Interview for Uncut • January 2021

"Dare to experiment!" Paul McCartney goes far out!

Press interview • Interview of Paul McCartney
Published by:
Interview by:
Michael Bonner
Read interview on Uncut
Timeline More from year 2020

Album This interview has been made to promote the McCartney III Official album.

Master release

Songs mentioned in this interview

Coming Up

Officially appears on McCartney II

Deep Deep Feeling

Officially appears on McCartney III

Drive My Car

Officially appears on Rubber Soul (UK Mono)

Find My Way

Officially appears on McCartney III

God Only Knows

Unreleased song

Long Tailed Winter Bird

Officially appears on McCartney III

Seize The Day

Officially appears on McCartney III

When Winter Comes

Officially appears on McCartney III

Winter Bird

Officially appears on McCartney III

Women And Wives

Officially appears on McCartney III

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The January 2021 edition of “UNCUT” was published in November 2020, and was one of the first interviews Paul McCartney gave to promote McCartney III

UNCUT: You are more primed than most for doing a self-sufficient album…

Paul McCartney: With the McCartney records, half the time I didn’t know I was making an album! On all three of them, the intention was just to make some music around the house. McCartney III started with a little bit of instrumental music I had to do for a short animation film a friend of mine, Geoff Dunbar, is making. I’ve worked with him over the years on various things, like Rupert And The Frog Song. I couldn’t put that off – they need the music first, before they do the animation – so that
gave me an entrée into the studio and I just kept going, finishing songs that I hadn’t had time to finish before.

UNCUT: How do you usually feel at this point with a new album?

Paul McCartney: Fine. We do all the worrying up front – I’m always very happy once we’ve mixed it and signed it off. But this time, I didn’t mean to make an album. It was just me messing about. Sometimes if I don’t have anything on, I’ll go into my studio just to do something. I love it. I’ll get on the drums or the synthesiser and play about – sometimes some good stuff comes out of it. But when you’re making a commercial album, a proper album – whatever you want to call it – you have bigger concerns. But doing this for my own pleasure took away a lot of the pressure. I was pottering, like I did on McCartney and McCartney II. I’m a mad professor in his laboratory, experimenting!

UNCUT: You’ve spent most of your professional life with a schedule of some kind. Was the empty diary liberating?

Paul McCartney: Having a hole in the diary didn’t worry me. If you think about it, The Beatles toured a lot, then we stopped touring and made Sgt Pepper. So that idea of having all the time in the world to do what you like doing isn’t new to me. But while I enjoyed it, at the same time I felt a bit guilty because I know a lot of people are having a very hard time. It’s a double-edged sword. You felt sorry for people who don’t have freedom, but at the same time you were glad that you do.

UNCUT: You said some of these songs had been around for a while. Do you often look in the cupboard?

Paul McCartney: The problem with iPhones is that you can have an idea – “Doo do doo do come on bam bam” – and you think, ‘That’s good, I’ll finish this later.’ Then you realise you’ve got 2,000 of these ideas on your phone! ‘Oh, God! Am I ever going to get round to them?!’ So lockdown allowed me to get round to a lot of them. But I do have a list of songs that I started but didn’t actually finish or release.

UNCUT: How long is the list?

Paul McCartney: Too long! It’s songs I’ve written on holiday, songs from before Covid where I was in the studio, right after Egypt Station, but I didn’t need to come up with an album and also songs I liked that got sidelined. I’m working on one at the moment that was going one way, but I didn’t like the lyric. “No, this is not happening, mate.” This would have been the point where John and I would have said, “You know what, let’s have a cup of tea and try and rethink this.”

UNCUT: Do you often mentally consult John when you’re writing?

Paul McCartney: Yeah, often. We collaborated for so long, I think, ‘OK, what would he think of this? What would be say now?’ We’d both agree that this new song I’m taking about is going nowhere. So instead of sitting around, we’d destroy it and remake it. I started that process yesterday in the studio. I took the vocal off it and decided to write a new vocal. I think it’s heading in a better direction now. Anyway, it keeps me off the streets!

UNCUT: You used some pretty impressive gear on this album, including Bill Black’s double bass that he played on “Heartbreak Hotel”. That was a gift from Linda, wasn’t it?

