Interview for Game Informer • Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Paul McCartney Talks The Beatles: Rock Band

Interview of Paul McCartney
Published by:
Game Informer
Timeline More from year 2009

Songs mentioned in this interview

Get Back

Officially appears on Let It Be (Limited Edition)

Helter Skelter

Officially appears on The Beatles (Mono)

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We talked to a ton of people for this month’s The Beatles: Rock Band special, but no one was more special than the legendary Sir Paul McCartney. Aside from being knighted for his unparalleled contributions to music – which have also earned him multiple Grammy and Academy Awards – McCartney has been a strong advocate for animal rights and music education, and helped organize The Concert for New York City, a charity to aid the families of 9/11 victims. McCartney was an integral advisor for The Beatles: Rock Band video game, and sat down with us to discuss how the game came to fruition, as well as whether the Beatles’ music will ever be available for download, and how the newly re-mastered albums sound.

GI: Thanks again for taking some time out of your morning to come and chat with us.

PM: Yeah, okay man.

GI: It’s great to be able to get your thoughts on the game a bit. I was interested to hear how you were first approached about The Beatles: Rock Band project. Did the idea to be involved in video games come from outside, or did you all think you should pursue that option and then sought out a partner?

PM: We’re always kind of looking for ideas. Post-the actual Beatles career, what tends to happen is ideas just come in, people say, “Do you want to do a movie? You wanna do a thing? Do you want to do a show in Vegas?” So we sift those ideas, as they come to us. I believe this came to us via Dhani Harrison, who’s a gamer and he’s of the generation. So he came up in conversation, “Would you like to do a video game?” And I was like, “Yeah, how would that work? Talk to me.” He’s like, “You can do this, you can do this, we’ll call people who can do it, Harmonix and Rock Band people.” “Yeah, let’s just see, let’s talk to them.” So it came in as an idea and I think just immediately we were interested in it. Then it was either going to be great or not, like The Love Show, like any of these other ideas. If it wasn’t a good idea, then we’d go, “We’re cool on it.” If it’s a good idea we heat up; like this one, it just got better and better.

GI: Over the years it’s seems like very few projects have had The Beatles officially licensing… What was it do you think that made Rock Band different as you guys were looking at it? What were the high points that made you give the thumbs up?

PM: Well as I say, you know, talking to the guys who first of all demonstrated the idea to us, and showed us some of their other stuff like Metallica and stuff and said, “This is what it’s about.” I guess they sold us the idea and it just seemed so attractive. And they said, “You see what it’d be is it’d be you guys, and what we want to do is go back to Cavern and then we want to come through and there would be this period, the psychedelic period, Shea Stadium period.” And they told a good story. And I said, “Well, I can see that.” Obviously that combined with the fact that we knew this generation of kids and not-kids, there are kind of an awful lot of people who are older that play it, and that it’s something that they’re passionately interested in. It just obviously made up into an interesting idea. So we just kept saying to them, “Well, if you want to do that song, show us how you might do it. Show us what graphics you would do.” And then as it went along we kind of just said, “I look terrible there, that looks nothing like me.” And they say, “We’re working on it, it’s okay.” I say, “Ringo doesn’t drum like that.” So that was really all the input we could give having been there, having made the original records. Then we could say, “Well, that isn’t all guitar, that’s a piano part.”And they’d say, “Yeah, we’ve got to wangle it a bit.” So it became just fun for us, these sessions we’d have every so often when they operated it. And they were excited. And we were excited. It became a mutual excitement, this idea of, “We can do this, this is going to work.” We finally got the eyes right, they’re awesome.

GI: The eyes are hard.

PM: That’s exactly what they said to us, the eyes are hard. It’s funny, I like that. I’m an enthusiastic person, so I’m intrigued by that kind of thing. I realize now I see some animation things – I’ve got a five-year-old daughter, so I watch a lot of animation films. I notice the eyes are hard. Some people look very weird, because they obviously ran out of budget right about the eyes. So yeah, we just got excited. It just grew to something very exciting.

GI: It’s interesting that you bring up the idea of young people, because I wanted to ask you about the fact that this may be, for some young video game players, something that they’re going to experience The Beatles’ music for the very first time with this game. What is it that you hope they take from your music, approaching it for the very first time maybe years after it’s original release?

PM: I think it’s the same thing I want from anything I do, which is for them to like it first of all. That’s why we made it in the first place. We wanted to play it to someone, in that case on a mono record player, and then through the ages on CDs, downloads. You just want them to like it. So I think that kids listening to it, I would like them to get into the music and say, “I love this song.” (hums “Day Tripper”) “I love that one!” So it’s the same thing, I just want… I just want to be liked. [laughter]

PM: It’s the same deal, man. It’ll just be a new generation. I like the idea that they may not have ever heard it before. I doubt it would – people come to my concerts, they’re like eight-years-old and they know the songs better than I do.

