TORONTO — Touring the world is effectively a favourite pastime for Paul McCartney at this point.
When considering his time in the Beatles, Wings and his solo career, the 76-year-old has trekked across seemingly every region over the past 60 years. And he says his passion for playing for crowds remains strong, even years after most musicians would have thrown in the towel.
“You’re just getting back to speed like an athlete does,” McCartney said, explaining how he’s prepared for his Freshen Up concert tour.
“It’s easy if you know exactly what the show’s going to be; you’ve been touring for awhile and you’re just picking it back up.”
Hot off the release of his new album “Egypt Station” earlier this month, McCartney is playing a round of Canadian dates.
He stops in Montreal on Thursday and swings through Winnipeg on Sept. 28 and Edmonton on Sept. 30.
McCartney spoke to The Canadian Press about hitting the road, recording his new album, and why he was inspired to write a song about social media bullying.
CP: The Freshen Up tour melds a selection of your latest songs in with old Beatles and Wings favourites. Besides slipping a few new ones into the set list, like the subtly sexual track “Fuh You,” how do you keep your concerts exciting for both you and the audience?
McCartney: What we’re doing now is freshening up the show, trying things like new video projections. We get a lot of fans who have been to the show before, so I’m conscious of trying to keep it fresh for them. We have a couple of people who’ve been over 100 times… all of us in the band and crew can’t believe these people want to keep coming back. We love that they do, but you put yourself in that position, you think, “Would I want to go to 100 shows of the same person?” But we’re very glad they do.
CP: You’ve said the song “Who Cares” was inspired by Taylor Swift and the sisterly kinship she shares with her young fans. In it, you address a fan and wonder if they’ve faced bullying. Can you explain how that became a song?
McCartney: I might’ve been reading something about Taylor, so I was thinking in that ballpark. I understand how easy it would be to cyberbully, particularly for kids at school. When kids are growing up, their sensibilities are forming and there’s somebody really trolling them, let’s face it — there are suicides that happen because of that. That affected me and I wrote the song saying “Who cares about you? I do.”
CP: I don’t think most of your fans would imagine you wading into the social media conversation. Feedback and comments online often get quite vicious.
McCartney: That’s why I don’t read ’em. I’m not a big social media person. I’m social, but I’m not “social media.” When I’ve got time off and I’m at home, I’ve got a farm in England, I’d rather be out riding my horse in the woods than looking at a little screen. It’s just not my thing. I certainly don’t read comments.
CP: Of course, there’s a whole generation of younger musicians raised on Twitter and Instagram. Many of them handle their own social media accounts and see the nasty comments.
McCartney: I can imagine if you are a younger musician you’re going to be into social media. So it must be great when you see your Instagram or Twitter feed and go, “Wow, there I am, great,” and then you scroll down to your comments (and someone writes): “A load of old codswallop.” You go, “Woah, wait a minute now!” It could be pretty unsettling. I’m lucky, I’m not really from that generation.
CP: The majority your album was produced by Greg Kurstin, who’s known for making tracks with Adele, Kelly Clarkson and Tegan and Sara. You’ve worked with him before, but what was making an entire album together like?
McCartney: He’s a nice guy. He worked with Beck and Adele, so I knew him anyway. You spend a couple days getting to know each other and making sure the atmosphere isn’t too serious. We had a great crew in the studio, a great little bunch of guys. In the evening, someone from the other department would bring in chocolate chip cookies, fresh baked. How can you not have fun when that happens?
CP: So how many cookies did you eat?
McCartney: We maxed out at two.
CP: Speaking of treats, November marks the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ “The White Album,” which is being reissued in a new remastered edition. Does the significance of the album change for you decades later?
McCartney: I haven’t listened to it in 50 years. I don’t really listen to stuff we did. Then it comes around again (with a reissue). It happened with “Sgt. Pepper.” I go, “Woah, check this out… those kids are good!” It all comes flooding back.
CP: Where does your memory take you?
McCartney: I remember where we were and the circumstances of recording each of the tracks. The only point in the remastering is to get the sound even better, and these days you can make things clearer. Some of the tracks are amazing because there I am, right in the room with John and George and Ringo — but John and George particularly because they’re no longer with us. I’m hearing them as I heard them in my headphones when we recorded it. It’s quite emotional.
— This interview has been edited and condensed.
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David Friend, The Canadian Press