- Published by:
- The Guardian
- Keith Stuart
- Album This interview has been made to promote the Destiny Original Soundtrack Official album.
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Hi Paul, I hear you’ve been doing interviews all day. You must be exhausted?
Yeah, I’m feeling a bit frazzled. But don’t worry, I’ll de-frazzle myself.
I’ll try to ask really scintillating questions.
But first, how did you come to write a song for the video game Destiny?
They approached me though my manager. I spoke to the game studio’s composer, Marty O’Donnell, and he asked if I fancied contributing to the soundtrack of a new video game. I didn’t know anything about it, but he showed me some concept art, and I got intrigued. He said they’d like a song, and perhaps some collaboration on the score. I ended up sending him some musical phrases that I thought would be appropriate for the epic nature of the game. I was thinking of it as a blockbuster movie. The nearest I’d ever done was Live and Let Die, which was a little bit unusual, but I enjoyed the experience. This was just as intriguing. I liked the idea that there would be a whole bunch of people who would hear my music who wouldn’t normally hear it. I just thought, “Oh, I’ll give it a go.”
Do you play video games?
My grandchildren do. I’m the guy who comes up and says “Give me a go” and gets killed instantly, then hands the controller back.
Sounds like you have all the qualifications for a games journalist.
No. There are other things I like to do in my spare time. I’m just … I’m just not a gamer.
Fair enough. But you enjoyed the experience of working with games. Is this something you may do again? They are the way that a lot of people experience culture now.
Yeah, the thing about this was, it was the first time I’d done anything like it. It was pretty special. If something just as intriguing came up, I’d give it a go. Who knows?
But you’ve always been interested in the combination of music and technology, haven’t you? Your experiments with tape loops, for example. And I’ve just bought McCartney II on vinyl, which sounds a lot like a game soundtrack in places – very synthesised, but also really melodic.
Yes, and I wondered if that would be the route that Marty was going to take. But in fact, he took a much more traditional cinematic approach. I did send him a few tape loops though, which he incorporated into a couple of his pieces. I thought that would differentiate the score from other games. When you make a tape loop, it’s a very original sound; it’s nothing you can get off a synth. It’s all about exploring the accidental. I’ve always been interested in that kind of stuff. Playing around and experimenting is important – it keeps your more mainstream stuff fresh. You don’t get bored.
I believe it was John Cage who inspired you to experiment with tape loops. Do you still listen to experimental music these days?
I listen to a lot of different music, whatever comes along. I’m just as happy listening to Bach as I am to electronic music, or Irish folk music, or, say, Ed Sheeran. I’ve always had that interest in experimenting; it’s important that your idea of music doesn’t just go down one route.
Have you got a consistent approach to songwriting, though? Do you have a method that’s always stayed the same throughout your career?
I do actually, I’ve only just noticed. It’s nothing you really think about, but if I analyse it, I think, yes, I do. I sort of cast around for ideas, I think about stuff. It may be a title I like, or a phrase. I sit down, normally with a guitar, sometimes a piano, and just start noodling around. I try to find something that interests me to get me started. Then, how we always used to do it is how I do it now. I just follow the trail. I think, “OK, if we said that in the first line, what will the second line be? Will it continue the theme, or will it just jump off?” It’s a process of following your instincts.
So it’s much more about letting an idea evolve rather than obsessing over structure?
Yes, instinct is the way I do it. If there’s a bad lyric I’ll instinctively know it, but then I’ll bypass it and go on and finish the song, and then go, “OK Paul, come on, you’ve really got to fix that.” There is a process involved that hasn’t altered much over the years. But sometimes, working with young producers, they have another way to do it. I worked with Paul Epworth on the last album, and his style is very much to just make something up out of thin air. I enjoyed that, but I’ve still got to do the popular-song process on it.
A lot of the young people who will listen to the Destiny song probably consume music through services like Spotify – they don’t buy albums any more, they download tracks. What do you think about that? I mean, my sons will probably never hear the last four tracks of Abbey Road in the correct way – unless I force them to listen to my record collection.
Yeah, I do think about that. In an ideal world, they listen to what you’ve recorded in the way that you have presented it. But it’s their choice. If they want to read a novel and not finish it, that’s their choice, not mine. I’d just be pleased they were reading it. It’s all changed so drastically. A lot of kids listen to music on their smartphones through these tiny little speakers. I’m pulling my hair out thinking, “Argh, I spent hours making that high-fidelity sound! Get a decent set of headphones! Please!”
They don’t seem to care about sound quality these days, Paul.
They don’t, do they? My grandkids don’t. But then the tinniest little noise can be exciting. Things change. Maybe when they get older, they’ll get into vinyl and become more sophisticated. But for me, at least they’re hearing what I’m doing, in some form or another. I mean, I’ve come through vinyl, tape cassettes, CDs, digital downloads … all along, the constant was that a song is required. The delivery system isn’t important. For me, I’d love people to be listening to the music in the most perfect way, so they can experience exactly what we made in the studio. But then it’s the difference between looking at a painting in a gallery and looking at a postcard of it – there’s still something good about that postcard.
And a lot of modern artists still mention your work as an inspiration. Tomorrow Never Knows has had a huge influence on electronic music. Is that gratifying to you?
It’s great. At the time, we knew what we were doing was special. At that point we’d stopped touring in order to concentrate on recording. We were on fire, we had so many new ideas. The drum sound on Tomorrow Never Knows is just classic. And the tape-loop solo – it was just something I was trying out at the time. It was very exciting to just come in with this plastic bag of tapes and set them all up in the studio and then mix them all on to the track. So it’s not a surprise really that people cite that track as inspiration. We knew it was interesting. We … we just felt it.