Paul McCartney: ‘The whole world was going mad’

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Sir Paul McCartney joins Zane Lowe on Apple Music 1 to discuss his new album ‘McCartney III’. He tells Apple Music how creating the album during quarantine ‘saved’ him and why he wanted to release the album before the end of 2020.

He also discusses the period following the breakup of The Beatles and the formation of Wings, music’s continued evolution, being a vegetarian, and shares his favourite Beatles songs.

Paul McCartney Tells Apple Music About Creating ‘McCartney III’ During Lockdown…
It was written all over the place, really. What happened was with lock down, I had to stay in one place, obviously, because you’re locked down or “rocked down” as we call it. The thing is I was with my family, with my daughter, Mary and her kids, so that was very nice. But I had to do a little bit of film music, so I was able to come here, which is 20 minutes away from where I live to do that bit of music, and it was for an animated piece. So they had to have it soon. So I had to do that bit of work and the government had said, go to work only if you can’t work from home. So I couldn’t do this music at home. So anyway, I ended up in the studio and liked it so much that I made it a daily practice and started finishing off songs that I’d meant to finish last year, but never had time for, and then I wrote one, and then I came in and did it. So it’s a collection of ways of doing it, but it was all recorded downstairs here at the studio.

Paul McCartney Tells Apple Music How Making ‘McCartney III’ Saved Him During Quarantine…
Yeah, there was a big connection with trying to keep equilibrium. Because you know, the whole world was going mad. Suddenly there was a thing that we’d never heard before. I mean there was AIDS and there was SARS, and there was avian flu, but all these things seem to happen to other people and then suddenly it was happening to everyone and everyone I knew, and everyone in the world. So it was quite a shock. It was really good to be able to play music, and make up music, and put your thoughts and your fears, and your hopes and your love into the music. So it kind of saved me, I must say, for about three or four months it took to make it.

Paul McCartney Tells Apple Music About Releasing The New Album Before The End of 2020…
I didn’t realize, of course, I never count. So if someone said to me, « Well, that’s great. You did McCartney in 1970. » I say, « Oh yeah. »  » And you did McCartney II in 1980. » I go, « Oh, that’s so great. » So let’s get this out before 2020. And as you say, though, it’s been such a crazy year for me, for you, for everyone. Everyone that we run into. It’s one of those, wow, can you believe this sh-t? And I say to people, it was going to be so auspicious 2020.That’s going to be so good. Perfect vision, it’s got to be like the greatest year. And then suddenly, boom, it was special, but in a weird way. But it was good, once it was pointed out to me, ’70, ’80,’ 20, I thought, well, that’s nice. So we did it.

Paul McCartney Tells Apple Music About The Period Following The Beatles Breakup…
It was a difficult period. Here was this band that I’ve been in a lot of my life, and these guys who were my best buddies ever, and suddenly we’d split off and we weren’t working together. And so we’re each in our separate homes, and I was in mine, as I say, having just met Linda and there was a romantic element to it, and there was a new discovery of thinking about a family. So all of that was very nice.

Paul McCartney Tells Apple Music About The Formation of Wings…
And as I say, with Linda, and with the family growing, that was like, « Okay, well this is my direction. This is my direction now. » And with music to help me through it, I can do this. I’m going to be able to manage this. So it was difficult for quite a while, but I eventually got the idea of where I wanted to go. I thought, « Okay, I’ll get a new band. » Because I like being in bands. I like bands. I like making music. I like writing. I like recording. So that’s what I’ll do. That’s easier said than done. « I’ll get a band. » And of course, I think it was actually the right decision, but it was a weird decision to just decide to go back to the absolute square one. Because my thinking was, well, the Beatles were just these four guys. We didn’t know anything when we started. We knew a couple of chords, knew a couple of songs. We hadn’t written much, but we thought, « We’ll figure it out. We’ll work it out. » And we did. So I thought, « Well, with a new band, we’ll do that. » I said to Linda, « Do you want to be keyboard? » She said, « Yeah. » So I said, « Great you’re in. » And it was like that. We just formed it from the ground up and it took a few years, but then we gradually had Wings and we became a successful band.

Paul McCartney Tells Apple Music About Creating With John Lennon…
I always created on my own, unless when I was with John. Even then I would create on my own and he would, and we’d come together. We hardly ever sat down and had nothing. There was always some sort of idea. And these days I always created on my own, and it’s a great feeling. People say, « Well, when do you write and stuff? » And I kind of say, « Well, it’s when I’ve got time; there’s just nothing to do today or this afternoon, and I’m in the mood. » So I will pick up a guitar and think, « I’ve got time. I could write a song. » I don’t just have to strum three chords and go to work and go do something else.

And that was the thing where I was working with John, that was, I’d say a sentence and he’d suggest the next one. And then I’d suggest the next one. So we’d ping pong off each other. And often we’ve got a good results because John was such a different personality. When I was sitting down with John, it would be like, I’d go, (singing), and he’d go, (singing). So you get that great A and B thing. You go, yeah, great. It moves you on. It’s just a voyage of discovery. You know what I mean? It sounds corny, but it is and that’s what I love about it. You never know what you’re going to come out with. No idea whether this is going to be a warm song, a sad song, a story song. You can never tell.

