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From Apple Music:
“It was really good to be able to play music, and make up music, and put your thoughts and your fears and your hopes and your love into the music,” Paul McCartney tells Apple Music’s Zane Lowe of the album he made at his home studio during 2020’s pandemic. “So it kind of saved me, I must say, for about three or four months it took to make it.” Speaking to Lowe from that studio, McCartney goes on to recount 50 years of personally pivotal solo projects, first in the wake of The Beatles’ acrimonious and surprising (to him, anyway) dissolution in 1970 through the demise of Wings in 1980, to his latest, McCartney III. He also reveals the responsibility that comes with surprising strangers in hotel lobbies with spontaneous renditions of “Let It Be.” Watch the wide-ranging and revelatory interview below.
Paul: Zane, great to see you, man
Zane: man, can you play that thing over your shoulder? Everyone tells me the stand-up bass is no joke.
Paul: that stand-up bass is no joke, but listen… That is the Elvis Presley bass, played by Bill Black. If you check out the album cover Elvis Presley Vol1, you will see that bass on the cover, with the white trim. That’s actually Bill Black’s bass.
Zane: my days… Do you touch it, do you play it, do you stare at it, do you worship it?
Paul: I played it on the new album, yeah… I love it.
Zane: on what song?
Paul: on a couple of songs… “Women and Wives”, it’s on.
Paul: yeah it’s on a few songs but, you know, it’s a beautiful deep bass… That’s the story of that man.
Zane: I was thrilled to know we were gonna get a chance to speak and even happier to hear this album. Wow I love this album. I love it. It’s amazing. There are some incredible moments on there like “Deep Deep Feeling” and we’ll talk all about this, but “Deep Deep Feeling” really got me, like when I heard that… Just the words on that and the way you just beautifully went straight to the centre of that often overlooked feeling of like feeling too much you know, like “I love you too much” and I don’t know how to how to translate that and you just captured it perfectly I thought.
Paul: It’s the strangest thing, isn’t it? I was just thinking about that feeling it’s like “whoa”… I think we all get it but nobody kind of knows what it is, and I still don’t… I mean what is it like a rush of blood or something I don’t know… Energy something… So I just thought I’m gonna try and put it down in song.
Zane: What a beautiful spot you got there. I guess that’s one of the creative zones, that looks like a studio or it’s a
very elaborate set…
Paul: This is my kind of office in the studio. This is upstairs in the studio and this is where I do things that aren’t – you know – microphone-related.
Zane: This is where the album was essentially written?
Paul: no, it was kind-of written all over the place really. What happened was, you know, with lockdown I had to kind of stay in one place, obviously. Because you lock down – or rock down as we call it…
Zane: I haven’t heard that yet, I can’t believe we haven’t come up with that. Oh my god, he came through with a clanger
at the end of the year, I love it !!!
Paul: you know, the thing is I was with my family with my daughter Mary and her kids. So that was very nice, but I had to do a little bit of film music, so I was able to come here, which is 20 minutes away from where I live, to do that bit of music. And it was for an animated piece, so they had to have it soon, so I had to do that bit of work and the government had said “go to work only if you can’t work from home”. So I couldn’t do this music at home, so anyway I ended up in the studio, and liked it so much that I kind-of made it a daily practice and I started finishing off songs that I’d meant to finish last year but never had time for. And then I wrote one, and then I came in and did it. So it’s a collection of ways of doing it, but it was all recorded downstairs here at the studio.
Zane: thinking about it now… How important was that process toward keeping some equilibrium during isolation? Do you see a connection between this third solo album and the idea of having to be still?
Paul: yeah, there was a big connection with trying to keep equilibrium because you know the whole world was going mad. Suddenly there was a thing that we’d never had before. I mean there was AIDS and there was SARS and there was avian flu, but all these things seem to happen to other people. And then suddenly it was happening to everyone, and everyone I knew and everyone in the world, you know. So it was quite a shock so, yeah, it was really good to be able to play music, and make up music and put your thoughts and your fears and your hopes and your love into the music. So it kind of saved me, I must say for about the three or four months it took to make it.
Zane: what do you like in your own company? You know if you hadn’t felt inspired and yet the global pandemic was a reality and you were enforced like all of us to sit still.. What traditionally would you say you’re like in your own company, in your own thoughts?
Paul: I’m okay, you know, I’m okay. I do like doing things. So, you know, particularly being a musician, I can be still, but I would like to have a guitar nearby. And if there’s a piano in the next room, you know, that helps. But generally I like to meditate, so I enjoy being still and being quiet. Where I live is on a farm down here in Sussex, so nature is very important. And I’m lucky, I have a horse I can ride, so that is really that’s blissful, you know.
Zane: what’s the name of your horse?
