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Q&A: McCartney looks forward with "Memory"
By Paul Sexton

LONDON (Billboard) - Paul McCartney's new album, "Memory Almost Full," ends his near-45-year association with Capitol/EMI and begins a new dawn for the former Beatle.

Due June 5, the set is the first release on Hear Music, the label formed by Starbucks Entertainment and Concord Music Group.

McCartney's 21st solo album is a spirited set with occasional echoes of his '70s work with Wings. It's also his first to be available digitally -- and, as he revealed to Billboard, there are signs of a settlement in the long-running digital-distribution saga involving EMI, Apple and his former band.

In North America, the lead song from the new set is the upbeat "Ever Present Past," one of several tracks with an autobiographical, sometimes retrospective lyrical flavor. "It's quite personal," McCartney said, "but that often happens unless you set out to write an 'arm's length' album, which I hardly ever do."

In a first, Starbucks is creating a special global listening event on June 5 in which more than 10,000 locations in 29 countries around the world will play "Memory" throughout the day. Starbucks estimates that, globally, more than 6 million people will hear at least some of the new album that day.

In another first, the new album will be available for digital download via online retailers.

McCartney spoke to Billboard about "Memory Almost Full," other upcoming work and the fresh challenge of working with a new label as he approaches his 65th birthday on June 18.

Question: You must be aware that in current circumstances you're under greater scrutiny than ever with the lyrics on this album?

Paul McCartney: Yeah, well -- what else is new? Remember "How many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall" (from the Beatles' "A Day in the Life")? I got a question on that last week at a football match. It was just some mate. He happened to be from Blackburn. So they're still asking questions, still examining the lyrics... I don't mind. It's when they stop examining them that you've got a problem, I suppose.

Question: People will think about your personal life and say, "Oh, he's throwing himself into his work," but haven't you always done that?

Paul McCartney: I don't mind work. I don't work that much. I'm never in any office before 11, I don't work every day of the week and most of what I do is playing music. I often point that out to people. It's something I love, and I always say, if I didn't do it for a living, I'd do it as a hobby.

Question: Was the Starbucks deal in the works for a long time?

Paul McCartney: About a year ago, I was talking to my producer David Kahne. We were in the throes of the excitement of making an album and loving it.

I said, "The only thing is, I'm kind of dreading releasing it." Because there comes this sort of wall you hit -- a bit like the marathon -- and everyone sits around in suits and rather glumly listens to it, then gives you a half-smile and says, "Nice album." And you go, "Oh, thank you." Somehow it doesn't capture the spirit you had when you were making it.

So I said, "We've got to try and do something to keep it exciting." When we first released records, every single little thing about it was exciting, even doing the photo session. David himself knew (Starbucks Entertainment VP of content development) Alan Mintz, who had just been appointed head of the music division at Starbucks.

So he introduced me to Alan, who started having some real bright ideas and had a nice twinkle in his eye. He's a bass player, after all, so I said, "We've got to definitely stick together." So he started to outline the Starbucks thing, and then I met with (Starbucks chairman) Howard Schultz and the boys when we were finishing the album in New York. They've got a lot of passion.

Question: You started "Memory Almost Full" in 2003, so was there a period when you had three albums in the works, including your 2006 classical piece "Ecce Cor Meum?"

Paul McCartney: Yes. I've always got a few things on the (go). I like to be able to work that way, because if suddenly your producer's not available or whatever, it's nice to be able to pick up another thread. Now, even though I've got all this happening, I've got a guitar piece in the works -- an orchestral guitar concerto? I never know what to call it. And I've got a photographic project I've been working on for a while. It's nice to have a bit of variety.

Question: Was there any bleed-through of songs from "Chaos" to the new album?

Paul McCartney: It was the same pool of songs. Some of them crossed over. Some of them we nearly did on "Chaos," but mainly it was pretty separate. Anything we'd started, I didn't want to remake for "Chaos," so I kept what we'd started, then wrote new stuff for it as we went along. That was one of the fun things we used to do with the Beatles. John and I would have seven or eight things ready by the time we went into the studio, and then we'd try and write the other six or seven.

Question: Is the discussion about the Beatles' catalog going online anywhere nearer to being settled?

Paul McCartney: Oh, yeah, very much so. It's virtually settled. And in a virtual world, that's something.

Question: So we should expect an announcement soon?

Paul McCartney: Hopefully, yeah. I don't want to pre-empt anything, but we're well on the way to something happening there, which is very exciting.

Question: And are you planning to go back on the road?

Paul McCartney: I'm going to do some little bits and pieces to support the album, but it won't be a major tour until possibly next year, and that's basically down to personal circumstances -- "he said" (laughs).

Question: Touring is obviously something you still enjoy.

Paul McCartney: I do love it, and while the audience seems to love it, I will. All that singing and playing -- it's good for you.