A mysterious white label of a Paul McCartney & Wings classic has captured the imagination of music fans over the past couple weeks.
On March 30, a crop of 12″ records materialized on Phonica Records’ website featuring a chugging house remix of the ex-Beatle’s Band on the Run finale ‘Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five.’ The limited vinyl run swiftly sold out amid a frenzied demand that found copies fetching upwards of $400 on eBay.
The authenticity of the remix’s multitrack recordings and McCartney’s recent announcement of a 67-song greatest hits package prompted iD to speculate “whether it was officially sanctioned by the man himself.” Social media support from McCartney’s camp on April 8 only thickened the plot.
— Paul McCartney (@PaulMcCartney) April 8, 2016
Billboard Dance can now exclusively reveal that German veteran Timo Maas and Canadian producer James Teej are responsible for the release (and acted with Sir Paul’s blessing). We caught up with the artists to flesh out the story behind the unlikely rework.
How did you come across the original track?
Timo Maas: I had heard it for the first time back in 2009 when my long time friend and agent David Levy was playing it for me in his house in Ibiza. He was telling me how much he felt it sounded like early house music, 10 years earlier than house music’s birth. More as a little joke I asked if he could get access to the multi tracks or parts, and to my complete surprise he said yes. I just really loved the song, and after getting the parts, tried to do something with it alongside a handful of other producers/engineers, however we never fully succeeded in working the parts to a point where I really felt the end result was worth passing along. The parts then simply sat on my machine for 6 years. Fast forward to 2015, while I had my soul brother James, and his My Favorite Robot partner Voytek Korab at my German countryside home for a week’s visit. I opened the folder and played some of the parts as we were hanging out listening to all sorts of different music in my home studio drinking wine.
James Teej: I was outside of the studio taking in some air, and could hear some different things being played from inside the studio. Out of nowhere, I heard a voice, loud and clear, isolated, and it immediately caught my attention. I ran back in, and asked Timo what the hell it was, as it sounded to me like Paul McCartney, and I was really confused as to where this would have been from. He told me the story about getting the parts in 2009, and how they came to be in the first place, and let me know that he also had all of the multitrack from the original 1973 studio session master tapes. I was completely in shock… and seeing as to how we were spending the week together working on some music as we had initially planned, we decided that we should take a stab at doing something really special with this, simply for ourselves and for fun, and dove right into working with the parts.
We did this all the while enjoying some of the finest food — kudos to master chef Timo — and drinking some top shelf wines so there was a definite magic in the air — spring time in Germany’s almost fairy tale-esque country side. From that point I began to work with the multitrack, the magic continued to build throughout the week. Over the next couple days the first version of our rework really began to take shape. It was an incredible feeling, that we were doing something with such history and really bringing something unique and special to the original. It probably still is to this day the most amazing and beautiful week’s of studio time in my life. Once we saw how it was really was starting to come together, I asked Timo jokingly if he thought that we might be able to get this to McCartney himself. With a typical straight German face, Timo said “Yes, we can try to make that happen.” And right there, I watched as he sent the track off to David Levy.
Maas: After sending the first working version back to David, with a bit of a joke saying “Sorry for being 6 years late”, his first reaction when he listened to it was simply “What the f–k is this Timo!” and immediately called me 10 minutes later. I told him that this was something that I had been working on with James over the past few days, and that I was a little late in delivering this, to which he replied “This is the best thing I’ve ever heard from you.” That was the key point for us in realizing that this might end up being a bit more than a fun project between mates. I asked David point blank if this is something that should and could be sent to McCartney, and he responded with an enthusiastic yes.
Teej: Reinterpreting someone’s music is always a risk and a challenge. Even more so with such an important and iconic figure in contemporary music history. Throughout the whole process, Timo and I really tried to come up with a modern take of this classic song, still with full respect to the original, but perhaps working it in a way that we felt would maybe resonate with Sir Paul himself, and at the very least, maybe bring back some memories for him. We tried to really communicate through the music and present this in a way that would appeal to Paul, his fans, the electronic world and mainstream world, without being fake or come across as being cheesy or pretentious.
What made you choose Paul McCartney & Wings?
