Paul McCartney has spoken to the BBC about being locked down with his family, about his forthcoming McCartney III album and how it compares to its two predecessors, and about Peter Jackson’s The Beatles: Get Back film, due out in the summer of 2021.
McCartney, interviewed by Matt Everitt for Shaun Keaveny’s BBC 6 Music, started by explaining how the new album came into being, before he even knew it would be a record. “I get these ideas and I don’t know, it keeps me busy,” he said.
“I came back off holiday at the beginning of the year and got down to my farm in the countryside and happened to be locked down with my daughter Mary and her family, so that meant four of my grandkids. So, I think for a lot of people, suddenly they’re spending more time with their families than they thought they would, so that’s been nice.
“Then I was able to go to work,” he went on, “because the idea was go to work only if you can’t work at home, and I had to do a little bit of music in the studio, so that got me started, kind of thing. So, I did a bit of recording during that time and then I’d come home in the evening and then there’d be Mary and the family – all very lovely. So, I mean in fact it wasn’t that bad. I was a bit sort of loath to say that, because I know a lot of people have had a terrible time but no, mine wasn’t too bad at all in fact. Spent a lot of time with the grandkids and that was nice.”
McCartney III continues the series of home-made, self-recorded DIY albums than began at the time of The Beatles’ split with the 1970 release McCartney. That record, he said, “happened just because I was spending a bit of time at home, because suddenly, I wasn’t in The Beatles anymore, so you’re at a bit of a loose end to say the least.
“But I had all my stuff, I had a drum kit, I had my bass, I had my guitar, had an amp. So I got hold of a four-track recorder from EMI, which is the same machine that we’d used with The Beatles, so I just went real lo-fi, just plugged the microphone straight into the back, didn’t have a mixing desk and made some music – that was it.”
Ten years later, the former Beatle adopted the same process for 1980’s McCartney II. “I’d taken delivery of a synth and I’d never really messed with one before, so I was taking advantage of all the things you can do with a synth and then the other thing was a sequencer,” he remembered. “Again, something I’d heard people use but I’d never had a go at. So that really was the basis of that album and, you know, it was just me kind of locked away.
“It felt a bit crazy sometimes. I used to say that I felt a bit like a crazy professor, locked away in his laboratory. I mean, one track in particular…‘Secret Friend,’ it was just eight minutes long – it just happened to keep going for eight minutes. If you wanted to put some percussion on like shakers, you would just do a bit of it and then your computer can do the eight minutes, if you want it to just keep going. But in those days, I’m just standing around in this little empty room going [makes shaker sound] kind of glancing at my watch and going ‘Woah, seven minutes to go.’
“If you’re just on your own, you can have an idea and very quickly you can play it. Whereas with a band, you’ve kind of got to explain it, they’ve got to get it, you’ve got to get it, how it feels. Sometimes that’s great, don’t get me wrong you know, obviously live, that’s the best. But yeah, when you’re just noodling around on your own you just have a lot of freedom and it’s just something I’ve always enjoyed doing.”
“Now I can mess around”
|This year, with McCartney III, the star had all the freedom he wanted to see where his musical experiments would take him. “That was the great thing about the album. I didn’t know I was making an album and that really makes a difference. I just went in and as I say, I had this little bit of film music – a guy was making a film for me – he wanted a little bit of intro music and then a little bit of credits, instrumental. So I had to go and do that and I thought ‘Well that’s ok, that’s serious, now I can mess around.’
“And so for the next nine weeks I was just messing around, thinking ‘Ah, it would be good to finish this one up. Oh I could do this one. Yeah that’d be ok’ and just going through them all and never suspecting for one second that this was going to be an album.”
Of the material on McCartney III, he said: “Most of it’s new stuff. There are one or two that I hadn’t finished and because I was able to get in the studio and go ‘Ok, wait a minute, what about that one? Let’s have a look at that’ and get it out and think ‘Oh dear.’ You’d try and figure out what was wrong with it, why you didn’t like it and in some cases, it was just the vocal or the words or something just didn’t cut it.
“So you could strip it all down and go ‘Ok, well, let’s just make it a completely different song.’ And then, when I’d done them all, I sort of looked at them and I was going ‘Well, what can I do with this? Is this a new album or something?’ and then it suddenly hit me – this is McCartney III. You’ve done it all yourself like the others, so this qualifies.”
Seizing the day
McCartney was asked by Everitt whether any of the new songs are informed by the pandemic. “Yeah I think so, a couple of the newer songs,” he answered. “There’s one called ‘Seize the Day’ – that had echoes of the pandemic kind of thing when the cold days come, we’ll wish that we had seized the day, kind of thing. So that was just reminding myself and anyone listening that yeah, we better grab the good stuff and you know, try and get on through the pandemic. But it certainly helped me, you know.”
Of his wider feelings about the worldwide crisis, he reflected: “I hate it. You know when you turn on the news, the lead story is going to be how many people died. That’s depressing, after a while. But in truth, what kind of saw me through a lot of this was, I remembered that my parents, my mum and dad, Jim and Mary were in World War II.
“They survived – they survived the bombing and the losing people left, right and centre and yet they came out of it with incredible spirit and so us kids in Liverpool, we grew up with this really, you know ‘Let’s have a good time, let’s roll out the barrel,’ with this great sort of wartime spirit that all the people had, because they’d had enough. And so I was brought up in a lot of that, so it’s kind of good to draw on that and think well, if they could do it, I can do it.”
“I’d do it for a hobby if they sacked me”
Speaking of music’s therapeutic powers, McCartney added: “I always say to people I’d do it for a hobby if they sacked me. I’ve always got my guitar kind of handy and it’s a friend. You talk to a lot of guitar players or instrument players and that’s what they’ll tell you. You kind of get a relationship with this inanimate object. It becomes very important.
“In the early days of The Beatles we always used to – me and John – used to sort of say it was like a psychiatrist. You’d be feeling a bit down and you’d go off in a cupboard somewhere and start playing and you’d work your way through it and you’d feel better. So it is really important.
“I look back at the last gig I did which was at Dodger Stadium in L.A. and we did have a very good night and I must say I’m just sort of thinking ‘Uh, oh, what if that’s the last gig?’ But it would just be great, wouldn’t it, just to be in a crowd and not worry and just be able to go crazy and listen to a live band or be the live band. I was imagining that the other day you know, instead of doing the songs you’d be standing there going ‘This is great isn’t it!’…that would be special, I must say, so fingers crossed.”
Finally, Paul was asked about progress on director Peter Jackson’s Get Back, and whether he had seen any of it. The film is set for theatrical release on August 27, 2021, followed by the official book of the same name four days later. “Yeah, I have, I love it,” he noted. “I said to him when he was going to trawl through all the footage – like about 56 hours or something – I said ‘Oh God, it’s going to be boring’ because my memory of the [original 1970] film was that it was a very sad time, and it was a little bit downbeat, the film.
“But he got back to me he said ‘No, I’m looking at it,’ he said, ‘It’s a laugh – you guys, it’s just four guys working and you can see you making up songs.’ George wondering about the lyrics of ‘Something In The Way She Moves’ or me trying to figure out ‘Get Back’ and he’s shown me little bits and pieces of it and it’s great, I love it, I must say because it’s how it was. It just reminds me of – even though we had arguments, like any family – we loved each other, you know, and it shows in the film. It’s a very warm feeling, And it’s amazing just being backstage with these people, making this music that turned out to be good.”
McCartney III will be released on December 11. Pre-order it here.