and the Groove
The Limitations of the Form
The Influence of the Environment
Art Vs. Commerce
I'll play Charlie a riff in the studio and I might think, This is a great riff, you know, play it for half an hour but if Charlie hasn't picked up on it, I know I'm wrong, you know, because it won't be a good record. Because if Charlie don't get into it, then I ain't written something that the Stones can get a groove going on. Whereas I can play three bars of something and Charlie will just knock out a couple of things and I'll pretend I've just written a song: This is a song I've written, you know, and make up the rest because it's easy once you've got that.
It's true, it's true what Keith says because if (Charlie) doesn't pick up on it, I go back and I say, Okay, let's come down here tomorrow before anybody else, Charlie, and we'll work it out. Because if you're not picking up, it means I've probably written it in the wrong rhythm or YOU'RE not getting it. One of the two. Though... he'll suddenly "click", you know, 'cause everybody has a bit of a mental block, me and him both sometimes on rhythms. But I'm much more - if I think I've written a great song, I'm not gonna let Charlie ruin it for me!
If I have an idea in mind before rehearsal, I'll first run it down with Charlie, or with Charlie and Keith, whoever is there. I'll play guitar if I've written it, or even if I haven't. Usually I'll knock my guitar out of the arrangement in the end, because two guitars are quite enough. But the first thing you want to get down is the time, and that's where someone like Charlie will help you with the arrangements... Charlie can give you an idea that you hadn't thought of that can change it around completely.
(Rock and roll is) a dead end. A dead end in music... (W)hat I mean, just around me, when you see all these bands springing up, they're all doing these things that have already been done. Nothing new is coming out of it. There ain't nothing new in it, but I'm not complaining that there's nothing new. If it was something I couldn't understand, I'd be more worried. Someone comes out with a new style of writing, you know - when James Joyce came out, all the writers must have started worrying. Gee, how can he write like that? Well, rock and roll hasn't done that, you understand? Not really, not now.
(Rock and roll is) a very simple form, and yet you have to find a certain element in there that still lives, that isn't just a rehash. It can REMIND you - and probably will - of something else, but it should still add something new, have a freshness and individuality about it. The rules are very strict on it, you see (laughs).
The (United) States give you a lot of energy. There's a propensity to make you very uptight in some cases and you start to write complaining songs, whereas like in some places in Europe I can't write complaining songs because it doesn't give you that effect, you know, it gives you a feeling of being happy and sort of in harmony. In America I rarely feel in harmony so you write songs that are sort of like jangling.
People influence me more than what you call environment, which is a totality... but... it's always the SAME PEOPLE! And you have to put them down. To get into women, to different kinds of them, they're all such a GROOVE. But when there's no songs it nearly always means I'm very contented and I can't be bothered to write about it! I'm too busy to be worried about writing about it. Don't want to work, don't want to do anything, just want to... just carry on. But then someone phones up and says... Mmmm, got to make a record. But it's good that they're there because otherwise we might not ever do anything.
(Geography does have something to do with how you write). Yeah, it does, but no one really knows how it affects you. It has an incidental effect. In other words, you can spend a couple months, 3 months, a summer, in New York and then you can go anywhere, say, England, the countryside, but you'd still be writing with that New York frame of mind if that's what you wanted to write about. And especially if you've made notes. Or if you'd written songs and put verses that you wrote with them on tape to recreate that place or that feeling for you, then you can recreate them in your head. So you can sort of keep them in a little capsule. You don't actually have to be in New York or France to record like that. That's what writing is about.
I think, by this time, it's more globalized and internationalized. There's no specifics, basically, in any of the Stones' songs. The great thing is that people always manage to put their own specifics from their own situations into it. No matter where the geography is, or what kind of people, people find their own interpretation, and that's what it's for. There's no specifics. That's the beauty of it. The other beauty in it is that people WANNA look for specifics and try to. They find their own in there. It can mean a million different things to a million different people.
(In the early days), it wasn't like now where you spend four to six months making an album. Those (early) albums had to be done in 10 days, plus another single. That was a fact of life.You had to have a red-hot single, 2:30 minutes long that hit you between the eyes. We probably would have taken longer to learn what we know now if we hadn't had to do that.
We don't ask ourselves what is commercial. We simply say - we like this one best (in choosing a song for a single). What we have liked over the past few years has proved to be what the young people like, so this is how to choose a single. This is probably the way Mozart wrote. He wrote for himself. So do we. And it is a happy coincidence that what we like should also be what our public likes.
