Interview for • Friday, June 30, 2017

‘You Gave Me The Answer’ – Tim Minchin Asks

Press interview • Interview of Paul McCartney
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Tim Minchin
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It’s been another fun ‘One On One’ month here at with Paul announcing new dates in Colombia, Australia, New Zealand and Mexico!

In an exciting first for Paul, the ANZ dates (our office name for the Australia and New Zealand tour leg!) were announced during a Facebook Live Q&A session with Australia’s very own comedian / musician Tim Minchin.

We were lucky enough to watch the interview from a quiet corner at the back of the room, where we spent half an hour trying to stifle our laughter as Paul and Tim bounced off one another in a brilliant interview!

As the interview was only broadcast to Paul’s ANZ fans, we thought it would be a good idea to share some of our favourite questions and answers in a special two-part edition of ‘You Gave Me The Answer’ – Tim Minchin style!

Tim Minchin [TM]: So I’m gonna tell everyone the dates.

Paul McCartney [PM]: Great

TM: Paul’s starting in Perth on December 2nd, then Melbourne on the 5th, Brisbane on the 9th, Sydney on the 11th and Auckland on 16th of December. I’m incredibly excited by it, I’m gonna try and be down in Australia for them. And what we’re doing today is we’ve got people from the internet who have questions for you, Paul, and I hope they’re all questions that you’ve never heard before.

PM: Yeah, and I will try and answer them – I might refuse to answer a few!

TM: It would be good if we could have a quite awkward moment.

PM: I could get an awkward moment going.

TM: Maybe end up in a fight? That would certainly get on the news.

PM: That will get some attention.

TM: And this is what you need, you need more attention because you just can’t sell tickets otherwise. We need something to go viral!

TM: “What are your fondest memories of Australia? And will we get a chance to hear ‘Ode to a Koala Bear’ being slipped into the set?”

PM: That’s a thought, isn’t it? Yeah, I hadn’t thought about that. Fondest memories I think – wild life! Because we don’t have that over here, we don’t have kangaroos, or koalas. We went to a zoo and me and the kids were able to hold a little peaceful koala.

TM: Yeah, some of them are evil.

PM: This one didn’t attack anyone! Seeing kangaroos hopping by the roadside as we were driving along was fairly surreal for me.

TM: I grew up with that happening all the time, but I must admit it must be pretty weird, if you’ve never seen it before.

PM: Or else it was frogs, hopping.

TM: Yeah, well the first time I saw a frog, I freaked out.

TM:  Okay, this is one of those ‘what’s your favourite’ questions – which are always impossible – but Josh Coote from New Zealand asks: “What is your favourite album that you’ve had a part in recording?”

PM: Yeah, like you say it really is a difficult question because they change, you know, your favourites. And also they’re like your children – you don’t want to have a favourite! This year it’s got to be Sgt. Pepper. I’m re-listening to it because it’s been re-released after fifty years! And it does sound good! But I do like Rubber Soul and I do like Band on the Run.

TM: Me too. I find – like everyone does – your career just impossible to get my head around and how you guys survived that and came out being so normal and stuff. But I can’t imagine how you separate those albums in the ‘60s. You were writing songs at such an incredible rate. Do you sometimes misplace experiences? Or is it very clear what the Sgt. Pepper experience was like, or what the Rubber Soul experience was like?

PM: Yeah. You know, it does merge into one a little bit! The Beatles’ recording career, it’s all pretty much Abbey Road. So you know, my main memory of recording is Studio 2, Abbey Road. But I’ve got a pretty good recollection of certainly Sgt. Pepper, because that was the first time we’d been really allowed as much time as we wanted. Because we were now “off the road” and so that was different. We could fuss over every little sound. And you know, I’d kind of forgotten that we did until some of the films and stuff came out about Sgt. Pepper. Where a guy, he does a thing about ‘Penny Lane’. He says, “and here’s ‘Penny Lane’ and here’s the piano”, and he says, “it’s not just one piano, it’s eight pianos”, and I’m going, “What?!”

