Paul McCartney gets by on his new project, “McCartney III Imagined,” with a little help from… well, some strangers he may never actually have met before the album was completed. But the collection of remakes and re-thinkings of songs from his 2020 “McCartney III” album is bringing him some new pal now that it’s coming out, like St. Vincent, who was enlisted for a remix of “Women and Wives” for the compilation, which comes out Friday.
The two got on Instagram Live for a half-hour conversation Thursday afternoon that touched on everything from how many hours St. Vincent listened to McCartney’s original version of “Women and Wives” before she finished her version of it (about a hundred) to the upcoming Beatles film, “Get Back,” that McCartney is currently in Los Angeles to take a look at.
After proclaiming the “III Imagined” album full of “crazy stuff” and simply “great,” McCartney added, “I can be modest, because I didn’t do it!”
Earlier in the conversation, he said he hadn’t had much to do with putting the project together. St. Vincent said she hadn’t yet heard the full collection, and neither have most of the participants, McCartney indicated. “I thought, you don’t know what Beck’s done, and Beck doesn’t know what you’ve done, so I love that,” he said. “It’s going to be a surprise for everyone on the album. I think it hangs together great, myself…
“And I think I might have told you, one of the things for me was I didn’t really know too much about who was going to be asked and who was agreeing and stuff like that,” McCartney added. “I left that to the record label and my manager. So it was a great surprise for me to get — in the post, or on the phone — your track, Beck’s track, Dominic Fike, so many cool people. So I hope you like the album.”
As it turned out, both performers were in Los Angeles. “Nobody knows but you’re actually in the next room here,” McCartney joked. “We’re fooling everyone.” He allowed that one other reason he was in L.A., besides attending a screening of some “Get Back” footage with Ringo Starr tonight, was to finish up some work with producer-writer Andrew Watt.
“I just started doing a little bit of work,” he said, suggesting he’s making a return to collaborative recording after the one-man opus that was “III.” “I met the producer Andrew Watt. Have you heard of Andrew?” he asked. (She had.) “I just met him. My manager said you might like to go say hello and meet him, so I went around for a cup of tea, and of course we ended up making a track.”
“As you do,” she said. “As you do,” he agreed.
Of their own kind-of collaboration, which apparently didn’t involve them ever speaking until a few weeks ago, McCartney said, “When we spoke before, I said to you, ‘I love your guitar playing. What guitar were you playing, do you remember?”
“I have a signature guitar that I designed,” she explained (her model, though relatively inexpensive, is well-regarded enough that even Jack White has used it on stage).
“Nice — sounds great,” said McCartney. “I love it. It’s a simple tone, not through big fuzz or anything. It sounds really genuine.” Later, he noted, “I love your version of (“Women and Wives”), because it’s radically different from what I did, the whole beat of it. I listened to your track, thinking, ‘Okay, she’s got the band in, she’s playing with the band, and she’s got a backup group, probably a couple of Black girls in there, I think, by the sound of it.’ And then I asked you, and you said, ‘No, it’s me.’”
“Yeah, the pandemic band is me,” she affirmed. “It was so fun working on that guitar solo, working on those drums, the bass…” McCartney then signaled his appreciation of her drum sound in particular, and spit out his imitation of a particular fill.
McCartney, as fans know, recorded nearly the entire “III” album on his own, last year. “That’s how ‘III’ came about: Instead of just sitting at home and being locked down, the government said, ‘You can go to work as long as you can’t work from home,’” explaining how he took that excuse to go to a studio. “It really took care of those first couple of months of lockdown…. And the nice thing that I certainly realized isthat when people were doing the (“III Imagined”) mixes, they’d all been locked down as well.”
Said St. Vincent, “I think I told you on the phone when we spoke a couple months ago that I probably listened to your bare tracks for 100 hours. I mean, I spent a whole lot of time with the material. And every time I listened, every time I heard you sing, my enjoyment of it would get deeper and deeper… The quality of your voice on that track is so resonant. I listened to it over and over and got something new out of it every time.” McCartney said that track in particular was inspired by a book his wife, Nancy, gave him on Leadbelly, which prompted him to go “sort of digging the blues period” and get lower to “get a different tone in the voice.”
McCartney said yet another reason to be in Los Angeles at the moment had to do with an animated film called “High in the Clouds,” but a “Get Back” screening was his immediate focus for the evening. Director Peter Jackson has “taken old footage from when we did ‘Let It Be’ and … it looks beautiful. It’s very nice because you just see us working, but we’re twentysomething, so we’re young and beautiful.”
“When you’re watching the Beatles’ footage,” St. Vincent asked, “what do you feel when you see that stuff?”
“It’s funny… I knew Peter was a great director; he’d done ‘Lord of the Rings’ and all this. But what he was given was 56 hours of footage. So I said to him, ‘Ehhh — It was a little bit of a difficult period for me, so I’m not sure I’m going to like it.’ So he said, ‘Well, let me look at it. And he looked at it and got back to me and said, ‘It’s great. It’s friends — you’re just making the music.’ And he said, ‘The rapport is great; it’s just a little band working.’ And so he showed me some stuff, and I love it. It’s no bad vibes.
“And as you say, your question of what do I think looking back at it: It’s so nice, because I just see me goofing off with John, George and Ringo. We’re just goofing with each other, but at the same time we happen to be making this pretty cool album. I like looking back, because it’s my history. To me it always reminds me of a family snapshot album… It’s good for me.”
McCartney further discussed the track he was hoping to finish working with Watt on today. St. Vincent asked about the magical qualities of songs coming from the ether, and he mentioned the familiar story of having dreamed the music for “Yesterday.” Of the song he and Watt are working on at present, he said, “Sometimes an image will come into your mind. And I remember when I was a kid, where we used to live, there was blocks of flats where people lived, and I remember walking by this one (where) I knew this girl lived… And her light was on, so I could kind of see her silhouette in the window. So I always thought, wow… I mean, I suppose that makes me a voyeur. But there’s something kind of romantic about it. So I just started the song with that thought, like, ‘I walk by your house and I see your silhouette on the blind.’ And then try to develop it. ‘Do I ever cross your mind?’”
“Yes!” she said. “And you’re wondering what she’s doing in the room. Who is she?”
“What’s she up to? ‘Am I ever in your head, as you lie across your bed?’”
McCartney asked about her own plans for the day, which involved her promoting an album of her own, the May release “Daddy’s Girl.” “What am I up to? Well, I think have some German interviews,” she said.
“Oh, wow. Do you speak German?”
“No, I do not. But I do like a German interview, because they are usually very blunt,” she said. “I definitely have had the experience —‚ tell me if you have — of someone going, ‘This record —it’s not as good as your last record. Why?’ They don’t pull any punches in Germany. I appreciate that.”
McCartney brought up a German catchphrase he’s learned that you can use just to keep a conversation going without really engaging — “either that, or you can tell him to sod off,” he suggested.