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Paul McCartney: ‘I felt a bit like a crazy professor, locked away in his laboratory’

Written by on 22/10/2020

Today on Shaun Keaveny’s BBC Radio 6 Music programme Matt Everitt interviewed Sir Paul McCartney about his new album, McCartney III.

We bring you the full transcript of the interview.

Matt Everitt: It’s really good to speak to you, I mean, this is all very unexpected. You’re not very good at sitting on your hands are you?

Paul McCartney: Well no, you know, I get these ideas and I don’t know, it keeps me busy.

ME: Actually, I should ask, have you spent this time in lockdown out of the public eye growing like a huge McCartney I beard? There’s an opportunity to do that here – lots of people have.

PM: No, what I do is I kind of grow it for a couple of weeks and then get fed up with it – gets a bit itchy – so I shave it off and then go for another two or three weeks.

ME: How have you been? How’s your lockdown been, Paul?

PM: It’s been ok actually because I came back off holiday at the beginning of the year and got down to my farm in the countryside and happened to be locked down with my daughter Mary and her family, so that meant four of my grandkids. So, I think for a lot of people, suddenly they’re spending more time with their families than they thought they would, so that’s been nice. Then I was able to go to work because the idea was go to work only if you can’t work at home, and I had to do a little bit of music in the studio, so that got me started, kind of thing. So, I did a bit of recording during that time and then I’d come home in the evening and then there’d be Mary and the family – all very lovely. So, I mean in fact it wasn’t that bad. I was a bit sort of loath to say that because I know a lot of people have had a terrible time but no, mine wasn’t too bad at all in fact. Spent a lot of time with the grandkids and that was nice.

ME: This is McCartney III, so let’s do a bit of context […] So, McCartney I in 1970, that was the kind of start of the kind of lo-fi DIY play and produce everything yourself – have you always had a sort of soft spot for that record?

PM: Yeah, it happened just because I was spending a bit of time at home, because suddenly, I wasn’t in The Beatles anymore, so you’re at a bit of a loose end to say the least. But I had all my stuff, I had a drum kit, I had my bass, I had my guitar, had an amp. So I got hold of a four-track recorder from EMI, which is the same machine that we’d used with The Beatles, so I just went real lo-fi, just plugged the microphone straight into the back, didn’t have a mixing desk and made some music – that was it.

ME: Because you’ve said that was an incredibly difficult time for you but I guess, doing that record – writing it, producing it, making it really raw, giving yourself kind of no-where to hide – that must have helped, it must have been a good process to have gone through for you.

PM: Yeah, I think, you know, for me, like everyone, music is a good thing – a great thing – so yeah, it really did help me through that period.

ME: And it’s now also regarded as a bit of a low-fi classic, isn’t it? It’s seen as being the start of that DIY ethos, that DIY sound for bands.

PM: Yeah, it’s funny you know, time brings an edge to all these things because at the time it was supposed to be just a load of crap. Just me on my own, just indulging myself, which it kind of was you know, but I liked that and I thought “there’s something here” you know. I got messages from some people saying “I love that, it’s so sort of laid back and it just, it doesn’t give a damn” kind of thing – so people tend to think better of it now.

ME: In keeping with the kind of trilogy idea, what was your headspace going in to McCartney II then […]

PM: McCartney II was more about – I’d taken delivery of a synth and I’d never really messed with one before, so I was taking advantage of all the things you can do with a synth and then the other thing was a sequencer. Again, something I’d heard people use but I’d never had a go at. So that really was the basis of that album and, you know, it was just me kind of locked away. It felt a bit crazy sometimes. I used to say that I felt a bit like a crazy professor, locked away in his laboratory. I mean, one track in particular […] Secret Friend, it was just eight minutes long – it just happened to keep going for eight minutes. If you wanted to put some percussion on like shakers, you would just do a bit of it and then your computer can do the eight minutes, if you want it to just keep going. But in those days, I’m just standing around in this little empty room going [makes shaker sound] kind of glancing at my watch and going “woah, seven minutes to go”.

ME: Do you think you work differently if you’re recording in a bathroom or recording in Abbey Road. Do you approach things differently do you think?

PM: Yeah I think so, you know. I think if you’re just on your own, you can have an idea and very quickly you can play it. Whereas with a band, you’ve kind of got to explain it, they’ve got to get it, you’ve got to get it, how it feels. Sometimes that’s great, don’t get me wrong you know, obviously live, that’s the best. But yeah, when you’re just noodling around on your own you just have a lot of freedom and it’s just something I’ve always enjoyed doing.

ME: So for McCartney III, I mean I guess as someone who’s – all your work, everything you play, everything you say is scrutinised so much. To be doing some recordings and just thinking “maybe no one will hear this”, that’s got to be quite a joy I guess?

PM: Well that was the great thing about the album. I didn’t know I was making an album and that really makes a difference. I just went in and as I say, I had this little bit of film music – a guy was making a film for me – he wanted a little bit of intro music and then a little bit of credits, instrumental. So I had to go and do that and I thought “well that’s ok, that’s serious, now I can mess around”. And so for the next nine weeks I was just messing around, thinking “ah it would be good to finish this one up. Oh I could do this one. Yeah that’d be ok” and just going through them all and never suspecting for one second that this was going to be an album.

