Paul and Lily Cole Discuss 'Hope For The Future' - Full Transcript

 Paul and Lily Cole Discuss 'Hope For The Future' - Full Transcript
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Paul McCartney / Lily Cole
Impossible.com Songwriting Talk
Wednesday 19th November 2014
11:45am-12:30pm

Full Q&A Transcript

Paul and Lily Cole Discuss 'Hope For The Future'

Last month Paul sat down with Lily Cole and a small group of musicians from Lily's Impossible website and answered questions about his new single 'Hope For The Future', songwriting, meeting John Lennon, resurrecting old songs and shared his advice with fellow songwriters. 

Today we publish the full transcript from the Q&A, which you can read below...

Lily:
Introducing Sir Paul McCartney!

Paul:
Thank you. Hi’ya. You alright? This is cosy!

Lily:
So everyone here, as you may know, is a mixture of existing Impossible users and people who signed up yesterday when they heard about our talk and wished through Impossible to come. We had a huge number of people actually asking to come so these are the lucky ones. We’ve got people from Liverpool, from Scotland, and Belgium. So yeah, quite a trip to make at the last minute! Impossible is all about doing small acts of kindness, sharing things and time and skills. We’ve been running for a year now and Paul heard about what we were doing and liked the idea and said, “Can I give a songwriting talk?” And that’s how this came about. And so, we were listening to - just before Paul got in - you all heard ‘Hope For The Future’, his new piece. Maybe I’ll start by just asking you how that came about, and what the process of writing that was like?

Paul: 
Well you know, Sammy Cahn - the writer - said, “It starts with a phone call” – and that’s what happened. I got asked if I would be interested in writing music for a video game. And I was just intrigued by the idea of doing something different, something I had never done before. I was interested just to see what was involved. So there was a meeting set up in LA which I went to and just sort of said, “Okay, what is it - what do you do? What would I do?” And the guy who’s the main composer - a guy called Marty O’Donnell - he said, “Well, it’s like a film score. It’s like a big, epic film score.” It’s very complicated when it comes down to actually doing all the music because in the game, if you go [points] that way, there’s that bit of music, and if you go [points] that way, there’s another bit of music. If you win something, there’s a [cheering] wahay! bit of music…you know.  So I said, “Good. You’ll be doing all that then, will you?!” “Yep!” So that was good, because I thought there was no way I could accept that. So he was going to do all the ‘impossible’ stuff [laughter]… It’s a bit early, I know! …And so my first question was, “Well, what do you want me to do?” And they gave me the answer that I hate, which is, “Anything you want!” And it’s like, “Oh my God!” you know?  So I said, “Well look, can you pin it down a little bit?” And they didn’t pin it down too much. But I was intrigued by the idea, so I went away, then I thought well, why would they want me? Maybe to give them ideas, possibly a little bit of inspiration? Because he was basically going to do it all, he was basically going to write a piece. So I went back to my studio and just thought of a couple of themes, just a couple of notes that sounded like it could be epic, and it could be original. I knew what I wanted to end up with. So I did that, and just recorded them very simply. I sent them to him, and then he sent me back quite an arranged version, a lot of synths and everything, which is great. I said, “That’s great, that was exactly what I’d imagined,” only he’d taken it further. So it became a fascinating sort of ‘ping-pong’ game. I’d send him an idea – my ideas were very simple – and then he would complicate them [laughter], but in a good way. So that was that part of it all. Then it turned out they also would like a song.

Lily: 
Meaning lyrics? What do you mean by a song – you mean separate from the game?