Paul McCartney: We had quite a few acquaintances in Nashville. One of the guys who we knew happened to know Bill Black’s family. He was chatting to Linda and said, “That old bass is just sitting in the barn. Nothing’s going to happen with it.” I think Linda thought, ‘God, talk about a birthday present!’ She organised it all and gave it to me. I’ve been playing it ever since. I can’t play it very well because I’m an electric bass guy. But it’s a great sound and as long as the part I’m doing is simple, I can manage it.

UNCUT: You’ve also got an Abbey Road Mellotron! Does that bring back any particular memories?

Paul McCartney: Oh, yeah! We used to go into Abbey Road every day; it was our workplace. One day, in the middle of the studio, there was this… piece of furniture that none of us had ever seen before. It was a kind of wartime grey colour. It wasn’t glamorous at all. We said, “What’s this?” The engineer started explaining it to us: “It will synthesise strings. You can get flutes and organs and all sorts of stuff.” So we became fascinated with it. We used it on a few things, like the intro to “Strawberry Fields Forever”. There’s a Spanish guitar line on “Buffalo Bill” – that’s actually the Mellotron. These days, if you go a bit crazy on it and don’t allow it to do its full sample, you end up with a wacky piece of music.

UNCUT: “When Winter Comes” dates from 1992. It’s a George Martin production. Nice to have George present, in spirit at least. What springs to mind when you think of him?

Paul McCartney: He was brilliant to work with. He was like a doctor when you’re ill. They have a way of not getting you angry. “Sure, let me just take your temperature.” George was like that. I’d disagree with one of his ideas, and they were often very good ideas, and instead of having a barney, he’d say, “Maybe we could just try it and if you don’t like it, we’ll lose it.” Then I’d go, “Oh, OK.” He was clever that way. He’d get you to try things. “Please, Please Me”, originally we brought to him as a very slow Orbison-esque ballad. “Last night I said these words… Come on – joojoo – come on -joojoo” – you can imagine Roy Orbison doing it. George said, “It might be good a bit faster.” We go, “No.” He used this skill of persuasion and he got us. “Oh, go on then, we’ll try it.” So we did, “Last night I said…” He goes, “There’s your first No 1.”

UNCUT: On one of the songs on McCartney III, “Find My Way”, you say, “You never used to be / Afraid of days like these / But now you’re overwhelmed / By your anxieties”…

Paul McCartney: That was written at the beginning of lockdown. It was a very scary time. Other scares we’ve had – SARS, avian flu – they seemed to happen to other people. But this was happening to everyone, people you knew, everyone in the world. Some of my friends, some people I knew were close to going under with it.

UNCUT: Do you ever think about your responsibilities as a songwriter in times like these?

Paul McCartney: I’ve always tried to put some kind of positive spin on most things. Then I’ll think, ‘You know what, that’s enough optimism. Let’s get weary for a change.’ But I know the effect music has on me and the effect it can have on other people. People come up to me in the street saying, “I had cancer. I’m cured now, but your music really helped me get through it.” I’m so proud that the music that we made has had this effect on people – and appears to be still having! C’mon, man! This was supposed to be a little rock’n’roll band that lasted 10 years if that. It’s mind-blowing.

UNCUT: What kind of music had that effect on you, then?

Paul McCartney: Something like “God Only Knows”. It’s just… wow! The thrill it gives me, the inspiration and the solace – whatever you want to call it – it makes me feel great. I want my songs to have that effect, too. Early Elvis stuff, too. When we were just starting out, we’d be sitting round, maybe playing snooker or something, and someone would put the first Elvis album on. It’d make you feel so good. That was always my ambition. “Wow, I get this. This is great. You can feel good without being goody-goody.”

UNCUT: Incidentally, did you hear Dylan’s album, Rough And Rowdy Ways?

Paul McCartney: I always like what he does. Sometimes I wish I was a bit more like Bob. He’s legendary… and doesn’t give a shit! But I’m not like that. His new album? I thought it was really good. He writes really well. I love his singing – he came through the standards albums like a total crooner. But, yeah, I like his new stuff. People ask me who I’m a fan of and Bob Dylan and Neil Young always make the list.

UNCUT: Tell us about “Lavatory Lil’”. This is a bit of light relief?