Paul: the horse is called Cheyenne. She’s a beautiful appaloosa, and in actual fact she shows up on the album, she shows up on the artwork of the album
Zane: you talked about sitting still but always wanting a guitar nearby. I wanted to talk to you about your relationship with instruments. We’ve never spoken about this because, without instruments, we wouldn’t be having this conversation and we wouldn’t have had all the joy you brought the world. I spoke to Dolly Parton recently, which was amazing, and she said that sometimes she just walks past an acoustic guitar on a stand – she has them all through her house – and she just strums it, and if it resonates with her, she turns back around, sits down and just writes something.
I love that idea and I wonder what your relationship with instruments is and how they factor into your life.
Paul: Yeah it’s very similar. I mean, Dolly’s fantastic, so she’s got to be right! Whatever Dolly says is right! But I know exactly that feeling, you know… You just go past… You sometimes just sort-of hear something particularly if you play a chord… So yeah I love instruments… The first instrument I ever had was… My dad gave me a trumpet and he’d been a trumpet player when he was younger. He played a little bit of trumpet and it actually was kind-of in fashion. There was a film called “The man with the golden arm”, and it was like Harry James… So it was kind-of glamorous, you know, at that point. But I realized I couldn’t sing with this thing in my mouth, so I swapped it in for a guitar, and I started my love of guitars. They’re really a great help when you’re growing up, because you’ve got so many questions and things flooding in that… If you can get off in a quiet space with a guitar and you kind-of can tell your troubles to the guitar and often in doing that you come out of the other end, and oh it’s a song we used to think it was like the greatest therapy…
Paul: And the same we had a piano in our house. My dad again played piano for the family parties so there was always a piano there available. So i started tinkering around and that became my second instrument that I loved, you know. I mean even now if I’m in a kind-of hotel or in one of these places where there’s a piano in the lobby, I can’t resist. I have to just go by “excuse me…”
Zane: It’s one thing to play piano at the family parties – it’s a great tradition. It’s another thing for Paul McCartney to
sit in a hotel lobby and bang out “Let It Be”. I wonder how that is for people and what that experience is like, and whether you’re aware – because you have to be self-aware with the life you’ve lived…
Paul: Yeah, well, I kind-of know what I’m doing, you know. I understand that there are two parts. One part is I can’t resist playing a piano, I just want to see if it’s in tune and how it sounds, so that’s for me. But then you know if there are some people around and I just do a little quick sort-of, a bit of “Lady Madonna” or something, then I know I’ve given them a story, and you know they can go home, “what I was doing. I was in the hotel foyer, this bloke walks in, he plays a thing and he was Paul McCartney”… In fact, a funny story was when I was on holiday, very early days of me and Nancy… We were on holiday in Morocco and we’d come away to have a great holiday together, but it was raining every single day… You come all this way to Morocco, thinking it’s going to be blissful, and it was terrible, you know… But there was a piano in the hotel for you, so I would go in there when I knew no one was going to be around, except maybe the guys setting the tables for the evening… And I would quietly just play and I wrote a song actually on Valentine’s day for Nancy, called “My Valentine”. So you know, it sometimes goes further than just tinkling, sometimes you get a song out of it.
Zane: This third McCartney record… The third of many, but the third of a trilogy of solo records, really solo records, essentially you, right from start to finish… How important was it that this came out before the end of of this year, that none of us will ever forget, many of us want to forget? That’s ultimately kept within the tradition of the end of a decade / start of a decade.
Paul: I didn’t realize, of course, I never count, so someone said to me “you know, that’s great, you did McCartney in 1970 “. I said “oh yeah”, they said “you did McCartney III in 1980”, I go “oh, that’s convincing”. So great let’s get this out before 2020 and as you say though it’s been such a crazy year for me, for you, for everyone, everyone that we run into… It’s one of those “wow can you believe this”, and I say to people it was going to be so auspicious 2020. It looks so good on a poster, that’s going to be so good, you know, perfect vision… It’s going to be like the greatest year, and then suddenly boom… It was special but in a weird way… But it was good it was pointed out to me 70, 80, 20. I thought “well, that’s nice”, so we did it.
Zane: it doesn’t surprise me that time doesn’t play as much of a factor consciously for you, as it does for all of us. But it also doesn’t surprise me that it plays a factor at all. Everything that you’ve been associated with time has flowed in this strange way through it. And I can’t really dive into this album without recapping to some degree. So I want to go
back to 1970, and the first solo McCartney record, because they are related. And this was a very tumultuous time,
widely documented. John had already told you and the other boys in the band that he wanted to move away from it and
you retreated and made this record. I would love some memories that spring to mind from that time as we begin this
journey to Three.