The only time I think whether (a song) will sell or not is when we make a single. Then you don't actually make a single, you make six or seven records, or WE do, and somebody says, That's good for a single. They mean, If you put that out, more people will like it than any of the others. You haven't recorded it for them, you've just DONE it. It's one of those things that you've done and yet you think it's easily understandable. You might say, The lyrics are simple or It's good to dance to, but it's still the same as the others. It's still one of them.
(Yes, I am aiming at technical improvement), but I don't really think I will. Brian will get into electronics, I'm more interested in writing. I'd like to be a very good writer, of songs. It's a weird medium actually, because it's so incredibly compressed... (Modern pop lyrics are not the only valid form of poetry these days but), you know, a lot of it's very good verse, and is easily as good as popular verse in the last century. And more people will hear it. Some of it is probably very very good but it's not the best verse that's been written or the best poetry... Dylan stands up. There are very few modern poets I like that I've read, that I've picked up at Indica bookshop that have been anywhere as good. I mean, most of them aren't even as good as the BYRDS' ones!
I think I AM a frivolous person. That's why it's hard for me to talk about (the meaning of my songs). I don't print the words on the record; if you can't hear them it's too bad. I don't think they're great works of poetry.
I started making records by saying, Do I like it? Does this turn me on? And I refuse to be budged from that criteria. Really. If I start to think about what do they want to hear, then I say I'm out of here. That's not the way I've ever done it. The only times people have liked my stuff is when I've done it because I like it. I'll reserve that for my criteria for anything I do. If I start trying to second-guess people, then I may as well be Liberace or Lawrence Welk. That means I want to be a star, instead of having to be forced to be one.
I'm quite happy relaxing. I enjoy sitting behind a desk for weeks writing songs. But I get bored as anyone doing the same thing all the time. What I love most of all is playing with this band onstage 'cause that's when it's best. That's the only way the band is capable of giving its all. It doesn't take any great intellectual effort to figure that out.
It's very hard to talk about motivation and all that in rock and roll. It's not like acting where it's something in yourself that's just like, That's what motivating me in this play, in this film. In our kind of rock and roll, you gotta go at home and sit down with a guitar, and write a song. It's gotta be... reasonably good. It DOES require quite a lot of self-discipline sometimes 'cause you don't wanna do it. But when it eventually comes down to it, you sit down for a few hours and you write a couple of interesting pieces and you think, Hmmm... that's pretty good. (Laughs) And then you start to, you know, "flow" again. That's how (motivation) happens - I think FROM the songs themselves. I don't think it's a I can't wait to get back on the stage in front of 50 000 kind of thing. That doesn't feel for me, that doesn't - you know, I don't miss it that badly... So the motivation for me comes from the songs rather than thinking about touring.
(There's an) old-fashioned idea that you can only be good while you're unknown, and hopefully not having any money, and even better, slightly mentally ill. AND a drug addict - always helpful. That makes you interesting. It doesn't necessarily make your WORK more interesting. It tends to drop off if you're older and a drug addict and don't work hard. Francis Bacon, for instance, would just repeat himself and get worse and worse. So [speaking to the interviewer], your questions are really coming from that place: if you become too bourgeois and only want to live a comfortable life, can you be bothered to get up in the morning and write a song? That's a valid criticism. I don't think it applies to me. Because I love writing songs - whether they're good or not is another matter - and I love working really, really hard. In the last five years, I've been working like a dog.
(Making records) is something I like to do. Every year I like to produce something. And only if it's really shitty would I not put it out. Because I believe you never know how good or bad something is until later. It reflects what you were going through at the time, what you were doing musically, more or less. So unless you think it's substandardish you put it out... I have a lot of interests but music is the main thing... I like creating. And I do it for fun, and I get lots of fun out of it and... dare I say, "satisfaction"?
Perhaps what we did in (the 60s) was to enlarge the subject material of popular music to include topics outside the typical moon in June / I've got a new motorbike teenage genre. We said you can write a song about anything you want. And that was really a big thing - it's certainly one of the big legacies in the songwriting area that we left, along with other artists.
I think one of the contributions of myself and Keith, and the Rolling Stones, was that maybe we helped build or expand the framework of pop that the music sits on today. That's the long term. Short term, it's probably as a performer that people think of me.
(W)e never sit around and ask ourselves why we wrote a song, although now that it's done we join everybody else in trying to analyze why we did it. I think images just come out; you haven't that much to do with it. If you like an idea that comes along, you sort of carry on writing in the hopes that maybe you'll eventually find out why. There are no answers in the lyrics. They really just raise other questions, which is maybe the point of it.