Interview for Instagram • Thursday, April 15, 2021

In conversation with St. Vincent

Interview of Paul McCartney
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Interview by:
St. Vincent
Timeline More from year 2021

Album This interview has been made to promote the McCartney III Imagined Streaming.

Songs mentioned in this interview

Women And Wives

Officially appears on McCartney III


Officially appears on Help! (Mono)

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Paul McCartney: When we spoke before I said to you “I love your guitar playing, what guitar were you playing?” Do you remember?

St. Vincent: Yeah. I have a signature guitar that I designed with Ernie Balls. So I was playing my signature…

Paul McCartney: Sounds great. I love it. It’s a simple tone, not through big fuzz or anything. It sounds really genuine.

St. Vincent: Thank you.

Paul McCartney: So how are you doing?

St. Vincent: I’m doing well. Where are you?

Paul McCartney: I am in Los Angeles.

St. Vincent: Same here.

Paul McCartney: Yeah? Nobody knows. But you’re actually in the next room here. We are fooling everyone. Yeah, I’m here. I have a couple of things. But I have a few days off, which is nice. I’ve got an animated film that we’re getting involved in called “High In The Clouds”. And so I’m here for that. And also, there’s a new Beatles movie that Peter Jackson has put together, which is really exciting. He’s taken old footage from when we did “Let It Be”. And he has, what they called, renovated it, so it looks beautiful. And it’s great. It’s very nice, because you just see us working. You know, we’re like 20 something. So we’re young and beautiful. So I’m here for that as well. And then I just started doing a little bit of work. I met the producer, Andrew Watt. Have you heard of Andrew?

St. Vincent: Yes, yes, I know him.

Paul McCartney: I just met him. My manager said “you might like to go say hello and meet him”. So I went around for a cup of tea, and of course we ended up making a track.. So that’s, that’s great fun… So you’ve got an album coming out?

St. Vincent: I do. I have an album coming out on May 14, called Daddy’s Home… I wanted to ask you. How much do you look back? Like when you’re watching the Beatles footage, for example, what do you feel when you see that stuff?

Paul McCartney: You know, it’s funny… When Peter Jackson was going to do it… I knew Peter was a great director; he’d done ‘Lord of the Rings’ and all this. But what he was given was 56 hours of footage. So I said to him, ‘Ehhh — It was a little bit of a difficult period for me, so I’m not sure I’m going to like it.’ So he said, ‘Well, let me look at it. And he looked at it and got back to me and said, ‘It’s great. It’s friends — you’re just making the music.’ And he said, ‘The rapport is great; it’s just a little band working.’ And so he showed me some stuff, and I love it. It’s no bad vibes. So about you question, what do I think looking back at it… It’s so nice, because I just see me goofing off with John, George and Ringo. And we’re just goofing with each other. But at the same time, we happen to be making this pretty cool album, you know? I like it, I like looking back because it’s my history. It always reminds me of like a family snapshot album. So it’s good for me. It’s good memories… Speaking of other things, tonight, they’re going to release the “III Imagined” album that you’ve done your mix for.

St. Vincent: It’s so exciting. I can’t wait to hear the rest of the album. You’ve got so many great people on it.

Paul McCartney: I always thought that was great actually because I thought, you don’t know what Beck’s done, and Beck doesn’t know what you’ve done, so I love that. It’s going to be a surprise for everyone on the album. I think it hangs together great, myself… And I think I might have told you, one of the things for me was I didn’t really know too much about who was going to be asked and who was agreeing and stuff like that. I left that to the record label and my manager. So it was a great surprise for me to get — in the post, or on the phone — your track, Beck’s track, Dominic Fike, so many cool people. So I hope you like the album.

St. Vincent: Oh, I can’t wait. And I think I told you on the phone when we spoke a couple months ago that I probably listened to your bare tracks for 100 hours. I mean, I spent a whole lot of time with the material. And every time I listened, every time I heard you sing, my enjoyment of it would get deeper and deeper… The quality of your voice on that track is so resonant. I listened to it over and over and got something new out of it every time.

Paul McCartney: Wow. Well, thank you. It was a really nice one to ride actually, I think I might have told you, I have a book that my wife Nancy gave me on Leadbelly. And I was reading this and I was going to, you know, dig in sort of blues period and all of that. So I was at the piano, and trying to get a bit of a different tone in the voice. So I wrote down in where I am now, at this house. So I’m glad you like it too. I love your version of it, because it’s radically different from what I did, the whole beat of it. I listened to your track, thinking, ‘Okay, she’s got the band in, she’s playing with the band, and she’s got a backup group, probably a couple of Black girls in there, I think, by the sound of it.’ And then I asked you, and you said, ‘No, it’s me.’

