Geek The Beatles: Paul McCartney Gets Technocultural With Digital Libraries, Wikileaks

Image courtesy MPL Comunications Ltd./M.J. Kim

This is the first part of my two-part Wired interview with the Beatles’ legend, solo dynamo and postmodern knight, Paul McCartney. It was an illuminating purposes, especially for my continuing series Geek The Beatles. From the first digital solo library, courtesy of Hewlett-Packard, and anti-corporate home recordings to electronic music and even Wikileaks, McCartney’s digital innovations have helped code the past, present and future.

McCartney Stashes His Extraordinary Library in the Cloud

From his legendary work with the Beatles to his extensive solo career, now being exhaustively digitized by Hewlett-Packard, Paul McCartney has had technocultural innovation on the brain.

“You certainly find a younger generation discovering and remixing stuff that I did, and making it all fresh again,” the perpetually productive McCartney told by phone in the long and winding interview below. “I love the idea that what I did then can still be relevant now.”
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Paul McCartney Brings ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ Back to the Future

The 69-year-old McCartney has made that process much easier by being consistently ahead of the cultural curve. Although he penned immortal Beatles lullabies like “Yesterday” and “Hey Jude,” his tape loops on “Tomorrow Never Knows” and unhinged noise on “Helter Skelter” influenced hip-hop, heavy metal, horror and more.

McCartney, who kicks off a U.S. tour with consecutive headlining dates at Yankees Stadium in July, has also become the first superstar to completely digitize his mammoth solo library, according to Hewlett-Packard, which is running the ambitious project.

Over the next three years, HP will compress more than a million McCartney tracks, clips, photos, reviews, experiments and ephemera into a cloud-based collection the musician can access from anywhere in the world. That is light-years ahead of digging out old tapes from beneath his studio in England and literally baking them to reverse physical deterioration.

“That amazed me when I heard that one,” McCartney told “We’ve actually got to bake my old tapes before we can play them? It’s a bit like the steam engine, you know. A bit old-fashioned.”

Although McCartney himself has been slammed for being old-fashioned on hits like “Silly Love Songs,” he’s also been routinely, and unfairly, slammed for the opposite. His first two solo albums, McCartney and McCartney II, whose remastered deluxe upgrades arrive Tuesday, were respectively blamed for breaking up the Beatles and heretically mucking about with electronic music.
‘We’ve actually got to bake my old tapes before we can play them? It’s a bit like the steam engine, you know.’

Yet the solo records have a sense of prescience to them. McCartney was a “non-corporate” response to the Beatles’ suffocating insulation and turmoil, as well as an early example of home-based music production now ubiquitous in our age of GarageBand, McCartney said.

Meanwhile, McCartney II’s love of sequencers and synthesizers merged dance and pop music into a defiant hybrid that tipped its hat to stellar but obscure bands like Sparks while providing an early sonic antecedent of horny G-funk (“Darkroom”) and crossover R&B. (How many MTV and VH1 viewers know that popular soul trio TLC bit McCartney’s rhyme “Waterfalls” on the way to the big time?)

The groundbreaking video for “Coming Up” even featured sci-fi McCartney clones called The Plastic Macs, a nod to his nickname as well as John Lennon’s solo outfits Plastic Ono Band and The Dirty Mac.

While logging more than 50 years of work, McCartney has always had one foot in the future, even as some around him have complained that he is locked in “Yesterday.” Of course, they simply haven’t done their research.

Today, award-winning director Jack McCoy is channeling obscure tunes from McCartney’s electronic music project The Fireman and McCartney II into captivating surf films and YouTube videos. (Check out McCartney and McCoy’s brand new short film “Blue Sway” at the bottom of our interview.)

And, as reported last week, McCartney is revisiting tape loops and found sounds in a forthcoming project utilizing the same machines used on “Tomorrow Never Knows.”

We chatted with McCartney about his time-warping influence, the Beatles, McCartney and McCartney II’s bleeding edges and why his titanic digital library has nothing to fear from WikiLeaks. Coming on the heels of the Beatles’ breakup, McCartney seems to be one of the early instances of an artist taking control of his production and making an album mostly at home.

Paul McCartney: It was a combination of things that led me to do that. Obviously, the band was breaking up, which meant that I didn’t have anyone to make the music with. So I had the alternative of putting together a band quickly, or taking it in another direction, which is what I decided to do. Also, that period of my life was one where I was going against the corporate mentality, which didn’t fit for me with the music I loved and wanted to make. The Beatles were with a label and had a studio, but once the band broke up I wanted to go in another direction. So I got a machine identical to the one we were using in the studio, a few mics and started work.