Paul: The thing was I’d really recently met Linda and we were settling down together… We got married and we were settling down together… And because the Beatles had finished, I had a lot of time on my hands. You know, normally, I’d have “we are doing this, we’re going to go rehearse, I’m going to do a record, I’m gonna write some songs for the new record”. And suddenly there was like nothing to do anything for, so I was just hanging around the house, but I had my guitar acoustic, had an electric one, a little amp… There was a piano there and I had also had a drum kit, so I was goofing around each day, you know, just for my own fun. And then I thought “well, actually, you know it’d be nice to get these things down”. Because we didn’t have Iphones then, so to get you to get it down, you had to get in a big serious piece of equipment. So I got one microphone and one Studer four-track machine, and my mate set it up and just said to me “well, look, here’s what you do if you’re doing drums. You just plug this into the back of the machine, the microphone went straight in and to the back of the channel one whatever it was”, he said, “and then turn it on and go and hit the drums. And if it sounds right, you’re great. If it doesn’t, move the mic”. So you go “oh okay”. So that’s what I did you know. I found a kind-of sweet position for the drums that would get me enough bass drum, enough this and that and so that’s what I did. It was a great way to spend my time because, as you said, you know it was a difficult period. This was this band that I’ve been in a lot of my life and these guys who were my best buddies ever. And suddenly, we’d split up, we weren’t working together. And so we’re each in our separate homes, and I was in mine. But as I say, having just met Linda, there was a romantic element to it and there was a new discovery of, you know, thinking about a family… And so all of that was very nice. I’d be playing a bit of electric guitar and just sort-of playing around. And Linda would come in and say “I didn’t know you played electric”. I said “oh yeah I do a little bit, you know”. So she was very encouraging, you know, so that would encourage me to go “Right, I’m gonna do it”.
Zane: it sounds like she encouraged you a lot, in a lot of ways, because… And I want to reference actually lyrics on Three and “Find My Way” where you talk about “I never thought there’d be days like these, now you’re overwhelmed by
your anxieties”. You’ve written about anxieties before, everybody goes through them at various points in their lives and
thankfully nowadays we’re far more acknowledged and far more there are tools to deal with them. But it wasn’t always like that. I mean this first solo album, to some degree, did pull you out of a really… – as you say – a dark place based on what was going on around you.
Paul: that’s true, I think, you know, as I said, I think Linda was a huge help. I’d hate to think what would have happened if I didn’t have her. But yeah it was very dark, you know. You think about it, you’re a kid and you join a little group called the Quarry Men, and you’re goofing around, you’re learning to be a kid in a group. Then you go out to Hamburg and you learn more, you come back and you climb the sort of ladder of success, till you become this phenomenal success, hugest thing ever in the Beatles and that’s your whole identity… And then suddenly someone switches the light off.
Zane: Looking back on it now, do you think subconsciously or in a subterranean way you knew there was something there that wasn’t clicking with John or did it really just knock you for sex?
Paul: No… We’d always had arguments because in any family, any group, you argue. I mean not crazy ones, but just like you know “that guitar is too loud”, “no it isn’t”, “yeah I think it is”… “you shouldn’t play there”, “well I’d want to play there”… “I don’t think it fits with the song well”… You know, you have that kind of little things. So there was a bit of that, maybe a little more than usual but nothing major. But then I think we had the idea that it was sort-of coming full circle somehow, but very sort-of gently… There was no big bus stop and we just happened to have a little meeting, a group meeting one day, when John walked in and said: “I’m leaving the group”. So it was that sudden. You didn’t want to say “what do you mean” because you knew exactly what he meant… And looking back on it… I think well he just hooked up with Yoko, and he was in a completely new track for his life. He had a strong woman – he loved strong women. He had a strong woman he could admire, he loved sort of experimentation and here was Yoko saying “let’s take all our clothes off for the album cover”… You know that’s the kind of thing appealing to John… He’s like “yeah, whoa”, just this sort of radical behaviour. So looking back on it, you can see that he had to just clear the decks and say “okay guys you know we’ve done our bit, it was terrific, it was wonderful but I’m off”. Having said that’s looking back on it, actually, at the time, it was like “whoa is this final” and we we potted around for a couple of weeks thinking “does he mean it” and we’d ring each other and say “well I don’t know, are we really finished or not”. And then there were all sorts of weirdness going on where record contracts were being negotiated and a sort-of not very good manager at the time who’d come in, this guy called Alan Klein. He was saying “don’t tell anyone because I’m in the middle of a negotiation”. I was saying “you’ve got to tell them”.
Zane: negotiation of what?