Paul McCartney: To tell you the truth, she was someone we rubbed up against. You get a few of ’em in life, these people who screw you over. I thought, ‘I’ll have you. I’ll write a song. You’ll never know it’s about you, because I won’t tell anyone. But I’ll know. And people who know who I’m talking about will know.’ So I drew on my dislike of this individual and made her into a song character. It’s a simple little song, and I love playing it. The vocal was the first take. It’s like I say, if you think you’re doing a posh, important album, you might go over the vocal and think you can improve it. But this was: “It’ll do.” My missus gave me this beautiful little 1954 Telecaster which I haven’t played too much until this album, so it gave me a great chance on the lead part of “Lil”.

UNCUT: There’s a very reflective tone on this album. “Women And Wives” contains a lot of wisdom. “Many choices to make / Many chains to unravel / Every path that we take / Makes it harder to travel” Is this you, handing down advice to a younger generation?

Paul McCartney: I think so. This arrived when I was reading a book on Lead Belly. I was deep in the South and the blues and I sat at the piano one day and started playing the chords at the beginning of the song. Lead Belly inspired that vocal style – “Well, mama…” – that Southern blues thing. It suited that song. “Hear me, husband and lovers / What we do with our lives…” Then I was off on the trail. So suddenly, “Seems to matter to others”. Hey, let’s think about what we’re handing down to them. As a parent and grandparent, you think that kind of stuff.

UNCUT: How about these lines in “Seize The Day”: “The old ways fade away / There’ll be no more sun / And we’ll wish that we had / Held on to the day” Is this age and experience talking?

Paul McCartney: I don’t go looking for it! Your life is naturally running along those lines. With songwriting, I get an idea, then I try to work out what it is I’m saying. I follow a trail, like a trail of breadcrumbs leading you out of the woods. I was in the first verse of “Seize The Day”, and completely at random – it’s always random – I came up with, “Yankee toes and Eskimos”. What’s this all about? I like it, but how the hell am I going to get out of this? Where are these breadcrumbs leading? Then out came, “Can turn to frozen ice”. That’s good! Not every day of your life is sunny, so when these cold days come, let’s seize the day – hang on to the good times. So it became philosophical, but I didn’t set out to write a philosophical song.

UNCUT: You hope a flash of inspiration will appear and that you’ll notice it and grab it?

Paul McCartney: Yes, that’s something I’m very grateful for in life. So much of what I’ve done, I didn’t particularly set out to do! Somebody might say something, I picked up on it and then we ran with it. A lot of what The Beatles did was like that. Ringo might say, “It’s been a hard day’s night” or “Tomorrow never knows” and me and John would go, “What?!! Write that down! What a great title!” So much of what happens arrives out of the blue. One of the things about The Beatles is that we noticed those accidents. We loved them and grabbed them.

UNCUT: The editing work on “Deep Deep Feeling” – the cuts and sound textures – is incredible. Do you see this as a continuation of the experimental aspect of your career that began in the ’60s?

Paul McCartney: Yes, it is part of a thread for me. Round about the time, The Beatles were known for being ‘The Beatles’ – if you know what I mean. We were able to sidestep that with Sgt Pepper, which was very liberating. The McCartney records have always been very liberating. If you dare to experiment a little bit, it’s good for you. I’ve always loved that.

UNCUT: Success isn’t the be-all and end-all. It’s the pushing forward with ideas that matters, right?

Paul McCartney: I love it! What can you do that you haven’t done? On some parts of this album, I got back into tape loops, which I hadn’t done for a while. In the ’60s, I was mad for tape loops. I was going to do a tape loop symphony. It might have taken a day or two because it’s quite a lengthy process! I had some dreams, though. But it’s the dreams that sustain you. You think, ‘Yeah, that would be a great idea!’ You get that good feeling in your belly. You may never even get round to it, but you’ve enjoyed it.

UNCUT: The journey is often more interesting than the destination?

Paul McCartney: Yeah, I think so. It’s good to give yourself freedom. When I was growing up, I didn’t have the opportunity because I was in school – you’d get caned if you gave yourself freedom! I didn’t have any money, so I couldn’t just take freedom. I had to pretty much do what everyone agreed on – except with music. Then I met John and George and, later, Ringo. When you overcome those circumstances, it’s great when you finally find, hey, it’s allowed! Linda used to say that. I’d sit there going “I don’t know, I don’t know…” and she’d say, “It’s allowed.” Wow! That’s like all-time philosophy for me. “It’s allowed.” So often in your life you think, ‘Oh, I daren’t do this. Oh no, I can’t do that. I shouldn’t do this because it’ll have this effect… I shouldn’t, I shouldn’t, I shouldn’t.’ Then you suddenly think, ‘It’s allowed.’ And you do it and it’s great.

