Interview for BBC Radio 6 • Thursday, June 21, 2018

Sir Paul McCartney on how he avoids being "big headed"

Radio interview • Interview of Paul McCartney
Published by:
BBC Radio 6
Interview by:
Matt Everitt
Read interview on BBC Radio 6
Timeline More from year 2018

Album This interview has been made to promote the Egypt Station Official album.

Master release

Songs mentioned in this interview

All Day

Officially appears on All Day


Officially appears on FourFiveSeconds


Officially appears on Long Tall Sally

Nowhere Man

Officially appears on Rubber Soul (UK Mono)

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From, January 11, 2019

The promotional duties for the album release were getting into full swing and he had a succession of visitors to his studio in Sussex over a two-day period. They included a cover interview for Mojo magazineSunday Times CultureGQ cover story, an appearance for the CBS show 60 Minutes and chats with Radio X, BBC Radio 6 Music and the website DIY (the first interview from this campaign to appear). 

Stuart Bell, Paul McCartney’s publicist
From, January 11, 2019 – Paul in Sussex in his studio with Radio X, DIY and 6 Music.

From Shaun Keaveny – Sir Paul McCartney on how he avoids being “big headed” – BBC Sounds:

Paul McCartney has just unveiled his first new solo single in four years, a double A side ‘Come On To Me’ and ‘I Don’t Know’ – the former is a rocker with more than a few tinges of his Macca’s 70s band Wings while the is latter is an introspective ballad,

He also announced details of his first new album Egypt Station, which is coming out on September 7th. This is his 17th studio album, and was recorded in California and the UK with producer Greg Kurstin (who’s worked with Beck, Adele and Foo Fighters).

BBC 6 Music Breakfast’s Matt Everitt travelled to Paul’s studio in deepest East Sussex to meet him and they talked about the challenges of song writing when you up against your own back catalogue, how he thinks his outlook has changed, his appearance at the recent pro-gun control rally in the US, and his touring plans.

But they started by discussing the two new songs – starting off with ‘I Don’t Know’

Interviewer: So the first thing I heard, the first lyric, “Crows at my window, dogs at my door, I don’t think I can take it anymore”. So that’s pretty bleak.

Paul McCartney: I was in a bleak mood, you know. It’s a well known fact, you’ve talked to a lot of songwriters, that they write good songs from being in a bad mood, it can often be like a really good motivating factor. Because you don’t care, you can’t just go out to your friends or your relatives, and go and just start going “I’ve got crows at my window”. Or you don’t necessarily want to just go and complain and bitch about everything. But you can complain to your piano, in this case, or your guitar, and it sometimes gives you a great place to write a song from. And I felt out about this song. I felt “what am I doing wrong, what do I do, oh I don’t know”. That was a feeling in me. So I kind of wrote it out with the song. And at the end of it when I’d written it all, I felt much better. You know, it’s a great therapy. And we’ve done it for years. We all used to. I can think of lots of examples, “Nowhere Man”, the Beatle song. I know John was feeling bad about himself. And he was the real nowhere man. So you often do that, you know, it’s just such a great way to bitch instead of bitching.

Interviewer: I wouldn’t have thought that, you know, well, doubt and regret and all those things.

Paul McCartney: Well, it is funny, isn’t it? People think that, when you reach my position, and you have been in the Beatles, and you’ve been done so well, that you end up with no problems at all. But that’s unrealistic, you know, because you’re in life. And if like me, you’ve got a big family, there’s gonna be some sort of problem, even if it’s just someone’s ill or something. So, realistically speaking, you have to think that it’s very likely that most people you know can have problems. Even President Obama, even John Lennon, or even, Lord knows, Taylor Swift. You know, we’ve all got problems. And that’s what makes us also human. And in a way, it’s a good thing. I don’t think I’d want to just be living in some big fairytale castle, away from the realities of the world. I mean, obviously, when you’re in a problem, it’s annoying. But you’re in the real world and that’s, that’s a good thing.

Interviewer: It’s interesting, because I think people nowadays, including musicians, will talk about mental health. Whereas before, it was almost a thing you couldn’t say. And now it’s opened up which is got to be healthier.

Paul McCartney: Yeah, exactly, I think you are finding people can talk about more and more things. I think that’s one of the good ways about the society’s development.

Interviewer: About “Come On To Me”, which is more of a kind of like, that wink, that mutual, “Oh, alright”. Quite a racy number.

