíre less exposed on a Fleetwood Mac album where you might only contribute two or three songs?
Thatís a lot to do with it, for Stevie and Lindsey too. This configuration of Fleetwood Macís been together ten years, and itís taken us entire years to make a single record. So if you only have a few songs per record you need an outlet. You have a backlog of songs sometimes, and that can be frustrating for a musician.
A few years ago, everyone started doing their solo albums. Stevie did two. Mick went to Ghana, Lindsey did Law and Order. At that time I just didnít want to follow suit. I was busy getting the house fixed up, happy being domestic. Inevitably, I woke up one morning bored, started spending more time in the music room. Todd Sharp was coming over a lot, and we spent three months getting this batch of songs together. I was ready for something adventurous, like stepping out the front door.
I had been domestic before, in between Chicken Shack and joining Fleetwood Mac. John and I were married but never saw each other, since we were both in touring bands. When I left Chicken Shack I stayed at home for a while. And I had won "best female vocalist" in a Melody Maker poll. I was dumbfounded, but at that time Melody Maker was kind of underground, and there was really only Sandy Denny, Julie Driscoll, and me around. My single of "Iíd Rather Go Blind" was a hit in England Ė it got to number 9 I think Ė and the students thought I was cool or something. I then recorded my "first" solo album, which I canít listen to anymore. I was forced out of my early retirement, pushed into a studio...the songs I wrote on that album are really weak. The Bobby Bland songs are okay, though.
Then Peter Green left Fleetwood Mac, and the four-piece went to rehearse at this place called Kiln House. My solo career had been dumped quickly, and I was housewifing again. I watched the group rehearse every day. After the album Kiln House was released it took off in America, and the four guys were scheduled to tour, and decided they needed another musician. And they all looked at me. And they said, "You know all the songs Ė youíve heard us rehearse every day." And ten days later I was playing my first gig with Fleetwood Mac in America. Theyíd never had a keyboard before, although I did do some sessions with them on Then Play On and other albums. Iíd met them in the first place from always being on the same bills with them. We were like a big family even then. Mickís like my brother.
Is that how you could stay on in Fleetwood Mac with John after your marriage broke up?
Yeah. At the time, the band was at the pinnacle of their career, and we had a certain responsibility not to break that up for "anything as trivial as a divorce." For a year or so it was tricky, but we worked it out. Now weíre really good friends. Iím glad we salvaged the friendship instead of letting seven years of marriage just go down. John and I spent too much time in each otherís pockets. Itís pressure, being in the public eye. When people get married they can live in a house with more than one room. But on tour youíre in a hotel room together, you leave the hotel together, you drive together, eat together, sit on the plane next to each other Ė youíre like Siamese twins.
Does John still know you the best of your friends?
No. Not anymore. We're very good friends, but...he lives in the Virgin Islands now so we spend a lot of time on the phone. I have closer friends, I would say.
Do you think you're an easy person to get to know?
Well. I have this mask of aloofness, which really isn't aloofness, but shyness. Once you get over that, I'm easy to know. I have a reputation as the easiest member of Fleetwood Mac to know. But people have told me they thought I was stuck up. It's a kind of protective shell I have - English reserve or whatever. I was in Tower Records in San Francisco a few weeks ago, buying some cassettes, and a couple of people recognized me and ran up with albums and I just wanted to cover my face and have a seizure or something. I want people to just go away.
Fleetwood Mac doesn't get much credit as musicians or arrangers, it seems John and Mick are one of the greatest rhythm sections ever, but they don't pop up on lists like Jack Bruce, Paul McCartney or Keith Moon do.
John is a classic bass player. He says everyone thinks they can play bass, cause you can pick it up and do something. But the selection of notes, and when not to play, is very important. Lead guitarists pick up basses and are busy, busy, busy. But to pick the right note to go with a kick drum is difficult. Mick was interviewed for the MTV special about the recording of my album, and he said he can't play with any other keyboard player - "Chris presents something of a problem," he said. I'm not a virtuoso, but I have a style which is rooted through the bass and drums. I leave room for the guitarists. I like that, it's solid. I don't solo much, and I don't do those twiddly bits with my right hand. I'm back there with the rhythm, part of a rich foundation. You need that foundation. If I was to take more solos, stick knives between the keys or something, I'd get more credit, but I'm just not that type of player.
