Interview for BBC Radio 6 Music • Thursday, October 22, 2020

Sir Paul McCartney on his lockdown album: 'I was just messing around'

Radio interview • Interview of Paul McCartney
Published by:
BBC Radio 6 Music
Interview by:
Matt Everitt
Read interview on BBC Radio 6 Music
Timeline More from year 2020

Album This interview has been made to promote the McCartney III Official album.

Master release

Songs mentioned in this interview

Get Back

Officially appears on Let It Be (Limited Edition)

Seize The Day

Officially appears on McCartney III

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BBC: How are you doing?

Paul: I’m doing fine. How are you? Man?

BBC: I’m all right. Where in the world are you Paul:? Where am I speaking to you from?

Paul: I am in London. Londinium, the famous capital of Rome.

BBC: It’s really good to speak to you. I mean, this is all very unexpected. You’re not very good at sitting on your hands, are you?

Paul: You know, I get these ideas, it keeps me busy.

BBC: Actually, I should ask, have you spent this time in lockdown out with the public eye growing like a huge “McCarney I” beard, because it is an opportunity to do that here because lots of people have.

Paul: No… What I do is I gotta grow for a couple of weeks and I get fed up with it, it gets a bit itchy. I shave it of, and I’m gone for another two or three weeks.

BBC: How’s your lockdown been Paul:?

Paul: It went okay, actually, cuz I came back off holiday at the beginning of the year, and was got down to my farm in the countryside and happened to be locked down with my daughter, Mary, and her family. So that meant for my grandkids. So I think for a lot of people suddenly spending more time with their families than they thought they would. So that’s pretty nice. Then I was able to go to work because the idea was go to work only if you can’t work at home. And I had to do a little bit of music in the studio. So that got me started. So I did a bit of recording during that time. And then I’d come over the evening and they’d be Mary and the family. Very lovely. I mean it wasn’t that bad. I must say it was a bit sort of low to say that because I know a lot of people have had a terrible time. So mine was not too bad at all. In fact, I spent a lot of time with the grandkids and that was nice.

BBC: Okay, well look this is “McCartney III”. So let’s do a bit of context. So if this is maybe the third part of the trilogy then so “McCartney I” in 1970 that was the kind of start of the lo-fi DIY claimed produce everything yourself. Have you always had a soft spot for that record?

Paul: Oh, yeah. It happened just because I was spending a bit of time at home because suddenly I wasn’t in the Beatles anymore. So you know, you’re a bit of a loose end, to say the least. But I had all my stuff. I had a drum kit. I had my bass, my guitar, had an amp. So I got hold of a four track recorder from EMI, which is the same machine that we used with the Beatles. So I just went really lo-fi, just plugged the microphone straight into the back, didn’t have a mixing desk and made some music. That was it.

BBC: Cuz you said that was an incredibly difficult time for you. But I guess doing that record, writing it, producing it, making it really raw, giving yourself kind of nowhere to hide, that must have helped. It must have been a good process to have gone through for you.

Paul: Yeah, you know, for me, like everyone, music is a good thing, a great thing. So yeah, it really did help me through that period.

BBC: And now, it’s also regarded as a bit of a lo-fi classic, isn’t it? It’s seen as being the start of that DIY ethos, that DIY sound for bands.

Paul: Yeah, it’s funny, time adds an edge to all these things, because at the time, it was supposed to be just a load of crap. Just be on my own, just indulging myself, which it kind of was, you know, but I like that. And I thought there’s something here, and I got messages from some people saying “Oh, I love that, it’s so sort of laid back, it just doesn’t give a damn kind of thing”. So yeah, people tend to sort of think better of it now.

BBC: In keeping with the kind of trilogy idea, what was your headspace going into “McCartney II” then, because that was kind of the end of Wings, wasn’t it?

Paul: Yeah, “McCartney II” was more about – I had taken delivery of some other synths. And I’ve never really messed with one before. So it was about taking advantage of all the things you can do with a synth. And then the other thing was a sequencer, again something I’ve heard people use, but I’d never had a go at. So that’s really the basis of that album. It was just me kind of locked away. It felt a bit crazy sometimes. I would say that I felt a little bit like a crazy professor locked away in his laboratory. One track in particular called “Secret Friend”… It was just eight minutes long, it just happened to keep going for eight minutes. You know, if you want to put some percussion on, like shakers, you just do a bit of it. And then the computer can do the eight minutes if you want it to just keep going. But I’m just standing around in this little empty room going with shakers for ages… Oh, my God.

BBC: Do you think you work differently if you’re recording in a bathroom or recording in Abbey Road? Do you approach things differently, do you think?

Paul: Yeah, I think so. If you are on your own, you can have an idea, and then very quickly, you can play it. Whereas with a band, you’ve kind of got to explain it. They’ve got to get it. You’ve got to get it how it feels. Sometimes that’s great. Don’t get me wrong. Obviously live, that’s the best. But when you’re just noodling around on your own, It’s just about freedom. And it’s just something I’ve always enjoyed doing.

BBC: For this album, “McCartney III”, as all your work, everything you play, everything you say is scrutinized so much, to be doing some recordings and just thinking “maybe no one will hear this”, that’s gotta be quite a joy, I guess.