TM: George, you scallywag

PM: No, Paul and you Beatles, you scallywags ‘cause I’d just forgotten we did that. But we had so much time it was like, “Okay, the piano sounds good, but let’s do another piano, with a bit more trebly – ting ting ting – and bring out that bit. And then let’s put a little harmonium and fold that into the piano sound.”

TM: So you’re building that. ‘Cause the reason I said George is because I assumed that you sorta put down eight versions and then he afterwards…

PM: No, George did a lot of stuff afterwards. But it was mainly us. Mainly us just on a big creative surge, who suddenly had time, you know. So we’d be like, “Ah, let’s do this”. And the chord at the end of ‘A Day In The Life’ – this is one of The Beatles songs for younger viewers – famous chord at the end of it…

TM: I know it very very well.

PM: I just came in and said, “Have you ever put the loud pedal down on the piano and hit a chord and just see how long it lasts for?” I was fascinated. It goes for a good minute, “You can still hear it”, kind of thing. So we did that idea, but then George Martin would say, “Okay, it’s running out”. So he fed in another piano. So George would do expert things like that, which was very cool.
TM: I was obsessed by trying to end a musical I just was involved with writing with a chord that sounded that good. I don’t think we quite made it, but it’s a similar sense of just home – we’re home and we’re not going anywhere. Unbelievable.

TM: “Hey Paul” says Robert House, also from Australia, “just wondering how much the Liverpool sense of humour played a part in the success of The Beatles”. Which I guess is a question you’ve had a million times, but since Ron’s documentary, it’s so present.

PM: No not really. Yeah, you don’t actually get asked. You normally get asked more about music, you know. But I do think it was a big thing. ‘Cause, you know, being from Liverpool, you’re sort of naturally surrounded by a big sense of humour, everyone’s always joshing and doing things, my Dad would say the craziest things. So when the four of us got together we all kind of knew that was our background. And then ‘cause we spent so much time together the sense of humour really helped. And so in songs and things, the sense of humour kind of crept in. I mean we had a song, we were really fighting with, which was one of mine, which was ‘Golden Rings’, and it was terrible. It was like “oh baby I’ll get you golden rings”, and it was like “God” (yawns). We couldn’t, me and John were sitting down and we couldn’t finish it. And then we decided to change it into ‘Drive My Car’, where there’s a girl who hasn’t actually got a car, but she wants a chauffeur. So the sense of humour kind of creeps in, in those kind of places. And then just to stop you going mad, is the other reason for a good sense of humour.

TM: Well, that was the incredible thing about the recent documentary, is, how much that was clear, was that your humour and your comradery was absolute survival. And when being funny stopped working, that’s when you stopped. Like really, when it all got so serious that you couldn’t survive with banter anymore, you could no longer look at the press and be cheeky. That was the beginning of the end of the touring era. That’s certainly how I-

PM: I think that’s right, yeah. That’s true

TM: Amazing that you got out at that point, instead of letting that – ‘cause then, subsequently there was still all that wit in the lyrics. I mean I’m obsessed by wit in lyrics and it’s why I – part of the many reasons why you guys are so important to me is that you were witty all the time, there was all this stuff going on – anyway this is just gonna turn into one of those – anyway, anyway-

PM: All down to Liverpool. I went back to Liverpool years ago – I’m always going back up and I have a school there which I went to called the Liverpool Institute. Me and George went there, so I tell people “half The Beatles went to this school”, you know – good reason to save it. Anyway it was falling down so we did save it and it’s now a performing arts school. And I was going back up there, feeling very good about myself, you know. And I looked over and I see an old Liverpool guy. He goes “Hey, Paul”, and I go “Yes”, thinking, yes – he goes (swears with two fingers to his face) – “Thank you!” you know.

