How did you first come up with idea to chronicle Paul McCartney’s vast catalog of solo material?
In 1999 I had this project in mind, a sort of Paul McCartney “song encyclopedia,” his songs from A to Z. In fact, the first one I wrote about was “Another Day.” Over a few months I picked songs at random, starting with my favorites or simply the most famous ones, throwing in everything I knew about them.
Back in 2001, I changed my mind and thought that it could have been more interesting to have a “recording sessions” book, since there wasn’t one I could find exclusively dedicated to McCartney.
That was the start of a very lengthy research project, I would imagine.
First I collected all the available sources: interviews, magazines, websites, videos, newspapers. And there were books, many books. The issue was trying to harmonize these sources and fill in the gaps. This was massive work. Then I added my original contribution, including exclusive interviews with sound engineers, musicians, arrangers, and producers. I have an historical approach. I try to tell what happened and when, which musicians took part in the recording, playing which instrument. Each song has its own entry with a “who-played-what” section. This English edition derives mostly from the Italian version, first issued in 2012 and a huge success. Paul McCartney: Recording Sessions (1969-2013) features expanded content and includes also all the songs recorded for the New album.
One of the key components of the book is all the new interview content you mentioned. What was it like contacting all those people who participated in various McCartney recording sessions?
The interviews were conducted from August 2011, the first one was with Carlos Alomar, to April 2013, the last was with David Rhodes. Each interview is quoted, with the exact date. Generally, I did them all through telephone or Skype, with some people answering through e-mail. All the people that accepted were absolutely enthusiastic to speak about their experiences. After all, they’ve been part of a fantastic musical journey and in some cases their contribution was unknown. This book was the opportunity to give them full credit.
Was conducting the interviews themselves a smooth process? Was anyone hesitant to speak on the record?
From my side, I only asked about music and I think this helped to put them at ease. Some were contacted and said, “No, thanks.” I respected everyone’s decisions and never insisted. This was really the hardest, but most interesting and somewhat incredible, part of the work. I established a couple of nice relationships with some of these people, one being ex-Abbey Road engineer Tony Clark, who accepted my suggestion to write a foreword for the book. We’re currently working together on some musical projects.
Can you give an example or two of something especially surprising you learned about a McCartney song or recording session while conducting the interviews?
He wanted to record “Mull of Kintyre” outdoors and since they did not have an anti-pop filter for the microphone, they covered it with a sock! I learned that the recording process for McCartney is all about the feel and not necessarily about perfecting things.
I also understood better his approach to session musicians. McCartney likes to challenge them, in many cases not giving them written out parts. Flute player Adrian Brett recalled his session for the song “Somebody Who Cares” [from Tug of War] and it’s really interesting to see how Paul wanted to have creative input from the musician. He did not say what to play, just waited for the right performance from the player and that’s all.
Another special moment was revealed by producer Richard Niles, who witnessed Paul trying to complete a song. He was in trouble because he was trying to link a verse with a chorus, and they were in two different keys. Paul humbly asked Richard for a solution, which the producer gave him! I’ll let your readers discover in the book which kind of solution he came up with.
Fascinating stuff for hardcore McCartney maniacs. How about one more teaser?
Engineer Mike Stavrou, who assisted Geoff Emerick and George Martin during the Tug of War sessions, told me how they managed to cut and paste one song into another, à la “Strawberry Fields Forever!” There are tons of anecdotes in the book.
Lastly, on a personal note, how did you originally come to discover the music of Paul McCartney and do you have a specific favorite album of his?
It all happened by accident. I was 13 and a huge Michael Jackson fan. My mother came back home with this Paul McCartney LP called Pipes of Peace [featuring two duets with Michael Jackson, “Say Say Say” and “The Man”]. I immediately fell in love with Paul’s music. Since then, I’ve seen him 13 times in concert all over Europe. My personal favorite album is RAM. I think this is really a special album, full of energy and ideas. Fine pop music, well arranged, perfectly sung. We’ve got to remember this was his first album recorded after The Beatles. So you can hear all the anguish, the rage, and the pain along with his strength for a new musical path.
Special thanks to Luca Perasi for taking some time to share his thoughts with us. Follow Mr. Perasi on Twitter for all the latest updates on Paul McCartney Recording Sessions (1969-2013).