By Richard Bienstock | Photo by Jeremy Cowart
Earlier this month, Lindsey Buckingham released the live document One Man Show exclusively through iTunes. The album captures the legendary singer and guitarist onstage in Des Moines, Iowa, during a stop on his most recent tour — his first playing a full set of music in a solo acoustic configuration.
Buckingham recently sat down with Guitar Aficionado to discuss the impetus behind doing these shows, the process by which he adapts his music to an acoustic setting, and his feelings on returning to the “Big Machine” — his term for Fleetwood Mac — for a scheduled tour in 2013.
GUITAR AFICIONADO: What led you to embark on this solo acoustic tour?
My mentality for a while has been of this idea of ever moving toward the center, so to speak, in terms of presenting my songs with only guitar and vocal. So it was kind of an experiment. And I wasn’t sure how it would go. I knew in my head I could do all the stuff on my own, but figuring out how to plan the arc of an entire set was more difficult. But the main thing I had to get used to was the idea of standing up there all alone. Those first couple of shows I was looking around the stage going, “Where is everybody?” [laughs]
When adapting your electric songs to an acoustic setting you tend to discard much of the known arrangement in favor of re-imagining the composition from the inside out. What is your thought process?
With an ensemble approach, generally speaking you’ve got a lot going on. And all the different parts tend to simplify out and become thematic, in the sense that maybe guitars and other instruments go in and out of the mix, and the constant is the rhythm section. But when suddenly the rhythm section does not exist, then you have to think in terms of covering as much ground thematically and melodically and rhythmically as you can with just one guitar. So that’s what I do. And I guess because a lot of my background as a guitarist stemmed from me just sitting around alone and developing a fingerstyle approach that was somewhere between folk and classical, it lends itself to playing in this way.
So when I think about doing a song like “Big Love” or “Go Insane” as a solo acoustic piece I start by throwing away everything that was there expect for the lyric and the melody. Then it’s just a matter of figuring out what works around those things and trying to keep it interesting. It’s what I was doing earlier on songs like “Never Going Back Again” as well. But it was really the point where I started transitioning songs from being ensemble pieces to solo pieces—and I think “Big Love” was the first one—where some kind of light bulb went off in my head in terms of feeling like I was revisiting a part of myself or potential in myself that was not being used very much. And then it became something that I actively pursued, if not a major part of the representation of any new thing I’d be doing.
How would you describe your approach to the acoustic?
I guess I like to think of myself as a refined primitive. [laughs] In terms of articulating or intellectualizing it, I find I have a hard time dissecting what I do on guitar. It’s just what feels right. And if you go in with a certain intention to present something in a particular way you just look for it until it sounds like you hit on the right thing.
What guitars have you been using for these shows?
My main acoustics are my Turner Renaissance guitars. I have some regular ones and then a couple of baritones. I’m also using my electric Turners [the Model 1] on three songs, as well as a few Taylors. And there’s a Gibson Chet Atkins on “Big Love” and “Go Insane.”
You’ve been recording and performing as a solo artist—what you refer to as the “Small Machine”—for the past several years. Are you ready for the Big Machine to start back up?
Well, yes, I am! I’m actually looking quite forward to it. The only thing you can say about the Big Machine is that every time we get together it seems like things are different on some level, politically or whatever. You always have to bring your sense of humor. As of now, everybody in Fleetwood Mac agrees that we want to go tour. But I don’t think anyone knows exactly what we’re gonna do yet. It’s to be determined in rehearsals. Because there are a lot of moving parts in Fleetwood Mac. And the trick to existing in that world is, if I can use a saying, to sort of walk through the minefield without stepping on anything. [laughs] And hopefully that will be something we’ll all be able to do.