The following is excerpted from a 36-page “Billboard Stars: Paul McCartney” special feature that appears in the Sept. 3, 2005, issue of Billboard magazine. Beyond this Q&A, the section boasts a dozen articles examining the former Beatle’s career, including rankings of his top albums and singles, touring, music publishing and more.
The full original text is available online to Billboard subscribers.
To order a single copy of the special Paul McCartney issue, visit www.orderbillboard.com/paul.
Doing the garden? Digging the weeds? Who could ask for more? But don’t expect Paul McCartney to slow down like that when he’s 64.
Just one year shy of the milestone he once immortalized in song, McCartney is gearing up for the release of his 20th album of his post-Beatles career and a major U.S. tour.
The album, “Chaos and Creation in the Backyard,” arrives Sept. 13 from Capitol Records in the United States and from EMI worldwide. McCartney’s US Tour, as he calls it, opens Sept. 16 at the American Airlines Arena in Miami.
But this Liverpudlian knight of the realm does not confine himself to the typical album-tour-album-tour cycle.
Last summer, McCartney took the stage at Britain’s renowned Glastonbury Festival and played a set in tribute to his late former bandmates, John Lennon and George Harrison. In February, he played the halftime show at Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville, Fla. And when called to join the global consciousness-raising of Live 8 in July, McCartney was there front and center.
In another creative sphere, on Oct. 4 McCartney will publish “High in the Clouds,” his collaboration with author Philip Ardagh and animator Geoff Dunbar for Penguin Young Readers Group.
But for McCartney’s longtime fans, the focus first is always on his music. On “Chaos,” working with producer Nigel Godrich,
McCartney has created his most rounded and assured piece of work in many years, from the strident opener “Fine Line” to the closing “Anyway.” The latter track characterizes the album with a mature sense of space and pensiveness.
For the project, the artist resumed the role of multi-instrumentalist that distinguished “McCartney,” his first post-Beatles project—released precisely 35 years ago in 1970—and the “McCartney II” set exactly a decade later.
Adding zest to McCartney’s challenge, this is his first studio set in four years, following the 2001 release of “Driving Rain,” which was a modest performer in the marketplace by McCartney’s exacting standards.
In conversation with Billboard on the eve of the release of “Chaos and Creation in the Backyard,” McCartney emphasizes that the only challenges he now needs are the ones he sets himself.
Have you been getting a lot of good reaction to the album?
I must say we have. We had a lot of fun making it. Nigel Godrich, the producer, and I had a lot of fun making it. We were determined to make something that we wanted to listen to at the end of it all.
I sense that people are surprised that this is your 20th solo album.
I’m kind of surprised, because I don’t count how many I’ve done; I just do the next one, and love it. There’re always people who say, “Did you know it’s 40 years since the Beatles?,” and I go, “Get away.” Or “You’ve done 3,000 gigs.” I say, “Never.” Of course the more we go on, the more it mounts up. But it really doesn’t matter to me whether it’s the 30th or the 3,000th. But at the same time it’s kind of impressive.
Had you met Godrich before?
No, I’d just started to hear about him. I’d liked certain records, and he turned out to be the common link between them. I’d like Radiohead’s records he was involved in, and I’d been sent an early copy of the Travis record, because I knew the Travis guys. We’d met along the road somewhere and got on very well.
Then I heard on the radio a track by Beck that I liked. The link between all these was Nigel, so when George [Martin] suggested him, I must admit he was on my good board. He was in the top 10 of people I would have considered.
When you meet new people, not just in work but socially, you must have to take the lead. You must be aware that an awful lot of people are completely daunted by meeting you at all.
It’s true, yeah. It’d be like when I met Phil Everly. He was such a figure from my youth that I went all daft and said, “Err, I used to be you … John was Don …,” and all the most stupid things, and he got thoroughly embarrassed.
But I am very aware of that, even to people at the newspaper shop. I do a sort of Liverpool thing, which is [jokingly], “Look here, I don’t want any trouble off you,” or whatever. I’ll be in their face, and they’ll go, “Oh, he’s just ordinary,” and we soon get at ease. It comes in handy in situations like that.
People always expect you to be riding around in stretch limousines all the time, but I will sometimes take public transport if it’s convenient, and it does surprise people, you see the heads turn.
I was in New York and I needed to get uptown, so I took one of the uptown buses. A few people noticed, and this black lady said, “Hey, you Paul McCartney?,” and started getting quite loud. I said, “Yeah, but I don’t want any trouble off you, babe,” and she laughed.
I said, “If you’re going to talk to me, come over here, sit by me.” So she did, and I heard her entire history, how she was going to visit her sister and all this stuff.
One of the things that struck me about the album is that it’s not really a rock’n’roll record. There’s a lot of reflective stuff on it.
That’s right. It’s only with people saying things like that, that I’ve thought, “It’s true, there’s only two rockers on it.” I would bring something to Nigel, thinking, “This would be OK,” and he’d say, “I don’t really like it.” I’d say, “Fair enough, then we won’t work on it,” and I’d pull the next one out of the bag, and he’d say, “I love that one, let’s do that.”
It did mean we didn’t have a conscious policy about it being a rock album or this or that. It’d be a “whatever it was” album. So you’ve got a few rockers, a few others reasonably uptempo, and it has meant a lot of the tracks we liked were quite introspective. But it’s nice to find that out now, when it’s too late!
Another tour coming up in the States suggests that you’re having a good time now.
The end of my last American tour, promoters were saying, “We could still take more, do longer.” Because I don’t really go out for much longer than three months, I find I get bored and it really becomes a slog. Three months at the rate we tour, which is pretty much one gig, then a day off, is pretty leisurely compared to how we used to work.
Are you planning on any more “new old” songs onstage?
Yeah, I found a few, I must say, which will be surprises. That’s one of the great pleasures now, because I used to resist Beatles songs. It was as if I was just trading on the past.
But I realized audiences loved them. They didn’t mind you doing that -— in fact just the opposite. But I found that on the last American tour, things like “Hello Goodbye,” that I’d never sung live before, was very entertaining for me and the audience. So that became a big plus. I’ve got a few songs I did in Europe that I’ve never done on American soil, and I’m thinking of a couple of others I’ve not done before, so it means they’re very fresh.
Excerpted from the Sept. 3, 2005, issue of Billboard. The full original text is available to Billboard.com subscribers.
For information about ordering a copy of the issue, click here.