Paul McCartney: I mean, you know, it’s a rock and roll song. So, you know, you want to be a bit racy in a rock and roll song, you don’t want to just be vicars, you know? So, yeah, this to me, I started off with a riff and then I was imagining parties when I was in the 60s, and the kind of parties that young people will be going to now. But you know, we reach a certain point where you go to this party, and you’d look at each other, you go “why are we here, we’ve got each other now, we’ve picked up the girl”. We’ve married them, and we’re having kids with them, whatever… So it’s a memory. It’s just a happy memory. And it’s fictitious. I don’t exactly have a memory of “ah yes, that happened with that girl”. But, you know, this is about lots of times at parties, you’d see someone you’re fancied. So this is me imagining that scenario and putting it into what seems like the best vehicle, be like a little rock and roll song.

Interviewer: Because it’s got that “Nineteen Hundred And Eighty-Five” Wings horn sound going on it, isn’t it?

Paul McCartney: Oh, yeah, the horns, I was really pleased because those are the Muscle Shoals guys. And, you know, it was one of those, “if we’re gonna get brass, we should really go for getting the boys”, you know, get serious. So I rang, are they still working, you know? Yeah, sure. So we were in LA, they came up to LA. And we did a session with them. And they were great. It was so cool. I mean, the best fit for me in the session was… I was working with Greg. And they said, “Okay, what do you want us to play?” We sort of got a bit like this, you know, and we’d give them a rough idea of how we wanted to sound. And so they go out, and then talk amongst themselves. And they play it one way. And we go “Oh, that sounds great”. He said, “Do you mind if we just change the voicing of it? I think it’d be better”. And we thought, yeah, we kind of trust you boys. And sure enough, it was Muscle Shoals. And suddenly it was that sound.

Interviewer: Because I was thinking it sounds a bit like Wings, and then, of course, it’s gonna sound like Wings. You’re up against your own competition. You’re always in competition with Paul McCartney, which must be quite difficult whenever you release anything.

Paul McCartney: No, I’m better than him. Don’t worry.

Interviewer: What’s your critical voice, like when you’re writing a song? Do you have a voice saying you have done that before? Do you have that in your head?

Paul McCartney: Yeah, definitely. You hope you have that, it is a good thing to have. Because otherwise, you’re just going to write songs you’ve written or songs, even worse, that other people have written. So you do self govern, as you’re going along, just sort of thinking it’s a bit corny. Sometimes I’ll go right through it. But I’ll remember that little bit was corny and I’ll go back to it. But I might just motor on to get the song done. And I go back now that was a lousy line. So I’ll spend a bit of time on that line and think “Oh, yeah, much better way to say”, but often they just fall out, or kind of, if you’re lucky.

Interviewer: How tough are you on yourself ? Because you’ve had 55 years of people saying “You’re great, you know”. Does that mean the voice has to be a bit more “no, you are not, come on” ?

Paul McCartney: No, you’re right. With the great thing about that, the fact that you’ve been successful for that long, comes the not-so-great thing, which is that, at some point, you’re just gonna get big headed. You’re just gonna think “I am pretty hot”, you know. And I think you’ve got to watch out for that, you get to hope that you’re spotting that as you’re doing it. So yeah, if songs don’t just lay themselves out, then I will be quite strict. And sort of saying, “No, this is really lousy, I hate that bit of melody, I’ve got to change it”, or “those words suck, so I’m gonna make them better, you know, I’ve got to make something that works”. And so then I will just work harder on it, come back to it, and spend some time and let’s try and fix it. And if I fix it, that’s fine. And then we go on record. If I don’t, that’s not fine. And we don’t.

Interviewer: Everybody changes as they go through their life and musicians and artists change creatively. One’s life can become more melancholic, and one can become more optimistic or more sentimental or more angry about the world. Where do you think you are now? Have you changed?

Paul McCartney: Yeah, I think I’m always trying to be optimistic and I am always pretty optimistic. There is an expression somebody said to me once, “I’m an old man with many worries, most of which never happened”. And I think that can be very true. We do worry, worry, worry worry about things, and people around us worry. And I’ll often say this to someone who’s worried about something “Don’t worry, you know, it’s probably not gonna happen, it’ll be okay”. And so yeah, I’m somewhere in the middle. I am optimistic. But I’m a realist. So I try and keep this check on me that just doesn’t allow myself to get carried away with “oh, it’s just all rosy and it’s sunshine”, because I know it’s gonna rain, I know the winter is coming around. I know about that stuff, enough for me to keep a check on myself. And just think, you know, look, just land somewhere in the middle of all of this, and you’ll be okay.

Interviewer: What gets you back up? I knew you were at the pro gun control march in March. Is that something?