TM: I’m home

TM: Wow, I mean there’s so many questions. I haven’t even read this one: “One thing I really admire about you as an artist”, says Ciaran Shalley from New Zealand. “Is your never-ending endeavour to continuously experiment with new sounds and types of music and how you’re always open to collaborating with younger artists like Michael Jackson in the ‘80s and more recently Kanye West and Rihanna. What other modern artists do you like?” It’s me, it’s me, clearly.

PM: Besides, Tim?

TM: Yeah. “And have any helped you? Have any helped influence sounds for some material on your new album?” Do you think you get influence back from them? Do you listen lots?

PM: I’m not sure about that. You know, I definitely like working with other people and so like in Kanye’s case, I just got a phone call and my manager said, “Kanye West would like to work with you”. So I go,“Yeah”. And we do it. I was a little bit nervous at first ‘cause I thought, “Oh God, it could go horribly wrong”. But I was intrigued to see what he was up to and how he did it really. And it was a very intriguing process. You basically don’t write songs. You basically just talk and noodle a bit and you just record it all on your phone. And then he goes away and (whistles) and that’s basically his record! But it was great doing it though because I don’t work like that, I normally sit down with a guitar. So I think it kind of does influence you a bit. It opens doors. As I say, you know, I would just talk to him about something and it would give him an idea for a song and when we finished – we wrote for about two or three days – just in the afternoons and didn’t tell anyone ‘cause I said, “You know, if this doesn’t work, let’s just pretend we didn’t – you know, we never got around to it and don’t tell anyone”. So I was waiting, you know three months after we’d finished. I didn’t really hear anything except,  “Hey bro, what’s going – yeah”. But I’m thinking, should I say, “Did we write a song? Is there a record to come out of this?” You know? Anyway this arrives, and it’s a Rihanna song, I’m going, “This is great”. It’s ‘FourFiveSeconds’, and I’m going, “This is great!” But I have to ring up and say, “Am I on this?” And he goes, “Oh yeah, you’re the guitar player”. I go, “I don’t remember…” and he says, “yeah, we sped it up”. So they manipulate this, kind of…

TM: It’s a totally different creative process, isn’t it?

PM: Yeah. Although, you know, we were talking about Sgt. Pepper, we loved manipulating. So I think we would have been into a lot of these tricks nowadays. Because you know, we did speed things up a little bit, probably not as much – well we couldn’t have actually sped it up as much as Kanye was allowed to – (makes squealing noise) – it would have been very Mickey Mouse. In fact, you do get a bit of that on the Rihanna record. There is a little bit that goes, “How ‘bout a mystery”. And apparently that’s me, sped up.

TM: It is amazing, and I have no doubt that you… I mean, you guys were pushing the form forward absolutely at an incredible rate. And pushing production technology forward at an incredible rate. It blows my mind to think… I guess people like Kanye perhaps are the equivalent these days. But I’m the same when I think about writing a song. I sit down at a piano and write a song and that’s just… no one that I know at twenty is doing that really. It’s all about loops and…

PM: And it’s a strange thing because I get involved with that. You know, sometimes I’ll try a producer I’ve never worked with before but I like what he does. So I say, “Well, you know – here goes nothing!” I’ll just ring him up and we’ll get together. And again I’m going in the studio with songs, wondering if I’m gonna be asked to use them. And it’s like, “Well, no.” (Mimes drumming) “Here’s a groove”. I go, “Well, that’s good”. And now the producer will say, “Now go out and sing”. I’ll go, “Uh, what?” He’ll say, “Well just, you know… feel it!”

TM: I find that so scary

PM: It’s improv. Well, I actually… halfway through these sessions – I’ve just recently done it. It worked out. But halfway through I said, “This is like panic for me”. ‘Cause I’m standing there. I don’t know how the tune goes, I don’t know what the words are. And I’m just going, “Yeah! Woah! I really love you, baby! Woah! I gotta get it on!” And these are the worst bloody lyrics ever!

