Ken Caillat Interview: Fleetwood Mac Producer Says Lindsey Made the Making of "Tusk" a Nightmare
Image attributed to Ken Caillat
Ken Caillat is the Los Angeles-based record producer and engineer for the Fleetwood Mac albums Rumours,Tusk, Mirage, Live and The Chain Box Set. He won a Grammy Award (Engineer, Mastering) for Rumours (1977 Album of the Year). Caillat has also worked on albums for Billy Idol, Frank Sinatra, Pat Benatar, Wilson Phillips, the Beach Boys, Herbie Hancock, David Becker and Alice Cooper, as well as Christine McVie on her solo album In the Meantime.
In 2012, he released his memoir on his experiences producing the 1977 Rumours album, called Making Rumours: The Inside Story of the Classic Fleetwood Mac Album. Then in 2019, he authored (with Hernan Rojas) Get Tusked: The Inside Story of Fleetwood Mac’s Most Anticipated Album, which gives a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the band’s epic, platinum-selling album Tusk.
“We were all working under duress with Lindsey saying if we didn’t do what he says, he was going to quit, and he was giving us no clear direction. We were almost in a prison camp for 12 months, I feel like.”
Caillat is the father of singer-songwriter Colbie Caillat, and he produced her albums Coco (2007), Breakthrough (2009), All of You (2011) and Christmas in the Sand (2012).
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Ken, why did you name the book Get Tusked?
Ken Caillat: Well, when we were making the album Tusk, somehow the band became very adolescent. Tusk was like a nickname for a male part. So there was all this talk about tusk, tusk, get tusked, and they were always giggling. I said, “What’s wrong with you guys? Are you guys seven-years-old?” At the very end of the record, they made t-shirts for everybody. I got one that said, “Get Tusked.” Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, everybody had the same t-shirt, “Get Tusked.” Get tusked basically means get screwed or screw you or go to hell or however you want to think about that
Smashing Interviews Magazine: It was a penis joke (laughs).
Ken Caillat: Exactly. That’s what I was wanting to say.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You’ve said that making the album Rumours was a lot of work, pain and anguish, but where the partying started was with the making of Tusk.
Ken Caillat: Right, yes. Making Rumours was actually an experience of real enjoyment. The band were not superstars yet. They were still pretty much normal people. They could go out to dinner and not be recognized all the time. But for Tusk, they had already experienced the wealth of Rumours, and they all had their favorite champagne or liqueur or cocaine, and they all had somebody to do their bidding. I thought the band had grown up. But I was working with a band with a lot of politics and a lot of problems.
We were all working under duress with Lindsey saying if we didn’t do what he says, he was going to quit, and he was giving us no clear direction. We were almost in a prison camp for 12 months, I feel like. We were all sequestered in this room making a record that Lindsey Buckingham didn’t even know what kind he wanted to make. Lindsey thought he had fans that wanted him to be more aggressive, more punk. I think the most interesting part about it is that every one of his songs on the record are full of distortion, anger and just rebellion, while at the same time, if you listen to his work on the girls’ songs, there is some of the most beautiful guitar work he’s ever done. So I think that’s kind of a dichotomy.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Lindsey actually wanted Tusk to be darker than Rumours?
Ken Caillat: Right.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: And he didn’t ask for input from the band?
Ken Caillat: No. As a matter of fact, Lindsey built a little studio at home, so no one would have input. He was particularly annoyed with me. He was in love with me during Rumours because I made everything sound great. He loved how I made him sound. Then he turned on me. I think he decided that I must be the cause of him not being punk enough, aggressive enough.
On the first day we were getting sounds, he said to me, “Turn all the knobs in the opposite direction you’ve already got.” Lindsey knew that would just destroy his sound, and he wanted me to basically baseline the record on that. So I did. He didn’t give me much choice about it, but we made it very aggressive sounding. He would do things like lay a microphone on a tile floor, kneel over it and scream into it, scream as hard as he could into the microphone to distort. He did everything he could to make it as grunge as possible.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: There is a Beach Boys theme with Christine having a relationship with Dennis Wilson at the time and Lindsey being influenced by Pet Sounds during the making of the album.
