Interview for MOJO • October 2018

The real Paul McCartney faces his demons

Press interview • Interview of Paul McCartney

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

Master release

Songs mentioned in this interview

Happy With You

Officially appears on Egypt Station

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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

How do you know when it’s time to make a new album?

There comes a point when you’ve got too many songs. You need to do something with them. Otherwise my wife will go mad at me – “What are you doing with all these songs in your room?!” Some of these are from quite a while ago. I just stockpile them. So I started to think: “l fancy making an album, it’s about time.” There’s a good 10 songs we’ve left off this one.

Did you have a musical route map at the outset?

If you want to get noticed these days, to get above the chatter, there’s two ways to go. One is to get a producer who’s just gonna do Top 10 hits. Like a Taylor Swift album. And I thought, “I’m not sure I wanna do that.” Or, you can try and make an ‘album’ album. More like a concept, to set your brain to – any kind of song, doesn’t need to be a hit, something you just feel that may or may not be commercial. So I selected the songs I liked best from what I had and we worked on them with this vague idea at the back of my mind that it was gonna be an entity. There was gonna be a one-ness to it. Making an album, there’s a bit at the back of your mind — in mine, anyway — thinking, “What’s this gonna be called? Abbey Road? No, that’s been done…” I happened to be thinking about a painting I’d done quite a while ago, called Egypt Station. “l like those words,” I thought. Then I saw a picture of the painting and thought, “That could be an interesting album cover.” I’m not gonna do a big picture of me on the front, smiling. I thought this painting might be interesting: it’s crazy enough, and it’s a place. A mystical place. So there we were — Egypt Station.

You’ve created your own world, even by the simple act of giving it a name.

That was the idea. So then we were working with that in mind. I wanted to open it with sounds of the station – which is a nod to Sgt. Pepper, [which opens with] the sounds of a concert hall. I played it to [Beatles engineer] Geoff Emerick actually, when we were in LA, and he said, “That reminds us of something, doesn’t it?” I said, “Yup!” So it’s a tribute to that. If you wanna do the headphones-for-an-hour trip you can do it with this album.”

Crows at the window, dogs at your door – what’s going on there?

That’s a grown-up song. Sometimes in your life, you’re not a god on Olympus. You’re a real person walking round the streets. I’m a grandfather, a father, a husband, and in that package there’s no guarantee that every minute’s gonna go right. (Laughs) In fact, quite the opposite. And there was a private occasion – I’m not gonna get into it — that brought me down. “God, what am I doing wrong?” I’m not knocking it, I have a great life. But from time to time, reality intrudes. This was one of those occasions where it was like, “Oh, fuck me.. .” The only thing I could do was sit down at the piano. (Mimes anguished key thumping) “Got crows at the window! Dogs at ma door!” It all spilled out in that song.

So it’s a piano ballad in the blues tradition?

Well exactly, it really is. “Ma woman left me!” It wasn’t that, but it was that sort of feeling. I didn’t really know what to do about it, other than write a song. So I wrote the song and then felt I had more of an idea what to do. You write out your demons. It felt good to just say, “l don’t know what to do!” It’s like owning up.

You’re not generally perceived as an emotional songwriter, even by other emotional songwriters. When Kanye West was asked about his collaboration with you, he said: “I might be a little more angst than Paul. I’m angst a bit like John Lennon.” Yet even your most famous songs surely qualify as exercises in “writing out demons”. Yesterday, for example.

Yeah. Or The Long And Winding Road. That’s one of the great things about songwriting — it’s like a therapy session. But the thing with me is, I’m an optimist. Just every day when I see people, I’m a very outgoing Liverpool type. It’s very much how my family was. So it creates a certain impression. (Tweaks from regulation gentle to broad Scouse) “Arright luv, how ya doin’, eh? Nice day, isn’t it?” That’s me. The bottom line is, it sometimes gives people the wrong impression: that I don’t care, that I don’t think about stuff, and that I’m just a jolly happy chappy. Which isn’t true. There’s a thousand other aspects you don’t see.

Have you ever seen Jeff Lynne without his sunglasses on?

Yes. And it wasn’t a pretty sight.

They’re his protective shield against the world. Do you have one?

I’m sure I do. I attack with humour and bonhomie.

Which is one reason why I Don’t Know is such a great song, because it feels at variance with your public persona, where often you’re the embodiment of great self-assurance.

Yeah. I have my moments too. I felt OK about saying that. People may not think I am like this, but they’ll sure as hell be able to relate to it.

Likewise Happy With You – it’s a positive declaration, but edged with darkness: “I used to drink too much/Forget to come home”…

It is candid — I did used to get stoned, and wasted.

The implication being that you weren’t necessarily happy – whereas people might have assumed, Hey! It’s Paul, he wrote that ‘ode to pot’ Got To Get You Into My Life, he’s still living the ’60s dream, baby…

That’s right. Also… I’ve got a lot of friends who are sober. ‘Cos they have to be. Like Ringo, Joe Walsh – because they just took it too far. When we were growing up, everyone would be going to the pub and drinking, but mostly it all seemed quite jolly. But when I talk to Ringo about it, he says ‘No, if you give me a vodka, I would have to finish the bottle.” So that’s empathising with Ringo: used to be doing crazy things, but you don’t now, ‘cos you’re happy. And Ringo is — he’s very content with his life.

It’s not necessarily autobiographical then?

I did used to get a little bit more crazy than I do now – I’ve got eight grandchildren, I haven’t got the time! Grandad can’t just be sitting (laughs) in his armchair with a great big doobie on and a bottle of tequila. Consequently, you are happy. It’s really cool to heat a robin singing, see a stream rushing down a mountain. It’s good to take time for those things too. That’s more how I am now.

When you reflect on your past, would you consider you had periods of self-medication?

Definitely. Most particularly in the period right after The Beatles, when I was bummed out and in the middle of this horrendous shit where someone was going to take every penny we’d ever made. That wasn’t easy, and led to a very difficult time in my life. I definitely self-medicated there, and drank more than I ever had and probably more than I ever have since. But you go through it.

You write out your demons…

And Happy With You is saying there’s this other thing too: ‘l lied to my doctor, but these days I don’t…”

Who hasn’t lied to their doctor?

That’s what I mean! “No, I’m fine, feeling great…”

“Just the one glass of wine a week…”

(Laughs) That’s the one! It’s a big glass! Yeah, these things creep into your songs. They’re not all autobiographical, but you inevitably pull in bits from what’s happening to you.

You’re a 76-year-old who’s about to tour the world yet again. Do you entertain thoughts of retirement?

Inevitably you do. I mean, I had those thoughts at 65. Which is a while ago. ‘Cos 65 is the retirement age. In my world, in the working class.

It’s 66 now.

Oh they moved it? Hey, they can move it as far as they like, I don’t mind. ‘Cos my work is play. Seems to be working OK.

The Rolling Stones are still out there – do you feel a common cause with them, enabling you to keep going?

I’m giving them the confidence to go out there. They’re looking at Macca and thinking, “Well, if he can still do it…”! We’ve all realised we love playing. And we do happen to be good at it.

Last updated on April 6, 2021


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