TM: Because your starting lyrics are always bad. That’s the point of songwriting is that you start with crap and you hone it into something good. And you go, “What? We’re gonna leave out the honing bit and just do the intuitive bit?” I don’t know, but…

PM: I ended up saying, “Okay, we’ll do it like this. But then you’ve gotta go away and I’ve gotta write this song”. You know, we’ll do all the blocking (sings). Then I’ll go (sings) and put words in. But it was fascinating doing it.

TM: I bet. I find it weird.

Tim Minchin [TM]: Someone asked about the six-month break between your last tour and this one or something? I mean you obviously tour and tour and tour. Is the live experience now… Asking how it differs from fifty years ago is obviously a huge question, but what makes you want to get up again and again and how does it feel now compared to those days as an experience?

Paul McCartney [PM]: Yeah, you know, it’s a simple answer! It’s just ‘cause I really like it. It’s a big operation these days, you know, there’s around 140 people who put it together. So I think of it like Formula 1 or something. We’ve got these amazing technicians who can change a tyre in 3 seconds. Can’t tune a guitar…but! [Jokes] No so you’ve got these great guys all working and I think that’s very exciting. And like that’s my team so I love that, and we get on very well, so it’s kind of good to go back to that. It’s like a family reunion. Then the audience is the other big thing. The audience is amazingly warm these days – I hope you heard that! [Laughs] – you’re going to be amazingly warm! No, but there is this thing that comes often which is like, “Woah!”And what I do is I tell my promoter, I’ll say, “Just put one of the shows on sale and just see how we’re doing”. And he might ring me back and say, “Fantastic! Sold out in an hour, the whole thing!” So I go, okay, I’m cool. They like me. It’s funny, I remember that I think when I was younger, when we were starting out with The Beatles, they didn’t necessarily like us. There came a time where they liked us too much and just screamed but in the beginning, you know some of the Teds in the audience, and throwing money at us and things, which we did collect and put it in our pockets! But you know it wasn’t always easy so the fact that the audiences now are very warm is a great thing.

TM: And when you’re there and you’ve got a perfect mix in your ears, do you have a visceral memory of you know playing in 1966 and not being able to hear? I mean, do you remember what that was like compared to now?

PM: I don’t use the in-ears. So everyone else does and I’m told I should but I like to hear the audience. If someone shouts out I don’t wanna go, “Excuse me?” I’ll just go, “Yeah, sure Tom!”Whatever my response is. So yeah, but we can be heard no matter how loud the audience is now we’ve got big speakers so yeah, you do think, “Wow! There was a time when we couldn’t”. Funnily enough what I’m thinking isn’t that – you accept that and you just go, “Oh, it was terrible then” – we plugged my bass and two guitars into one amp one time.

TM: I just don’t understand. I don’t understand how you sang in tune? Like I was listening to that Hollywood Bowl recording, I literally don’t understand how you guys were in tune so much. It’s like you had played so many gigs that it’s just muscle memory.

PM: I think that’s what it was.

TM: It’s unbelievable.

PM: Yeah, that’s what it was. I always say we were a great little band. And that for me is what’s precious about The Beatles. Okay, we were a great little band that expanded beyond all expansion. But the fact that we could sit down and just go, “One for the money!” [Sings] and we all knew it.

TM: You were so tight.

PM: But for me, instead of thinking about the quality of the sound, what I’m thinking about is when we recorded it, or the young kids that recorded this ‘cause you know I was like mid-twenties when I did something like ‘Eleanor Rigby’, so I’m singing it going, “This is pretty good this kid’s not bad”. You know, “Oh, I like those words”. You know, “Her face in the jar by the door”.

TM: That’s the other thing that freaks me out. And I am just gonna collapse into Paul the fanboying, but that all those lyrics you wrote in your twenties! I’m a lyrics guy – I care very much about them and I find it very hard to listen to a song where the lyrics are lazy or reductive or clichés or whatever. I just, I can’t, yeah. The fact that you were writing those lyrics in your twenties freaks me out!

TM: Anyway I’m gonna ask a question from someone else now, I’m completely monopolizing!

PM: Who’s the someone?