Ken Caillat: Oh, yeah. If you listen to the background vocals on all of the girls’ songs like “Beautiful Child” and “Sisters of the Moon,” they’re very Beach Boy-esque. So he’s a genius at creating vocal harmonies and orchestrating them. We would sit at the piano, and Lindsey would play each of the notes that people were singing in chords, so then he would play the chord, and he would hear what the vocal sac would sound like when it’s played on the piano. We did that to make sure everyone is doing exactly the right thing. That’s exactly what Brian Wilson used to do with the Beach Boys. That part was very clever.
I want to give Lindsey so much credit for doing some of this. As I said toward the end of the book, in hindsight, I now realize what he was trying to do. I feel like if I were more mature and realized what was going on, we could’ve all walked up to him, given him a big hug and said, “Listen, we know you’re searching for something, and we’re going to give you as much space as you need so you can fly with it. We’ll help you as much as we can.” But he didn’t know how to ask for it, and we didn’t know he was asking for it.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: If Lindsey had explained his ideas in the beginning, there would have been a different process and atmosphere?
Ken Caillat: Right. I think part of it, too, was that cocaine was involved, and pot was involved. He smoked a lot of marijuana. He had a girlfriend who was really into cocaine more, and she was pushing him to be more aggressive. She said, “You need to start wearing eye makeup, color your hair and be more edgy.” So he kind of followed along, and I wanted it to be about the music. The music’s terrific, and it’s different, and it still survives after all these years.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Compared to 1977’s Rumours, which sold 10 million copies by February 1978, Tusk was considered to be a commercial failure by the label, selling 4 million copies. What was your prediction during the time you were producing it?
Ken Caillat: I thought we were going to get slaughtered. There were a couple of unfortunate circumstances. Back then, we had so many songs. At one point, I told Lindsey that they all wouldn’t fit on one record, and that if we kept doing this, we’d have to release a double record. He said, “Okay.” I said, “No. That’s not okay. It’s bad because double records sell for twice as much, and people don’t want to spend $16.00 for a record.” Records at Tower Records used to sell for $3.98 back then. So we all said to him, “Let’s do enough songs for a double record, but let’s put out two single records separately.”
Mick talked to the label and came back and said, “Okay. The record package is going to contain one album, and we’ll drop the next record six months later. When the record comes out, it’ll slide into the double album cover of the first one and complete the picture. So when both records are finally placed together in the same package, they will make a nice picture of something.” So we thought that was terrific. But when it came down to it, the record company got greedy in thinking how many records Rumours sold, so they said, “Why don’t we release it all at once?” So the record company changed their minds at the very end and released a double album instead of two singles.
Secondarily, we used to make cassettes for everybody every night, so they would take it home. Stevie was notoriously forgetful about where she put her cassettes. Anyway, on the day of the release, all the radio stations were about to play the new album, and somehow the RKO Radio Network had gotten a copy of the cassette from somebody and decided to play the album at midnight the night before. So all the radio stations thought we had given RKO an exclusive, and they refused to play the record. All everybody was playing was the controversial song “Tusk” that they decided to make the first single.
The buying public was faced with buying a double album, and the only song that they could hear was “Tusk” on the radio, and the double album would be $16.95 retail. The sales started off really slow until they fixed the radio station dilemma. When the radio stations started playing the nicer songs, people started warming up to it. But I think it would’ve sold for twice as much had it gone out the way I said.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What did you think the first single should’ve been?
Ken Caillat: Probably “Sisters of the Moon,” or one of Stevie’s or Christine’s songs. That’s what I thought.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Maybe “Sara”?
Ken Caillat: Yeah. “Sara” or a more up-tempo song would’ve been “Think About Me” because usually you want to lead off with an up-tempo song, and “Sara” is too long. We tried to edit that song down, but it was still over four minutes, and the norm was kind of a three-minute single. But again, the label said, “No. We’re just going to go for the money. Let’s release a double record.” So the weird “Tusk” was released as the first single. It didn’t make a lot of sense. I thought having “Tusk” as the first single was the biggest mistake that we made.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Many people speculate that the song “Tusk” was about sex.
Ken Caillat: It’s not about anything. It’s just stupid. The road crew used to just sit there and giggle, and Lindsey would get all excited that he made the road crew giggle. He thought he was one of the guys. It’s not the first single. Maybe it’s somewhere down the line, you know. We had to solve a lot of technical problems to make that record like the live horns in Dodger Stadium.
