[Interview] Blast Into the Past with Fleetmac Wood
From London to LA, Fleetmac Wood has revitalized the catalogue of Fleetwood Mac’s multi-decade history. They bring these old tunes to life for audiences around the world via remixes and originals, woven together into a tapestry of time and storytelling. Meeting the DJ-ing power couple, Lisa Jelliffe (Australia) and Alex Oxley (England), was an absolute delight. I managed to get a good block of time to sit down with them and dig deep into this night they curate, and to get at some of the motivations behind why they created the Fleetmac Wood project, and what it means to them today.
My first question is for Alex. Do you ever DJ with balls (referring to the iconic album cover of “Rumors”)?
Not yet, but I think that will happen at some point. We’ve had a few people. Some guy in Sheffield had some made out of squash balls, and then we’ve also seen white, fluffy, flashing ones.
To me, Fleetwood Mac is most closely associated with the massive outdoor hippie festivals of the 60s and 70s. What do you make of that sort of culture as it’s expressed today in the EDM scene.
Lisa: Well, I think there’s actually a lot more layers to it than that, with Fleetwood Mac. Because you’ve got so many eras. You’ve got a blues era. Then when Christine McVie joins the band and then it’s sort of bluesy, but there’s a female element to it. And then you’ve got when Stevie and Lindsey join the band and then it kind of explodes into this sort of stadium rock, hippie, sexy Californian icons. And then it changes into the Tusk era, and it’s all stadium. And then they get their disco edge, and it becomes much more 80s, and big hair, and hedonism. It’s still slightly mystical, but it’s not quite hippie anymore. It’s like the darker side of the 80s, and being a pop star. So there’s many layers to it. Now it’s sort of all that heritage rolled into one. I guess people need escapism now more than ever. We need it more than they did in the 70s, but it’s in these short, sharp bursts. Because everyone’s working so hard these days, and so focused on having enough money to live, and working on their career. They have very short moments to live out an alternate reality and get in touch with their inner selves. So festivals offer that outlet, and clubbing too. We want these really intense cultural moments, and we tend to condense them and look for getting more out of the moment.
Do you think young people today live less freely than in the past?
Alex: Yeah, I would agree with that. It’s a different time because of the whole social media thing. Everyone’s so locked into that all the time, and there’s less connection to going out to a club and just really losing it. People have become sort of sucked into this social media thing. It’s tricky.
Lisa: There’s more pressures to look good. I just think it’s harder for everyone these days to make money unless you’re really strapped into the finance world or business. We see that from living in London and LA.
Psychedelics are being talked about in culture now in a way that they haven’t been in many years. What is your take on the effect that drugs, and LSD in particular had on the band over their history?
Lisa: Well, if you’re talking about early Fleetwood Mac, psychedelics had a really detrimental effect on the band. Peter Green took a lot of acid, maybe too much too soon, in a short amount of time. This may have contributed to his breakdown, which meant he left the band. And then there was Jeremy Spencer and quite a few members who suffered breakdowns. So, they’ve had such an insane amount of people come and go, it’s a saga of characters coming in and out, with the present line-up obviously being the most financially successful. But some people come to our night and say they only want to hear the Peter Green era. Or they come and stay all night, but they say they’re here to hear “Hypnotized” or to hear Peter Green. And the some people come, and we play the Peter Green era, and they’re like “when are you going to start playing Fleetwood Mac?”. We say “Well, we have, but actually this is before Stevie and Lindsey joined the band. Sometimes they’re puzzled, and sometimes they’re like “oh wow, this is great!” and they’re Shazaming away. So, we like to think that we’re perhaps educating some fans on their previous work, because there’s so much great music in their back-catalog. All sorts of genres, and many, many talented people. So, it’s definitely a super-group.
You both DJ as other acts. How does the Fleetwood Mac project influence your other DJing, and how much of the other styles of music you like do you bring back into Fleetmac Wood.
Alex: I actually ran a dubstep night for some years. We play separately, and then together we play as Smooth Sailing. The thing with that is “romantic techno” is our angle. We play a lot of Balearic disco and house and re-edits.
Lisa: Yeah, more sort of the psychedelic, cosmic side of dance music. And definitely melodic. I haven’t been afraid to play remixes or dance music with vocals. Vocals were a dirty word for a long time in European dance music. It is hard to play the right kind of vocals that don’t sound cheesy. But, I think melody and vocals can add so much and you can trigger people’s emotions. They can sing along.
Alex: My top genre choices are electronica really, Aphex Twin, stuff like that. So we come together and it’s an interesting combination. Lisa’s more sort of disco or vocal focused, power disco really, and then I’m big into techno, and was in the break-beat scene for a long time.
Lisa: Well, we play less Fleetwood Mac in our other sets than we used to. We might play one edit or something if it’s a six-hour set, but we usually keep those for Fleetmac Wood.
Do you usually play longer sets like that?
Alex: With this, it’s between four and five-hour sets. We’ve done seven, but, like oh my god, you have to sit down after that. We have a residency in the Ace Hotel in LA with the Smooth Sailing project, and that’s always six hours. I guess you’ve just got to get used to it. I always prefer playing longer, any day of the week. Any time we get a one hour set, I’m like oh my god, what am I gonna play?
