- Claudio Dirani
- Album This interview has been made to promote the Memory Almost Full Official album.
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This interview was done in bits around the end of April and early May. Most people had already listened to “Ever Present Past” and the rest of the songs hadn’t leaked out in the Internet.
Some of the references to Paul’s past work were used to construct this interview, as I had only listened to the album once and had no track (except Ever Present Past) available to listen back and ask him about, more precisely. The results achieved were really fun, as my questions really sounded very teasing and curious to David Kahne because producers and Paul – as it seems – do not think the same way fans our journalists do.
I hope you can enjoy it as much as I did enjoy interviewing him. And may this little write up is of any help to track Paul McCartney’s recording history, which is not as well documented as The Beatles.An edited bit of it is due to appear on the Brazilian magazine called BIZZ, out this week. The interview as follows…)
Q: After working in several projects with Paul, you’re back with him on “Memory Almost Full”. How different is now, compared with the “Driving Rain” sessions back in 2001?
A: The only difference is that I know Paul better now, so I have more insight into the way that he works and what he’s looking for. He’s still the same great musician. I’m still the guy trying to figure out what to do next.
Q: And how would you describe the feel of the new album and how did you achieve it?
A: Oh, The feel of the album is very broad, and most importantly, very personal. The whole album is that way. Beatle-ish and classic McCartney-ish, but very contemporary. There’s a very timeless quality to it, and some things he’s never done before on an album. That comes from the writing and incredible vocal performances, and also from taking the time to let the album develop. The achievement is not mine, but that of everyone who worked on the album.
Q: How many tracks did you tape for the album and which studios did you work at?
A: We recorded around 25 songs, I think. We worked a lot at the Mill (Paul’s place in the UK) and some at Henson Studios,Abbey Road, AIR London, and my place in NYC, SeeSquared.
Q: According to Paul himself, you started working even before starting his (latest album) “Chaos And Creation In the Backyard.” How many songs on “Memory Almost Full” are from the early sessions and how many of them (included on MAF) were finished later?
A: Roughly half and half. We worked really hard on the tracks we did before Chaos, though, when we started back up again.
Q: Do you recall how many songs were recorded before and after they did “Chaos”?
A: I don’t really know in detail which songs were recorded where or when. Actually, I am not too good at timelines because I tend to remember what happened and not when as far as recording goes. I do know we did “You Tell Me,” “Only Mama Knows,” and the medley in the first group of sessions, pre “Chaos.” All those were done at Abbey Road. After the hiatus, most of the other songs were recorded at the Mill, plus all the continuing work of the medley. We worked some at Henson in LA, RAK and AIR in London, and my place in NY, SeeSquared.
Q: Any song off the album that you would call it “a favourite”?
A: Hard to answer. I couldn’t say I have a favorite, but “Nod Your Head”and “House of Wax” are two that I listen to a lot. Oh, and “Mr. Bellamy.”
Q: Based on the first track available to the public, “Ever Present Past,” we realize it’s something really different compared to his recent past recordings. Some reviewers even compared this track to some stuff released on his “McCartney II” (1980) solo album, which I don’t agree although it has some electronic feel throughout. Was the whole atmosphere of the track based on something Paul had already in mind or everything turned out very spontaneous?
A: One thing people should know about Paul. He doesn’t think about or reference other music he’s done. It’s all as purely compositional and performance driven as it can be. Because he’s singing and playing, one can go back and make a case for “this is influenced by that”, but I’ve never seen a hint of that. My (sic) “Ever Present Past” was a song he was playing on acoustic guitar. We recorded an electic guitar track to a loop, Paul went and played the drums, then more guitar, then bass, then sang it. As I said, the mystery is not where or what Paul was referencing; the mystery to me is where his ideas flow from inside himself. And I’ll never know the answer to that one.
Q: Yeah, I see. But we are all speculative, you can’t stop us, you know (laughs).
A: It’s true, indeed.
Q: Now I’d like to hear from you a little about “Memory Almost Full” tracks, commencing with “Dance Tonight,” the album’s opener.
A: Paul had never played mandolin before. Great chord voicings. And I love the fuzz bass.
Q: The mandolin/whistling bits take me back a little bit to the track “Ram On” (from 1971’s “Ram” album). Any reference to mix/record this song while producing it? Was it the first track to be taped, by the way?
A: “Dance” was actually the last one recorded. You know, what I told you before was true. I’ve never had one conversation with Paul about references. He doesn’t think like that, ever. He just writes and records…
Q: I see. It’s sort of always moving forward, looking for a new sound, new recording.
