- Published by:
- BBC Radio 4
- Interview by:
- John Wilson
- Timeline More from year 2020
- Album This interview has been made to promote the McCartney III Official album.
More from year 2020
Songs mentioned in this interview
Officially appears on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Mono)
Officially appears on McCartney III
Officially appears on Yesterday and Today (Mono)
Officially appears on McCartney III
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BBC: Evidently you have been keeping yourself pretty busy this year. Let’s start by talking about the new album “McCartney III”, the third entirely solo album of your career. You play every instrument that we hear. It’s a self produced album. Of what point earlier in the year under lockdown did you think “I’ve got a lot of time on my hands. I better make some use of this better get to the studio” ?
Paul: Well, you know, I thought 2020 is going to be a great year, we’re going to do Glastonbury. I’m going to do some concerts in Europe. And then COVID struck and we would you to go to Naples in Italy. And I started the first big outbreak over in Europe was in Italy. And one by one the skittles fell you know, and eventually Glastonbury. So that meant, in a world, I’ve got a lot of time on my hands now. So it led to a little period of three or four months, first four months of lockdown with me being able to get into the studio and I must say was really helpful. Because you know, you’re able to keep your mind off that this whole plague that was hitting the world and maybe to get your head into music, you know?
BBC: And did you immediately think I’m making an album which could be a companion piece to the first solo album from 1970 and also the second one McCartney to from 1980.
Paul: I didn’t know I wasn’t doing anything with a purpose. Really. It was just all I’ll just do that. I wonder about that one. And I was thinking, oh God now the problem. I’ve had all the fun. Now here’s the problem. What am I going to do with this ? This mean… I’m making a new album. I don’t know, you know? And then light bulb went off. You know, I thought because I played all the stuff myself. Like I did on “McCarney I” and on “McCarney II”… Then this made this “McCartney III”. It was easy. Then when I was explaining to people, you know, they say “what are you doing?” “McCartney III”. And anyone who knew about the other two albums got it.
BBC: So it’s become a trilogy. And of course, all the albums were recorded in years that ended with zero 1970 1980 2020. When you made “McCartney I” in 70, very DIY – I know you’ve said in the past – , it was a matter of plugging the mic or the guitar directly into the back of the old reel-to-reel machine. I presume this was a bit more technologically advanced.
Paul: Well, yeah, now I’ve got a studio, you know. The first one was very homemade. And it was a Studer machine, which is one of the big tape machines, you know it. And I just plugged into the back of that. That was the kind of machine we were using in those days. We actually made the whole of Sgt. Pepper on one of these Studer machines as a four track. So I use that, and very basic, just plug the mic in, and then played a bit of drums. And if it didn’t like the sound, I moved the mic, you know, so yeah, so it’s very basic on the first one. And the second one was, yeah, that was more electronic stuff. Yeah.
BBC: I think what’s interesting, though, is that even though you have the studio now and you have the technology to hand and digital recording, some of it still does have that kind of rough lo-fi sound. “Find My Way” in particular. That seems to be addressing the pandemic as well, that song – “you never used to be afraid of days like these. But now you’re overwhelmed by anxieties” – a COVID song?
Paul: Yeah. You know, in this COVID thing, I’ve equated it, you can’t really equate it, but I’ve likened it to my parents in the war in World War Two. Imagine the upheaval in their lives, and you’re all getting blown up. And yet, they made their way through it. Well the ones who survived. Their attitude was so positive. And the songs and everything was so uplifting. You know, that’s great British spirit kind-of thing. And so I tend to think if they could get through that, which they did, and a good period followed it, then we’ll get through this. I don’t know how, because I’m not a medical person. But I have faith and people who do know how. And we’ll come out the other end, that became the theme of “Find My Way”.
BBC: Songwriters often have to dispel the notion that their songs are autobiographical. But I mean, if you think back to Eleanor Rigby, or The Fool On The Hill, or many of these, there have always been characters in your songs. Is “Women And Wives” one of those?
