2020 has kept everybody inside for more time than they’re used to, and a positive side-effect of an otherwise awful pandemic is that musicians made a bunch of quarantine albums. Among them are Taylor Swift and Paul McCartney, and the two legends discussed that process and more during a lengthy new Rolling Stone conversation.
For the cover of our Musicians on Musicians issue, Paul McCartney and Taylor Swift got together in London for a socially-distanced conversation about songwriting, making albums at home, and what they’ve learned during the pandemic. Photograph by @maryamccartney pic.twitter.com/Jjpc1E1DIP
— Rolling Stone (@RollingStone) November 13, 2020
Swift asked the former Beatle about what a day recording his upcoming album McCartney III looked like, and he responded:
“Well, I’m very lucky because I have a studio that’s, like, 20 minutes away from where I live. We were in lockdown on a farm, a sheep farm with my daughter Mary and her four kids and her husband. So I had four of my grandkids, I had Mary, who’s a great cook, so I would just drive myself to the studio. And there were two other guys that could come in and we’d be very careful and distanced and everything: my engineer Steve, and then my equipment guy Keith. So the three of us made the record, and I just started off. I had to do a little bit of film music — I had to do an instrumental for a film thing — so I did that. And I just kept going, and that turned into the opening track on the album. I would just come in, say, ‘Oh, yeah, what are we gonna do?’ [Then] have some sort of idea, and start doing it. Normally, I’d start with the instrument I wrote it on, either piano or guitar, and then probably add some drums and then a bit of bass till it started to sound like a record, and then just gradually layer it all up. It was fun.”
McCartney then asked Swift about making Folklore, and Swift discussed working with Aaron Dessner:
“I had met him at a concert a year before, and I had a conversation with him, asking him how he writes. It’s my favorite thing to ask people who I’m a fan of. And he had an interesting answer. He said, ‘All the band members live in different parts of the world. So I make tracks. And I send them to our lead singer, Matt [Berninger], and he writes the top line.’ I just remember thinking, ‘That is really efficient.’ And I kind of stored it in my brain as a future idea for a project. You know, how you have these ideas… ’Maybe one day I’ll do this.’ I always had in my head: ‘Maybe one day I’ll work with Aaron Dessner.’
So when lockdown happened, I was in LA, and we kind of got stuck there. It’s not a terrible place to be stuck. We were there for four months maybe, and during that time, I sent an email to Aaron Dessner and I said, ‘Do you think you would want to work during this time? Because my brain is all scrambled, and I need to make something, even if we’re just kind of making songs that we don’t know what will happen…’
[…] It turned out he had been writing instrumental tracks to keep from absolutely going crazy during the pandemic as well, so he sends me this file of probably 30 instrumentals, and the first one I opened ended up being a song called ‘Cardigan,’ and it really happened rapid-fire like that. He’d send me a track; he’d make new tracks, add to the folder; I would write the entire top line for a song, and he wouldn’t know what the song would be about, what it was going to be called, where I was going to put the chorus. I had originally thought, ‘Maybe I’ll make an album in the next year, and put it out in January or something,’ but it ended up being done and we put it out in July. And I just thought there are no rules anymore, because I used to put all these parameters on myself, like, ‘How will this song sound in a stadium? How will this song sound on radio?’ If you take away all the parameters, what do you make? And I guess the answer is Folklore.”
The two also discussed playing music at parties, numerology, and more, so read the full conversation here.