UNCUT: But you’re Paul McCartney! Surely you can do what you want?

Paul McCartney: Ha ha. I wish I knew I was Paul McCartney, it would be so much easier… Look, you can achieve a lot of fame, but you’re still the same person inside. Hopefully, you grow and learn things – but we’re all a bit fragile inside. Everyone has this ‘Should I? Shouldn’t I?’. Even the biggest braggarts, guys who you would think would never worry about a thing, when you get to know them a bit more, you realise they’re just like the rest of us. I don’t think it’s a bad thing. It’s life, isn’t it?

UNCUT: That’s how you felt at the end of The Beatles, I guess?

Paul McCartney: Exactly.

UNCUT: Tell me about the guy in that photo on the McCartney sleeve. He looks happy.

Paul McCartney: I was really happy, yeah. The Beatles had become such a business machine, and with the arrival of Allen Klein, the whole thing, every day, was very unpleasant. It became a drag. You were fighting for your existence, for your livelihood. We had all done well. We’d all sold millions of records. We were looking forward to enjoying this in our future. Suddenly, it was under threat. I had to go and fight it, unwillingly. It was a very unpopular move, stopping this guy. But we did stop him and many, many years later, they all acknowledged that. You’ll get Yoko and Olivia now saying, “Wow, good job you did that, Paul.” Because they could see what the value of it is. Beatles going to iTunes wouldn’t have happened. It would have been Allen Klein going to iTunes. But, yeah, immediately after that, one of the things we decided to do was get the hell out.

UNCUT: So there you were, on the farm, finding solace in a young family…

Paul McCartney: Yes. I had this little place in Scotland. So we just went out there. “It’s so remote, no one can be bothered trekking all the way up here for a meeting.” It was a good period. We grabbed our freedom – you know what, we seized the day! Also, I had a new baby; I’d not been a father before, so I was very happy. Fast forward to today and my new album cover has been taken by that baby!

UNCUT: There’s a lovely bit on “Winter Bird/When Winter Comes” where you sing, “Mustfix the fence by the acre plot,., dig a drain by the carrot patch…” That could be you in 1970.

Paul McCartney: It’s me, remembering that period and writing a song from the point of view of that man, making a home for his family in the countryside. That’s what I used to do. Paint the roof, fix the drains, fix the fence, whatever. I know a lot of people these days are getting into that. It’s very satisfying. In my case, the horror was how heavy The Beatles’ situation had become, but for a lot of people these days it’s the horror of what’s going on with the world – particularly this year with Covid. I just want to plant some vegetables for my family and see them grow. I got very ambitious. I made a kitchen table. I’m incredibly proud of it.

UNCUT: Is it still standing?

Paul McCartney: It is, yeah. I had a horror moment once when I was talking to one of my guys. “Did you move that table?” “Yeah, we had to move it.” “Do you know where it is?” “No…” So they scoured everywhere. I had the screaming abdabs because one of my guys said, “There is a pile of planks in the corner.” “Have they got dovetailed joints in them?” “I don’t think so.” It was very fraught for a while. Then it showed up. That was probably the best day of the month.

UNCUT: When you were working on McCartney in London, was it strange not being able to bounce ideas off the others?

Paul McCartney: Yeah, it was. Because right up until that point I’d been working with John, the best collaborator in the world. Suddenly that was taken away. It was very difficult. But I thought, ‘Well, I’m not going to worry about it. I’m going to sling some ideas down, have a little go on the drums.’ I had my own stuff at the house for my own fun, I wasn’t going into the studio with The Beatles. I wasn’t sweating it. Then suddenly, it became something. “OK, this is an album.”

UNCUT: McCartney, It’s your name above the door. You left yourself nowhere to hide.

Paul McCartney: It was one of those things. “What am I going to call it? McCartney? Oh, OK. That’s a good one. We can do that.” As I say, it happened again. I had a bunch of tracks, I had no idea what I was going to do with them. I thought a couple of them might be demos for my next album. I thought, ‘No. You’ve recorded them pretty much all by yourself. It qualifies as a McCartney album!’

UNCUT: McCartney wasn’t the only solo album by a Beatle to be released in 1970. There was All Things Must Pass and John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, too. Did you keep up with what the others were doing?