St. Vincent: Yeah, the pandemic band is me. It was so fun working on that guitar solo, working on those drums, the bass…

Paul McCartney: You played the drums too… I love the drums. I love the way when it comes in. Just that little feel that leads in the drum. It’s really nice. Yeah,

St. Vincent: On your record, “III” was you and it’s all you during lockdown…

Paul McCartney: Yeah. That’s the thing. You know, that was a nice thing that I suddenly realized that, when people were doing their mixes, they’d all been locked down as well. So it’s really nice, you got a project, when you’re locked down. You ask “would you do this?”, you go Yeah. You know, that’s, that’s how “III” came about. Instead of just sitting at home and being locked down. The government had said, you can go to work as long as you can’t work from home. So I thought that’s me. I can get to the studio, you know. But it really took care of those first couple of months of lockdown.

St. Vincent: Oh, I have a question for you, if you don’t mind. Obviously, I’ve been making music for a lot fewer years than you have. But I’ve been having this feeling. The more and more I make music and the more and more I write songs, I feel as though I don’t have any control over it. And it is almost like it comes from another place, and that’s not a way that I necessarily thought about… How do you feel about it?

Paul McCartney:
I know exactly what you mean. You know, as you’re writing the song, you’ll get an idea. And if you’re lucky, the melody and the words kind of suggest themselves. And I always love that alignment, you know, that I don’t have to work on. It just goes… “Hear me women and wives, hear me husbands and lovers”. Yeah, that’s good, that fits. I definitely, over the years, have to think it comes from another place. Because like, with a song like “Yesterday”, I literally dreamed that, you know. I was in a dream, I woke up one morning, and there was this melody in my head. I thought “what’s that?”. And I spent weeks trying to find out what melody it was, until, in the end, I realized it was mine. So I have to believe it comes from somewhere. I didn’t consciously sit down to write that melody. So yeah, I think it’s a magical thing, don’t you?

St. Vincent: I do. I do. And magic is kind of the only word that really does it.

Paul McCartney: Yeah, that’s right. I was feeling a little bit daft saying that “oh, magical”, but how else you’re going to explain it? There is some sort of force that just delivers these things to you. And the more of that you get, I think the song is better. You know, sometimes you just think of a song that will just write itself. Almost. And then you get some, you have to sweat over a bit. But those magic moments are very special. I love it… So what are you up to, to the rest of the day?

St. Vincent: What am I up to? Um, well, I think I have some German interviews.

Paul McCartney: Oh, do you speak German?

St. Vincent: No, I do not. But I do like a German interview because they are usually very blunt. I definitely had the experience, tell me if you have, of someone going “this record is not as good as your last record, why?”

Paul McCartney: Love that!!

St. Vincent: They don’t pull any punches in Germany. I appreciate that.

Paul McCartney: All you need to know is the word “genau”.

St. Vincent: “Genau”, okay, what does that mean?

Paul McCartney: I don’t know. It’s kind of like you just do keep saying it, “genau”. It’s like, “yeah”, “aha”. You know, they see you “this is not as good as your last one”. “Genau”. Either that, or you can tell them to sod off.

St. Vincent: Yeah. What’s the rest of your day?

Paul McCartney: Me, I’m going over to a studio with Andrew Watt. And I said, we were working on a track. It’s exciting. I just met him and I wasn’t sure what we do. We just have a cup of tea or whatever. But we got talking and we got playing little guitar stuff. And I actually started off saying “sometimes it’s great to experiment with a chord you don’t even know”. I say, “a crazy chord like …” and I did this chord and I thought “Oh, that’s really crazy”. But I messed around with it a little bit. And it resolved itself into a less crazy one, and it’s just the opening sequence in a little thing. So then, we started and I said “well, should we put this down?” And that was fatal. And then, Yeah, how about some drums… It was very nice. And so I’m hoping to kind of finish that up today, or near enough finish it. So that’s quite nice. It’s the theme of the tune was… Sometimes an image will come into your mind. And I remember when I was a kid, where we used to live, there was blocks of flats where people lived, and I remember walking by this one (where) I knew this girl lived… And her light was on, so I could kind of see her silhouette in the window. So I always thought, wow… I mean, I suppose that makes me a voyeur. But there’s something kind of romantic about it. So I just started the song with that thought, like, ‘I walk by your house and I see your silhouette on the blind.’ And then try to develop it. ‘Do I ever cross your mind?’

St. Vincent: And you wonder what she’s doing in the room?

Paul McCartney: Yeah, what’s she up to? Right? Am I ever in your head, uou know, as you lie across your bed? There you go. So that’s why I’m doing this afternoon. And actually, this evening, I’m going to go and see the first bit of The Beatles film that I was talking about. So I’m looking forward to that. And I’ll see Ringo there. And a few friends, you know, so it’s nice.