Paul: 
So rather than just [sings “Bom bom bom!”] Epic! [sings “Bom bom bing!”] Epic!  That’s what I was sending him. In the end they wanted a song with lyrics - a proper song.  So my question then to him was, “Ok, where is it going to come? Where is it going to be set in the music?” And he showed me the lead-up, and he showed me the theme that he was working on for this section. So I just took those notes off him that he was going to work on. And the note in common with everything he was doing was E, and there was a C in there. I just sort of took that and what it meant to me basically was two guitar chords, E and C. So I just started writing the song with that, and E is a good guitar key. He told me that the idea of the game was that it’s a big ‘shoot-em-up’ and you shoot your way, and you save humanity from all the aliens, therefore giving hope…for the future. Well he didn’t actually say “…for the future”. So I just put that idea together, that instead of a big ‘shoot-em-up’ I’ll just make it a more general thing of “we need some hope for the future”. So that’s what I did, and that was it!    

Lily: 
Is that usually the process in terms of music and lyrics, which comes first?

Paul: 
It depends. Most of the time, if you’re lucky, they come together. You just sit down and start…[sings undefined words]. You start blocking stuff out with sounds - I do anyway - and eventually, you hear a little phrase that’s starting to work, and then you follow that trail. So I had [sings “Some hope for the future…”] and I kind of liked that as an opening, because it’s like “there is some hope for the future” or “some people hope for the future”. So I started it off in quite an interesting way, you know? And I just followed that trail through as to what that would mean, “we’ll build bridges to the sky” and “we’ll do everything!”

Lily: 
And do you normally write on guitar, or piano?  

Paul: 
Guitar or piano, yes. But not both at the same time! [Laughter]

Lily: 
And do you have a preference? Do they lend themselves to different types of songs?  

Paul:  
A little bit, yeah. Guitar is interesting because you kind of cradle it. You kind of almost cuddle it. You hold it to you, and you play. That gives you a certain kind of feeling. With piano, you almost push it away. It’s just two different attitudes. I’m not sure whether the song is influenced by that, but the writing of it is. You’re a little more in a…‘thing’. When we were writing early on, you’d kind of find a cupboard or somewhere to go away and hide, and it was like a psychiatric session! If you felt really bad, you’d work it out. You wouldn’t talk to the guitar, but you’d kind of put your problems into the song, and once you’d finished the song it was like, “Yeah,” [shrugs] “no problem!”

Lily: 
That ‘ping-pong’ you described doing whilst doing ‘Hope For The Future’ – is that normal when you’re writing songs, you enjoy that collaborative process? Or do you find it easier by yourself? Or do you find it easier with others to balance with?  

Paul:  
You know, the great thing is, there’s no rules. I take a songwriting class at LIPA [Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts], my old school in Liverpool, and I always say to the kids, “There’s no rules. I don’t know how to do it!” So yeah, it can happen in any way, but I do like collaboration. Obviously writing with John [Lennon] was the ultimate collaboration. I think we were both very lucky to find each other, because we played perfectly off each other. An example I always give is, I was starting this song called ‘Getting Better.’ I’m going [sings “It’s getting better all the time”] and he goes [sings “…It couldn’t get much worse”] [Laughter]. “Hey, come on man, less thinking like that!” But you’ve suddenly got the foil to what you’re doing, so the next line isn’t just, “It’s getting better…still!”

Lily:  
Yeah!

Paul:  
It’s like “Oh, ok! So we’re going there, are we?!” So I would do that to his songs, and he would do that to mine, and you’d suddenly find the balls, like in a tennis match, and really having a volley. Which was very helpful, and great fun. You know, one of the amazing things about me and John writing together was that - I think we wrote just short of three hundred songs together - and I look back on it now in some kind of wonder, because we never had a dry session. Every time we got together and sat down, we’d work for about… only for about three hours, because you start getting a bit bored after three hours, but we would always come up with a song, which is pretty cool!  

Lily:  
Are there any of those that you haven’t done anything with that you’d want to resurrect?  

Paul:  
There’s a few knocking around. But it’s difficult that, because why we didn’t do anything with them, was because we didn’t think they were any good. So why resurrect them, you know? It gets tempting though, because it was a ‘Lennon / McCartney’ or something, so it’s got a certain… interest value, if nothing else. But they’re not very good! [Laughter]

Lily:
I posted on Impossible this morning for anyone body else who wasn’t able to come today to ask questions and someone asked, “Do you ever have moments where you stumble, where’s it’s challenging? How do you get through those when songwriting?”

