Interview for SoundVenue • Friday, July 3, 2015

Exclusive interview with Sir Paul McCartney: About Roskilde, Kanye and meat-free days

Press interview • Interview of Paul McCartney
Published by:
Interview by:
Mads Kjær Larsen
Read interview on SoundVenue
Timeline More from year 2015

Songs mentioned in this interview

All Day

Officially appears on All Day


Officially appears on FourFiveSeconds

Only One

Officially appears on Only One

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(translated from Danish)

Soundvenue has scored the only Danish interview with the legend in the run-up to his concert at Roskilde Festival on Saturday night – and we met a humble, idealistic and expectant McCartney.

It’s not every day you’re set to interview a true legend, so you’re happy to accept that the way there is a little more laborious than usual.

Early thursday night – 5.42pm, to be precise – Sir Paul McCartney’s personal assistant calls me and explains that Paul will personally call me in half an hour. I confirm the assistant’s impression that the connection is exactly as it should be. That’s just what he wanted to make sure of. Ergo, the coast is clear.

The day before, Paul’s publicist in London let me know – also through a personal conversation – that the talk with Paul will be exactly 10 minutes long. I ask him if I have a free hand to ask everything? “Certainly,” the reply reads, “but Paul would probably prefer to talk about the present and the future.” Something tells me it’s an elegant paraphrase of a less polite variant: please don’t bother my client with more questions about the performances of the Beatles and John Lennon, please!.

But back to Thursday: At 6:22 p.m., my mobile rings, and although Paul’s PA has alerted me in advance, it’s a small, but gleeful, shock to tap ‘response’ on his mobile to hear a strange yet very familiar voice at the other end in the next second…

It’s a chatty and friendly music god with a slightly rusty voice (which hopefully responds well to a Danish heatwave!), as over the next – generous! “15-16 minutes, with its joy at festivals, younger collaborators like Kanye West and Rihanna, as well as his indomitable preoccupation with vegetarianism and global sustainability.

Interviewer: ‘Hey, Paul here! You’re waiting for a call from me, aren’t you?”

Paul McCartney: I guess you could say that.

Interviewer: Hello Paul! How are you?

Paul McCartney: ‘I’m fine, thank you very much. Warm, but good.”

Interviewer: First of all… Sir, I want to thank you for this opportunity to talk to you. It truly is a great honor…

Paul McCartney: “You are more than welcome.”

Interviewer: Well, let’s get down to business: it’s been 11 years since you last gave a concert here in Denmark. What can the audience expect from your concert on Saturday?

Paul McCartney: “God, yes, it’s been a long time. I’ve had the same band for the past 10-12 years, so I think it’s the same team that played the last time I was in Denmark. I guess we’ve gotten 10 or 12 years better… (laughs) No, seriously, we’re a better band now, more co-played, with a much better knowledge of each other. It’s going swimmingly. And everyone talks very nicely about Roskilde as a nice place with a good atmosphere, so I am very much looking forward to that. I’ve heard a lot of good things about the festival over the years.””

Interviewer: A large part of the audience at a festival like Roskilde are young people. Does it affect how you approach the concert?

Paul McCartney: ‘It’s funny because I used to always be of the belief that festivals… it’s like that for young, emerging bands with the energy on the outside of their clothes. But a number of years ago, a good friend who had gone to Glastonbury for professional purposes told me that I really had to consider playing there because the atmosphere was so special. You know, campsites, tents, campfires, those bright summer evenings, great kindness, people helping each other… And then I finally played Glastonbury in 2003 or 2004 (it was 2004, ed.) and it was a really good experience, so…’

(We are interrupted by a loud sound – a ‘klonk’ that can be difficult to determine if comes from inside or outside the tour bus. Paul asks his sideman what’s going on before returning with the line: ‘Well, I guess it was just the traffic… and don’t worry: I’m not the driver!’ He laughs)

“Well, where were we?… Yes, well, I don’t change many things. A younger audience is no more discerning than an older one. Contrary. Sometimes I might change a few songs, but no more than that. Recently, for example, we’ve played ‘Sing the Changes’ from The Fireman Project (an experimental album McCartney made with Martin Glover from Killing Joke in 2008, ed.) and it goes straight home.

But these days, I actually love festivals. People come to have fun, and I love that. There’s nothing as inspiring as young people, and festivals are a perfect place to capture all the positive energy. A festival audience is usually generous and sends that energy right back into the minds of the performers.”

Interviewer: Do you ever think about how you can stay relevant in the modern pop landscape, or are you quite confident that younger generations will be dusting up your music no matter what you do?

Paul McCartney: ‘I’m not worried about that. Honestly. I’m always looking to do new things. It’s more exciting to write songs where you challenge yourself. That’s what I worry about. I’m sure the Beatles’ music will last, no matter what I do or don’t do. Do you understand what I’m saying?

I like to deal with young musicians because they bring a freshness into the process that is inspiring.

I’ve worked with Kanye and Rihanna, as you’ve probably noticed, and then Mark Ronson made two songs for me on my last album (‘New’ from 2013, ed.) and I did two or three songs with Paul Epworth. But let me stress: I do not work with anyone because they are young, but because they are good. That is always the main criterion’.

Interviewer: Speaking of Kanye and relevance: How did that collaboration come about?

Paul McCartney: ‘With Kanye, it was kind of like, ‘Am I really going to jump into it – is that even my ballpark?’ But then I thought, ‘Hey, I got nothing to lose.’ It’s his business. If it doesn’t get very good, it’s his fault(laughs).

But honestly, I really enjoyed working with him. We sat down together two or three afternoons and they consisted mostly of me throwing ideas at him and then he grabbed what he found interesting. It was a new way of working for me. But I let him dictate the process. It was up to him to do with my ideas as he wanted. He could do something acoustic, something electronic, something popped, something strange. He could even discard it, for my sake(laughs).

