A Grammy-Winning Formula for Paul McCartney: Don’t Show Up
Mary McCartney/MPL Communications Ltd.
Would you have any interest in speaking to Paul McCartney about the Grammy Award he won on Sunday, a publicist asked over e-mail the other day. O.K., O.K., twist our arms, why don’t you?
Mr. McCartney won the Grammy for traditional pop album for “Kisses on the Bottom,” a collection of his covers of standards like “It’s Only a Paper Moon” and “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive,” as well as new songs like “My Valentine,” which he wrote for his wife, Nancy Shevell. It is one of at least a few distinctions Mr. McCartney has received in a career that includes numerous solo offerings, several albums with Wings and, before that, his records made with a pop quartet called the Beatles.
Mr. McCartney spoke from Britain about his Grammy victory and why, by design, he wasn’t at this year’s ceremony. The conversation (excerpts below) began just before 7 a.m. Friday morning, when an unlisted phone number appeared on this reporter’s cell phone and a voice responded, “Hello, David.”
Q.Is this who I think it is?
A.Yeah, sorry, this is Paul. Yeah, Paul McCartney.
Q.[after ecstatic laughter] Good morning, how are you?
A.You’re in a jolly mood this morning. I’m very well, thank you. How can I help you?
Q.So you’ve just won another Grammy Award. Don’t you ever get tired of these things?
A.Nope. You don’t get tired. It’s very nice. And the Grammys have become more and more important, media-wise. It’s a bigger, better show. When you look at all the people in the musical field who are up for them, it’s gratifying to think that you’ve picked one up.
Q.It’s been reported that this is your first Grammy for an album of new recordings since “Let It Be.” [Mr. McCartney has also since won Grammys for individual songs, and the “Band on the Run” album won a Grammy for its engineer, Geoff Emerick.] Does that sound right to you?
A.You know what? I don’t keep count. I’m the worst on facts about me or facts about the Beatles. It’s like, “It’s 50 years to the day–” And I go, “Oh is it?” What am I supposed to do? Keep a little diary and watch every little event? So, no, I’m always pleasantly surprised at these facts or these fictions. I can’t help you on that. I’m sure there’s a million experts who could verify that. It’s nice, because I don’t have to keep track. There’s a lot of other people who keep track for me. It’s a luxury.
Q.I imagine it must be gratifying to be recognized for this album in particular, which was such a departure for you.
A.It is a completely different kind of album. I’m very pleased, also, for the producer, Tommy LiPuma, and Al Schmitt, the engineer, they’re such cool guys, very old school. And we had such a ball with Diana Krall. There was a moment in the studio where we were struggling with an intro, I think – although I must say, we didn’t struggle too much on this album – but it wasn’t like it was all charted. We just had the chords and the words, and we did pretty much improvisations. And there was a moment where we were struggling with an intro – should it be this or should we open like this? And Diana was looking a little bit worried. And I said, “Diana, look. I’m from Britain and I’m in L.A., the sun is shining, I’m in Capitol’s famous Studio A where Nat King Cole recorded. Diana, I’m on holiday.”
Q.The victory is its own reward, of course, but you weren’t at the Grammys ceremony this year. Why not?
A.We started to get a theory that when you don’t go, that’s when you win. But Nancy likes the event, and I do too, because she does. In some ways, it’s better than the Oscars – the Oscars are great and super-important, but the Grammys is like a really cool concert and you get some very good performances. But this is what happens: We went a couple of times and sort of sat there, and graciously accepted defeat. With that moment you look for at the Oscars or the Grammys, when the cameras go to the people who didn’t win, and they’re smiling wonderfully and applauding. “And the winner is – John Mayer!” And you go: [through clenched teeth] “Oh, wonderful. How wonderful. What a good singer.” Secretly you’re thinking, “He’s not as good as me though.” It’s a very human moment.
This year I was actually presenting at the Baftas, they’d asked me to present a film music award that night. And then coming home from that, I got a text saying “You’ve won a Grammy.” So the car was alight with triumph. Hence the theory, you mustn’t go if you want to win. But having said that, we might go next year.
Q.Do you have one place where you keep all your awards and trophies?
A.No, I don’t. I’m particularly lax on that. I don’t know where they all are. I’m just not organized. I said to someone the other day, “Would you believe the Beatles were up for an Oscar, for ‘Let It Be,’ and we didn’t even know we were up for it?”
Q.Is that even possible?
A.Well, exactly. In those days, it was. Because it was less of a global ceremony. And the Beatles were very much in a – “Let It Be” was the time that we were breaking up, so the news had not reached us. If you take that as indication, how unconcerned – how unplugged – we just weren’t plugged into that. Nowadays it’s very hard to avoid it. I don’t think any of us ever collected all of our gold discs, to put them up on walls. So I don’t have a trophy room. Some of them go up in my office, which I think is an appropriate place to intimidate businesspeople. [laughs] Which is my aim in life.
I’m very honored to get them. I don’t organize them and catalog them. The excuse is always – which is the truth – I’m too busy doing it. I’m talking to you now before I go into the recording studio to record new songs of mine. I love that – I love that I still am enthusiastic, I’ve still got the energy and the desire to keep doing it. So the analysis has to take a back seat.
Q.What’s the album you’re working on now?
A.It’s a new studio record, my new songs. I’m always writing songs and I’ve got a bunch that I want to record. I’ve been working with a variety of producers, and today I’m actually working George Martin’s son, Giles. I’m actually just going down the road to the studio. I’m just going to pull over, have a little walk down the road, pull into the studio and start thrashing about on my guitar.
Q.Those fellows that you worked with at the 12-12-12 benefit concert, will they show up on your new album?
A.“Cut Me Some Slack,” which I did with the Nirvana boys, will be on Dave Grohl’s album. That’s his project. He just rang me up, said: “Do you want to come over for a jam? I’m working on this project about the old Sound City days.” I was in L.A., so I went over with my wife and two of my daughters and they just hung, the gals, while me and Dave went over to the studio, feeling like two little teenagers escaping. Dave got on the drums, I got on guitar, Krist Novoselic got on bass, Pat Smear got on guitar. I just shouted some words – [demonstrates] “Mamaaaaaaaa!” – got into that mode. What was so lovely about it was that it really was just, “Hey, do you want to have a jam?” It was totally organic. It was like an improv afternoon. Really if you think about it, it should be something that a major label would dream up. [executive’s voice] “I want you boys to get together, and we’re going to put a lot of money behind this.” But it wasn’t, it was just our idea and we did it in one afternoon.
Q.Well, you’ve got my number now. Feel free to give me a ring if you’d ever like to jam in New York.
A.What do you play?
Q.I play the plastic guitar in Rock Band.
A.Oh, cool. I bet you’re better at it than I am. My grandkids always beat me at Rock Band. And I say, Listen, you may beat me at Rock Band, but I made the original records, so shut up.