You've said you co-wrote material for your solo album, and did other people's songs, because you felt an album entirely of Christine McVie songs might be boring. I'm not sure what you mean.
Self-indulgent is more correct. A solo album...it was more important to me that the content be exciting and innovative than it just be...mine. There was an injection of freshness because I did allow other songwriters in. I wanted exciting songs.
This isn't just another way of hiding?
It's not a question of hiding. I wanted to sing, and I've never sung better. I didn't care who wrote the songs.
When I met Todd Sharp years ago, while he was playing with Bob Welch, he's struck me as an incredible perfectionist, doing solos over and over. Is he like that to write with too?
He's better now than he used to be. He and George Hawkins, my bass player, went to Ghana with Mick, and Mick said, "Todd's great, but he takes a bloody long time to do anything!" But I found it quite the contrary. We did all the demos and zipped right through. We did a lot of preliminary work before going to Montreux. This album only took three months of studio time to record.
That still seems like an awfully long time.
Not compared to Fleetwood Mac taking a year. We would go in the studio on Tusk five days a week. Sometimes we'd just sit around and chat, waste studio time and lots of money. But there's a lot that goes into the making of even one cut on one record. You spend days getting the right drum sound. And vocals take a long time - you can't just do one take and it's perfect. I sang well on this album, so we didn't have to combine various takes as much, like Russ Titelman is known to do.
When did you become a good singer then?
Well, Mick always believed in my voice and encouraged me to write more and more, and I just got better over the years. My weak point used to be harmony singing - I just couldn't keep in tune if someone else was singing. But Lindsey and Stevie really helped me and I find it relatively easy now. I love singing with Lindsey; we get such an interesting tone together.
Did you record anything for this album that didn't get in?
There was a song that began as a studio jam, called "Too much is Not Enough," a really good and raunchy rock and roll track, but I wasn't satisfied with the vocal. If I do it over maybe it'll be released as a B-side. That was the only thing we recorded and didn't use. We didn't over-record like some bands do - we were very compact.
I have heard that Stevie Nicks sometimes saves songs for her solo albums and won't let them appear on Fleetwood Mac albums. Have you ever done that?
No. I write for projects when they come up. I have a thick book of unused lyrics, unfinished melodies. When a project arrives, I begin to work. I don't separate my work with the band from this solo project - I'm sure the group could have recorded any of these, and they would have if the Fleetwood Mac project had come up at this time. I don't have any finished songs lying around.
Tusk is one of your favorite Mac albums, isn't it?
Yes. Lindsey really dominates that one. He wanted to do something different, although we all enjoyed the success of Rumours obviously. Lindsey recorded a lot of it at his home studio, without any of us at all on certain tracks. I think if he hadn't worked on Tusk so hard he would have left the group and gone solo then, the way he was feeling. We kept Lindsey in the band by letting him do his album within ours. He brought a lot to my songs, like the guitar in "Never Make Me Cry." He enjoys working on other people's songs - he's a tremendous arranger, got a great imagination. Danny Kirwan was great arranger too, even if he was King Neurotic. He was crazy for most of the time he was in Fleetwood Mac in the 70's. He was really difficult to work with, so paranoid. You constantly felt you had to accommodate him.
Now that you've got your own band, will you be touring?
We'll go on the road with the addition of Billy Burnette and Eddy Quintela. Mick Fleetwood really put this band together, and it's a good one. I don't know if Fleetwood Mac's going to tour again. We'll make another record, but we'll have to see how the five personalities are going on. The other night Mick and Lindsey were over and we realized that was the highest Mac count in some time. We've always done long tours, and personalities clash after such a long time. The Tusk tour was one year long. And it doesn't matter if you go to exotic places, because Thailand is just like Chicago if the only thing you see is the hotel and the hall. These long tours are like being married to four people at once. I think we're getting a little old for that. They will be carrying us off the planes on stretchers if we're not careful!
Still I believe.....BACKSTABBING AND BETRAYAL will show us how
Haha... "I think we're a little too old for that..."
I would tell Christine Perfect, "You're Christine f***ing McVie, and don't you forget it!"
Here is a short interview of Chris discussing her solo album on MTV 1984
Still I believe.....BACKSTABBING AND BETRAYAL will show us how
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