- Published by:
- Q Magazine
- Interview by:
- Tom Doyle
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How are you?
I’m verrrry good, thank you.
Where are you right now?
I just landed down South. I was up in Liverpool doing my kind of masterclass with the students [at the McCartney co-founded Liverpool theres]. It was nice. It’s Institute For Performing Artgreat with the students, y’know. Very gratifying.
Can you remember what you were doing in 1986?
No way. Haven’t got a clue.
You’d put out your Press To Play album…
Oh yeah. So I was riding around on the [in the video for Press where Paul Underground surprised members of the public by travelling ]. That was fun. Videos had alongside thembecome such huge productions, so I was trying to think of a very simple way to do something. And I like travelling on public transport, y’know. Ever since I was a kid I would always take a bus and go a few stops and get off just to have a look around. In New York or in Paris or in London, I sometimes take the Underground.
Do you try to disguise yourself?
No. The thing about the Underground is nobody looks at anyone. If I do get somebody saying, “Are you Paul McCartney?” I say, “Are you kidding? D’you think he’d be on the Underground?” Then they go, “Oh yeah well I suppose you’re right, yeah.”
You were the cover star of the very first issue of Q. Does that feel like an age ago or has the time passed in a flash?
It feels like an age ago really. So many covers gone since. I’m quite proud to have beenon the first one. I was proud to have been asked at the time.
In 1995 the surviving Beatles reuinted for the Anthology project.Did it feel like closure?
That was the idea. What was happening – and still happens – was that people were writing about us and they were getting facts wrong along the way. Sowe just decided we would try and create what we were calling “The Bible”, the official truth of the history. It was futile really because when we got together we could remember loads of things in common, but there were quite a few things that we all remembered differently. Meeting Elvis for instance. I had a very clear picture in my mind, but it didn’t tally with Ringo’s or George’s. I said, “Elvis met us at the door.” Ringo said, “No, he didn’t, he was on the couch.” He had a completely different story to mine. So you realise, y’know, if we can’t even get it right … But we did our best and I think everything that got in was accurate. So it was a good project and a lot of fun actually. Particularly cos John wasn’t there, it kind of brought him back into the picture for us.
Were the sessions for Free As A Bird and Real Love – recorded with Johnís unused demos – relatively pain-free or did some tensions resurface between you?No, it was very smooth really. I think once we’d decidedthat we would do it, there was no point in having any tensions. They came down to my studio in Sussex, which was nice because nobody really knows about it. We knew we couldjust hang there for a few days.It was very private. And it was really brilliant cos you could be fooled once or twice into thinking that John was in the vocal booth.There was a great feeling withyou all sitting around with the headphones on and you’re playing along to John’s vocal, which is how it would’ve been when we recorded for real.
Around the same time Britpop came along and Oasis were accused of ripping off The Beatles.Did you think they were?No, cos they were young, fresh and writing good songs. I thought the biggest mistake they made was when they said, “We’re gonna be bigger than The Beatles.” I thought, “Y’know, so many people have said that and it’s the kiss of death.” Be bigger than The Beatles, but don’t say it. The minute you say it, everything you do from then on is gonna be looked at in the light of that statement.
For War Child you re-recorded Come Together with Paul Weller and Noel Gallagher. Did you think, “Ah, that ís where my old haircut from 1966 went”?[Laughs] Well, they weren’t the only people who had done that. It was quite prevalent, y’know. It’s never really gone away. The main thing they were asking was if I still had my old clothes. I said, “Yeah.”They were saying, “Awwww, brilliant.” Actually, funnily enough, I was just in Minneapolis acouple of nights ago doing a concert and I brought a fewj ackets with me.One of the ones I brought with meI discovered acouple of years ago on a hanger and I thought, “This looks nice.” I looked inside and it was made by theold Beatles tailor. It was an old Beatles jacket of mine.
Did it still fit?Well, y’know what, that was the most amazing thing about it. I thought, “No way am I gonna get into this –”But yeah – it was roomy enought of it.
Flaming Pie in 1997 was seen as your strongest album in years. Had listening back to the old Beatles stuff for Anthology reinspired you?I think probably, yeah. That’s always a good idea. I should do it every time. I used to doit with The Beatles – listen to the previous album we’d made and then just think, “OK, there’s where the bar is set. Let’s try and improve on that.” I think listening to so much stuff on Anthology, I probably just honed the sort of standards meter or whatever you’d call it.
