McCartney II: Paul McCartney Interviewed By Other Artists

We asked the likes of Chris Carter, Gruff Rhys, Alexis Taylor, Ty Bulmer and Erol Alkan to ask Paul McCartney about some of the techniques and influences used on McCartney II. Questions asked by Stephen Dalton.

I first became aware that Paul McCartney had a life outside The Beatles (who I’ve never really liked) and Band On The Run nearly ten years ago, when I used to regularly go to much-missed genre-busting London nightclub Trash. Except I didn’t become aware of McCartney per se, just an incredible pop song that went "dit dit dit dit" with a terrific chorus about not needing a disco dancer, a true romancer, and so on. I remember the track got quite a reaction when it was played by DJs Erol Alkan and Rory Philips, everyone assuming it must be a new track from some incredible new synth group they’d discovered. But no, it was Paul McCartney’s ‘Temporary Secretary’. That track, and McCartney II, have been admired by a new generation of musicians. We asked them for questions to ask Paul McCartney when we did our main feature on McCartney II (read it here). This is what they came up with, and his responses:

Erol Alkan, DJ: Which musician did he greatly admire while making that album?

McCartney: Certainly Talking Heads. I love David Byrne’s eccentricity, that’s very appealing. And I like his not-mainstream attitude… I was also listening to things like John Cage, Luciano Berio, Cornelius Cardew. I went to their concerts in London because I had plenty of time on my hands so it was the kind of thing I would go and see. Again, just to see what it was about, not necessarily because I was a massive fan. It was more like: what is a prepared piano? Oh, that’s what it is. You know, funky stuff like that.

Chris Carter, Throbbing Gristle & Carter Tutti: ‘Temporary Secretary’ sounds ahead of its time; what did he use to make that melody sequence? What combo of sequencer/synth was it? Although if he’s anything like me he’ll have trouble remembering exactly from that long ago, ha!

PM: I actually know because I just tried to find out recently… I thought that I had one but it turns out I rented it. It’s an Arp sequencer, but we’ve just found one. Wix, my keyboard guy, has just found one so we might have one soon. We looked at the modern versions but the old one is better, and also I kind of know my way around it.

Ty Bulmer, New Young Pony Club: As an ex-temporary secretary, that is my favourite track on McCartney II. Is it about anyone specific, or did he just like the rhyme?

PM: Erm… yeah, I did have temporary secretaries. After I left Apple I still had business stuff coming up, so in trying to figure out how I could cope with that there were a couple of times I just grabbed someone to just put my letters in order and help. But that track isn’t about a specific person. What it’s about is, there was a guy called Alfred Marks, he had the Alfred Marks Bureau – he had the same name as a comedian on the radio when I was growing up. So it was just the funny paradox of seeing adverts for the Alfred Marks Bureau, the idea of some comedian having a Bureau was just funny. It said ‘Temporary Secretary’, and I thought, that’s a kind of funky thought. Then there was the secretary thing: take a letter Miss Smith, sit on my lap… all that kind of stuff.

Gruff Rhys, Super Furry Animals: Firstly, I’m a big fan of McCartneys I & II. My question: I presume TLC gave you a writing credit for their version of ‘Waterfall’… I personally love both versions. Do you find covers of your songs flattering or does it depend on the version? (And what do you think of TLC’s? And did you ever get to hang out with Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopez? Ok, that’s about three questions…)

PM: The only thing I know about it was there was a big hit that started with ‘Don’t go chasing waterfalls’. I’m not sure I’ve heard TLC but in general, I really do like covers of my songs. Some people go, ‘Jeez, you really must hate that one?’ But you know what? They did my song, and I’m flattered.

Alexis Taylor, About Group & Hot Chip: I grew up listening to ‘Check My Machine’ and generally dancing round the living room to it as a four or five-year-old. I still listen a lot to the album (which I discovered about eight years ago) now – it is one of my all-time favourites. How did you come up with the groove for ‘Check My Machine’? It is almost reggae but totally its own sound and style. And what were the voices sampled from?

PM: There’s no sample, it’s me singing live! That’s the crazy thing with that album, it wasn’t done like albums today. Like ‘Secret Friend’, I think it’s about eight minutes long, and I would stand there with the tambourine and maracas for eight minutes. Nowadays you’d just go chicka-chicka-chicka-chicka, and then loop it. ‘So Check My Machine’ is just me – the drumming is real and the singing is real. Old school? Ha! Well there was no other school at the time. I suppose we were inventing the new school.

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