ME: I mean there’s kind of songs from all over the shop isn’t there – songs from different points in time.

PM: Most of it’s new stuff. There are one or two that I hadn’t finished and because I was able to get in the studio and go “ok wait a minute, what about that one? Let’s have a look at that” and get it out and think “oh dear” you’d try and figure out what was wrong with it, why you didn’t like it and in some cases, it was just the vocal or the words or something just didn’t cut it. So you could strip it all down and go “ok well let’s just make it a completely different song”. And then, when I’d done them all, I sort of looked at them and I was going “well what can I do with this? Is this a new album or something?” and then it suddenly hit me – this is McCartney III. You’ve done it all yourself like the others, so this qualifies.

ME: There’s so much that’s texturally so nice in there. There’s songs that come back in and there’s sort of different bits and almost false endings and stuff. There is a real looseness to it. It sounds great, it’s a beautiful sounding record because it does sound very, very different.

PM: Thanks Matt, that’s lovely, thank you for saying that.

ME: Even the vocals, it’s very easy these days to autotune vocals or comp vocals from different bits but you know, the vocals sound raw – they sound really, really raw don’t they?

PM: Thanks – I was trying to get them posh!

ME: I meant that in a good way!

PM: No I know, I know. Because I wasn’t really aiming at a proper record release, I was just having a go thinking “that’s ok, that’s good, that’s near enough.” So I think it has ended up being exactly what it is, which is me not really trying very hard, except to have fun.

ME: Did the pandemic affect – did what we’re all going through affect any of the writing do you think?

PM: Yeah I think so, a couple of the newer songs. There’s one called Seize the Day – that had echoes of the pandemic kind of thing, when the cold days come, we’ll wish that we had seized the day, kind of thing. So that was just reminding myself and anyone listening that yeah, we better grab the good stuff and you know, try and get on through the pandemic. But it certainly helped me, you know.

ME: How have you found the past six months personally. I’ve found it really difficult to watch the news. There’s a lot of positivity out there and there’s a lot of hope but there’s a lot of fear and there’s a lot of blame – how have you found it?

PM: No I’m like you, I hate it. You know when you turn on the news, the lead story is going to be how many people died. That’s depressing, after a while. But in truth, what kind of saw me through a lot of this was, I remembered that my parents, my mum and dad, Jim and Mary were in World War II. They survived – they survived the bombing and the losing people left, right and centre and yet they came out of it with incredible spirit and so us kids in Liverpool, we grew up with this really, you know “let’s have a good time, let’s roll out the barrel”, with this great sort of wartime spirit that all the people had, because they’d had enough. And so I was brought up in a lot of that, so it’s kind of good to draw on that and think well, if they could do it, I can do it.

ME: And there is this thing about as you say music, making music, heals. Sometimes it’s not about the destination you know, the destination is the journey. Writing it and recording it is the thing – that’s the point of it, not necessarily the end single or whatever.

PM: No that’s true you know, I love it. I always say to people I’d do it for a hobby if they sacked me. I’ve always got my guitar kind of handy and it’s a friend. You talk to a lot of guitar players or instrument players and that’s what they’ll tell you. You kind of get a relationship with this inanimate object. It becomes very important. In the early days of The Beatles we always used to – me and John – used to sort of say it was like a psychiatrist. You’d be feeling a bit down and you’d go off in a cupboard somewhere and start playing and you’d work your way through it and you’d feel better. So it is really important.

ME: Obviously the kind of future of live concerts is really uncertain at the moment. Have you thought about the possibility that you might not be able to play live again? Has that entered your mind as a fear?

PM: Yeah, definitely, yeah. I look back at the last gig I did which was at Dodger Stadium in LA and we did have a very good night and I must say I’m just sort of thinking “uh, oh, what if that’s the last gig?” But it would just be great, wouldn’t it, just to be in a crowd and not worry and just be able to go crazy and listen to a live band or be the live band. I was imagining that the other day you know, instead of doing the songs you’d be standing there going “this is great isn’t it!” […] That would be special I must say, so fingers crossed.

ME: How’s the Let It Be film doing, have you had a look at what Peter Jackson’s been up to? How’s it coming along?

PM: Yeah, I have – I love it. I said to him when he was going to trawl through all the footage – like about 56 hours or something – I said “oh God it’s going to be boring” because my memory of the film was that it was a very sad time, and it was a little bit down beat, the film, but he got back to me he said “no – I’m looking at it” he said “it’s a laugh – you guys, it’s just four guys working and you can see you making up songs.” George wondering about the lyrics of Something In The Way She Moves or me trying to figure out Get Back or you know and he’s shown me little bits and pieces of it and it’s great, I love it, I must say because it’s how it was. It just reminds me of – even though we had arguments, like any family – we loved each other you know, and it shows in the film. It’s a very warm feeling, And it’s amazing just being back stage with these people, making this music that turned out to be good.

ME: And the last question, are we going to get a McCartney IV in 2030? Because I think you’ve set a precedent now.

PM: I don’t know, I think we’ll just have to wait and see won’t we.

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