Paul: you can’t pretend the group’s still together, “we’re going to get a new record”, when we all know it’s not going to happen. So it was weird in all those respects, it’s like any catastrophe, you’ve got to get through it or you’ve got to go under. And so it was like “okay let’s try and pull this together here we go, it’s a new venture” and, as I say, with Linda and with the family growing, that was like “okay well, this is my direction, this is my direction now and with music to help me through it, I can do this, I’m going to be able to manage this”. So it’s difficult for quite a while but I kind of eventually got the idea of where I wanted to go. I thought “well okay, I’ll get a new band” because I like being in bands, I like bands, I like making music, writing, recording… So that’s what I’ll do. That’s easier said than done… “I’ll get a band”… And of course I think it was actually the right decision, but it was a weird decision to just decide to go back to the absolute square one because I thought my thinking was “well the Beatles were just these four guys”, we didn’t know anything when we started, we knew a couple of chords, knew a couple of songs, we hadn’t written much, but we thought “well, we’ll figure it out, we’ll work it out”, and we did. So I thought “well with new band, we’ll do that”. I said to Linda “do you want to be keyboard?”. She said “uh yeah”. So I said “great you’re in”, and it was like that, we just formed it from the ground up and it took a few years, but then we gradually had Wings and became a successful band, you know.
Zane: Incredibly successful. I mean to find that decade in many respects, you know, huge hit songs you play to this day. And that brings us to Two, which – I’m sure it’s not lost on you – that Two landed at the end of Wings, in the start of a new decade. So these albums come with a caveat of real disruption and change about them. And I wanted to talk about that as well, but just while we were talking about John, just to draw this particular part of the conversation to a natural end… That album came out in 1980, several months before John’s life was tragically taken… And he had wanted to experiment and wanted freedom to create and, as you said, had always had big ideas and wanted to disrupt.
You had ultimately over the course of these two solo careers found yourself doing the same thing. One very influential over time, lo-fi home recordings, it changed the game for a lot of people widely regarded. Two, right at the start of the 80s, “hello synthesizers, hello kraut rock, hallowed dance music”, there you are once again the unlikely leader of it all, at that moment in time. You, in your own way, are creating and inspiring and innovating which is what John left the Beatles to go and do. So my question, Paul, is: did you send him to and had you connected over that fact that you both found each other kind of in the same place after all those years?
Paul: it’s a difficult question as to whether I linked it up, but you’re right. It was at another point when I wasn’t doing anything. You know, Wings had finished so it was like “what do we do next” kind-of thing. And as you say, I always revert to type. And because I’m lucky enough to be able to play a few instruments, I just think “I’ll do this song” and soon as I haven’t got a band, I’ll do it. With John, you know, the great thing was we had begun to get our relationship back together. That was like a huge blessing for me because, you know, when he was tragically murdered, I think if we’d have still been fighting, I’m not sure how I would have dealt with that. But it was great that we’d been speaking to each other. And he just had sean not so long ago, and he was raising the baby. So John was getting very domestic and we were talking about you know changing babies, nappies, diapers. And we’re talking about baking bread and all this kind of stuff. So it was very nice, it kind of receded to a nice gentle boil, it wasn’t bubbling so much anymore. And I know that when I’d done “McCartney II”, he’d listened to it, because I heard that he was keen on the song “Coming Up”. And what would happen with me and John was… and he wrote this later where he’s saying “oh bloody hell, Paul’s come up with something good… God that means I’ve got to…”
Zane: and that’s that whole dynamic again. Once again they kind of gave birth to the Beatles, yeah!
Paul: yeah, and then he’d come up with something good. “Bloody hell I’ve got to go in the studio again”. It was a kind of creative competition, you know. If he did something good, I wanted to do something good and better, and then he’d see that and he’d go “right, I’m going to do something better”. So it was very healthy, it meant that we were not just taking it easy. We were always trying for something good.
Zane: when you have created so many amazing moments in people’s lives and in your lives created so many memories, they move into a timeline and timelines have anniversaries, and anniversaries come with reflection. And when you talk about the Beatles and individuals like yourself, George, Ringo, John, these anniversaries are big deals… The whole world thinks about 10 years, 20 years, 40 years as we know which is coming up. And at the beginning, I talked about the relationship of time in your life and how it keeps showing up in a neat way whether you realize it or not. What’s your relationship with things like this in the face of how the world reacts because you can’t avoid it when people talk about “40 years since John passed”, “50 years since this album” and such…?
Paul: I don’t really take that much notice, to tell you the truth.
Zane: how? how can you not notice it?
Paul: okay. Because I’m doing stuff, I’m not thinking about having done stuff. I’m still on the road, I don’t mean like playing consequence in actual fact, that’s true as well except for this year, but I’m always kind of moving forward in my mind. So people will say to me “It’s 50 years since i’ve been….”. “Whaat? It is ??”… And people will say to me “well what year was it when you did your first australian tour?”. I’ll go “um, I’m not sure”. And I can be lazy because I know we can look it up. So I don’t have the normal parameters…
Zane: you don’t even have to look it up, the whole world will tell you!