TM: It’s Sabina Connacanin, from Australia. “There seems to be a trend for musicians these days to turn their hand to writing musicals”, by which they mean pop musicals, Cindi Lauper, Neil Finn, Sting did one…

PM: And other people! [Points to Tim Minchin]

TM: And other people! Well, I didn’t have a pop career first I just went straight there. “So then, Sir Paul, can we expect to see something from you anytime soon?” Can I just say, “He’s not allowed!” You can’t go stepping in my world.

PM: Your territory. You know, I’ve been asked and still do get asked because it kind of is a natural progression. But John and I, when we started, were asked a lot because “Lennon-McCartney, Rogers and Hammerstein”, we liked it. It sounded like old writers. Sounds like a team. So we were asked a lot but we didn’t like it. John in particularly hated musicals. He liked ‘West Side Story’, we liked ‘West Side Story’ a lot because that was like innovative, it grabbed us and it’s really good. But, things like, John and I one afternoon went to see ‘South Pacific’ and we actually walked out ‘cause he just couldn’t stand it. I mean I would have sat and just watched it ‘cause I had paid my money and I would watch anything. But he’d go, “Oh, bloody hell”, you know because what happens is they start – you know the girl in it, Mitzi Gaynon I think it was – going, “I wonder if he’s looking at me. Can he really see me?” And we’d go, “Oh no!” And he starts like, “Oh, I think she’s looking at me, I don’t know”. And we’re going, “Oh, stop it!”

TM: I have to be very careful about how I talk about musicals ‘cause I’m meant to love them but yeah they’re very very hard to make not suck.

PM: Yeah, there are some very very good ones and there are some… The old ones, you know don’t survive quite as well these days, some of them.

TM: But they keep doing them. And I’m going, “You don’t need to see that one again! Let it die!”

TM: Alright, I’m scared we’re gonna run out of time before we do – “Paul, love your work!”thanks, George, so many questions…

PM: And so little time…

TM: So little time! George asks, “Hi Paul, what is your warm up routine before hitting the stage? Any traditional drinks, snacks or confectionery? A must-have?” Socks? Lucky scarf?

PM: Socks, no. Drinks, not a lot, no. Because I don’t eat and drink before I go on ‘cause I sort of like to feel light. And then afterwards, I can get heavy, you know I have a drink, but before I go on I don’t do that. But I do have little sort of snacky things in the dressing room that I might just grab. Like chocolate covered raisins.

TM: Famously good for the voice…

PM: I don’t think so! But anyway, it’s a little snack. But them, and equal amounts of salted cashew nuts…

TM: You are a total rockstar, you monster. This is how the stories start Paul!

PM: Well then that’s just after a bottle of vodka!

TM: Do you drink any alcohol before you?

PM: No

TM: None at all?

PM: I used to try that kind of thing particularly in the early days of Wings when we thought we were…

TM: Loosen it up?

PM: Yeah, but it didn’t work. I’d just forget the lyrics that I didn’t know anyway.

TM: Yeah, forget the lyrics! Yeah I’ll have a red wine to chill me out.

PM: Yeah a couple of my guys do

TM: And a Red Bull too – it’s stupid.

PM: Red wine and a Red Bull?

TM: Upper and a downer, it’s ridiculous.

PM: It’s alright!

TM: It’s really bad for you, kids.

TM: “Paul, how do you keep your creative juices running? It seems like you have a never ending supply, do you have different methods?”

PM: No, you know I don’t think about it. I think that’s how! I’m very enthusiastic about stuff, you know so if I hear a great song, or hear an old song that I love, that’ll often kind of make me think, “Oh yeah, oh yeah I could write one like that”, and I’ll sort of – but even if I’m just sitting around, if I’ve got a guitar I’ll strum on it, and if I’ve got enough time I’ll try and write a song, or at the piano. So it’s just ‘cause I love it and they – you know, touch wood – they flow because I love it.

TM: I guess you’ve never not done it?