Paul:
Yeah, I think that’s the biggest difficulty with songwriting, as it is with anything: you run out of ideas, or you get to a point and you just think, “How am I going to continue from here?” You may have started ok, but it’s fizzling out. What I’ve learned to do is just push on even if you’ve hit a bad bit. [Sings and indicates getting stuck] Don’t get hung up on that bit ‘cause it can just takes hours and you just go, “Should I do this? Or should I say that? What’s a better word? Give me the Thesaurus!” And you go, “Oh my God!” and you’re fussing over it for hours so I like to just leave the mistake in there and think, “I’ll come back to you”. You know, steamroll through it and, you know, you sometimes find you’ve left a bad bit in there but you hope to always catch them and go back. An early song that I was writing with John - often one of us would start the song and then the other one would help work on it -    and I’d started one that ended up being called ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ – an early Beatles song – and my opening was, “She was just 17, she’s never been a beauty queen”. You know, ‘cause Bob Dylan could have handled [impersonates Bob Dylan singing the line]. He could have pulled it off. But, you know, it was like I was stuck and I didn’t like it but I ploughed on, knowing I’d come back to it. And that was round about the time that John and I had started to write together, so I showed him the song: “Well she was just 17, never been a beauty queen” – and we both kinda cringed – you know, maybe not! And then we came up with, “You know what I mean?” Which a comedian friend of mine years later said, “No Paul, I’m not sure we do know what you mean!” [Laughter] “She was just 17, you know what I mean?” So anyway, that’s my trick, which is just to plough through hoping that when you come back to it you’ll be confident enough, having finished the song, to fix that bit. 

Lily:
Your last answer made me think, how did that begin? When you started writing with John. What was the beginnings of that?

Paul:
Well, we met through a friend of mine, who was called Ivan and who was born on the same day as I was, and we went to school together. So we were really good mates, and he was friends with John. So we went to this village fete and we were both there together and I got to know John through Ivan. Normally, you know, you’re talking to people and through conversations you say, “What are your hobbies?” And they’re like, “Cycling”, or like “Swimming”. And I would say to people, “I like songwriting and you know I’ve written a couple of songs”. And everyone would go, “Oh, yeah…” and ignore it. But John went, “Oh yes? So have I”. So that was like, “Ooh! You like writing songs? Well show me yours and I’ll show you mine, baby!” So that was what happened, and we got together and he showed me the crap that he was writing! [Laughter] He showed me what he was doing and I showed him the crap that I was writing! And that’s basically it. We came together through a common interest of songwriting and then just started having sessions – normally at my house – where we’d just try and write something. We wrote our earliest ones – which are the ones I’m talking about, and they’ve not really been published - they were ok, but they were very innocent. We didn’t think they were good enough, but it was a start and an exciting thing to do. We just gradually started to get a little bit better. And that was the great thing about something like songwriting; if you do get better then it really is a great journey. You know, so our original songs – ‘cause we were in a group and there were fans – they were all very personal and they all had a personal pronoun in them; ‘Love Me Do’, ‘P.S. I Love You’, ‘From Me To You’, ‘She Loves You’. And that goes on, ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’, because we were directly trying to communicate with the people who liked us. As it went on, then we got a little bit more… We felt that we didn’t have to do that, you know we’d sort of done, ‘Thank You Girl’. And we sort of got past that phase, so we started to… That was the nice thing, we actually started to climb the staircase and feel that we could get a little bit more complicated. And we were getting older, we were getting a bit more experience.  

Lily:
What age was this?

Paul:
Around 22? Very old! 

Lily:
Very old! [Laughter]

Paul:
We really felt old. It’s amazing though, isn’t it, the perspective of that age. I remember me and George – we were kind of 17, and he was 16 – and there was a guy that was at John’s art school and he was 24 and we really felt sorry for him! It must be horrible to be that old! So yeah, we were relatively young, but then we came down to London and got a bit more sophisticated and started writing slightly more complicated things. 