Paul: It’s, you know, I find myself to write songs, because I like to listen to songs that I think are uplifting. Through the years, you know, you’ll hear something, you go, “Oh, I love that makes me feel better”. And that’s crept into my stuff. And I’m always trying to improve the situation. So “Women And Wives” that just started after I was I was reading, funnily enough about Lead Belly. So that put me into the sort of bluesy frame of mind. And then I was sitting down here, a woman, why him he loves, “what we do with our lives seems to matter to others”. So there, there was off on the trail of, Okay, well, if it matters to others, maybe we’ve got to try and do something good. So it’s not characters so much as a kind of message, song, hidden amongst “Women And Wives”. It’s funny, in the middle of that, there was like, there’s no solo. And normally, when you’re running through the chords, in the middle of a song, you’re leaving space for a solo. But the more it went on, I thought, I like it without a solo. So because I was just doing it to please myself, it doesn’t have a solo.
BBC: Did all of the songs evolve in the studio in the process of recording? Or were some of them pre written?
Paul: No, there are various things, you know, it’s, that’s kind of how I work. I mean, John and I, when we were writing, people would say, “who writes the words? And who writes the music?” And we said, well, we both do both. They say, “well, what’s your formula”. “Oh, we haven’t got one. And we hope to never get one”. Because you know, the minute you’ve got a formula, you’re finished. So for me, I like to do different things at different times. Because it didn’t matter. I wasn’t making an album. You know, I didn’t feel like I had to have any overriding plan. And it actually is a surprise how well it hangs together.
BBC: And yet, it is a very diverse sounding album musically, as well. I mean, you do let yourself loose on a few tracks. Is that the result of not having a producer there to rein in your more experimental instincts? Which have always been there.
Paul: Yeah, I think so. I mean, you know, I normally work with producers who like the experimental instinct, but yeah, when you’re on your own, I love the freedom. You know, when you’re an artist, or when you’re a writer, when you’re creative, the great thing – and probably the reason why you are – is you’re looking for that freedom. You don’t want to be just stuck in one rut. You want to write a love song. And then maybe you want to go into something like ‘Helter Skelter’. So when I started experimenting in the 60s, with things like tape loops, The Beatles were great experimenters. Some of the things that we did came as a result of accidents. So for instance, the tape operator on St. Pepper – around that period anyway – , we had these big one-inch tapes that we used to use. And they’re like, fantastic quality, you know, still great to use. We had these big tapes on the tape operator, put one of them on backwards. I think it was a song called “I’m Only Sleeping”. So instead of me going “I’m Only Sleeping”, it was “fdjkoierjorij”. And we were “Whaa we’d never heard that before”. You know, being kids from Liverpool, who’s ever heard a tape going backwards?
You know, so it was like, wow, and we’re jumping up and down. So what’s that? So we’d follow it up with George and say, “Look, can we can we make a solo like that?” He said, “Well, I suppose if you do this and do that”. You know, all That experimentation was born then the big crazy bit in the middle of “A Day in the Life”, you know, all that stuff was what we were into, and I’ve remained into it all.
BBC: And with the new album, it seems almost paradoxical that there is such a sense of liberation on an album which was made under such restrictive conditions. Just talking about COVID a friend of mine was in a deli with you recently. You were shopping in a mask like everybody else. Has the mask allowed you to be out and about more, to be more anonymous maybe?
Paul: Yeah, well, that’s the truth. You talk to any famous people, the mask is a blessing. There’s none of this “you’re taking away my civil liberties”. It’s like, it’s great for us. I mean, I would normally go to a supermarket, but I would expect to be recognized. With this, you could go anywhere. It’s quite annoying sometimes. Because, you know, if you’re famous, you’re expecting like special favors. You know, “Oh yeah, so let me help you with that”. And now, you know, it’s like, I’ve got a mask on, “Sorry, mate, in the queue”. Back in the queue.
BBC: You’ve spent more than 60 years now making music much of the time, I guess, with other people in rooms or on the stage. How frustrating has it been not to be able to play live this year?
Paul: It was frustrating. And, you know, the other thing is, like a lot of what COVID brought, for other people, not just me… I mean, I can afford if I don’t do a tour, to make records and write and do other stuff. But my crew, you know, they come out and these guys, they depend on the live concerts.
BBC: So they’re unemployed at the moment?
Paul: Well, I tell you the truth, I’ve been paying crazy insurance fees for years. You know, what you do when you take out these big tours, and finally paid off early this year. So it was actually a real silver lining, I was just able to ring everyone up and say, “you’re all getting paid like we went out”.
BBC: That’s great. Are there plans to be back on stage next year? Is there a first date already penciled in?
