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The legendary drummer talks about his signature portable stereo system—the Cambridge SoundWorks Mick Fleetwood Signature Model 12—life on the road with Fleetwood Mac, and his upcoming solo album.
In 1967 hot young drummer Mick Fleetwood joined John Mayall's legendary Bluesbreakers where he played with bassist John McVie and guitarist Peter Green. Later that year, Fleetwood, McVie, and Green decided to leave the Bluesbreakers and form Fleetwood Mac. Through 37 years of varying lineups, dozens of albums, and worldwide superstardom, the peerless rhythm section of Fleetwood and McVie have remained the backbone of their namesake band.
Fleetwood has produced several solo albums and has recently worked with Sonic Foundry to make available an unprecedented series of original drum loops—Mick Fleetwood's Total Drumming ACID Loop CD. Musician's Friend spoke with Fleetwood from his home in Maui where he's enjoying a brief hiatus in Fleetwood Mac's current Say You Will tour.
Musician's Friend (MF): So how does it feel to be back on the road with Fleetwood Mac?
Fleetwood: Well, we've been out for quite a while. We're just off to Australia in about 8 or 9 days. After that we're back to America for another full-country tour. It's great. It's certainly grown into something more than we ever expected in terms of the demand and enthusiasm. The tour will be the better part of 18 months long by the time we come back at the end of August. It'll probably go on through Christmas, I don't know. It's going that well. We are happy to do it. I think as a band we've enjoyed the fact that the response has been really great. We've certainly paid attention to trying to grow the band musically rather than just sitting on our laurels.
MF: How's that working out musically? Are you all drawing enthusiasm and creativity from one another?
Fleetwood: Yeah. We went out with a new album and we definitely push that envelope-maybe a little bit more than we should sometimes—in terms of creating new music and taking it out in front of an audience. Understandably, an audience goes to see a band such as ourselves and there's a lot of sentimental attraction to our older songs. And we give them that, we're very happy to do that. But we're also very happy that they're hanging in there and listening to songs that they don't know very well. They're just listening to us playing as musicians. It's gone extremely well.
MF: Is there another new Fleetwood Mac album on the horizon?
Fleetwood: Well, when we get done with the touring which has to be by Christmas, out of necessity we will all need a break. Not that it hasn't been a great experience, but at some point we do need to go home, a lot of us have families. And after that, yes, there are definitely very real discussions about doing another album. We'll probably have five or six months off and then think about doing that album. Creatively, from my observation and my feeling, there's a lot of creative juice in the tank. Our last experience making the album was a very alive-and-well experience. Making new music is certainly part of the life blood of the band. For a band of our age and duration, it's nice to see. It's not strictly necessary because we're blessed with being able to go out and play from a large portfolio of music without even creating any new music. But that doesn't naturally appeal to us. Certainly the leader of the pack would be Lindsey. He's been a great cheerleader in terms of pushing our creative envelope. The nice thing is there's something left in the envelope. Because some situations tend to run out of that ability, which isn't necessarily bad. Hey, if Paul McCartney never wrote another note of music, he's done enough, right? [laughs]
MF: Do you all have time to write while you're on the road. Are you working on new songs as you go?
Fleetwood: Oh, yeah, we do. Stevie's songs-I think it's pretty common knowledge-are poetry put to music. She writes all the time. A lot of songs will grow out of a train of thought that was in a journal. She writes, I would say, every night. If you want to know what it was we were all doing in the seventies Stevie has it all. One day, I dread to think all this stuff's going to come out and the real nitty-gritty story of Fleetwood Mac is going to be in all these journals. Because not only are they all about life's trials and tribulations and happiness, and so on, but she writes poetry. And that's where her songs more often than not come from.
Lindsey completely does it the opposite way around. The words are usually the last thing he ever thinks about. It's all about music first: parts, sensibilities of symmetry, what he's trying to put together, and the intrigue of doing something new and presenting something in a new way. So there's a good blend of stuff. He has a portable studio. He's never without a guitar. He plays incessantly. There's no doubt that on this summer tour, if we have a true commitment to go forward with another album, there will be stuff going on after hours. I've been with Lindsey in tours gone by and we sit and he'll play and write and I'll bang a pair of bongos or whatever to help out. We just grab moments, we do get days off here and there.