Lily:
Alright, I’m going to start throwing out to the room for questions. Who has some?

Dan (Impossible Audience Member #1):
Hi’ya Paul

Paul:
Hi

Dan (Impossible Audience Member #1):
I’m Dan and a songwriter as well and I think you’re one of the most under-rated guitar players as well. I don’t think you get given enough credit for being a guitar hero, personally. And one of my favourite songs of yours is ‘Blackbird’, I love that chord progression – one that I play with my friends. And we always have disputes about what is the correct descending pattern, and all that stuff. 

Paul: 
[Looks for a guitar]

Dan (Impossible Audience Member #1):
I’ve got one here. I’ve got it behind me. 

Paul:
Left-handed?

Dan (Impossible Audience Member #1):
No, unfortunately not… [Laughter]. I was just wondering how long you’d had that under your fingers. Whether that was something that came very quickly and naturally, or if it was one you had to chip away at?

Paul:
You know, there’s often a kind of simple answer to these things. In my case there often is anyway ‘cause I take the easy way out. I’ve not got a very complicated attitude. So in actual fact that was a party piece that me and George used to have. We used to play this piece by Bach, this fugue. It kind of goes [sings ‘Bouree In E Minor’ by Johann Sebastian Bach] …and we didn’t know the end bit, but we knew the front little bit and it was really kinda showing off. So we were [sings Bach once more], but you used two notes at the same time, there was a bassline playing against the top melody. And it was [sings Bach seguing into first three notes of ‘Blackbird’]. That… [sings first three notes of ‘Blackbird’]. I always liked that little bit so I changed it to [sings opening of ‘Blackbird’] And that was the start of ‘Blackbird’. So then I just followed the trail of these two notes going together, the bass note going with the melody and that just goes up and then comes back down again. It’s basically variations on that little trick of Bach’s.

Dan (Impossible Audience Member #1):
The counterpoint thing?

Paul: 
Yeah, it’s the melody and the bass at the same time. Which normally, you know, you either do chords, or you play your lead melody, or you play the bass. And that was fascinating for us, as I say it was just a little party trick we used to do. 

Lily:
[Selects another audience member to ask a question]

Impossible Audience Member #2:
Yes, first of all it’s a huge honour to meet you Paul. I can tell you, you taught me to play guitar. I remember coming back – not obviously directly, but… - I remember coming back from Chappell’s [famous music store] in 1969 with this sort of treasure box of The Beatles ‘White Album’ sheet music. And the chords were splendid – you know, like ‘Martha, My Dear’. And what I’ve always been intrigued about is, I know you’ve always proclaimed that reading music is something you’ve never quite mastered, as a classic pianist would, but, right from the beginning – with songs like ‘It’s For You’ and so on - you had a huge knowledge of keys and harmonies and chords. You know, C Minor 7ths, and F11, and all these things – I’m talking a bit pompous now! But I couldn’t understand that sort of paradox of you saying you didn’t know music, and yet your music’s so sophisticated in so many songs – ‘Distractions’ and songs like that. ‘Step Inside Of Love’, huge Brazilian chords. And I just wondered were you a student of the great – I know you love Frank Loesser, as one of your catalogue. Did you study Irving Berlin and Gershwin songs as sheet music or ukulele sheet music, and so on? How did you get this knowledge of harmony and chords?