Paul: Next year? No, you know, I don’t think… We see what happens with the vaccine and everyone doing all the rules and stuff. It’s weird, though, because I’m prepared, and my family and most people I know are prepared to wear the masks, do all of the distancing, and be very careful and sensible about it. But then you see a picture like I saw the other day of everyone outside Harrods. I couldn’t see a mask… But you go, “Well, they’re young. And what would I have thought when I was that age?” I’m not sure I would have been as sensible as the grown ups, you know. So it’s very difficult.
BBC: Sure, you are keen to get the vaccine as well?
Paul: Yeah, I will. I would like to encourage people to get it too, because they used to be anti-vaccine people. That was okay, that was their choice. But with the internet now, these things really take hold. And so you do get these people who won’t take it. I’m not a great sort of vaccinating myself, I never ever had the flu shot. You know, just thought what I’ll just take my chances. But with this, it’s much more serious. And yeah, if I am allowed to get it, I will.
BBC: I’m pretty sure you’re going to be allowed on.
BBC: Very few artists have been so successful for as long as you have. And I’ve guessed Bob Dylan is one of those exceptions. And he recently, as you know, sold his publishing rights to his entire back catalogue. Then, you know, of course, all about this part of the music business, having had to buy back your Beatles songs from Michael Jackson, I presume you’ll be hanging on to your songs, not selling them in future.
Paul: Yeah, you know, so I’m very proud to have them. Because me and John did get a bit ripped off in the early days. We signed a little contract. We didn’t have no idea what contracts were even, a member just saying to this bloke, “does this look, okay”. And he goes, yeah. So we signed it. It turned out later, he was our lawyer. We didn’t even know he was our lawyer. So I mean, we were very stupid or innocent. Take your choice. But as time goes on, then, you know, I started to get my own songs for after the Beatles. And some of the songs from the Beatles have started to come back. There are certain laws, so I’m very proud to have them. And I feel like I’m looking after them. So I’m not keen to sell them.
BBC: Good. And I know you’re a big vinyl fan. We’ve talked about this in the past. Are you also a streaming music man?
Paul: Yeah. I’ve said for years that it doesn’t matter to me how the music is delivered. 45 and it was cassettes and then CDs. Now it’s streaming. But yeah, I use streaming services. It’s so easy.
BBC: But you talk about being ripped off in the early days, you know, signing those contracts. And it has been such a contentious issue. The revenue streams from the streaming services. Is it working better for artists now, do you think? Or is it just the bigger names…?
Paul: I think it’s harder for artists now, unfortunately, it’s such a small percentage. And what they’ll tell you is, “yeah, but if you have millions of that small percentage, you’re right”, after a while, if you’re lucky, you get some success. And then you can be your art, rather than just having to pay the bills. But yeah, I do feel sorry for some of the young kids. Because sometimes, it’s like the only hit are gonna get. And it’s a huge one. But they just got to rely on the streaming companies to pay them. I think they probably don’t pay enough. But they’re in such a powerful position. What can people do? I suppose you just organize, and you petition them and try and put some pressure on them.
BBC: But you’d like to see a bigger proportion of the royalties going to the artists?
Paul: Yeah. I’m an artist, you know? Yeah, the truth of it is that the artists are the ones who make the music. The Beatles sang and played all those records. An ordinary person would just think, “well, so you get all the money”. Like, you know, you went to work, you did all the job, you get all the money. But as you know, it’s not the way. So for younger people, particularly, I would like to see them get more, because they got very small shares, particularly as you say, on the streaming. It’s not a large chunk, and there’s no reason really, except that the streamers are the delivery service. That’s like, I don’t know what that’s like, but you hear me?
BBC: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, ordinarily, you would be releasing a record and then preparing the live show, getting the band together, taking the record out on the road. You’re suggesting that it’s not going to be happening with this one, because by the time you’re back on a live stage, it’s going to be well, at least another year.
Paul: I don’t know, you know, I think so though. Yeah. Well, I mean, I think they’ve canceled Glastonbury for 21, haven’t they?
BBC: I’m not sure if that’s official, but it’s not looking likely is it?
Paul: No… The problem is that the thing we do is we get 100,000 people closely packed together with flags, and no masks… Talk about super spreader. So, you know, that’s going to be difficult as to how people do that.
BBC: So that Glastonbury date is one that’s not in your diary then for 21, obviously…
Paul: Well, I’d love it to be but I have a feeling it’s not going to be.
BBC: Well, I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about that very soon. Paul McCartney, thank you very much indeed.
Last updated on December 20, 2020
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