Paul McCartney: Yeah, I just think America has got itself in a crazy position. In the old days, when the Constitution was written, it said the right to bear arms, because I don’t know, the British will come and invade, all this stuff’s going on. So let’s give every man a musket, and allow him to use it. Then I think it made sense. But as times gone by, I think it should have been adjusted. Musket with one shot? Yeah, then you’ve got to load, you’ve got to do this, and maybe give you time to think about and maybe find the second shot. But with the assault rifles, it’s just got to a ridiculous stage, and with the strength of the NRA, the National Rifle Association, they have so much money and their attitude is so powerful, that you could see when Trump was campaigning, that he would just say “they’re gonna take your guns away from you”. And that is powerful to Americans. Because all those years, and I’ve spent some time in Arizona, where it’s allowed to carry a weapon, as long as it’s visible. And I remember being in a shop and some guy, just swaggering around with his big gun, I would ask “is that allowed?”, “yep, as long as it’s visible”. So I think, all of that’s catching up with America. And I don’t know how they’re going to do it. That’s what I think is the biggest problem. You know, I’d love to see gun control. And the greatest hope, I think, is the kids, the kids from all these shootings, who were at this rally that we went to in New York, and it was so powerful, you really did think, if anyone’s going to change it, it’s gonna be them. It’s not going to be NRA, they may allow you to not have bump stocks. Like, people aren’t going to find them.

Interviewer: How ambitious are you these days? When bands start, a musician starts, you’ll look at the other band on the bill and go “can I beat up that song?” “We should have written that”. Do you still do that? Do you watch, say the Foo Fighters, and think “that one is great”?

Paul McCartney: No, I don’t watch them. No, we’re better than them. Sorry, guys (laughs). Yeah, I look around and see who’s doing what, and then sometimes you go “Oh, yeah, I love that, I love the way he or she sings that”. Or “wow, that’s a great little record”. I don’t get like madly jealous. You know, I listen to people. And I think there’s a lot of good stuff going on. But you know, a lot of people, my generation, say “Oh, music is not as good as it used to be”. But I always say “no, no, no, no, no, that’s what our parents said”. Not mine actually, my dad was very understanding. But that’s where a lot of the parents had “oh, you know, rock and roll”. I think there’s some very good records. I’ve been involved in a couple when I work with Kanye. There was that kind of thing going on, you know, and we did one piece called “All Day”, which got a Grammy nomination, and that was great. You know, seeing how that came together was very much one of those things where people will say “music is not as good as the old days”. But seeing it all come together and listening to it, I thought it was great. Okay, so I contributed to it, so I would love it. But the beats, I wasn’t on. I really thought it was very cool…

Paul McCartney: I didn’t even know I was making a Rihanna record. And then suddenly it arrives. I had to ask people, “am I on this? Did I do anything with this?” It arrived out of the blue. What happened was, I’d played a guitar thing. The whole backing of FourFiveSeconds is a guitar riff thing that I played. But I played it in A, quite low and quite slow. And then for benefit of the record, and probably for Rihanna’s vocal key, they lifted it, they sped it up. And you can do that these days without going to Mickey Mouse. Although there is a little voice if you haven’t listened to that record… “What about a mystery?”. And that’s me, sped up and go, what is that strange noise? So then when they told me, that’s it, I got okay.

Interviewer: You’re gonna go on tour, yes? When?

Paul McCartney: We’re just planning it now. And we’ll definitely go out in September. And beyond. Because you’ve got to book those things. And I know we’re playing Austin City Limits, which is in October, I think that’s been announced. Or did I just announced it. That’s the only thing has been announced yet. So we’re playing that, we’re doing that, and then before then, before August, we might just do a couple of little gigs just because they’re fun. You know, we once played the 100 Club, we once played the Cavern and those little gigs are really nice to do. It’s not only takes you back to where you started, but there’s the intimacy and the audience and you can have a lot of fun. And you sometimes don’t feel like it’s quite so precious. Because for 40,000 people who paid all that money, you’ve got to think about pleasing them. If there’s only like, you know, a couple of hundreds and we’re all having a party, you just think we could throw in “Matchbox” or an odd number that we only do at soundchecks or something. So they’re good fun for that reason.

Interviewer: Elton John today started the final tour that he’s going to do…

Paul McCartney: Another final tour. He did one a few years ago. Remember that? But I’m like these kind of footballers, people say “when are you going to retire?” And they nearly always say “well, you know, when I don’t enjoy it” or “when the legs give in” or something like that. When there’s a factor that makes them retire. I don’t think any of them want to retire particularly. And I was talking to Willie Nelson. And I was talking about this whole retirement thing because you know, he’s even older than me, and he says “retiring from what?” I think that just says it.

Last updated on April 8, 2021


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