Paul McCartney Tells Apple Music About Being a Vegetarian…
The thing is there is this thing that people like to band together. I grew up in Liverpool eating traditional British food. What you had this week, you would have next week and the week after that. And it was only at Christmas that anything ever changed. There’s a lot of people are still live like that. And in a way, I think they think it’s like a badge of honour so that when you sort of say, « Well no, I’m vegetarian. » You kind of go, « Oh. » And they liked to make jokes about it. You just have to get used to it. As you say, the world’s caught up so the jokes seem a bit sillier these days. It’s like, it doesn’t work as well as it used to, well he’s a vegetarian, ha, ha, ha and we’d all laugh.

If I was young and we’re talking about the same situation in social media I think I would have embraced it and really leaned into it. As you say, I would have thought, whoa okay, let’s get to work. Here’s what I’m cooking today. And it’s not that same old rubbish you’ve always had all your life. People say, « Oh, I don’t know if I could be a vegetarian. » And I say, « Well look, the thing is, it’s actually very easy these days. It’s so easy. » But I say to people, « You tend to grow up and when you’re 20, 21, you don’t think, oh, I could change a lot of things. » I say to some people, « You can actually just look at your life and think, do I really want roast beef on a Sunday and sausages on a Friday? Or am I actually going to experiment? Am I at a point in my life where it might be fun to try some other stuff?” And that’s what I’ve found is that having to fill that hole in the middle of the plate, which was what we used to say, when we first started, it was like, « It was veg with something. » And suddenly there was nothing. Now you don’t have to do that. I say to people, some of my best friends are meat eaters. It’s not like I’ve got a crusade against anyone who does that. I get it. I used to do it. I think it’s a little bit boring and I think it’s a little bit unexciting. I think you can have a more exciting life than that. If you can and if you want it, why not?

Paul McCartney Tells Apple Music His Favourite Beatles Songs…
Paul McCartney: I always say, « You Know My Name, Look Up The Number. » Which is a zany, zany little B side that nobody knows, but we had such fun making it. It’s like a little comedy record. And I just remember the joy of making it. But there’s a lot of songs that I love of the Beatles. I think « Strawberry Fields » is a great song, I think, « Hey Jude » worked out great. I’ve got a lot of favourite songs. « Blackbird » I love. « Eleanor Rigby » I love.

Zane Lowe: Let me ask you this. If you could create an aggregate in your head, top of your head, which one do you think you’ve probably listened to the most throughout your life? What would be the natural draw?

Paul McCartney: I would say probably « Let It Be » as a song. It’s the most ubiquitous. It sort of got everywhere. Ubiquitous from the Latin, ubi quo, meaning everywhere. Come on, give it up.

Paul McCartney Tells Apple Music About Music’s Evolution…
Well, I do think it is harder because the Beatles’ body of work was so varied and so complete. It covered a lot of genres, from love song through little acousticy things, through big rocking things, through crazy. Experimental stuff. Yeah. I have heard that. People say, « You’ve done it all, what’s left? » But on the other hand, I think that there’s plenty of people who kind of embrace that. I just heard something about the Foos new thing, « Shame. » « Shame. » That to me, could have been written with the Beatles in mind or it could have been written in the sixties, but once you’re writing a song and it feels good, you can’t betray the song and say, « I’m not going to finish you because you sound like something I’ve heard before. » You owe it to the song and to yourself to just go with it and finish it. I think there’s plenty more to be done. And then you get the advent of hip hop and suddenly it’s a whole new world. I think there’s plenty of great music out there and plenty of places for people to go. But I agree, we kind of limited the field a little bit.

Paul McCartney Shares Words To Live By…
To me, the thing that resonated with me when I was at school, it’s just a phrase from Shakespeare, it’s, « To thine own self be true. » I’ve always thought that’s very sensible, very strong and I’ve lived by that. And I continue to. You’re trying to be true to yourself. You try to not have too much BS in your life. To me, that would be something that helps me cut through the rubbish and the craziness around to sort of centre and just say, « Okay, to my own self I should be true. » To thine own self be true.

Paul McCartney Tells Apple Music About His Love of Instruments…
You sometimes just sort of hear something, particularly if you play a chord. So yeah, I love instruments. The first instrument I ever had was my dad gave me a trumpet, and he’d been a trumpet player when he was younger. He played a little bit of the trumpet, and it actually was kind of in fashion. There was a film called the Man With the Golden Arm, and it was like Harry James… So it was kind of glamorous at that point. But I realized I couldn’t sing with this thing in my mouth so I swapped it in for a guitar and that started my love of guitars. They’re really a great help when you’re growing up because you’ve got so many questions and things flooding in that if you can get off in a quiet space with a guitar and you can tell your troubles to the guitar, and often in doing that, you come out of the other end, oh, it’s a song. We used to think it was like the greatest therapy. And the same, we had a piano in our house that my dad again played piano for the family parties, so there was always a piano there available. So I started tinkering around and that became my second instrument that I loved. Even now if I’m in a hotel or in one of these places where there’s a piano in the lobby, I can’t resist. I have to just go by it. Excuse me.

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