Paul: what year was that? And there’s always someone who knows. I’m not that careful about that. I don’t remember years or anniversaries. I’m good on my personal family birthdays and wedding anniversaries – thank goodness! I, unlike a lot of men, remember those.
Zane: those men are in trouble, you don’t want to be one of those men!
Paul: I know! So that’s easy but career-wise I just know “yeah I did that, yeah I did that, yeah I did that”, but the time isn’t the biggest aspect of it. It’s a continuum and I know I’m in it, and I know I’m on it and I’m enjoying it. So I don’t have much time to look back. When I do, I love it, you know. When I do get nostalgic, I love it, I really do. You know, the kind of thing happens is like on an album you have a remastered reissue, and then there’s like bonus tracks that I haven’t heard forever but it’s my little home demo of that song and some of those things can be very nostalgic “wow listen to that”. But generally, time isn’t something I worry about too much.
Paul: I must say, I knew Doris Day, the great actress, singer, Calamity Jane. Once I had a secret love… I love Doris, like a lot of people from my generation. And in fact, my daughter Stella is a major fan of Doris. She says she inspired her. There’s a film called “Calamity Jane which is great”, and she’s a real tomboy, Doris. But she has to get sort of fancied up for a romantic scene, so she puts on this beautiful yellow dress and everything. And Stella said when she saw her appear in that yellow dress that made Stella wanna be a fashion designer.
Zane: Wow Doris Day is day one, that’s amazing!
Paul: Day one for Stella. So it was great because years later we met her. Stella and I paid a visit to her. Stella was able to tell her that story which Doris loved of course. But years before that, I’d known Doris through her animal activism. She was a crazy animal activist, lovely, she had millions of dogs at her house and they all had their own little bed. She was an animal lover.
Zane: Back then, you’d have been considered eccentric. That was a Hollywood eccentricity, that would have been like Doris Day and all of her dogs. Nowadays it’s common practice.
Paul: yeah, you know time moves on, but I remember talking to her about things like we’re talking about and she said time is an illusion… Don’t get spooky on me, Doris! And it faded and I went into a psychedelic dream, and I was with Doris Day and we were flying above Wyoming !!!!
Zane: And that’s when you wrote Slidin’ !
Paul: yeah, oh my gosh, but that was her feeling that it was an illusion. I never quite worked it out and I’m not sure I think it is but Doris did.
Zane: I think about this album once again, finding you in a space where you’re able to collect your thoughts and put them into music, with no distractions and no collaborators. And you’re a generous collaborator, as you say, you love bands, you love collaborators but this is just you. What is your thought process like, when you’re on your own? What is your thinking? How does your thinking change when you create on your own versus in a room with people around you?
Paul: Well I always create on my own unless when I was with John. Even then I would create on my own and he would, and we’d come together. We hardly ever sat down and had nothing, there was always some sort of idea. And these days, I always create on my own and it’s a great feeling, you know. People say “when do you write” and stuff, and I kind of say “well it’s when I’ve got time, there’s just nothing to do today or this afternoon and I’m in the mood, so I will pick up a guitar and think I’ve got time I could write a song”. I don’t just have to strum three chords and go to work and go with something else. So that’s when it all comes to me and I sit down. And if I’ve got some sort of an idea, sometimes like on this album “Find My Way”, I had this idea when I was in the car, singing along to something “Find my way, I know my left from right”… And I just had this little idea of like being in control, “I don’t get lost at night”. I kind of finished it up then came into the studio.
Zane: But I love how that idea… When I listen to “Find My Way”, that feels like such an internal compass. When i hear that song, I’m trying to refine my internal compass. That’s what the listener takes from it like “Great, Paul’s just like me, he’s trying to find his own internal compass” and yet you’re literally behind the wheel of your car using sat nav going “I know my left from right, I’m driving in the dark”. I mean, isn’t it funny how songs change shape… Are you aware of, at the time when you’re writing it, that you’re making the transition from, literally, navigation into “this is something that talks about anxiety and talks about the idea of internalization”?