GI: Sure, well that was other thing. The largest majority of people obviously are coming to this being very familiar with your music. So, for that large majority, do you see something new that longtime fans of The Beatles will find to experience, kind of tackling it in a game format like this?

PM: Yeah, you know what I find about Beatles music, is no matter what format – it particularly showed itself to me when I was watching The Love Show – is that I hear new things in the records. Because a lot of them we made sort of mono, or we made them in stereo, and to tell you the truth I don’t sit around listening to Beatles music all day. So I’d hear it on the radio or someone would play it, or I’d play it on stage. But when you actually sit down and it’s there in concentrated form like in a game, it’s what you do, is listen to it very hard. You’re in it. So that’s what I’ve enjoyed about this. Just today in the little demo they did, “Back in the USSR” and going, “You’re missing bonus points!” So I’m going, “Yeah, it’s in unison!” So it’s stuff that you didn’t even realize you were doing is now being fed back to you and pointed out to you. So it’s kind of exciting, it’s like you were just a cool guy that wore those kinds of clothes, and now you’re seeing yourself back and saying, “Jeez that was good! Man, that shirt was dynamite!” Do you know what I mean? Old snapshots of yourself as a kid and saying, “That haircut was pretty cool. I wish I had that shirt now.” It’s a nice reminder, and it shows off the music very well.

GI: Are there songs that you felt really had to be included in this game? Were there songs in The Beatles’ catalog that you felt needed to be there?

PM: Yeah mine… mine. Basically, mine. [laughs] No, there were certain songs that seemed like they would work better than others. In truth, I took a lot of direction from the game people themselves. They’re the people that would tend to know. I’m a good listener, and I don’t just walk into a meeting and go, “It’s got to be my songs!” I’m kidding with that. When they suggested “Back in the USSR” I thought I could see that. There’s enough things in it, enough elements. They do “Helter Skelter,” I thought that would work. “Get Back,” and certain things. But then there were certain kinds of songs that I don’t think they used, maybe something more sort of gentler and acoustic like “Mother Nature’s Son,” which is more of an album track. So I think it’s kind of the obvious game songs they kind of show themselves. Then I say – the guys came to us with a list and said, “We’d like these ones.”And it was like, “Yeah, okay.”

GI: Any ones that you didn’t want to have included that you felt strongly about?

PM: If they thought they could make it happen, I’d let them try it. I’m not like that, “You mustn’t touch “Let it Be.”” It’s like, why not?

GI: Very cool. How about lesser known songs that you felt needed to be there – was there anything that you felt needed to show off a particular portion of The Beatles’ career? Or a style that you played during a certain period? Did you come to them and be like, “I would really like to see more from this album,” or anything like that?

PM: Well I’d like to say, “Yeah, you know…” but it’s not true. The guys made very good decisions. They’re really cool, they’re into it. This is the thing, it wasn’t like I woke up one morning and I want these songs for a game show. It was they came to us and said, “Can we have these songs for our game show?” So it was just a question of looking at what they said and seeing if they’d made good choices. I think they did.

GI: Do you think the game, from what you’ve seen of it so far, is doing a good job of representing the band’s career?

PM: Yeah, I think it’s very in depth. That’s what I like about it. It could have just been they’ve got The Beatles in their Ed Sullivan outfits on stage somewhere and you played all the songs. But this was the nice thing about it, as you said, why would you do a project like that? It’s a question of “Okay, sell us on it. What would you do that’s different? What’s going to be fun? Excite me.” Well, first of all, we want to go through the phases. That was taken care of, they just immediately laid that out as a given. So I was like, “Well, that’s good.” Then they started to get in depth. If you get certain bonus points, you get information. You get interesting anecdotes. One of my roles, and Ringo’s roles was to check those. I was letting them flash by one demo, and I, “Woah, wait a minute, if this is going out then it’s like the new Bible.” This is like if these go out and we’ve endorsed it, these better be right. So I said, “Just slow that down, read this out to me… Paul said to John… oh, now that’s not right. No, no what I said was we should…” They said, “Oh, great,” and then they took notes. So they were very good that way. They had it pretty much laid out, but we were there to fine tune it. Particularly things like that. Certain little anecdotes that had become fan mythology, but in actual fact aren’t right. Those are bound in Beatles legends. So you’ve got to put a few of those right, but we took the time and they were very keen to do that. So we’d just sort of say, “That’s not quite how George moved.” And we’d say, “Go back to some more film.” And, “Yeah, okay.”

GI: Have you had a chance to play either of the other Rock Band games?

PM: I’ve had a chance, but I haven’t dared because the people demonstrating are so damned good that I’d need to get it in a room for a day.

GI: I bet they’d do that for you if you asked them.

