“We spent 15 years making Fleetwood Mac relevant without her. But with her, we were a force of nature.”
Stevie Nicks was referring to her longtime bandmate Christine McVie when she spoke those words in a recent USA Today interview. It was, of course, high praise for McVie, who returned to the iconic rock band after a 16-year absence.
The return, perhaps to no one’s real surprise, spawned talk of a reunion tour, the group’s first outing since 1997 that would feature all five classic core members: Nicks, McVie, Lindsey Buckingham, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie.
For Christine McVie, the keyboardist and vocalist behind such hits as “Don’t Stop,” “Say That You Love Me,” “Little Lies” “Hold Me” and “Over My Head,” the journey back was about as indirect as it gets. Married and divorced from bassist John McVie, Christine called it quits in 1998 despite the blockbuster success of the band, especially after the release of “Rumours” in 1977, which cemented their status as pop-rock royalty. She moved to London, put her keyboards in storage, and quietly worked on the restoration of the home she bought there to be closer to her family. Severe anxiety about flying grounded her ability (and desire) to continue with the group she had been a part of since 1970.
Fast-forward to 2013 and London’s O2 arena where Fleetwood Mac were performing in concert — and one very special guest joined them for one very special song. That would be one Christine McVie who belted out “Don’t Stop” as if she’d never left. Dozens of phone and email conversations later — and plenty of transatlantic flights as well (thanks to years of anti-anxiety therapy) — the five are back for “On With the Show,” a 34-date U.S. tour, which kicked off Tuesday night in Minneapolis. It stops in Chicago for shows Thursday and Friday at the United Center.
McVie, 71, talked about the road back — and looking ahead to a new Fleetwood Mac album — just a few days before the tour’s launch.
Q. I guess we need to start where you left off. Why did you leave Fleetwood Mac?
A. My dad had just died, so I moved back to London where I bought a house and restored it. And then the big earthquake of 1994 hit, which just terrified me, and I developed a chronic fear of flying, which debilitated me quite a lot. So I just thought I want to buy home and live in the country. I thought that was the life I was going to live until I died. Eventually I realized I couldn’t go anywhere. It was almost reclusive. So I went into therapy for the anxiety, and it’s been great.
Q. What made you decide to return?
A. I just thought, I want to go back to music — it just took 18 years. I thought what am I gonna do the rest of my life? Am I gonna sit around and watch my dogs die? I thought I was being a lady of leisure with my Range Rover and Wellies. But I was getting bored. And I was thinking about music and realized the only people I wanted to play with were Fleetwood Mac.
Q. How did you approach your former bandmates about rejoining them?
A. I finally could fly. And I thought, I’d love to go to Maui now, which of course is where Mick lived. Push came to shove and I called Mick and said I’ve got a ticket to Maui. And he said, that’s funny, I’m coming to England for 10 days. So he came here, we talked and he said let’s fly back to Maui together. And we did. It was marvelous. I played some gigs with his blues band that he has there. And I asked him what do you think would be the chances of me coming back to the band? We had so many conversations about it even when I returned to England. I had conversations with all of them. These things take time.
I was back writing songs. That led to me and Lindsey exchanging songs transatlantically. I sent him demos and he worked on them and sent them back with guitar tracks and his vocals. Once I did “Don’t Stop” with them [in London last year] there was serious talk that I’d be coming back. So I came over to Los Angeles and did some recording with Mick and Lindsey. All of a sudden we were writing songs for a new album. So there I was. I was officially back. It’s just serendipity, you know? It’s just the most organic, the most fantastic feeling. We’ve done seven tracks for a new Fleetwood Mac album. We have high hopes for it. It’s such magical music. Not sure when it will be finished, with the tour and all.
Q. What were you feeling when you stepped out onto that London stage in 2013?
A. Oddly I was a bit nervous because it had been so many years. But the adrenaline in me, and the warmth from the audience and the love from the other band members immediately calmed me down. The subsequent recording sessions and all the rehearsals we’ve done for this tour have been completely without nervousness.
FLEETWOOD MAC When: 8 p.m. Oct 2-3 Where: United Center, 1901 W. Madison Tickets: $49.50-$189.50 Info: Visit ticketmaster.com
Q. Any competition surfacing between you and Stevie Nicks now that the two of you are back sharing vocal duties?
A. No competition whatsoever — and it never was competitive. We’re two entirely different cups of tea. I’m behind the keyboards, and that’s where I want to be. We love each other’s music.
Q. How is John doing with his battle with cancer?
A. I’m’ so happy to say he has a clean bill of health. He’s really doing so well. He just went for his last blood test and he’s in full remission, so he’s going gangbusters. He truly can’t stop smiling.
Q. Is the same Fleetwood Mac dynamic at play after so many years?
A. It was a bit like a time warp at first, but we knew we’d never really go belly-up as a band. The physicality of being with these fantastic musicians is so powerful. Revisiting the songs has been great. Technology has changed so much since I left. We use a lot more technical equipment than we had back in the day. We augment certain tracks as we need to with additional keyboards, for example.
Q. What did you miss the most about Fleetwood Mac?
A. I missed playing with them. I did a solo album, but at that point I hadn’t yet sorted out my fear of flying, so I refused to promote it and it went nowhere. The only people I wanted to play with was Fleetwood Mac. Lindsey produces my music so beautifully so I wanted to work with him again.
Q. What did you miss the least?
A. The travel, the packing and unpacking.
Q. So how have you prepared for the rigors of life on the road?
A. Mick and I rent a house in Santa Monica Canyon in California because of all our recording sessions. We’ve had a personal trainer and dietician with us there and who’s also on the road with us, to get us in shape. I’ve been working out quite a lot and I’m fit as a fiddle. It’s not the concerts that are tiring whatsoever, it’s the other stuff like packing bags. Because we fly on a private plane, our bags have to be packed and at the airport two hours before we are. That’s pretty tiring. But I’ve got my road legs. I’m ready.
Q. Why is Fleetwood Mac’s music so timeless?
A. It must have something to do with the story [the music] has told throughout the years. Through adversity you can still be together; you can survive and even love each other. And because there are different songwriters in the group, you get different styles of music. You get something very different for listeners. It’s variety and sincerity. I mean kids 13 and 14 are buying our records. Maybe they heard it from their parents, I suppose.
Q. What music do you listen to these days?
A. I listen to a real hodgepodge. I still listen to my favorites; not a lot of modern bands. Steely Dan, the Beatles, the Stones, the Eagles. Jazz, blues. I love Prince. Those are my main staples.
Q. You started your music career in a blues band back in the late 1960s. Would you ever do a full-out blues album?
A. Nothing is impossible. One could easily slip in that direction if one wanted to. I did a rather groovy song recently. Not entirely blues; it’s still a bit white. I do love singing the blues.
Q. What did the blues bring to your music?
A. It brought me soul. Because obviously when you sing the blues you sing a certain way. The meaning of the words is so important.
Q. Do you think that blues is a dying art form? So many of the greats are no longer with us.
A. I think it was dying a death back when the Brits were reinventing it on vinyl. We were shipping it out; all these records were being imported. White English blues bands were reinventing the genre.
Q. Your favorite blues artists of all time?
A. The regional guys, I love them so much. B.B. King, Freddie King, Buddy Guy, Robert Johnson. Originals all.
Posted at 7:00 p.m. Oct,1, 2014.