Paul:
I know what you mean. I took piano lessons as a kid, like a lot of people [mimics playing a piano scale]. And it seemed like homework to me. But I loved music; on the radio, seeing an old Fred Astaire movie. You know [starts singing ‘Heaven, I’m in heaven’]. I loved the music itself, but I hated the homework associated with learning music because it didn’t seem to go together. You know, so I could never do that. I had three attempts; once when I was a little kid, my parents sent me; once again when I was 16, I thought, “Well, maybe it’s time to try and learn” – but it was still [sings piano scale again]. And it was like, “Argh!! Get outta here!!” you know. And then when I was around 21, or something like that, I gave it another go but by then I’d kinda written ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and [sings piano scale once more]. You know, I was screaming at that by then! So, what we did was, we got the basic chords on guitar – just ‘cause like everyone knew then – so your mates, you would just go, ‘E’; and we’d show each other E, A. And B7 was the one we didn’t know, so we had to go across Liverpool to find a guy [laughter]. So we gradually just got more chords – on the piano too, ‘cause we had a piano at home – so you would find chords there. And you picked them up, anyone you ran in to who was playing a chord you didn’t know you said, “Whoah, wait a minute – what’s that?” And, you know, they’d show you A Minor, or something and you’d go, “Great!”. So you’d gradually… and then with Hamburg, learning so many songs just to get through a long evening without having to repeat all the time, you’d soon amassed quite a lot of chords. And some of the sophisticated ones you’re talking about, there was this guy – you might have heard the story – but there was this guy in Liverpool at the guitar shop we used to get our guitars from called Jim Gretty and he was the salesman, but he was a jazz guitarist, so he always had his guitar there and he’d play. So we’d kind of listen to him, and he’d play this very sophisticated chord, I remember me and George just standing there like wide-eyed, “Wow! What was that?!” You know, and he said, “Well, you know…” [sings the notes in the chord] and there was this weird thing at the end. And so, we swallowed that. That added it to our repertoire. And I’d go home, and would like write a song with that chord in it. It’s the second chord in ‘Michelle’ [sings the start of ‘Michelle’]. So, you know, you would just gather chords from friends, and from mates and things, and you didn’t necessarily need to know what they were called. And you’d listen to records a lot, and play one little section with a chord you didn’t know over and over and go, “Ok!” [mimics working out a chord]. And we’d give them our own names, you know it would be like ‘F Demented’. [Laughter] We got one off an old Coasters record. So yeah, you’d just put them all together and then I think the songs, you’d try to fit them all in, and it will look very sophisticated. 

Impossible Audience Member #2:
‘Michelle’, ‘Martha My Dear’ and so on. And later on, as I say, ‘Junk’ and ‘Distractions’ and all these songs. Very, very knowing harmonies…

Paul:
[In exaggerated Liverpudlian accent] Well, thank you very much. Cheers!

Impossible Audience Member #2:
And I say that as someone… from studying your music. 

Paul:
Well, you know, I thank you. But, I do, I love it. That’s the thing, that’s at the bottom of all of this. You know, I love music. And I love different types of music. So it can be Bach, Mozart, Chopin – in that sort of area. Or it can be Fred Astaire, Nat King Cole – as ‘the singers’. Or it can be Cole Porter, Harold Arlen – as the writers, you know. So, and then – rock and roll, and then all of that – and then Chuck Berry, and Fats Domino, all the guys there. So I’ve got like a wide spectrum of music that I love. So yeah, I kind of play with it all, and interchange it. It’s really just having fun with it, juggling with it, you know. But it’s basically ‘cause I love it. It’s not a chore. 

Impossible Audience Member #2:
Thank you Paul, very much. 

Lily: 
Belgium! [Indicates fan who travelled from Belgium for the talk]

Belgian / Impossible Audience Member #3:
I’ve written it down so it’s easier for me to… I don’t have to think about it. I’m reading a book on how music works and they say that music is consciously or unconsciously written for the venues it’s played in and you said in a documentary on YouTube that ‘Everybody Out There’ is an anthem for life and for charity. And I wondered if it’s something that you can do on purpose or if it’s something that you start doing when writing and then think, “Oh yeah, it’s good for this”. Or do you really think, I’m gonna write a rock anthem or a real life song?