I came to the stadium in a recording truck and said, “Okay. Here’s all the mics. You guys stand in front of these mics, trumpets stand over here.” They go, “Wait a minute! We’re a marching band.” I said, “Yeah?” They said, “We don’t play unless we march.” I said, “No. Stand in place and march.” They said, “No. We can’t do that. We have to move.” I said, “So how do I make my microphones move?” It was hysterical. I had to figure out how to record a marching band that had to march. Anyway, the double record and the “Tusk” lead off were the biggest mistakes.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What is your relationship with the rest of Fleetwood Mac?
Ken Caillat: Well, I have a relationship with Mick. The band was not really high tech, so they don’t keep their same phone numbers and emails, and I don’t have any way of connecting with Stevie. Stevie’s got a big entourage of people that are paid to protect her from strangers, and I would be considered a stranger in their eyes. The last time I talked to Christine, we were good. I produced a record for her in 2005. But I talk to John. I talk to Mick. I wish John a happy birthday every year, so I think I’m fine with everybody.
I’d probably be fine with Lindsey if I ever saw him. But he’s just got so much hatred now with the band for firing him when he’s the one that brought it on himself. He again demanded that they would delay their world tour for a year or a year and a half while he finished his solo record, and his solo records never sell anything. He gave them the ultimatum that he would quit, so the band talked and said, “You know what? Why don’t we just fire you? You’ve pulled that trick one too many times. We don’t care.”
Smashing Interviews Magazine: And along came Neil Finn.
Ken Caillat: Right, and he was the solution.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: So no one thinks Lindsey may rejoin the band in the future after a reconciliation?
Ken Caillat: Well, Lindsey had a heart attack, and they apparently damaged his vocal chords. I don’t know anything, but people I know who are very close to him don’t know whether he’s able to sing anymore. It’s too bad. Lindsey was a very angry man, and I believe he still is. Most of my comments about Lindsey are based on when I knew him.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Of course. What’s going on with you now, Ken?
Ken Caillat: I’m still making music. I have a company called ArtistMax, and we try to develop young artists. We try to provide a pathway to stardom and avoid most of the speed bumps in Hollywood, so we try to give the artists the tools for a successful career. I tell them that it’s a lot easier if you get your vocal lessons, learn to play an instrument and get allyour fundamental stuff. It makes it so much easier.
Most artists, when they try to find their paths, make a number of mistakes. They may have to change their minds and directions a number of times, and by the time their may be ready to make it in the business, they’re almost 30 years old. So ArtistMax can take off about 10 years of that path. We put them together with choreographers, vocal coaches, songwriters and publishing attorneys so they learn the ins and outs of the business. That’s what we do. I’m looking for new artists and working with new artists. I feel very fortunate to be able to still be making music with the best of them.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: How’s Colbie and her band Gone West?
Ken Caillat: Colbie’s great. I think she was very brave to leave her successful solo career to create a career with a group. The reality is she’s not the boss anymore. It’s not a one-man band. She’s now one of four people, and I think she’s having a little bit of a challenge to be a team player. But she’s writing great songs.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Will you be helping her plan a wedding in the near future?
Ken Caillat: She’s been engaged for 10 years to her fiancée Justin Young. She said that she has no plans on getting married and that if she decides to get married, she doesn’t want a big church wedding and might even elope.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Whatever makes you happy is what I always say.
Ken Caillat: Yeah. That’s all I care about. I just want her happy.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Is there anything you’d like to add about Get Tusked?
Ken Caillat: I’m always concerned that I’m maybe too negative. I certainly want to say that people should read it if they want to know how real records are made. Fleetwood Mac were ultimate professionals. As professionals, they had to solve a lot of problems on the fly, and many bands have issues.
Each of the Fleetwood Mac songs are usually about one or the other band members, usually about breaking up and usually hurtful. That was something I never realized until I wrote the books. So these artists are listening to their counterpart saying something negative about them every day and trying to sing pretty harmonies to it. I respect Fleetwood Mac for the job. It’s just like if you go to work with different people. You may not like everybody, but you’ve got to get along with them.
Making this record was a labor of love, especially with the girls. They cared very much about what they did, and Lindsey was a big enough guy to display some of his most beautiful music onto their music. So I’m going to say to read the book if you want to know how Fleetwood Mac makes records.
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