Paul: Yeah…. The first bit was “I found my way yeah, you are so confident, I pretty much can figure it out, you know after the light of fire, I know how to light a fire, I pretty much can do that, I can find my way, I’m not going to get lost”. But then when I came into the middle of the song, I was thinking about what about people who can’t do that. And we all know people who can’t. That’s what the middle is: “you never used to be afraid of days like these but now you’re overwhelmed by your anxieties”. So that was talking to someone like that and then it was like “let me be your guide, let me help you through the love you feel inside”. So that gave the song a nice shape because it had my confidence and then the anxiety of this other person, so that’s what that all meant to me. So I could do the a and then the other thing will be the b. So put them together and you’ve got a little bit of structure for the song and it’s actually also nice to sing because the first bit is “find my way, it’s quite deep, it’s quite low, there’s nothing…”, so you go right up for the middle so that’s like a nice thing to do in the song. You know, that’s it for me, I just sit down at a piano or guitar and just start noodling, just start doing something, and if I find a chord that I like, I go “I love this chord”. So I just will start strumming with this chord and you know you probably go through memories that chord evokes. If it’s like C, if it’s like C major, then I will go right back to when I first learned that and some of the songs I knew then. There’s a song called “Young Love” – “they say for every boy and girl there’s just one love in this whole world” – and that was for me as a teenager. That was like “I love that song”. So when I strum C, that brings those emotions back and sometimes then I will just recycle them, not copy the song but use that emotion. And then once I’m off on the trail, and if I have a little time as I said, then I will just follow and just see what the next sentence ought to be. That was the thing when I was working with John. That was like, I’d say a sentence and he’d suggest the next one and then I’d suggest the next one, so we ping-pong off each other and often we got good results because John was such a different personality. Like I said in “Find My Way”, there are two personalities. There’s the confident and then the anxious. When I’m sitting down with John, it would be like I’d go “it’s getting better all the time” and he’d go “couldn’t get much worse”. So you get that great a and b thing. Great, it moves you on, it’s just a voyage discovery, you know… I mean it sounds corny but it is and that’s what I love about it, you never know what you’re gonna come out with… No idea, whether this is going to be a warm song, a sad song, a story song. You can never tell but as the song unfolds, you start to sort of get the idea, you go “I see where I’m going” and you find your way…
Zane: I want to talk about winter bird. You know birds have played such a role on and off throughout your writing and I love how you relate to the idea of freedom and flight. And it feels like there’s something really inspiring to you about the idea of leaving your body and being able to disappear and have no fixed destination or no one can catch you. Has that been something that you keep drawing to, has that been with you your whole life?
Paul: well I do love that. I would guess that a lot of people love that. When I was a kid, I lived in a very urban situation on the edge of Liverpool. But then if I took a walk for about a mile, I could be in deep woods and countryside. It’s like you just fell off the edge of Liverpool and there would be the most beautiful birdlife and nature. So I’ve always loved that escape – I saw it as an escape – and so I was very interested in all the various birds and I’ve carried that all my life, this idea that you can sort of escape in various ways from the normal humdrum life that you might be leading. I’m not complaining because I don’t live a hundred lives, I got a pretty good life, but that idea then, it was important because my humdrum life then was school, homework, walk, see the birds. So I’ve always had a deep love of that and I still feel strongly about that. So a bunch of my stuff has been like… Blackbird is to do with escape and freedom and arise from your bonds, and that was allied at the time with the civil rights movement.
Zane: that must have been an amazing moment for you to perform that song in front of Thelma Mothershed Wair and Elizabeth Eckford who of course were two individuals part of the Little Rock Nine. And I know a few years back you got a chance to perform that and they were in the audience and we haven’t spoken since that so I wonder how that experience was for you.
Paul: It was fantastic, it was beautiful because, as a kid, I’d seen, like you probably, the newsreel where there’s all the white supremacists booing these black kids going into school and their teenage girls, you know, the two you’re mentioning. And so I’d always felt annoyed at my race, the whites, could be that crazy and that horrible to people, you know and we didn’t have so much of that in Britain, I must say, it wasn’t like the deep south, it was only when we went down there that you started to realize that it was quite intense. So i’d always heard about Little Rock has been a famous point in civil rights history. So when we were playing Little Rock, I was able to offer tickets to the girls. Someone said they’re still around, but they’re ladies now. They had a great education because they stuck with it, they went to this good school. So i was very proud to sort of talk to them and to play Blackbird, because I introduced Blackbird on the show as being about civil rights. So it was really a warm feeling. I felt very proud to meet these ladies and it’s just great to see a resolution of a story like that. So it was a great moment for me. They were very pleased and so we all had a great time. It was you know again some kind of full circle from when I was a kid, seeing these little black and white movies. Here we were and I was with the two girls I saw in those newsreels, and you know what, they turned out great.
Zane: I’ve spoken to so many artists, especially at times like this, where the idea of writing and expressing oneself and how it’s attached to the events of the day and what is going on outside the window… It’s challenging for the artistic spirit to force itself into that space. It has to come from a place of authenticity and passion and a real willingness to make a difference. I often say I never expect my favorite artist to show up but I respect it when they do. You have always, throughout your life, at various moments, found a way to transcribe what’s going on, and you dress it in a way that often is only uncovered at a later stage. You have protested, you have written songs and been active. You do like to write about those things. What is it for you that gives you the confidence to be able to move into that space and write about things and not be intimidated?