A: Right, it’s basically that.
Q: Second track on MAF is “Ever Present Past,” the first song broadcast recently on the radio and Internet. You already talked about some of the arrangement, but I can tell I found the bridge very interesting, it comes in very quick in the song.
A: Yeah, the bridge works so well. You get there quickly, and it’s a huge lift. Harpsichord part is perfect. Paul has a custom harpsicord that has a ton of bass.
Q: What about this “Getting Better-like” guitar throughout?
A: The “Getting Better repeating note” is not exactly like getting better. In “Getting Better,” the note (called a pedal tone) is repeating on the 5th. In this song, it repeats on the octave or the 5th, and sometimes both. Paul has pedal tones on other songs too, but it’s very loud in getting better. That song feels more centered around the 5 chord, whereas this one is a little more centered around the 1 chord.
Q: It works very well as a single in my opinion. However, I wonder why “Ever Present Past” wasn’t picked as the international track? I heard the choice for the UK and international market was “Dance Tonight.”
A: I have no idea how they picked the singles. I hope they did! It’s really up to them…
Q: The following song is See Your Sunshine, also in my opinion one of the most “regular” McCartney tracks on the album.
A: I see…but listen to the bass playing. Every possible inversion of every chord. True counter-melody playing that Paul is the best at.
Q: Next we have one of my favourites, “Only Mama Knows,” the big rocker on the album.
A: It’s great indeed. And it’s straight up rock, with a great story. You can hear the Abbey Road room sound. A big room with a close feel.
Q: I’ll tell you what I really got intrigued by the orchestral intro and ending on the track. How did you come up with this arrangement?
A: We just had an idea and put it on there, to hear the theme in a different setting. It fitted very well, the results were great.
Q: “You Tell Me,” the ballad, sounds like an old Brazilian tune to me.
A: It’s such a sweet yet sad song. The vocal tone throughout still baffles me; I have no idea how he can make high tones hang in the sky forever.
Q: What about the backwards tape sound placed in the intro. Any particular idea behind this arrangement?
A: No particular idea. There’s some backwards stuff and some forwards stuff. It just fitted nice on the song.
Q: Now we have “Mr. Bellamy,” another outstanding track on the album in my opinion.
A: Storytelling at it’s best. You know, it was really fun doing the flugelhorn parts. The second bridge counterpoint is a classical composition.
Q: It sounds as something he’s never really done before. How did you achieve that on the studio? I mean, was it deliberate?
A: We had the song there, and Paul wrote a counter melody. His melodies are always strong, and the two melodies worked together the way some classical pieces do, so we put them together. It was nothing like “let’s put a pop song and a classical arrangement together” going on, you know.
Q: “Gratitude” is next, a very bluesy and soulful track with outstanding vocals…how did you work on the recording of that?
A: As we worked on the vocals more and more Paul took more and more chances, and it kept getting better and better. It was like watching a flower bloom, actually. You know, I’m so grateful for getting to work on this album.
Q: Then “Vintage Clothes” comes in.
A: Beginning of the medley. The low Mellotron notes that distort through the Mellotron speaker are so great sounding.
Q: The Mellotron sound is very upfront on the mix. Any particular reference to use the instrument in the arrangement? Also was it done using Paul’s Hog Hill mellotron, if I’m not mistaken?
A: Yes, Paul’s Mellotron at the Mill. But no, not really. No references. Other than the fact that the mellotron has been used before by Paul, you know.
Q: True. And on one particulary famous song… (“Strawberry Fields Forever” e.n). Second track in the medley is the cool rockabilly-like, “That Was Me.”
A: Yeah. We were talking about needing a lift for the third verse, after the vocal/guitar solo riffs. Paul said maybe he’d sing it up an octave. What’s on the track is the second take. My hair was standing on end. It was like a rocket took off.
Q: What about the sort of distorted piano riffs? I know you don’t use references, but…
A: I know you’d like to find some references, but there aren’t any. Wix (Paul Wickens, the keyboard player) was goofing around on the piano, and he hit that chord and I thought it sounded great because it’s so dissonant. Paul liked it, so we put it in. Later, I thought it was kind of like the guitar chops Steve Cropper plays on “Green Onions” (Booker T. and the MG’s).
Q: Paul’s then got his “Feet In The Clouds.” What about this next track?
A: There are several very personal moments in this song that might escape some listeners at first. And the chorale sections were really fun (and very painstaking) to work on. The Handel robots.
Q: What sounds amazing for me on this track at first listen is the crispy acoustic guitar sound.