Paul: 
Yeah, I think you do. You custom-make them. I see it as a craft and I’m kind of proud of that. So I often liken it to the guy who made Chippendale chairs; it’s a craft and it’s something that he lovingly makes and so it’s the same for me. If I’m going to do a big stadium tour and I’m making a new album then I might just think, “You know what, it’d be great to have a [mimics a cheering crowd]”. Something that’s going to work. It kind of works; it doesn’t always work. You can have your big anthem moment and everyone’s sitting there going… [Laughter]. And you’re going, “No, you’re supposed to go, ‘Woah!’” [Laughter] But you know, I think you do, you write them…But I wouldn’t agree with that first statement that music’s written for venues. I don’t think that’s true at all. 

Belgian / Impossible Audience Member #3:
Not consciously. They say that Gregorian music, it’s like long notes because the churches it was played in… It’s like the reverb, it’s so long you can’t do a complicated melody?

Paul: 
Well it’s an interesting theory. The nearest we ever got to the acoustic of a church was the toilet [laughter]. It had very good acoustics in there. I think there’s more to it than that. It’s more to do with something that you love, and that you put it out and like I say you follow the trail of, “This chord goes beautifully with this, this note is just the perfect note to have”. And you fiddle around with it, sometimes. If you’re not really loving it, you go, “Wait a minute there’s something wrong with this, what is it?” Let’s just change that and see what happens… So the whole game of doing it can be very nice to do. So I think that that’s a lot of it. But then there is this aspect of, “I want to write something really intimate, I wanna write something like ‘Blackbird’, that’s got a nice little guitar part”. So you have ideas that take you through stuff. 

Belgian / Impossible Audience Member #3:
And you really think about it before you sit down to start writing?

Paul: 
No, it just happens as you’re going. I don’t often think it out too much before I start it. I probably should! [Laughter]

Lily:
[Selects another audience member to ask a question]

Impossible Audience Member #4:
Do you think every budding songwriter should find their Star-Club? A necessity of constraints drive creativity and from what I’m hearing from you the Star-Club really lifted you up…

Paul: 
Yeah. Actually it wasn’t the Star-Club, that’s kind of the one that’s famous. There was one like ‘The Indra’ where we put in a lot of all the early work. ‘Kaiserkeller’, which was where we really went crazy. And ‘The Top Ten’ and the ‘Star-Club’ were sort of a little bit later. But yeah, I think the point is you don’t have to have a Star-Club, you have to do it a lot. Anything. And it’s that Malcolm Gladwell theory of 10,000 hours. You know, that he says that’s why The Beatles were famous. We did, without knowing it, we probably did put in about 10,000 hours.

Impossible Audience Member #4:
You have to kind of live and breathe it after a while. It became a natural reflex?

Paul: 
Yep. It’s just doing it a lot. I think every profession finds that. If you’re a writer of prose, I think the more you do it the more you start to get the hang of it. I think it’s true of everything. So for me it doesn’t have to be a Star-Club it could be anywhere, it could be your room. But that is my advice for when kids say to me, “What would you do?” I just say, “Write a lot!” Don’t just write three songs and say, “I’ve written three songs”, because it’s not enough. Write four [laughter] and then continue with that. 

Impossible Audience Member #4:
I played in a punk band and our driver then was we had booked the studio and we couldn’t get our money back. So therefore we had to do something before we got to the studio. So as long as you have a goal in sight then things happen. 

Paul:
Always good [to have a goal in sight]. 

Lily: 
[Selects another audience member to ask a question]

Impossible Audience Member #5:
Hi Paul, I met you 19 years ago at my school in Rye and I asked you the same question, I asked you…

Paul: 
Wait a minute you’re in a bit of a rut! [Laughter] Come on then, let’s have it again! 

Impossible Audience Member #5:
I asked you that time - in ’95 - what song that you haven’t released yet, that you’ve written and you’re excited about? And you told me about a song with Steve Miller on the guitar and it was ‘Young Boy’ and I didn’t hear it for 2 years so I was very excited when it came out finally! What song, that hasn’t been released yet, that you’re sitting on, that you’re really excited about?

Paul: 
It’s nearly always the new one. You know, so for me it’s ‘Hope For The Future’, just because it’s a new song and I’m working on it. I like to hear it on the radio, that’s the excitement. It’s nearly always the new one as it was then. I’m in a rut too! [Laughter]

Impossible Audience Member #5:
It was lovely seeing you again 

Paul:
And you too. 