PM: No, I will definitely do it. Now it’s a game, I’ll get one. I might even get a free one. I will now learn it. I saw what they were doing and I understand what they were doing, but it’s a completely different technique to what we did, because we actually played the notes. Yeah, I’ll definitely have a go at it. I have a son who’s 30, so he’s a big gamer, he gamed through a lot of the early stuff. I was thinking the other day, “God, that’s a long way from ping pong.” Do you remember standing in front of that huge set? How exciting was that? Get a bit of English on it. But his generation went through stuff like – I like Pilotwings and stuff like that. I liked the way you used to crash on purpose: “No!”

GI: I grew up in the same generation as him, so I remember those game well.

PM: So those are great, and I say I played a bunch of that along with them, so I know the excitement of it. I just never got into it as much as the guys did, because I was doing other stuff.

GI: We were talking at the office when we first heard about the decision that you guys were going to be going with Rock Band. The appearance of this game sort of seems to indicate some willingness to allow Beatles to appear in some new formats that you’re exploring. It brought up the question for us of whether you think we’ll ever see some form of that kind of digital download options for people to hear the band’s music? Or do you think that’s something that’s totally pie in the sky?

PM: No, it’s something we want. What happened is we started talking about it a few years ago, and with The Beatles, fortunately or unfortunately depending on your perspective, there are different elements. There’s The Beatles themselves, Apple, and we kind of hold a lot of the rights so we can a bunch of decisions, but then you’ve got EMI who’s our label, they hold a lot of cards too. Then we’ve got various other people involved. You would have iTunes or somebody involved wherever your person was going to be. So we started talking along those lines, but I’m not going to kind of dish the dirt, but one of the elements saw things wrong about the deal and got worried about certain key elements that we sort of assured and said, “You don’t need to worry about that, it’s going to be okay.” Which has been our life, there’s always someone saying, “You can’t put all those people on the cover of Seargent Pepper, they’ll sue you.” These kind of issues still exist with labels particularly, they’re dinosaurs, so you can’t always do exactly what you want. And that’s the case; there’s a bit of a long jump, and I’m hoping it will free up because I think it will be good for everyone. As you know, I don’t mind if I come out as a tape cassette, as a CD, as a download, or as a cylinder. You know, George Martin used to come out on cylinder, well we used to joke that he did. (laughter) But you know what I mean? It doesn’t matter really what format. You can make it out of pie pastry if you want, if you can get in on that.

GI: So you’d like to see that happen?

PM: Yeah, I’d very much like to see that happen, it’s just another way for people to hear our music, and for it to reach people. I don’t mind how they want, it’s not to do with me how people want to listen to it.

GI: 9/9/09 is going to be kind of a big day for you guys, certainly, with the game coming out, but it’s also this remastering of the original music coming out. Have you been involved in that process at all?

PM: Yeah, we’ve been involved in all the processes. We were very hands-on originally making the music, and now that it’s now that it’s done and it’s a body of work, if it’s ever going to released, re-released, 5.1 whatever thing they’re going to do, we listen to it, we go somewhere – probably Abbey Road – and we have a session, and we just check that we’re happy with it. Everything that goes out we’re happy with, so yeah, we do get involved.

GI: The process is still going well? Are they done now and just waiting to release?

PM: Yeah, it’s all waiting for release. Yeah, it’s all done. And it’s good, you know, we ask the same questions that people would ask which is kind of, “Well, why do you need to do it?” Because they’ve been remastered, but the point is that now the technology is so much better. Then it was really just they said, “Why are you doing it?” We said, “To get rid of the hiss.” That was like the original story as you remember, I’m sure. Now it’s not that anymore, in getting rid of the hiss you lost a bunch of stuff, so now you can do it much better now. So people can play on the new formats and it sounds… You know, I made a point a few years ago when this was happening, I went to a museum and saw Winston Churchill’s papers from his Prime Ministership of England during the war, and they were getting older, and browner, and crinklier. Then I went pretty soon after to a Beatles session and our songs were getting cleaner, shinier, and I was in the room with John, it felt like the session. Whereas we had always been in speakers on the wall, now we were like – the new experience of technology – I was actually in the room again with John. Of course that was magical for me, because he’d passed years before. It was like, “Shit, wow.” And so whereas Winston’s papers are crinkling, we’re getting better and better. It’s uncanny. We should be fading and getting crinkly. I love it.

GI: I’m sure that’s a fascinating experience.

PM: It’s nearer to the actual sound in the room when we made the record. It actually sounds like John is there singing, and I can see the mic, and I can relive the experience. So can fans, is the main thing. When people say, “It was originally made in mono, you should have kept it like that,” I say, “well go buy the mono, it’s still available, you can buy it if that’s what you want.”

GI: It’s still there!

PM: “…you do that, and we’ll do this.” Take your choice. It’s up to the people to choose, they got the right. Now they’re choosing games.

Last updated on September 1, 2020


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