A: We worked quite awhile to get that particular acoustic sound. It had to have an immediate feel to pick up from That Was Me. Also, there’s no drums for awhile, so size was important. I wanted it to feel like it was holding the voice in it’s hand, to make it extremely close and personal because of lyric in the chorus.
Q: As I told you, some of the tracks have become quickly personal favourites, but “House Of Wax” really stunned me. It’s a track hard to define, also different than Paul’s past recordings.
A: I agree. I’ve never heard a song like this, about this, with a vocal like this. Aside from the truly poetic lyrics, one of my favorite things in the track are the guitar solos. The sections were open for a long time, and I suggested to Paul that he play guitar solos in each one, maybe changing each solo feel-wise to build the song. Half hour later, these were done. I’ve never heard him play guitar like this!
Q: Yes, the song is one hard to describe. The orchestration has got a very “dark approach”, by the way.
A: As far as the orchestration goes, it’s a dark song, so we followed the logic of the composition. There’s three drum kits, one of them slowed down to half speed. The thunder at the beginning and end are actually tom fills.
Q: Amazing recording, I can tell. We’re close to the “The End of The End” now…. Was it recorded at Abbey Road by the way?
A: Yes Abbey Road on the Lady Madonna piano.Think about what this song is about, and what effort it takes to be direct and open about this topic. I don’t know of a song about this, like this, from anyone in pop music. An artist can only write one song about this as far as I’m concerned. Think too about the connection he makes between stories and songs, children and lovers.
Q: Any particular story of this session?
A: On “The End of the End,” Paul was singing and playing live, and he had on headphones. After a few takes, he stopped and said he didn’t need the headphones since he was just singing and playing, so he took them off and was sitting in the middle of the room at Abbey Road 2 playing and singing his song, as bare and purely musical as could be. About three takes later, he did the take you hear on the album. The high part at the end was so pure, like a blimp hanging in the air indefinitely. I was holding my breath as he finished, wondering if it was all going to fall apart because it was so delicate, but it stood up like iron. He came upstairs and we listened, and it was done. Boom, just like that. A lifetime in a moment.
Q: I loved the feel of the last track, “Nod Your Head.” It seems out of “Chaos And Creation At Abbey Road” TV special, the improvisation made by Paul at the end of the show. Did Paul ad-lib the lyrics and then record it?
A: No, the lyrics weren’t ad-libs. He wrote out a lyric and sang it, worked on it more, and kept singing it until it was right. I don’t think verse two sounds anything but composed, with the great word-play and tense changing going on in there. There was some talk of this being an instrumental. When Paul finally put a vocal on it, I was stunned. He reached down and pulled magic out. He’s the only singer ever to sound like this, and here he is pounding it out for us all to hear.
Q: We now are aware that there’ll be three bonus tracks included on the album’s special edition. They are “222,” “In Private” and “Why So Blue,” which makes only 16 tracks available to us. I’d like you please to comment on these three leftovers and if there’s chances for other songs to surface.
A: OK. “222” is a groove track in an odd meter. Very moody, very cool and inside. “In Private” is an instrumental with a slight Indian flavor, although played on acoustic guitar. “Why So Blue” was on the album for awhile, and came off near the end. It’s a great story song, and I always described it as being very kind. The other songs weren’t finished.
Q: To wrap this up, what would be your final comments on it? Did you enjoy the questions or some of them were off-base? (laughs).
A: No, they were cool. One thing that interests me about the questions you ask (and many other people ask me too) is that in trying to find references for new songs in old ones, you’re making a memory game out of listening. (I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. It just interests me.) A lot of this album is about memory, and Paul of all the people I’ve worked with – someone who has absolutely unique and voluminous experiences to remember- doesn’t use his past work to inspire him. He has kept going, doing new things. You may recognize someone by their walk or their face, but you’re not seeing them in the same place you saw them before because everything has moved on, including the planet. Paul’s instinct is to find a new chord, a new sound, a new way to hit a note, a melody he’s never thought of before. It’s still Paul’s voice, and it’s still an electric guitar, but it’s Paul on his own frontier, not looking back musically. Even though on this album the memory feeling is so strong. I think that’s a great double feeling, a very rich contrasting landscape. Paul may not realize something as completely as he’d hoped to, but he’s never – in the absence of knowing exactly what to do next – gone back and copied himself. That’s the history of all great artists.
Q: That was a great overview of Paul’s framework. Thanks for the interview.
A: You are welcome. Cheers.
Last updated on March 9, 2019