Lily: 
I have a really nice one I want to take here from someone at Impossible…

Paul: 
There’s a lady here [indicates a young lady in the audience].

Lily: 
Ok, why don’t you choose. Why don’t you choose…

Paul: 
We’ve got to do a lady; we’ve chosen boys so far.

Impossible Audience Member #6:
In the summer I wrote 12 songs and I want to create it into an album. How do you do that?

Paul: 
It is an album, isn’t it? [Laughter] If you’ve got 12 songs? Have you recorded them?

Impossible Audience Member #6:
No.

Paul: 
Oh well, that’s the first step! [Laughter] Take your 12 songs and get a microphone, sing them into it. What do you play, guitar or piano? 

Impossible Audience Member #6:
I play piano and bits of guitar

Paul: 
Ok, so sit down at the piano and just get someone to record you and then when you’ve got your 12 songs and you can kind of look at them then – it’s a good phase - just look at them and see if you like them.  

Impossible Audience Member #6:
I recorded one. 

Paul:
Have you?

Impossible Audience Member #6:
I entered it into a competition and I got 3rd prize for it so…

Paul: 
That’s pretty good though. How old are you?

Impossible Audience Member #6:
13.

Paul: 
Wow, 12 songs at 13. You’ll have to write one more! [Laughter] But yeah that’s it, just record them all so you’ve got them as a little body of work and then just keep going.

Impossible Audience Member #6:
Yep! Thank you.

Paul: 
Sorry, what were you going to say, Lily? 

Lily: 
No, why don’t you pick?

Paul: 
No go on, I want you to pick them now.  

Lily: 
Ok, it wasn’t from me, it was from somebody… a very, very long-standing Impossible member, who said: “I enjoyed Paul’s collaboration with the surviving Nirvana band members. My question is how did that come about, and is there anyone that you would like to collaborate a song with in the future?”

Paul: 
It came about by Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters ringing me, because I’d run into him. You know how you run into people at things, at events and stuff and it’s like, you just chat, you don’t really spend much time together and he said he was doing a project about Sound City. There was a great old recording studio that he had the desk from, and he was getting people to come in, record a bit on his desk and he could put it all together, which he did later and turned it into a film. So he said would you come along and we’ll just do something, a little jam, we’ll do something. He wanted to do ‘Long Tall Sally’ but I said well I’ve done that with The Beatles and I don’t really just want to do ‘another’ version that would be a bit boring. And – name dropping here – but Johnny Depp had just given me a guitar – he’s a guitar freak – and he’d given me this cigar box guitar and I plugged it in and it was howling! It was great! It was like alive, you know! [Howls] And so I was having so much fun on it that I took my bass and this guitar and said, you know, I’d really like to play this guitar. So Dave said, “Ok, great!” So we got out in the studio and he had two other mates with him, a very tall guy and a not-so-tall guy. And they turned out to be two members of Nirvana. Krist and Pat and Dave, that meant I was playing with three Nirvana guys, which I didn’t know until about half way through the set! [Laughter] And they started saying, “Wow, it’s great we haven’t played like this for years!” And I’m going, “Oh, you played then, did you?” [Laughter] Anyway, so I just started up playing on this guitar and, like I say, it was so much fun to play, it kind of almost played itself. It was like it was alive, and I was using a slide, so I just started this riff and we all liked it. So Dave bangs in on drums, and he’s such a good drummer, you know like, “Oh! Ok!” So that lifted it. Krist got on the bass; he was kind of saying, “Do you want to play bass?” And I said. “No, no you play. I’m playing this guitar!” So then Pat got on the guitar and we just started jamming around on this riff, and I started screaming over it [screams “Mama”, “Set me free!”]. Whatever, you know. I just screamed nonsense over it and we did that for about 15 minutes and then we went in to listen to it and thought, “Yeah, this could be good!” The key question that I said to the guys, I said, “What do we think about structure?” And Dave went, “Structure is good”. [Laughter] So I said, “Ok, well let’s… That’s the opening riff, this should be the verse, that should be the chorus, we need another bit, so let’s go and work that out and then, then let’s play it as a structured piece”. So that was what we did. We took the little original riff and then took the “Mama” screaming as a sort of verse, and then made another bit where it became a bridge. And after about three hours we’d done it and it was great. It was just so exciting because, you know, well, they’re Nirvana! And I wasn’t trying to be Kurt, because I didn’t even know they were Nirvana, so I was just jamming with some guys who I liked and I think later a couple of people said, “Oh what’s he doing trying to be the new Kurt Cobain?” [Laughter] Erm, no not really! 