MF: Do you have any solo projects on the horizon?
Fleetwood: Yeah I do. I had a production relationship with a dear friend of mine I've known for years and years, Todd Wood. He's a singer/songwriter. He does a lot of movie work, writes for other people, writes with people. And we actually put an album together that is sort of in the can waiting to come out. Right now I'm so damn busy while I'm touring with Fleetwood Mac, but it will come out.
MF: What name will it be released under?
Fleetwood: It's called Mick Fleetwood's Mojo, the album's called Something Big. And it's very eclectic. I had an incredible amount of fun making it. We made it out at Todd's ranch in California. He's got a great studio there. I actually did a lot of the work-believe it or not—in down time that I had, which was spotty but there were the weekends and stuff like that. And I would drive out to his farm up near Santa Barbara. And something that was fairly loosely thought about ended up taking on a life of its own. And we ended up with what I like to feel is a really good album. I'm very happy with it. And that will come out. No one's heard about this yet. So you'll be breaking the news.
Fleetwood: Yes, I do have an album in the can and it's just a matter of timing when it's appropriate. When we get the proper down time from Fleetwood Mac I will put the album out and go out and do some club gigs.
MF: Right on, I hope you come to Oregon.
Fleetwood: Well we've been there before, I know. There's not many places I haven't been.
MF: So let's talk about this signature sound system of yours. How did you become aware of the Cambridge Soundworks Model 12?
Fleetwood: It was 9 or 10 years ago, I was at New York LaGuardia airport and there was a band I didn't know that was arriving at the airport at the same time. I saw this weird little black box coming off the luggage conveyor. And the bass player in the band came over and introduced himself and he happened to be the owner of this box. I said, "What's that?" and he said "Mick, this is the greatest thing since sliced bread. I've had this thing on the road and it's unbelievable."
So he told me all about it. The conversation was about having a decent sound system, which is a musician's nightmare on the road. You can never hear the music worth a damn. You've got your headphones, but that's no way to listen to music for me; it has to be coming out of speakers. And this thing's an all-in-one miracle package. So I phoned up the company and I've had several Model 12s ever since. And I've been turning fellow musicians on to it ever since, just as a fellow musician introduced it to me.
MF: How did the system become branded with your name?
Fleetwood: Well, it was really me going after something I felt genuinely enthusiastic about. I was very excited about it and wanted to tell the world. So I went to my manager and business partner Jonathan Todd and said, "I would really like to get in touch with Cambridge and find out if there's something we can do together." Because this has been somewhat of a musician's boutique item. And as the years went by and technology developed I became aware of the full potential of the Cambridge 12. It's not just a casual listening device, it can interface with the whole computer thing for monitoring portable recording and for MP3s. I started to use it in a really creative way. And I also realized that something this convenient should be more widely known. Certainly it's most suited for musicians, but anyone who travels and enjoys music can really benefit.
So Jonathan arranged for me to go to Cambridge and I met the people and their technicians. I was really impressed with their operation, and we hit it off very well. Jonathan developed a way to bring this thing to market and let people know about it, which is really my pleasure. I don't endorse that many products, but this is a very unique piece of equipment that's unbelievably tuned in in terms of the number of ways you can use it. I am very confident in this system. I've used it for years and years. I have a lot of high-end stereo equipment at home, but the Cambridge 12 is the reference I count on.
Everything's so mobile these days I have to have something that's consistent and I can take with me anywhere. I have one of these in my house here in Maui and in my flat in London because it's consistent. Stevie rented a house round the corner here and I brought this system 'round to her place to listen because I know it and it's consistent and very transparent. It doesn't color the sound at all.