St. Vincent: I remember seeing an interview with Ringo, where he talked about you guys writing and drugs. The question was sort of “did drugs ever help you guys?” And he said “Well, they just weren’t reliable. You think you were jamming, and you come back the next day and go ‘What the hell was that'”…

Paul McCartney: Yeah, exactly. No, we never really did. Even though, particularly around about the time of Sgt. Pepper, it all got associated with drugs, because the culture was very druggie. But we would normally write in the afternoon. And it wasn’t really drugs involved. You know, it was like, we just write the song, get it down, do the sort of work on it. And then then you could just relax. The worst thing was, in the early days, before the druggy period, the worst thing was, you had to remember the song, because there was no way to put it down. You didn’t have a iPhone. We didn’t even have a cassette recorder, or anything. You know, real early days, you just have to remember it. So it was great that John and I wrote together, because if I forgot it, he’d remember it or the other way around. But yeah, we just would do that in the afternoon, sort of normally just get together and work for a couple of hours. Just write all the lyrics down on a little bit of paper, and go home, and then sort of go out for the evening, whatever. And at the end of the evening, you kind of go, “What was that we wrote?” The next morning, Bing! It always came back.

St. Vincent: Did you ever forget songs and go “Well, I guess it wasn’t worth remembering” ?

Paul McCartney: You know, I should say yes. But no, we never did. You know, let’s face it, me and John were very excited to work with each other. And I could fill in anything he needed. He could fill in anything I needed. So I don’t really think we had too many forgettable songs. Luckily, because we couldn’t record them. Now, I can get my iPhone out, and we just record it. And suddenly I’ll find myself with like, 1000 fragments of songs, and then I must get round to that.

St. Vincent: Right. So it was a more concise writing process in a way…

Paul McCartney: Yes, very, because you also wanted to finish it that day. You know, there was none of “I’ll see you tomorrow, and we’ll see what we can do”. I don’t know why, just because that’s the way it worked out. I go around my guitar, write the song and I’d go home, so yeah, it was luckily very concise. You know, I often say to young bands now “Just get the song done, before you go in the studio, then you’re a cheap date, producer is going to love you”. You know, you’re not gonna waste anybody’s time. Just go and bang the song out. All the energy, I mean, it’s not the way you record these days, but I still think it’s a good idea, you know?

St. Vincent: Absolutely. Because if you have the song written, then you’ve already done the reconnaissance to know like, “well, that bridge isn’t quite strong enough”, you’ve done all the things to put it together in a nice way. So the recording of it gets to be a lot of exclamation points and confettis. It’s just a lot of fun instead of…

Paul McCartney: Yeah, it’s like, you can now just print out all the data, you just record. And then the other thing is that you add stuff on the recording. There’s just little moments because you’re happy in the studio. I always say to people, I brought in the song “And I love her”. And we’re recording it. And I think maybe George Martin, our producer, said something like, “oh, it’d be good to have an instrumental thing”. George Harrison whips out his guitar. He goes, doo doo doo doo. He puts that riff out and pulls it out of the air, doo doo doo doo. And I say that song without that riff, it’s nowhere near as good. So you know, you got those little magical things. But I think like you say, because you put the work in, you knew what you were doing, so now you could add a good embellished stuff and have fun in the studio.

St. Vincent: I remember that something you said on our call that I think about a lot. You said, it’s great this thing because I, of course, try to do the thing, which I could do forever, which is, gosh, and do that. And you very definitely and sweetly, you know, made everything very grounded and cool. But at the end, you said, you said it’s great this thing, we get to do this music thing? And I was like, yeah, isn’t it? This is what we get to do.

Paul McCartney: I know. It’s like you feel like someone’s gonna catch you any minute. What are you doing? “You’re not singing stuff. Get in there. Learn something”. Now, I really did get a feeling the other day, you know, I’ve ended up as a songwriter, this is my job. Well, I mean, it may sound stupid to other people. But you know, I mean, how did I get this lucky? What a great job.

St. Vincent: Is there a story in songwriting that you are still, after writing squillions of songs, trying to tell, but haven’t quite cracked? Is there a melody that you’ve had since, you know, 1975 that you’re still waiting to put in that bridge?

Paul McCartney: Yeah, there’s a little bit of that. Yeah. I can’t think of exactly why. But I definitely do have some ideas that need including. What I sometimes do with these fragments we’re talking about on the iPhone is… I’ve got no particular use for it. But it’s a lovely little bit of melody. And sometimes I’ll just use it as the solo in a track. You know, this is not to do with the track, but it’s nice to just breaks out for a minute, gives you this other little song, and then you go back and think… Hey, listen, I’ve got to run. So It was lovely speaking to you, Annie. Thanks so much for doing the mix. I’m so looking forward to it being released tonight. And I love the idea that you get to hear what’s on the rest of the album. You know, there’s some some crazy stuff on there. It’s really, really good. I love it. You said modestly. But the thing is, I can be modest because I didn’t do it. You know, that’s the great thing. Yeah. All right. I gotta go. We’ll see you. Bye.

St. Vincent: Take care. Bye bye

Last updated on April 17, 2021


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