Lily: 
And is your point about structure…Do you always take the same approach with structure, or your idea of no rules?

Paul: 
I think structure’s great. But I liked the way we did it there, which is to start with chaos in order to get the freedom. You know, if you structure too early it’s like [makes hitting the breaks noise]. But if you’re just creating, just free and flowing from chord to chord and idea to idea, something then sort of lands that you think is a good idea. Then I think it’s a good idea to structure it.

Lily: 
But I mean is there a formula that you always use for structure, or can it change quite a lot?

Paul: 
I’d say no, because officially there isn’t. But writing songs there tends to be a little bit of a… You know, you have a first verse, and a second verse and then you normally go to a chorus. And then you can go to, what we used to call the ‘Middle Eight’ – because we heard some professional musicians call it that once. “Oh, it’s the middle eight, yeah!’ [Laughter] Ours was like maybe 10 bars or 16 or 6 or something, but we always called it “the middle eight”. The middle eight bars and then you go back, and probably a little chorus, or two. Then finish! So there is a rough formula that people use and you hear on most songs. Yeah, so I suppose there is. I don’t like to think of it as a formula, the minute I know I’ve got a formula I want to break it! 

Lily: 
Do we have time for one more? Go on, you can choose! [Laughter]

Paul: 
Oh, I can choose? [Laughs] Erm… you!

Impossible Audience Member #7:
When writing a song do you think about the audience you’re writing for and does that influence the way you write the songs? 

Paul: 
Erm, yeah… I think. I think sometimes you do. Sometimes you sit down - like I said at the beginning - it can happen any way and you want it to be like that. People used to say to me and John, “What’s the formula? Who writes the words? Who writes the music…?” And we say, “Well, we both do!” Both. You know, sometimes I’m the words, sometimes he’s the music. So you hope that there’s no rules. But, so you may sit down and you’re just starting something and you just think, “Yeah, this sounds good,” and so you don’t need to think of who it’s going to, because it’s just you. It’s the therapy session I was talking about, it’s just you and your angst, or your love, or your desires, or whatever. You’re putting that in your song. But then sometimes the other occurs where you think, “Oh yeah, you know…” Like I said the early songs were always written with fans in mind, so like ‘Thank You Girl’, would literally be… We would be thanking our fans, so that would happen. The other thing is, sometimes you don’t know you’re putting certain meanings in. You know I wrote ‘Yesterday’, the lyrics, and I now think it was about the death of my mum. I didn’t then. It was a kind of psychological thing [sings “Yesterday, all my troubles seem so far away”]. She died, I think, about six years previously. So, sometimes that can just happen, psychologically you don’t know, I’m just talking about “a girl”. But I think, “Why she had to go I don’t know… Have I said something wrong?” I think that there might be a little bit of ‘psych’ thing in there, people have pointed that out to me. So sometimes you don’t know why things are coming. I think that’s a good thing about writing songs; I think it’s very helpful. I think you put your feelings into it and it can sometimes, can get rid of your “blues”… man!

Lily: 
Nice. Alright, thank you!

Paul: 
Well, thank you, Lily. This was lovely!

[Applause] 

 

 

 

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I'm Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter [Taken FROM 'Kisses On The Bottom']
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