I think it will really affect what people are doing in terms of their whole creative process. If instead of plugging into a couple of lousy little tin pot speakers when you're sitting there with your laptop creating music files, you use a real high-quality sound system and you can really hear what you're doing, your end result is going to be much better. There's no way around it.
MF: What are the features you really like about the system.
Fleetwood: Number one, in my world, it doesn't sonically hype anything. A lot of times on home systems the designers deliberately hype certain parts of the spectrum—particularly the low bass and high trebles—that they think people want to hear. And it does not give a true representation of what was recorded. The Cambridge 12 does not do that. As I've said, the Model 12 lets you hear the music the way it really went down. It provides accurate sound all across the spectrum. The lower lows are what really blow my mind-that something so compact can produce such impactful and accurate bass tones.
And the case is incredibly tough. I ship my case very often as its own package, so it takes a lot of abuse and there's never been a problem. I never fear for it. It's made to be kicked around. It's even semi-waterproof. It's really built for road use.
MF: How do you like the Model 12 for home recording as opposed to using it as a general stereo?
Fleetwood: It works great for the home and especially the mobile situations that a lot of people creating music find themselves in these days, for example when they're working with something like Sony's Acid Pro for creating music on their laptop. And a lot of people are not really thinking about their playback system and are using something that's not really appropriate for what they're doing. They're using some stock little computer speakers or something so they can't hear correctly what they're creating.
In fact I once submitted some loop samples and the mixers came back saying the bottom end was dropping out of some samples which had cymbals and bass on the same sample. We listened to the samples again on the Cambridge 12 and the bass was just fine. It turned out the mixers were listening to small speakers and just couldn't hear it. These were professional mixers. So it's essential to have a quality flat system like the Cambridge 12 to get a true feeling for what you're creating. In addition to being a great listening source for your computer or commercial CDs, the Cambridge 12 doubles as real affordable reference monitors.
It's absolutely a reference that I can attest to. When I'm in the studio with Lindsey or Stevie, I'm listening all the time, particularly while guitar parts and vocal parts are going down. Because by that point I've basically done my job in terms of laying down tracks. They're usually in the front seat driving, but the team works by turning round to me and asking, does it FEEL good? What do you think? Is it in tune, Mick? I'm very much used as a sounding board. That's what I love doing, that's what I'm good at doing, and that's part of our creative process. And as often as not I'm listening on the Cambridge 12.
MF: You use the Model 12 with portable devices as well, right?
Fleetwood: Absolutely. For instance when we're hubbing on the road, basically in a minute or a minute and a half I'll have this set up with my computer, my CD player, my MP3s—it's all there. All in a little box that fits under your seat on a plane, it's very, very convenient. I'm blessed with being in some rather grand hotels that have stereo systems sitting in the corner, sometimes very fancy systems. But I'll invariably set up my Cambridge 12 instead. I can listen to a live tape from a gig, I can listen to my MP3s, I can instantly hook it up to my computer, and everything sounds how I like to hear it out of this little dynamo. Plus, it has all the connecting jacks to do it so you're not constantly plugging and unplugging units. It has everything the big systems have in terms of connections and multitasking at the flick of a switch.
And it's size is amazing. The amp is the size of a cigarette case. You often don't have a lot of room if you're working on your desk in your office or wherever. With this system you've got your speakers strategically placed, your bass woofer under the desk, and you're off to the races. And the only thing on your desk besides the equipment you're plugging into it—the thing that's driving it all—is the size of your hand.
MF: Is your signature model any different than earlier versions of the Model 12?
Fleetwood: It really didn't need changing but there are a couple of little enhancements. Presentation-wise the new one is the same except for my signature is embossed on the amp and on the outside of the box. They now offer an optional international voltage power supply and the unit ships with a domestic (USA) power supply. It even includes a cigarette lighter plug so you can run the system in your car. That was a custom feature before and now it's standard. So you can take it anywhere in the world. I also had them extend the range a little bit on both the treble and the bass pots so you can tune it in more flat or more full depending on what you're after. The new model is something I'm very proud of and happy to be a part of.
For more information about Mick Fleetwood visit MickFleetwood.com
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