Teej: When I was growing up, my dad raised me listening to 60s and 70s psychedelic and classic rock. This had the biggest influence on my musical development as grew up and learned to play different instruments. So McCartney and The Beatles’ music was a huge influence. Personally I’ve always been drawn to McCartney’s distinct style of song writing, and his ability to convey so much love and emotion. You hear that in the Beatles music and with Band On The Run. Certain artists are touchy about having their music reworked and rock music fans also tend to be pretty picky about electronic reworkings of classic songs, but we went in with a confident stance and decided to do our very best in creating this contemporary electronic version.
Maas: I was born in 1969 and I love a very wide range of music. Obviously Paul McCartney and the Beatles have been an integral part of my life as they have simply been some of the most influential and successful music writers of all time. But only in the past 6-7 years have I been able to really learn more about their songs and dive deeper into the songwriting and arrangements to gain such a deep appreciation of the genius of albums like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Sir Paul`s solo work. It really resonated with me.
What was your creative approach on the track?
Teej: Once we got into working with the parts, it became very clear what it was we wanted to achieve with it. We worked really hard on re-treating some of the original elements, and went for more of a modern style of mixing, specifically heavier and more emphasis on the bass. We also used segments of the full vocal that were not used in the original, but that we felt really reinforced Paul’s blues-inspired vocals. I personally believe that this is one of the most amazing vocals Paul has recorded. The main thing I felt was necessary was to have the focus of our version be on Paul’s voice, and to use some of the more bluesy elements and emphasize them more. The biggest risk we took was not using the original’s iconic main rhythm piano line. By freeing up the space and removing that rhythmic piano structure, it allowed the track to really breathe. The vocal’s sheer emotion made this sound like a different record altogether, while still remaining true to much of the structure and core elements of the original.
We were very sensitive to not add too many new sounds, however we worked hard to manipulate the samples of all the original amazing parts — oboe, guitar, bass, drums, intro and outro piano and Moog synth — and other melodic elements to really have them all working together. It wasn’t the easiest reworking, and we wanted to stabilize the tempo slightly but also have some nods to that progressive style of arrangement found in music of the 60s and 70s. It was a totally organic process overall, and our version was born initially in those three consecutive and intensive days of work. When I returned to my home in Ecuador, I was able to do some of the final touches, as well as work on the radio and club edits which have all now been pressed to vinyl.
How has the response been?
Maas: After David had the final version, I had also sent the re-interpretation to my good friends at Virgin Records in Germany. Once again, ten minutes later I received a call from Markus Bruns and Volker Mietke with the same question that David had: “Timo, what the f–k is that you just sent?” They told me that “We want to sign it, it is one of the best reworks we’ve heard from you.”
Teej: Once things started to move forward and evolve, David sent the song to Paul’s management, and after a few weeks we finally heard the news that Paul had gotten a chance to hear our version. He thought it was very cool and gave us a green light to put the record out. That will forever be the biggest moment of my music career and words can’t express how it felt to have him personally approve the remix.
How did you roll out the remix?
Maas: After the okay from Paul and his team, we then sent it to a few industry heavyweights and tastemaker friends like BBC Radio 1’s Pete Tong, Damian Lazarus, Seth Troxler, and the response was all overwhelmingly positive, which just helped this whole project continue to progress and move along. Everyone we played the track to instantly fell in love with it, no matter their age, background within the industry or taste for music. We slowly realized we had something really special on our hands but we weren’t quite sure how the record would be received or what demographic would respond to it.
Nick Liousias and Niko Seizov from my management agency Forward Thinking Music came up with the idea to press a limited edition white label 12″ with a hand stamp of Paul’s face and absolutely no information on it. We secretly sneaked it into two vinyl stores in the UK and Germany in order to test the waters and understand how people would react to the music on face value. The response was a little hard to believe. The record sold in mere few hours and sent the vinyl world into a frenzy.
Teej: I don’t think anyone had thought that this white label pre-release would sell out so quickly and start seeing copies being sold a week after release for more than 280 pounds on Discogs and Ebay. Phonica’s London store’s phone was ringing off the hook like crazy for copies, and it went to No. 1 on their charts overnight. All of that got picked up first by i-D magazine, and made it all the way to the UK tabloids who speculated that Kanye West might be behind it. It has certainly been a laugh for us to watch all the speculation floating around, but I am happy now that the cat is out of the bag. I really have to give credit to Paul for taking a chance with us on this, but there is no doubt that this has all come together because of our collective and absolute love and dedication to music.