Paul: Well, that was the great thing about the album. I didn’t know I was making an album. And that really makes a difference. Because I just went in, I said I had this little bit of film music. The guy was making a film for me. He wanted a little bit of intro music and then a little bit of credits instrumental so I had to go and do that. So well, that’s serious. Now I can mess around. For the next nine weeks, I was just messing around thinking “you could just finish this one up”. And just going through them all, and never suspecting for one second that this was going to be an album…

BBC: Isn’t there songs from different points in time?

Paul: Most of it is new stuff. There are one or two that I hadn’t finished. Because I was able to get in the studio though, “Okay, wait a minute, what about that? Well, let’s have a look at that”. So get it out and think “ah, you know”… You try and figure out what was wrong with it, why you didn’t like it. And in some cases, it was just the vocal or the words or something just didn’t cut it. So you rip it all down and go “Okay, well, let’s just make it a completely different song”. And then when I’ve done them all, I said “what am I going to do with this, is this a new album or something?” And then it suddenly hit me. No, this is “McCartney III”, “You’ve done it by yourself like the others”. So this qualifies.

BBC: There’s so much that’s texturally so nice in there. There’s kind of songs that come back in. And there’s different bits and almost false endings and stuff. There is a real looseness to it. It sounds great. It’s a beautiful sounding record because it does sound very, very different.

Paul: Thank you for saying that.

BBC: I mean, even the vocals it’s very easy these days to auto tune vocals or comp vocals from different bits. But you know, the vocals sound raw. They sound really, really raw, don’t they?

Paul: Thanks. I was trying to get them posh… You know, because I wasn’t really aiming at a proper record release, I was just having a go with it, “that’s okay, that’s good”. And so I think it has ended up being exactly what it is, which is me not really trying very hard. But except to have fun.

BBC: Did the pandemic effect and everything we’re all going through affect any of the writing, do you think?

Paul: Yeah, I think so. So a couple of the newest songs, there’s one called “Seize The Day” that had echoes of the pandemic kind of thing, you know, “when the cold days come, we wish that we had seized the day” kind of things like, so that was just reminding myself and anyone listening that we have to grab the good stuff. And, you know, try and get on through the pandemic. But it certainly helped me.

BBC: How have you found the past six months, personally, because I found it really difficult to watch the news. I mean, there’s a lot of positivity out there, and there’s a lot of hope, but there’s a lot of fear. And there’s a lot of blame. How have you found it?

Paul: I’m like you, I hate it. When you turn on the news, the lead story is going to be how many people died? That’s depressing after a while. But, in truth, what kind of saved me through a lot of this was, I remembered that my parents, my mom and dad, were in World War Two, and they survived. They survived the bombing and losing people left, right and center. And yet they came out of it with incredible spirits. And so as kids in Liverpool, we grew up with this, really, you know, let’s have a good time. Let’s see, roll out the barrel, with this great sort of wartime spirit that all the people had, because they’d had enough. And so I was brought up in a lot of that. So it’s kind of good to draw on that. I think, well, if they could do it, I can do it.

BBC: And there was this thing about music. Making music heals. Sometimes it’s not about the destination, you know, destination is the journey. It’s about writing it and recording, it is the thing. That’s the point of it, not necessarily the end, single or whatever.

Paul: That’s true, I love it. I always say to people “do it for a hobby”. You know, I’ve always got my guitar kind of handy. And it’s a friend, you know. If you talk to a lot of guitar players or instrument players, that’s what they’ll tell you. You kind of get a relationship with this inanimate object. It becomes very important. I mean, in the early days, John and I always used to say, it was like a psychiatrist. You know, you’d be feeling a bit down and you’d go off in a cupboard somewhere and start playing, and you’d work your way through it, and you feel better. So it is really important.

BBC: Obviously, the kind of future of live concerts is really uncertain at the moment. Do you have thought about the possibility that you might not be able to play live again? Has that entered your mind as a fear?

Paul: Yeah, definitely. If I look back, the last gig I did was the Dodger Stadium in LA. We did have a very good night. And I must say, you know, I’m thinking “oh oh what if it was my last gig”. But it would just be great, wouldn’t it, just to be in a crowd and not worry, and just be able to go crazy and listen to a live band or be the live band? I was imagining that the other day. Oh, you know, instead of doing the songs you’d be standing there going “this is crazy! This is lovely!”. Now it would be special, I must say. So fingers crossed.

BBC: Quick but housekeeping, how’s the “Let It Be” filmed doing? Have you had a look at what Pete Jackson has been up to? How’s it? How’s it coming along?

Paul: Yeah, I have. I love it. I love it. You know, I said to him when he was going to trawl through all the footage, like about 56 hours or something… I said “Oh, it’s gonna be boring”, because my memory of the film was that it was a very sad time. And it was a little bit downbeat film. But he got back to me. He said “No, what I’m looking at, it’s a laugh, it’s just four guys working. And you can see you making up songs”. And George wondering about the lyrics of “Something in the way she moves” or me trying to figure out Get Back. And he’s shown me little bits and pieces of it. It’s great. I love it, I must say, because it’s how it was. It just reminds me of, even though we had arguments, like any family, that we loved each other, and it shows in the film that it’s very warm feeling. And it’s amazing just being backstage, with these people making this music that turned out to be good.

BBC: And the last question, are we gonna get a “McCartney IV” in 2030 because I think you’ve set a precedent now.

Paul: I don’t know. I think we just have to wait and see, don’t we?

Last updated on January 6, 2021


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