Paul McCartney Finds Freedom In His Alter Ego McCartney and Youth returned to work as The Fireman for their third and latest release together, Electric Arguments. McCartney entered the studio, without any material, and recorded 13 songs in 13 days. The legendary artist reveals how his alter ego allows him the freedom to experiment.
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Paul McCartney Finds Freedom In His Alter Ego

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Paul McCartney Finds Freedom In His Alter Ego

Paul McCartney Finds Freedom In His Alter Ego

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We've got a little music pop quiz for you now. Can you identify this famous voice?

(Soundbite of song "Nothing Too Much Just Out Of Sight")

THE FIREMAN: (Singing) (Unintelligible) Yeah, oh, na, na, na...

WERTHEIMER: OK. If you haven't guessed, it's Paul McCartney. It's the first track from his new album "Electric Arguments," which is an unusual album for a number of reasons. Each song on it was written and recorded in a single day - 13 songs, 13 days. There's also the fact that McCartney's name doesn't actually appear on the front of the CD jacket; instead, it says the Fireman. That's the name McCartney uses when he works with his friend and collaborator, Martin Glover, also known simply as Youth. The two of them made a couple of instrumental records together in the '90s, but this new one has songs. A few days ago, Paul McCartney sat down with me in New York City and told me how he and Youth started each morning with a blank slate.

(Soundbite of music)

Sir PAUL McCARTNEY (The Beatles; The Fireman): I would go into the studio with absolutely no idea. Neither of us had any idea of what the song was going to be, what the lyrics or the melody were, which could be said to be kind of a frightening prospect, except I like him.

(Soundbite of song "Sun Is Shining")

THE FIREMAN: (Singing) Like a Sunday, in the morning, Feel the quiet, feel the thunder, Look out the window...

Sir PAUL: Our collaboration then just became fun. And I would pull some words out of a poetry book, do a cut-up, stick them with some other words, make some other words up that went with them. And suddenly we found ourselves on this kind of exciting trail - oh, it's a song.

(Soundbite of music)

WERTHEIMER: You started writing music when you were, what, a teenager - 16 years old, something like that?

Sir PAUL: At 14 I wrote my first song.

WERTHEIMER: So, 50 years you've been doing it.

Sir PAUL: Hmm.

WERTHEIMER: Is that what made it possible for you to just pluck it out of the air? Do you think?

Sir PAUL: You're right. As I was doing this improvisational thing, I would start to find myself structuring the lines, and thinking, no that's better there. Oh, this is a chorus. OK, I'll sing this twice. I'll bring this back in. You start to get all your little tricks of the trade coming in it. But it's just so instant, and I think that's what makes this record kind of fresh because of that.

WERTHEIMER: What do you want your collaborator to do? Do you want him to say to you, That's not so good. That's kind of boring.

Sir PAUL: It's not so much he tells you off or praises you. He has never said to me that's no good, but he doesn't use it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Sir PAUL: He will just edit it out. So, it's kind of nice.

WERTHEIMER: It's that feeling.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Sir PAUL: I know. I know he's edited my best work. No, you know, I have to trust him. And he'll say to me, oh, just give me a couple of minutes, I'm just going to arrange it. So, then I'll go and have a cup of tea or something.

(Soundbite of music)

WERTHEIMER: Can you sort of walk me through the process, and tell me where did you start?

Sir PAUL: I would come in, in the morning and…

(Soundbite of strumming guitar)

Sir PAUL: And we would think of what you might call a groove. It was either dina wa, a jina wa - whatever, you know, a feeling of an essence. And I would just listen to it. Sometimes Youth had done that. He would just put down a guitar, with a little idea, a couple of chords that he liked.

So I'll go in and I'll put something on it. I could be in a drum mood. So I'd go on my drum kit, and I'll just put what I think would go with that. And we'd build it up, gradually layering it. We get it to a point that I then think, or he suggests, let's do some - let's do a song on it. Now, let's have a go at the vocals, he would say, and I would go with some vocals.

So, then the process was then delving into various books we had lying around. A bit of (Unintelligible), there were poetry anthologies, and I would just actually look for words I thought were beautiful, not necessarily meaningful. So, I saw these words silent lovers, so I'd write that on my pad. I just liked - I liked the sound that - silent lovers. What does it mean, well, it means a lot. And you can take whatever meaning you want.

And then the next little line I found was angels smiling, so I put that with silent lovers. So I started singing, silent lovers angels smiling. And then out of nowhere, don't stop running. Don't stop running, so there was this idea now in my mind of two lovers that the angels were smiling on. But, maybe they were either running away from something or maybe I wanted them to just keep doing what they were doing. It just sounded like a sort of hopeful chorus.

(Soundbite of song "Silent Lovers")

THE FIREMAN: (Singing) Silent lovers, Silent lovers, angels smiling, Don't stop running.

WERTHEIMER: In this album, there are all kinds of voices that are completely unfamiliar to me.

Sir PAUL: Hmm.

(Soundbite of song "Light From Your Lighthouse")

THE FIREMAN: (Singing) When the sky is filled up with storms and heavy rain, And trouble starts sliding across your mind, It's hard for me to see, Which road I've gotta take, I know I need to find a way to leave it all behind. Let it shine on, Let it shine on, Let the light from your lighthouse shine on me.

WERTHEIMER: You pushed yourself in some strange vocal ways. Why did you do that?

Sir PAUL: Well, because the whole essence of Fireman is because the pseudonym allows you to be anything you want to be. We always say, Fireman can do anything. When you start in music or in art, I think that's a thing you have anyway. As you do it more, you can get into a bit of straight jacket. You know, I am Paul of The Beatles. I am Paul McCartney who makes albums a certain way. So, it's very liberating to do that.

For instance, one of the things I do a lot in the studio, particularly on Fireman, is goof up. So, I can - I can just kind of, hey alright, you know, what's going on baby? Use a sort of lower voice. And he said, could you sing a take like that? So, I go - yeah, OK. And I sing it very low because a Fireman can do anything.

WERTHEIMER: When you heard it. Did you ever find yourself just shocked and surprised at what you had done? And…

Sir PAUL: Yeah. You know what it's very much that kind of album. I'm still listening to it. Somebody quoted the lyrics back to one of the songs the other day, and I thought, wow, is that what I did? Because of the cut-up nature the assembly of it all, it's so quick that I don't actually know what's in there. So, I'm still delving into the album myself.

WERTHEIMER: Great place to end.

(Soundbite of music)

Sir PAUL: All right.

WERTHEIMER: Thank you very much.

Sir PAUL: Thank you. The Fireman thanks you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: That's Paul McCartney. His new CD with collaborator Youth is called "Electric Arguments."

(Soundbite of song "Light From Your Lighthouse")

THE FIREMAN: (Singing) Dance all night together...

WERTHEIMER: This is Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

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