The next thing that happened was that suddenly one day three songs came back to me from Kanye, which I listened to, and they were based on the ideas I had been working on with him. ‘FourFiveSeconds’ was the one, and then there was ‘All Day’ and ‘Only One’. But, well, I meet many interesting people, and thus many possible collaborators, and Kanye is definitely one of the more interesting… (laughs

Interviewer: What exactly did you contribute to e.g. ‘FourFiveSeconds’?

Paul McCartney: ‘Like I said, I just threw ideas at him. I had no idea about the end result or whether he would even use any of it until he sent me the three songs for eaes. The first time I listened, I was pretty confused. I spoke to one of Kanye’s people, Noah – an incredibly nice man – and asked him, ‘Well, where am I?’. And he laughed and said, ‘Well, the groove itself is your guitar, man!’

What Kanye had done was relatively simple. He had set up the speed of the recording. That’s kind of it. But that was enough for me not to recognize it at first. At some point in the finished version you can actually see the sound of my voice sounding like Chip and Chap on the outing because it was also on the recording of the guitar! (Paul imitates the sound of his own up-speeded voice and laughs)

Well, well, the guitar, it’s me. The thing is, these are his songs. I trusted him to be able to assess if there was anything that could be used. I delivered the spine, you might say, or maybe it would be better to say that I gave him some pretty basic ingredients, and out of it Kanye made a cake, a delicious but slightly unusual cake filled with his spices (laughs). He’s a really good cook!

The icing on the cake (laughs)… was Rihanna. He had her added afterwards because he thought the song would be a good fit for her. Then I listened to it one more time. It worked. The next step was that we made a video. It was super, great fun. It was with this Dutch director couple that I forgot the names of. They have some impossible names to remember (Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, ed.), but they did a really fine job. The next step was that we played at the Grammys show in February… Rihanna is an excellent performer so it was a great pleasure. I have to say that I’m glad I jumped on the bandwagon…’

Interviewer: Would you say that there is a difference between making music with today’s pop stars compared to the past?

Paul McCartney: ‘Outside of The Beatles and Wings, I didn’t really play with so many pop stars back then.’

Interviewer: Michael Jackson?

Paul McCartney: “Yes, Michael and… And… Elvis Costello! What if he counts as a pop star? I don’t think he does. (laughs) My collaboration with Michael was very old school, very classic, very… Clean. It was just like I used to write music with John in the early Beatles days. Two people in a room trying their hand together while sitting at the same piano or in separate chairs, each with its own guitar. That kind of thing comes to mind very easily.

With Kanye, it was completely different. His workflow is not, in the same way, about finding a result, a song. It was about me strewn different ideas with a loose hand, and then he took what he could use and put it together with his own ideas. It’s not my way of working, and it probably never will be, but it worked in the end. Because these are three good numbers, I think. He knows what he wants. He’s good. and cunning… in the best sense of the word!”

Interviewer: Okay, I have a slightly different type of question here on the fall: on your current tour (‘OutThere’, which started way back in May 2013,ed.) you have campaigned for vegetarianism as a cause. Among other things, you have launched an initiative called ‘Meat Free Monday’, which has made quite a big impact on social media. Do you feel that, as a world-famous pop musician, you have a responsibility to contribute to the fight for a better planet – and become the desire to make that kind of thing only bigger with age?

Paul McCartney: ‘It goes back a long way. We did it with the Beatles, too. We were opposed to the Vietnam War and were not afraid to say it out loud. The thing is, if you’re fairly intelligent, you’ll have an opinion on the state of the world. For someone like me, it’s a choice: ‘Do I want my fame to be mixed with my opinions?’

I have been a vegetarian for more than 30 years and I believe that it is a bid for a solution to some of the challenges we face globally. The meat industry and chains such as McDonald’s and KFC are responsible for abnormal meat production and a deeply polluting practice. These are obscene amounts of meat they produce. Cows farting, it’s kind of fun, but if you multiply by billions and look at the actual effect of the gases they release – it actually makes a big negative difference. It’s about the future, it’s about future generations, about health and wellbeing… I am happy to support such projects, and I find that many people, especially young people, are interested and committed to it. So I want to help spread information and suggest solutions as long as I don’t preach anything. I don’t want that. People can think for themselves.”

Interviewer: Here in Denmark we had very recent elections, and a new party – the Alternative – was very successful in appealing to voters on an agenda on sustainable energy and sustainable development, including a concrete proposal on meat-free days. So that way you could say that your idea has spread…

Paul McCartney: ‘It sounds great. I didn’t know that. Excellent. It is generally my experience that it also resonates at government level with ideas about sustainability. Often it stays with the talk and the fine phrases, and then we’ll see… But it’s obvious. Climate change, overpopulation, obesity… Something new needs to happen. Try walking around Disneyland and see how many carnivorous, fat people are in such a place. It’s scary. And part of the problem is the marketing that the meat industry and its buyers get away with spreading like slurry… In relation to the climate issue, it is the same: there are powerful interests – including oil companies, the automotive industry – lobbying against change. Climate deniers are pretty heartless people…

Well, I actually just see myself as a man of the people who says a pretty obvious truth a little louder than the common man. It’s a privilege I have.’

Interviewer: Time’s up, I see…

Paul McCartney: “Yes, it is.”

Interviewer: Thank you very much for your time! It was a great pleasure talking to you.

Paul McCartney: ‘Even thank you. It was nice.

Interviewer: The weather should be excellent. So enjoy it.

Paul McCartney: ‘Thank you very much. That’s what I’m going to do. I’m really looking forward to it. It’s going to be fun. We’re very excited.’

Last updated on February 25, 2021


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