Down the years youíve also made three more experimental albums with Youth as The Fireman. Was the idea to challenge yourself and shake up your process?Yeah. I’d run into Youth, cos he did a mix for me. Then we were just sort of saying, “Oh, it’d be great to get in the studio and just totally goof around and not have to be too serious.” I said, “Tell you what, why don’t you come down to my studio and we’ll just see what happens?” The first one was a sort of psychedelic trance instrumental, which was great fun to do. He’d just say, “How about drums on this?” And I’d go, “OK” and I’d run out, play a bit of drums and then he’d edit it down. So it worked very well. It meant thatI could just not reallyt hink too hard about it and just enjoy playing.
I suppose you’re not thinking about commercial pressures when you’re doing something like that?No, we didn’t think about the commercial pressures. But I must say, I wasn’t too excited to hear it had sold 500 copies [laughs].The next one was similar but then on the third one, he says to me, “How about a vocal?” I said, “Well, there’s no song.” So I had to say to the engineers, “OK, everyone… this could be the end of my career cos I’ve no idea what noises I’m gonna make now… I’m gonna shout words.” It was like being on a psychiatrist’s couch, you were just shouting things. It was a very liberating way to work. It’s time for another one, I think.
Playing with the surviving members of Nirvana – especially recording a new song, Cut Me Some Slack – must have been an energising moment?That was really great. Dave Grohl just rang me up. He said, “I’ve got a couple of friends coming over, d’you wanna come over for a jam? We’ll do something like Long Tall Sally.” I’d just been given this crazy cigar box guitar by Johnny Depp and I was enjoying putting it through this little crazy amp and wailing on it. So I said, “Let’s not do Long Tall Sally.The Beatles did that and we’re probably not gonna better it, so let’s just think of something else.” So I started wailing on this guitar, Dave dived on the drums, and then this very tall guy who I didn’t know who was introduced as Krist [Novoselic] and this other guy introduced as Pat [Smear], they joined in. The guys were laughing, saying, “We haven’t played like this for 20 years.” I said, “Oh, you’ve played together before, have you?” They go, “Yeah, we’re Nirvana.” I had no idea. It was funny. I would’ve been intimidated if I’d realised I was being the vocalist in Nirvana.
Were you a fan of Kurt Cobain’s songs?Oh yeah.They were special. One of the most cool things of recent years was seeing the [2015’s Montage Of Heck] documentary on him and he’s playing And I Love Her. That was out of the blue. If you’d asked me what song of mine Kurt Cobain might know, I don’t think I’d have come up with that one. And he does a great little version of it. I love it, cos it’s got a lot of soul.
Last year you collaborated on three songs with Kanye West. What were your impressions of him? He’s seen by the outside world as being a tad unhinged …Some great artists are seen like that by the outside world cos [people in the outside world aren’t] artists. He’s an artist and he’s eccentric, but he’s a great guy. It was a great pleasure working with him. You’re on your toes. I’d heard a few of his albums. I particularly liked My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. I got a call, somebody said, “Kanye would like to work with you.” So we just knocked around for a few days and he recorded any little thing we did. In the end, I thought we’d just knocked around and chatted a lot and I’d played a couple of things. Then suddenly in the post I get this Rihanna record [FourFiveSeconds] and I thought it was great but I had to ring up and say, “What’s this got to do with me?” Kanye said, “Well, that’s you on guitar.” I didn’t recognise it cos they’d sped it up. And then there’s a little sort of Mickey Mouse voice in the middle and that’s me. I really liked that.On All Day I’d played a little sort of rural, very simple riff and he turned it into an urban monster riff with the n-word about 40 times. Some people said to me, “You can’t be asociated with this. This is racist.” I said, “Well, I actually contributed to the music. Kanye did the lyrics, they were nothing to do with me.” I must admit, I was tempted at one point to say, “Yeah these are my latest lyrics”, and take credit for them [laughs]. Just to put the cat amongst the pigeons.
How’s 2016 treating you so far?Well. Very well.
What about the viral video clip that showed you being refused entry to a post-Grammys party? Oh, that was hilarious. The great thing was that got around the world. That was my biggest bit of publicity for the whole year!
What does Q mean to you?It’s a good read. You know it’s not gonna be stupid. I think the whole thing [before Q] was that people who were writing about music were writing down to people. So it was nice to see a magazine like Q just devoted to covering music in a kind of intelligent way. It felt like we had our own magazine.