Paul: I think I don’t know I’m doing it. I think that’s one of the things. If I’m consciously outraged by something in politics or just in the world, some of the terrible things you hear about, it’s not that easy for me to just sit down and write. I don’t know something about the Yemen even though I’m outraged by the situation… Though it’s not easy for me, it is easier for me to write a veiled version of it. So if I’m thinking about civil rights and I’m thinking about the black women being abused as they go into the school, then to me, I prefer to see it as an image of a blackbird and then I talk about broken wings. So I use metaphors so that, on the one hand, if you’re a little kid… a lot of little kids say to me that Blackbird is their favourite song… So if you’re a little kid, they don’t know about the civil rights, they’re seeing a blackbird and the freedom and they’re feeling the idea of just escaping barriers and stuff, they just like it as a little song. But so for me, that’s what nearly always happens is… Like in “Let It Be”, I’ll talk about darkness and times of trouble and stuff, but I’m not often specific, because it’s just not my way. I’m much more comfortable talking about it but veiling it somehow. It’s not hiding, it’s just using a metaphor. I sometimes think that’s stronger, you know. My biggest protest song really would be “Give Ireland Back To The Irish”. There are no metaphors there, that is just dead straight after Bloody Sunday. But I felt I had to write it. I didn’t really think it was this very successful song. It actually got to number one in Ireland but for me, as a song, I wouldn’t say it was one of my best songs. So that to actually write overtly about a situation is a little more difficult for me than it is for some other people.
Zane: Because of the framework of it, because you don’t have the freedom to create and, as you say, paint a picture
using all the colors on the palette. You have to stick to the ones that are in the news
Paul: yeah I think that’s it. It’s just I’m allowed more poetry if I’ve gone in with the sort of metaphor, I’ve got more room to play and I can think of the same subjects that are bothering me – the lack of freedom and things like that, the broken wings, the sunken eyes, and I know what I’m talking about. And I think a lot of people do. I mean, think about it, how many people, this year particularly, have got broken wings. The metaphor is a strong one for a lot of people, so instead of saying “you’re out of work, you lost your job”, where you worked closed down, then I would talk about broken wings and sunken eyes, and to me it’s strong but it’s not specific.
Zane: I think about animal rights and what you and Linda embarked on when it became a point of passion for you, to raise awareness. And really looking back on it now, when you consider how much of a global movement that is, it probably felt like a grassroots campaign compared to now, where hundreds of millions of people feel the same way, to have spent a lot of your life really sticking to one particular message, to see it catch like that and become such a huge important moment. How has that felt, Paul?
Paul: So good. It really is so good. When we started, we were on a farm and there were lambs playing in the field and we were eating legs of lambs. So we went “whoa wait a minute”, we made the connection, we said maybe we can stop this and we did. But it was very difficult because there were no recipes, nobody knew about it. So it was like “oh my God, how are we going to do this?”. But we did it, we eventually developed it and stuck with it. As you say so, it’s so gratifying now to go into certain restaurants… I mean there’s a favourite restaurant of mine in New York. It happens to be a vegan restaurant but it tastes so good and the people who serve you are so cool and young and vibrant. And I just sit there and I just say “two overs with me”. I said “you don’t know what this feels like to me”. It’s that deep deep feeling, it just feels so great that we’ve arrived at a point where this is normal, because it certainly wasn’t when when we started.
Zane: was it stressful for you and Linda at times in the beginning? Did you feel at times like you’re under attack and that you really were outliers and that message was hard to carry?
Paul: yeah, you know, the thing is people like to band together. So I grew up in Liverpool eating traditional british food. What you had this week, you would have next week and the week after that. It was only christmas anything ever changed. There’s a lot of people who still live like that, and in a way, I think they think it’s like a badge of honor. So when you sort of say “well no I’m vegetarian”, they’re gonna go “oh” and they like to make jokes about it. So you just have to
get used to it. As you say the world’s caught up so the jokes seem a bit sillier these days. It’s like it doesn’t work as well as it used to – “well he’s a vegetarian ho ho ho”.
Zane: can you imagine trying to launch that campaign now with social media – a grassroots campaign like that now with social media… On one hand the message would fly so much quicker but, on the other hand, being someone who seeks solace and the countryside and wants the space to be able to collect your thoughts and present that message methodically… I don’t know… Would you have even leaned into something like that with social media at your fingertips
because of the energy, intensity, it generates?
Paul: it depends. If I was young and we’re talking about the same situation as social media, I think I would have embraced it and really leaned into it as you say. I would have thought “okay let’s get to work, here’s what I’m cooking today and it’s not that same old rubbish you’ve always had all your life”. People say “oh I don’t know if I could be vegetarian”, I say “well look the thing is it’s actually very easy these days, it’s so easy”. But I say to people you know you tend to grow up and when you’re 2021 you don’t think “oh i could change a lot of things”. I say to some people you can actually just look at your life and think “do I really want roast beef on a Sunday and you know sausages on a friday or am I actually going to experiment. Am I at a point in my life where it might be fun to try some other stuff”. And that’s what i found is that having to fill that hole in the middle of the plate – which was what we used to say when we first started. It was like “it was veg with something” and suddenly there was nothing. Now you don’t have to do that. I say to
people – some of my best friends are meat eaters, you know – it’s not like I’ve got a crusade against anyone who does that. I get it, I used to do it, I think it’s a little bit boring and I think it’s a little bit unexciting, I think you can have a more exciting life than that, and if you can and if you want it, why not.