Paul McCartney: Yeah, I think we all listened to each other’s stuff. There was bitterness at the end of The Beatles, so we weren’t ringing each other up a lot. But then it gradually got better. It got better with all of them. I think we all just realised it was a bunch of bullshit and we’d gone through it because it was a breakup which is like a divorce – very painful. So, yeah, I did listen to George’s All Things Must Pass and everyone’s stuff. I would listen to John’s and think, ‘Ooh…’ That same old competitive thing would come back in. I know it happened with him, but later on, because people who were working with him said when he heard “Coming Up”, “Oh shit, Paul’s written a good one, I’ll have to write a good one.” So, yeah, we were aware of each other’s work.

UNCUT: Is there a key song on McCartney III for you?

Paul McCartney: If anyone asked me to sing one of them, it would be “Woman And Wives”. I like the opening track, “Long Tailed Winter Bird” because it’s a crazy instrumental. The craziest song is “Deep Deep Feeling”. It goes on and on and on! There are millions of little changes in it. At one point, I thought I needed to edit it because it’s about eight minutes long. I grabbed earphones, played it and got so engrossed in it that I decided to leave it as is. I thought it might be indulgent. Making an album like this is, to some degree, indulgent. But then, it’s also about having fun.

UNCUT: You must have a pretty good sense by now of whether something’s working or not?

Paul McCartney: Yeah, like the song I’m currently working. The only time that ever happened with The Beatles, me and John came up with “Drive My Car”. We’d been messing around with some terrible idea about golden rings for about an hour or so. We couldn’t get anywhere with it, destroyed it and remade it. So it’s sometimes a good thing to do. But you have to realise that what you’re doing is crap first…

UNCUT: Is it important for you to live in the present? You’re constantly surrounded by your past – anniversary of this, a new book about them…

Paul McCartney: I don’t mind it. You’d be mad to hate that! It’s something that doesn’t happen to a lot of people – we certainly didn’t expect it to happen to us! I’m very proud and pleased and slightly amazed that it’s still being listened to. I don’t quite understand it, but I love all those things.

UNCUT: What about John’s 80th?

Paul McCartney: That was happy sad. It reminds me he was murdered – but it also reminds me of the fantastic times we had. I tend to think back to early times. I remember, we tried to hitchhike to Spain once, but we only got as far as Paris. We liked it so much, we stayed there, just the two of us. We were in this little hotel in Paris; it was so cheap it had fleas. My mum was a nurse, we were very hygienic, then you end up there – bloody hell! Those things bring you together. I had some great hitchhiking experiences with John and George. George and I went to Wales once, we ended up in Harlech. Another time, we decided to head south from Liverpool. We ended up in Exeter. We found a British Legion club where we could get a beer. So when I think of John’s 8oth, those are the things I think of. It makes me happy to have shared all that with him.

UNCUT: We’ve been talking 50 years since the McCartney album, but it’s 60 years since The Beatles played Litherland Town Hall after returning from Hamburg. Do you recall that as a turning point?

Paul McCartney: Aintree Institute, Litherland Town Hall… we used to play all those gigs quite regularly. It’s funny, the memories that come into your head. I think that was when I was doing “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” In the middle of the record, Elvis delivers this little soliloquy – “They say the world’s a stage…” So I tried this at Litherland. I glanced at the rest of the band and they were peeing themselves. That was the last time I did that number! I think we were advertised in the Liverpool Echo as “Direct from Hamburg!” – so the kids in the audience thought we were Germans. We had our hair forward, our leather jackets on, we looked different… They were quite surprised when we started talking Liverpool English.

UNCUT: Thinking back to the sentiment on “Winter Bird/When Winter Comes”, are you ever tempted to exchange albums and tours for the simpler life? Fix the fence, dig a drain…

Paul McCartney: Not really. I got a lot of that in my life, when I was with Mary and her family down on the farm. I’m very lucky – I can go out on my old gee-gee, go into the woods and lose myself. I love nature, I always have done. It’s so calming and inspirational. When we were kids, we used to live on the perimeter of Liverpool. You’d walk one yard and you were in Lancashire. Then you’d walk a mile and you were in a village where they spoke very differently. There was always a sense that you were falling off the edge of the world. I fell off the edge of Liverpool into nature. So it’s not so much that I would retire – I’m very happy to be able to go to the studio and hang with my buddies. I still enjoy that in my life.

Photo by Sonny McCartney
Photo by Mary McCartney

Last updated on January 10, 2021


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