Lisa: DJing is rarely about banging it out. I think if you think that being a DJ is about having an hour-long set and playing everything the same tempo, then it just doesn’t happen like that. But you want to build a mood, and react to the crowd, and surprise people a bit. Early on in a night, you may want to test out a track. It may sound great on your headphones, but until you’ve put it through a big room, you don’t know. It just changes the audio completely, so something that sounded great doesn’t always work, and vice versa for other tracks. Our night is about the journey, and at first it can be a bit like when you invite people to your birthday party, and there’s four people there, and everyone’s really excited, but wondering if anyone is going to turn up as well. And they might be dressed as Stevie Nicks, and it’s all slightly awkward, but you all trust in each other, so it’s okay. We start with some slower stuff, maybe stuff that people haven’t heard before, or alternate versions. Definitely digging deeper into their back-catalog, so we approach it like any other set. We start off slow, and then we want to peak on some bigger ones. Mid-set we’ll get everyone dancing, so we try to craft it like any other set, it just happens to be all Fleetwood Mac.
I know people do dress up, particularly as Stevie Nicks, and of course the tambourine is iconic. Can you tell us about that a bit?
Lisa: Well, that was Stevie Nicks. She’s a vocalist, she doesn’t perform any instruments on stage except for her voice, so she wanted something to do with her hands. She’s not always singing in Fleetwood Mac gigs, there’s many other lead singers that are also in the band. So, she has this tambourine and that helps her to have something to do, but apparently it’s been hacked so that it doesn’t actually make any noise, so as not to interfere with the microphone. Little tid-bit there. The tambourine is great, though. It’s a prop. I like to play the tambourine in our gigs. In the UK, we managed to get our hands on hundreds of LED tambourines and they were really fun to give out.
Alex: Yeah, it’s become a thing at the parties. It’s cool when we’re playing places a second or third time, people will turn up and they’ve got the tambourines with them. It’s pretty cool that we get people coming back to the parties.
Lisa: It’s great to get people interacting. The night’s not about watching us. That’s pretty boring. I’ll twirl around a bit, just because I want to, but we want people to lose themselves. They close their eyes and sing along, and I think that’s something that’s hard to do these days. If you go see a concert, you’re watching and people are filming. It’s a visual spectacle, and often we have visuals, but not tonight. We love it when people do the stage invasion, and it’s more about people dancing than about us.
As you grow the Fleetmac Wood project, I predict that clones of your night will pop up. Are there any other epic bands you’d love to see brought back to life in this manner?
Lisa: We have some friends in London who do Prince.
Alex: Yeah, and I went to an amazing party in LA, the week after he’d passed, and it was amazing. I danced my ass off. I really went for it, and it was so liberating.
Lisa: I think you could do a night about a lot of bands, but you’ve got to be a fan. That’s got to be your guiding principle. Something that we try is to not do it too often. We do it once or twice a year in the city, and we tour the act a lot, but we don’t do it in the same place. It’s meant as a special occasion. We actually did a Rolling Stones night at Glastonbury before they played. We’d like to work more on that, but we need more remixes, and remixes take time.
Alex: I did a Kraftwerk one when they played in Los Angeles. I’m a massive Kraftwerk nut, but it wasn’t just Kraftwerk, because they haven’t got quite enough material for four or five hours. So I did a bunch of stuff influenced by them, which is basically everything in electronic music. Hip-hop, techno, house; it’s all there with them. So I’m going to do that again, when they play in LA in September at the Hollywood Bowl. It’s quite difficult, but I think a Bjork one would be quite interesting. Her fans are really into it, so like Lisa was saying, if you’re going to do it, you’ve really got to be into it. I remember when Lisa first told me the idea. She was like, “I’m gonna do this party, and I’m gonna do all Fleetwood Mac." And I thought, 'That sounds amazing, but are you sure people are going to want to listen to the same band all night?' And it just took off. It really took hold.
Last question: Anything you want to plug? Anything anyone should care about?
Lisa: It’s really important to dance. Our night’s about dancing. And it was surprising when we first did it, how much people dance to this music. I think dancing is really important for the soul. It’s good for your brain. It’s good for your body. Apparently it staves off dementia, Alzheimer's, all sorts of benefits. And I think it’s important to support your local club, your venues. We’re always looking for cool, small venues all over the U.S. and Europe, and Australia. It’s a dying business, so if you have a good local club with good sound, they’re not doing it for money. It’s much harder to run a business as a club owner these days. It’s hard work, and we know that the people who have these venues are doing it because they love it. Keep dancing and support your local venues. And if you see a venue struggling, people should make them co-ops and make them community focused. We’re getting to see a lot of America this way, and it’s interesting to see where cities are at culturally. And down with Trump.
I keep a notepad for the artists I interview to sign their names or write in, and Lisa wrote a simple and lovely poem, which I shall cherish privately. They are an absolutely delightful couple, and the perfect avatars of the dreamy, complex, and heart-felt music that Fleetwood Mac gave the world. If you missed their stop in Atlanta, you missed out on a truly great night. Sadly, not many people showed up that evening, but you wouldn’t have known it from the joy on their faces all night long as they played dozens of songs I’d never heard before, and many remixes of the more popular tracks in their collection. I highly encourage anyone who is a fan of Fleetwood Mac, or a fan of dance music in general, to make sure to catch them on tour. You will certainly lose yourself to dance, and might find something unexpected deep in the music.