Interview for The Guardian • Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Paul McCartney: Why I experiment

Press interview • Interview of Paul McCartney

Album This interview has been made to promote the Electric Arguments Official album.

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Last week John Aizlewood asked why by appealing for the release of the Beatles’ lost jam Carnival of Light, Paul McCartney still felt the need to prove his creative worth. Here, speaking yesterday, McCartney replies, explaining that a desire for experimentation has always been part of his music.

When it comes to music, enthusiasm is what drives me. And because I’m enjoying myself, I never see anything that I do as a risk, I just see it as a bit of fun. In the Beatles we didn’t even think Sgt Peppers was a risk at the time. The newspapers did. One said: “The Beatles have dried up, they’ve not come out with anything for six months, they’re finished!” And we were there, sniggering, thinking “Ha!”

But I like pushing the boundaries a little bit because it keeps things fresh.

The key is that I don’t ever think what I’m doing is ever that important. Other people have, and the more you accumulate success, the more doing anything different is a bit of a risk. But I don’t view it like that – I view it as having fun, I’ve got to enjoy myself on stage or in a studio. And I still feel it’s a privilege to get in the studio with a guitar and an amp. Some people have got past that and they’re a bit jaded – but I still look at the amp in the studio and go “wow”.

I do it for myself. It’s a little bit indulgent, but I do it for myself.

Being far out is not something I’m known for too much, but I do enjoy that side of things. If you look at things I’ve done, from Why Don’t We Do It in the Road, which is kind of out-there, to Carnival of Light, which is so out there it hasn’t even been released, you can see I like experimenting. I don’t like this phrase “more than John”, though. We grew up as a couple of kids in Liverpool and I think we were both as earnest and experimental as each other.

In the 60s, I happened to have more opportunity to do some of that stuff because I was living on my own in London, whereas John was in the countryside in Weybridge and married so he was a little bit more pipe and slippers! I was out in the clubs and Wigmore Hall, catching people like Cornelius Cardew. I was into Stockhausen and stuff. So I had more of an opportunity but I don’t think that made me more experimental than John. I just possibly did a bit more during that period. And John ended up with Revolution No 9 so, perception wise, he was the most experimental Beatle. But that was something I’d been doing off-piste, as we say in the skiing business. I’d been doing it for a hobby and he was smart enough to bring it into the main event. That was John’s courage. But I think we were both equally experimental.

With the Fireman, again, it was just playing around and having fun. It was just me and [Fireman partner] Youth goofing off to a groove. But because we’ve got into the territory of songs, rather than just hypnotic one-chord music, it was different. We fancied a change and Youth suggested I sang. I said I had no songs, so he said let’s try it. I had no idea what would happen – I had to say to the engineer “don’t laugh”. So I just went up to the mic and goofed around and ad-libbed it. I ended up finding words – I’d been reading poetry books – kept singing all these things at the track and eventually a song came out of it. That’s how the Fireman found his voice – through experimentation.

In fact, the whole project was quite like improvisational theatre, which I’ve never been involved in. But I can now see the excitement of someone like Mike Leigh telling you that you are now a shop assistant called Dennis! So when you get into that Mike Leigh situation, you’ve got to draw on your resources. I was drawing on my songwriting experience. I’d pull things out at random. We’d sit down and have a chat. And Youth will pass round some poetry books. I’ll choose a couple of words at random. So like “Use this approach”, you’ll take “this approach” and start working on the word approach. But I sourced it from people like Burroughs and Ginsberg, and it was like cut-up technique, Burroughs’ technique of the cut-ups, very random but also very liberating.

The thing about experimenting is that it’s good fun. It’s interesting to do something you don’t do normally. It takes you into places you didn’t plan to go to. That’s quite an interesting aspect. Linda always liked to go for a drive and try and get lost. Most drivers don’t want to get lost – but she’d like it. And that idea of losing your bearings, as long as it’s not in deepest Africa, is something I like. I’ve always liked it. Because when you don’t always know what’s going on, that’s when you can really surprise yourself.


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