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Paul McCartney Talks “Tootling Around” With Kanye, Jamming With Nirvana

Fresh off of the announcement of his 17th studio solo album Egypt Station, Paul McCartney, one of the greatest pop songwriters of the 20th century, is the subject of a new profile in DIY. The interview, like every McCartney interview ever, is a exercise in bemused “Oh crikey, I just wandered in here….are you talkin’ about me little band?” faux-humility, and condescension masquerading as praise.

In this case, much of the discussion revolves around McCartney’s notable collaborations with pop music warhorses of later generation during the past few years. Why does he indulge in collaborations with the likes of Kanye West and Dave Grohl when he does? “You know what it is? It’s ‘cause I get asked,” the guy who wrote “Why Don’t We Do It In the Road?” told DIY.

McCartney went on to describe the writing process behind “FourFiveSeconds,” his 2015 collaboration with Kanye and Rihanna and biggest hit in many decades. By Paul’s account, it doesn’t seem like very much writing went on at all when he was in the room (The song’s credit list a full 10 co-writers, after all). Here’s Paul:

We had two or three afternoons where we just hung out together in a Beverly Hills hotel in the bungalows out the back, and he had his engineer and was set up with a couple of microphones incase anything happened. I was tootling around on guitar, and Kanye spent a lot of time just looking at pictures of Kim on his computer. I’m thinking, are we ever gonna get around to writing?! But it turns out he was writing. That’s his muse. He was listening to this riff I was doing and obviously he knew in his mind that he could use that, so he took it, sped it up and then somehow he got Rihanna to sing on it. She’s a big favourite of mine anyway, so that just came without me lifting a finger.

“Tootling around” seems like an apt way of describing a lot of the music McCartney has written and recorded since the dawn of the 1970s. But in this case, it seems like he had to tootle a lot less rigorously than usual. In other words, not even Paul McCartney can explain to us, or understands, the genesis of “FourFiveSeconds” and, more broadly, the creative process of Kanye West. He confirmed this while discussing “All Day,” another West song on which he is credited:

Just the other day I happened to look at the writing credits [for “All Day”] and there’s about 50 people! There were only three of them I knew and one of them’s Kendrick Lamar! I’m thinking, I’ve written a song with Kendrick Lamar?! I wish I’d met him! But that’s just the way they do it these days. The other day I was reading an article about this guy from Dirty Projectors who’s a band I like, and it says that his latest claim to fame was that he wrote the middle eight for ‘FourFiveSeconds’. Oh, so that’s how that happened! All these little mysteries, that’s how he pulls them together. It’s fascinating.

McCartney also did something you wouldn’t think an aging white rock star would still be doing in 2018 and called the music of Kanye West and Jay-Z (he’s a Watch the Throne fan) “urban poetry.”

The “Temporary Secretary” mastermind goes onto relate the story of that time he filled Kurt Cobain’s place in a spontaneous Nirvana reunion, which eventually yielded the one-off, Grammy-winning collaboration “Cut Me Some Slack” from Grohl’s 2013 film Sound City. Again, blimey, he didn’t know what was going on, or at least he didn’t recognize Krist Novoselic. Said Macca:

Dave Grohl who rung me up when he was making ‘Sound City’. He said he was just having a jam with a couple of mates, so I roll up there with the theory that something will happen and I’m playing this crazy little cigar-box guitar that I’m enjoying and these other guys join in, Dave gets on the drums. We jam around and then Dave says something like ‘We haven’t done this forever, man!’ I’m like, what do you mean? He’s like, ‘The band!’ I’m being a total thick-head. And it turns out the other guys are the rest of Nirvana. Then we end up getting a Grammy for this thing we did, just by following the trail, letting things happen.

McCartney also discussed the one production credit on Egypt Station that does not belong to songwriter/producer Greg Kurstin: One Direction’s Ryan Tedder’s turn on (!) “Fuh You.” “I liked the idea of Ryan and I listened to [Beyoncé’s] ‘Halo’ that he was part of,” McCartney explained. He also called the Beatles “a great little band – I think we can agree on that” and concluded with a novel suggestion: “How fucking good was John?!” Read the full interview at DIY.