Getting To Know: James McCartney
By Evan Schlansky July 20th, 2012
James McCartney’s The Complete EP Collection is a killer assortment of tightly-crafted rock anthems. Produced by David Kahne and his famous Beatle father (Paul McCartney, you may have heard of him), the album has rightfully racked up critical acclaim on both sides of the pond.
The occasionally press-shy McCartney shared with us his thoughts on songwriting, the perfect Beatles songs, touring the States and more. “In the end [songwriting is] about having as much emotion as possible for me, musically and lyrically,” says McCartney. “Cathartic, heartfelt and true.”
How has playing America been on your recent tour?
I’ve enjoyed a lot… I love being in America. It’s so great being able to travel to different cities, and to meet the fans each place we go. A great experience, all around. It’s also helped shed more light on the music world for me a little bit, and helped me understand what it’s like to really tour, for real. It’s both tiring, and yet extremely rewarding at the same time.
How do you feel about performing live?
I love performing live, and it’s great fun. It can be nerve wracking sometimes, mostly because I get so pumped up for it! Ultimately though, when you look out at the audience and see them connecting with the music you’ve written, it’s all worth it. An amazing and beautiful experience.
What instruments do you play?
Oh I play many, in addition to singing: there’s guitar, bass, piano, drums, mandolin, ukelele… amongst others…
Do you read music?
I don’t read music, in fact. But I’m eager to learn. It’s actually something I’ve just started working on now.
Do you plan to do a full length album?
I’m working on it now actually, and I’ll be recording more this summer. My current record, The Complete EP Collection, is a collection of both my EPs Available Light and Close At Hand, along with 5 bonus tracks. So what I do next will certainly be different, as an album flows in a different way than an EP, and there’s a different process in making it, too. I’m looking forward to it, very much.
Are you someone who loves being in the studio?
Definitely, when I’m in that frame of mind it’s wonderful. I love it… recording is such an opportunity to evolve and grow as a musician. Sometimes not only just on the musical side of things, but also through the technical aspects of recording. It’s become a central element in my life. I’m really looking to forge a truly unique sound with each project.
What’s your typical approach to songwriting?
It really varies, but I usually start with music first, and then lyrics. I try different approaches though, because sometimes you can find something for a song in a way you wouldn’t have thought. Just singing nonsense words to a melody, or bouncing between different instruments, for example. Sometimes you can get a foothold in an unexpected way on something, and suddenly it starts to take shape. I’ve often blocked the lyrics out or written them in my notebook too, sort of like poetry. But in the end it’s about having as much emotion as possible for me, musically and lyrically. Cathartic, heartfelt and true.
Do you enjoy writing lyrics?
Absolutely I do… it’s hard work, even painful sometimes, to try to make something honest and meaningful, but it’s very fulfilling when you do. I try for my lyrics to be personal, emotional, and truthful.
What artists did you first emulate when you were starting out?
There are so many influences for me… Kurt Cobain, The Smiths, Radiohead, PJ Harvey, The Cure, The Beatles, Neil Young, Jimi Hendrix, Hank Williams. I could name so many more…! In the end, I don’t really prefer a particular style, just great music, truly.
What are your long term music goals?
I’d love to feel that I realized my full potential both as a person, and as a songwriter. That feels like a great, fulfilling goal to shoot for. Making a lot of music, and striving for more depth artistically. And always improving and evolving as a songwriter.
Who do you consider an underrated songwriter?
Oh good question… well, Ron Sexsmtih comes to mind. And also Tim Hardin. And actually, Robert Smith of The Cure… I think sometimes his rock-star persona overshadows how great a songwriter he is for some people. Same goes for PJ Harvey, who is such a great songwriter.
What albums would you take with you to a desert island?
You know, I think I’d probably take a lot of ambient music, or Gregorian Chant. Maybe MaharishiGandharva Veda, too. Honestly, being on a desert island would do my head in so I’d need to relax! But of course there’s also Nevermind, Abbey Road, Let It Be, Radiohead’s Hail To The Thief,Disintegration by The Cure… you know.
What do you consider the perfect song?
If I’m going to answer honestly, I don’t really think there is, or even can be… but if we’re going to go down that road, maybe… “Let It Be,” “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “She’s Leaving Home,” “Pictures Of You?”
Do you have any good career advice you could share?
Keep on going, keep working. And if something gets you down… ignore negativity and stay positive. Keep practicing and keep writing songs… keep doing it no matter what. Read lots of literature and poetry, and stay open to new ideas. Ultimately, let your heart and mind guide you and strengthen you, and you’ll be where you want to be.