Zane: I think about a song like “Seize The Day” and it really jumps out on the record. It’s not my favorite, because I love “Deep Deep Feeling” and I love “Slidin'”. But “Seize The Day” really jumps out because it is a brilliant song and is probably the one song on the record that I feel you knowingly know that you’re drawing some of that inspiration from those recordings of the 60s, into 70. The drums, the piano, the arrangement… And I wonder how it feels when you’re
writing a Beatles song 50 years after the Beatles broke up and what it evokes in you…
Paul: yeah, it’s a great feeling because it’s a style I love and I’m used to. But what happens is when you’re first doing that, you fall into the natural groove of doing anything. But this is nice, I’m enjoying this. I wrote that on piano. So I’m thinking “yeah I like this” but then you check yourself, you go “is this like too retro, is this too Beatle-y, do I need to kind of stop and get radical here”. Somehow you check yourself all the time, you know, “is this what I want to do or should I just try and do something else”. But definitely, you spotted it, with that one, the chorus with the descending baseline is very Beatle-y. But you know what, once you’ve done that little question and said “should I be doing this”, the answer is yes. You should. Just enjoy it, just to embrace this whole thing and have some fun. So I did but you spotted it, that was the feeling definitely on that.
Zane: And do you enjoy it when you hear the multitude of artists that come out with the same descending bass line, who lean into the inspiration? Many people have said – and I don’t disagree – that it was done right the first time. That when the Beatles created what you created over this very short period of time that you did, that music after that had no choice but to [follow? – unaudible] because it was done right the first time.
Paul: You know, I do think it is harder because the Beatles body of work was so varied and so complete, it covered a lot of genres – from love songs through little acoustic things, through big rocking things, through crazy experimental stuff. I have heard that, people say “well you’ve done it all, what’s left” but on the other hand, I think that there’s plenty of people who kind of embrace that. I just heard something about the Foo’s new thing – Shame, Shame – that could have been written with the Beatles in mind, or it could have been written in the 60s. But you know once you’re writing a song and it feels good, you can’t betray the song and say “I’m not going to finish you because you sound like something I’ve heard before”. You owe it to the song and to yourself to just go with it and finish it. So I think there’s plenty more to be done and then you get the advent of hip-hop, and suddenly it’s a whole new world. So I think there’s plenty of great music out there, and plenty of places for people to go. But I agree, we kind of limited the field a little bit.
Zane: did I ever ask you what your favorite Beatles record was? And did you swerve that question, I can’t remember?
Paul: I always swerve it. When people do ask me that, I always say “You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)”, which is a zany little b-side that nobody knows, but we had such fun making it. It’s like a little comedy record and I just remember the joy of making it. But there’s a lot of songs that I love of the Beatles, you know… I think “Strawberry Fields” is a great song. I think “Hey Jude” worked out great… So I’ve got a lot of favourite songs. “Blackbird”, I love. “Eleanor Rigby”, I love…
Zane: let me ask you this. If you could create an aggregate in your head, top of your head, which one do you think you’ve probably listened to the most throughout your life? What would be the natural draw?
Paul: I would say probably “Let It Be” as a song. It’s the most ubiquitous, it sort of got everywhere. Ubiquitous, from the Latin ubiquo, meaning everywhere. Come on!
Zane: Amazing! You rockstars, you’re always so self-conscious about not having a proper education… Okay last question, Paul for this time. The 60s, Beatles, civil rights. The move into a tumultuous 70s, full of political assassination and war and 80s. Thatcher, Reagan, 90s, technology, terrorism, climate change, Trump… Your life… You’ve written through these decades where change is inevitable – I’m giving you the headlines. As you’ve moved through your life, is there a mantra or a thought or a sentence or an observation or a feeling to you – not for the whole world, not speaking for me or anybody else in this room or the next – that helps you to cut through that and simplify the human experience?
Paul: The thing that resonated with me when I was at school because it’s just a phrase from Shakespeare, it’s “to thine own self be true”. I’ve always thought that’s very sensible, very strong and I’ve lived by that and I continue to. You’re trying to be true to yourself, you’re trying to not have too much bs in your life. So to me that would be something that helps me cut through the rubbish and the craziness around, to sort of center and just say okay to to my own self i should be true to “thine own self be true”.
Last updated on December 27, 2020