PM: Yeah, from the age of fourteen it’s been something I’ve done. But you do pinch yourself occasionally and think, “Wait a minute, I was fourteen and I wrote this little song little realising that would it actually be my job, and career, and the whole thing! I thought I was gonna be like a teacher or something sensible”.

TM: That is, it is unbelievable how much you’ve made. And when you say, “Alright, well let’s go on tour again”, do you go back just through your memory or through your discography? I’ve seen the set-list of this tour and you play 50 songs or something. You play almost twice as much as most bands do. You’ve got this obviously almost infinitely deep back-catalogue. How do you choose? Do you just think, “Oh, I haven’t played this one for years”?

PM: There’s a bit of that, yeah. Mainly I start with the fact that I used to go to concerts when I was a kid when I didn’t have any money and so I know what I want, so I think the average audience member wants what I wanted, which was the performer to do songs and hits you love. So I kind of start with that and I sort of will sit down – and there’s probably about ten songs that I think – I’d want me to do that. I’d wanna be in a ‘Hey Jude’ sing-a-long. So you know that’ll go in there. And as I get them and think, “We’ll do them”, and then if there’s anything new knocking around, I’ll sort of put that in, if there’s anything I particularly fancy or if the band makes suggestions about, “Hey, you know it’s Sgt. Pepper year, we could bring that back, we could do that?” So then we’ll rehearse them. And if they get past that stage and if we like them in rehearsal, then we’ll do them! And I always like to chuck in a couple that people won’t know. So we do a couple that – well I mean deep fans will know them – your average mom and dad who are coming along, who really liked The Beatles won’t know a few of them. But then sometimes people will come up to you and go, “What was that song you sang in the middle? I loved that”, and then, “Well that’s a little song I wrong for John,” or something, you know.

TM: Yeah. And if all you had done for the last 30 years is tour your sort of top 40 then you wouldn’t feel so motivated

PM: Yeah, you’d be a bit jaded.

TM: We have time for one more thing. So I’m just gonna take a minute. We’re just gonna stare weirdly towards the camera. Okay, Guy Sheppard from Australia says, “What is the best”, I mean, how do you answer this? “What is the best or most emotional fan encounter that you have ever had?” Do you have a sort of early career story?

PM: It tends to be more recent. The fan stories in the old days were just a lot of screaming and it was great, but you didn’t differentiate any. Now I can kinda see people in the audience. And there are two that come to mind. I do one of George’s songs – George Harrison – “Something in the way she moves”, which is always quite sort of moving for me because you know he’s no longer here. And he was my little mate, George. You know we got on the bus together, and stuff. So we lived our life together really. So when I do that, I’m a bit emotional anyway. And there’s a big picture of him at the back on the screen that we always use. So I’m looking at that and thinking, “Jeez, George, man”. And I’m loving him. And I turn back and the front row is the girl who’s completely [pretends to cry] lost it. And then I’m like [catches breath] and I’m trying to control it ‘cause I’m singing to a bunch of people who don’t know necessarily what I’m going through. So that’s a big memory of recent times. And then there was another lovely one in South America where there was this very tall man with a black beard. Very elegant kind of guy and he had his – what obviously looked like his daughter – and he’s put his arm around her. And she’s beautiful, South American, black hair and she’s just looking up at him and he’s looking down at her with such a look of love and I’m singing, “Let it be, Let it be”, and they’re [pretends to cry] and I’m [pretends to cry]. You know, so it’s hard to kind of control your emotions when you see that. So then you look away. But then you’ve gotta look back. And also I’ve learned audiences don’t mind seeing your emotion. I used to think that was the worst thing ever. You know, a guy crying. You know, Liverpool – you sort of didn’t do that! But now it’s okay! And you can. And I think audiences just kind of go along with it.

TM: Your music is so embedded in people’s histories and it’s obviously so full of emotion and truth from your personal history, and when you can feel that, you’re connecting to the songs that they can connect to. I think finding that authenticity on stage is the reason you go to concerts. I think that’s amazing, that’s beautiful.

Last updated on March 6, 2019


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