Being a solo artist again is "a function of necessity" these days for Lindsey Buckingham.
In 2010, the singer, songwriter and guitarist -- who released "Seeds We Sow" in September and the concert DVD "Songs From The Small Machine: Live In L.A." last week -- was on the road with Fleetwood Mac, filling arenas with the band's litany of 70s and 80s hits. And he expected to be doing more of the same this year.
"We had talked about doing a bunch more dates, and I was completely open to that," says Buckingham, 62, who after two previous solo albums in quick succession -- 2006's "Under the Skin" and 2008's "Gift of Screws" -- was happy to immerse himself again in "the big machine" of Fleetwood Mac. "Those three years of making those two solo albums really demanded a stronger sense of myself, and I could bring that back into the band and...be that much more of a guy on stage."
Then, however, singer Stevie Nicks told Buckingham and their bandmates that she "wanted to take some time and make a solo album, so suddenly, out of the blue, that just came to an end, and I was looking at what I new would be at least a year or more that it would take her to record and do whatever touring she wanted to do behind it.
"So it was an unexpected turn of events that led me to find myself once again in the studio."
Buckingham is not necessarily complaining about it. He began his solo career 20 years ago, with 1981's "Law and Order," and since then has laced his own work in between Fleetwood Mac projects. Occasionally the two have butted heads: he didn't join the band on the road to support 1987's "Tango in the Night," preferring to stay in the studio; and he disrupted his own projects for Fleetwood Mac reunions in 1997 and 2003.
But Buckingham -- who joined Fleetwood Mac with then-girlfriend Nicks in 1974 and helped turn the floundering group into a multi-platinum hit machine -- says that despite the occasional frustration he's happy co-existing between the two.
"There's a balance you strike between that larger machine and the solo work," explains Buckingham, who resides in the Los Angeles area with is wife, Kristen, and their three children. "It takes some time to really be able to look at it and how much it's meant and if those choices were good ones. And I'm feeling that those were good choices that I made, and in some strange way this album ('Seeds We Sow') feels like a culmination of everything, in a way."
That said, no one will mistake the 11-track "Seeds We Sow" for a big Mac attack. Though it begins with a shimmering guitar pattern similar to the group's "Never Going Back Again," the album has the arty and often airy approach of the group's "Tusk" and Buckingham's early solo releases, with plenty of sonic space and dry ambience. And although it has a few other players, it's mostly a genuinely solo affair, "a pretty self-sufficient project all around, from the mixing to the engineering."
"I love what happens when I work alone," Buckingham says, "because you don't have to go in with a very specific or concrete idea, and you can kind of let the work lead you. When I work alone it's more like painting, kind of a more one on one, and it's a much more subconscious process.
"I think you find a lot more surprises along the way, and that's what we're looking for, the discoveries."
Fans are certainly piqued by "Seeds We Sow's" closing track, a hushed cover of the Rolling Stones' "She Smiled Sweetly" that Buckingham says "has been floating around for a number of years, just waiting for the right placement" -- which turned out to be this particular album.
"There's this period of Rolling Stones material...around 1965, 66, which was kind of the peak for Brian Jones before he started downhill," Buckingham notes. "Those albums are some of my favorite Stones albums, and they're also albums that have a lot of obscure gems. I did another one, 'I Am Waiting,' on 'Under the Skin,' and it was the same idea -- songs that are not singles, that were album tracks that are probably not that well known and just wonderful tracks.
"So ('She Smiles Sweetly') was just one of those things I had done, and then it seemed like it fit as the ending track for this group of songs, finally."
"Seeds We Sow" has also brought Buckingham out on the road with his solo band, doing what he feels is "a really smart show" that combines the new material with "the chestnuts you've obviously got to go out there and do for everybody." Nevertheless, Buckingham says that "everyone is really excited about how the new stuff is working live, and we're excited to get it out in front of audiences."
His next move, meanwhile, is in a bit of limbo. There's been talk of a Fleetwood Mac return in 2012, but Buckingham -- who along with drummer Mick Fleetwood plays on Nicks' latest album, "In Your Dreams" -- says nothing is in stone at this point.
"There's been talk of doing another Fleetwood Mac album," he says. "We've talked about touring. But there's been nothing, no time frame yet of any kind, and we're just going to have to wait until probably the first of the year to sit down and make any kind of schedule about that.
"As far as Fleetwood Mac goes at this point, I'm into whatever the group wisdom would dictate. I'll bow to the majority.
And in the meantime, he adds, being solo is hardly an unpleasant Plan B.
"What I do solo wise, obviously, is not a huge income generator like the band is," Buckingham says. "It's done out of love and out of the want to have that experience. There's room for that and for the band in my life. It's good to have both, I think."
Lindsey Buckingham performs Tuesday, Nov. 8, at the Royal Oak Music Theatre, 318 W. Fourth St. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $37.50. Call 248-399-2980 or visit www.royaloakmusictheatre.com.
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