Ringo Starr On Why Here Comes the Sun Is the Most Popular Beatles Song, His New EP, and Taylor Swift

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Ringo Starr On Why Here Comes the Sun Is the Most Popular Beatles Song, His New EP, and Taylor Swift

In lockdown, Ringo Starr has a new appreciation for doing interviews. “I get up in the morning,” he says over Zoom from Roccabella West, his home studio in Los Angeles, “and I beg my publicist to give me people like you to talk to!” The inconceivable fame that comes with being a former Beatle has sometimes made him seem reticent in conversation (“In some people’s minds, we’re still those people from Hard Day’s Night,” he once said to me, “like the boys that never grew up”). But in our current circumstances, he says that “it keeps me going.”

Though he celebrated his 80th birthday last year, Sir Richard Starkey—or “Rique S,” as his Zoom window identifies him—has had no trouble with keeping himself going. He had to cancel two tours last year with his All-Starr Band, but he hasn’t wasted his pandemic time, recording a five-song EP, appropriately titled Zoom In, which comes out this Friday. The tracks range from the roots reggae of “Waiting for the Tide to Turn” to the solidly rocking “Teach Me to Tango,” produced by studio whiz Sam Hollander, who’s worked with folks like Panic! at the Disco and Katy Perry.

Scott Robert Ritchie

The project was mostly assembled in the room he’s currently sitting in, and an adjacent guesthouse where his drums are set up. A few musicians came by to record their parts, but mostly it was done by sending tracks around digitally—included the sing-a-long choir (which features everyone from Paul McCartney and Dave Grohl to Chris Stapleton and Jenny Lewis) on the first single, “Here’s to the Nights.”

But while he remains addicted to the road, Starr has resolved himself to limiting his contact (beyond Barbara Bach, his wife of forty years) to the minimum. “I have several friends, and we hang out,” he says. “I know they’re as serious as I am. I’ve been to three other homes in a year and they’ve been to mine. It’s the same crowd, we just go and sit somewhere else.”

Even with the enforced solitude, he still can’t bring himself to practice the drums without a band present. “I don’t practice,” he says. “I could never do it, it’s just something that’s not in me. I practiced with bands in Liverpool.”

Starr looks astonishingly fit for an octogenarian, in a black zippered pull-over, his hair a little longer than the usual close crop and a bit tousled on the top. Behind him on the screen, a couple of painted Ringo cut-outs are visible (one with a Santa hat), and an acoustic guitar hangs on the wall, with a Rubber Soul-era photo of him embossed on the front.

In addition to Zoom In, Starr recently put out Ringo Rocks, a fat photo book chronicling thirty years of touring with the All-Starrs; it’s worth noting that soon, he will be affiliated with this group four times longer than his stint with the Beatles. This summer will see the hugely anticipated release of Get Back, for which Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings) has recut the footage shot for 1970’s Let It Be movie.

Starr expresses excitement about the side of the Beatles that the new film will show, since Let It Be was such a downer, a sour eulogy for the greatest band of all time. “Now we’ve got some of the other part,” he says. “It wasn’t all”—and here he groans. “It was up.”

How are you holding up?

Many days, well. But odd days, I’ve just had enough—“I want to do this, I want do that.” Last year was pretty hard, because I had two tours booked. So I was like “Oh, man, I want to be on the road, I want to play, I want to be out there ‘Peace-and-Love’-ing.” And that’s not going to happen, but that’s how I reacted. And then I just got over it.

And what did we know? Last March, I told everybody that we’re cancelling the tour in May and June, but we’re going to do it exactly like that next year. In June last year, we thought it would all be over. But you’ve just got to get into that space of, this is it.

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You spent lots of time as a kid in the hospital. Has this time made you think about that isolation?

Yeah, I had TB, which in those days meant you spent eleven months in hospital. And we sort of conned our way out so that I could have my fifteenth birthday out of hospital, because I had my fourteenth birthday there. So no, I’m not like, “Oh, I’ll be back in hospital.” But I can’t even visit hospitals, I hate them. I remember one time Barbara was having a procedure and she was in there getting better afterwards and I’m trying to wake her up—“Come on, let’s go, let’s go!”

But there is a fear factor. I don’t dwell on it or live with that fear, but I suppose I’m like everyone else‑we all think if we’re going to get [the virus], we’re going to get the death one. I know people, and family members, who had it, and it’s a very small portion where it’s the end, but in my head, that’s where it goes.

Does doing an EP take you back to the early days?

I just loved collecting EPs, that’s what it took me back to. I have a huge collection in storage somewhere. But I just didn’t want to do a whole album. I feel I’ve finished making whole albums. And how crazy because this is what I’m like—“I’m doing just these four tracks, that will get me off, that will be enough.” And I was in here last week and had this idea for a track and I thought, “Maybe I’ll make another EP and have it out by October.” Maybe now I’ll be the EP man.

But you don’t need an album. Everybody’s streaming. The Beatles are on every streaming site known to man. And we do pretty good!

You keep up with the kids.

Well, we keep up with some of the kids. I was shocked when I was told we did a billion streams. I’m like, “What? A billion streams?” And then you look at what Drake’s doing! Fifty billion!

ringo

Scott Robert Ritchie

Do you check out the new stars, the Billie Eilishes of the world?

I love Billie Eilish! We have her brother [Finneas] on “Here’s to the Nights.” But I’m not following them now like when it was, “Oh, Ray Charles, I’ll go anywhere to buy a record.” It’s not like I buy their records, I may buy a track on iTunes—I go to iTunes, it’s the only way I know!

There’s a lot of good bands out there, but nobody’s doing anything. A lot of people are on that stepping stone to a bigger career, it’s got to be a downer for them. It’s really tough. Taylor Swift is the only one who’s doing well. She likes to play by herself. I love her. I love Miley—she went through many stages of life in front of us, and that’s what it’s like. So there are a few, and a few incredible bands out there, but we’re all on hold.

“Here Comes the Sun” is now the most streamed Beatle song by a distance. Why do you think that’s become the most popular one?

I didn’t know it was number one number one, but it well deserves it. It’s a beautiful song, it’s a beautiful arrangement, the drums are great (laughs). I don’t know, you can never tell, can you? It just became the song. And it’s not a bad song to become the song, either.

What was great was in the intro to that song, before we did it, George said, “Hey, Ringo, I’ve got this song, it’s in 7/4 time.” I said, “What are you telling me for? I’m 4/4 or 3/4, you know that.” He had gotten a bit Indian on me. We played it and I had to work out that [sings the drum pattern]—that was seven beats. So I worked it out.

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You think of that song as so simple, just a strummy guitar, but especially with the new remasters of the Beatle albums, you can hear all the layers of stuff that’s going on.

I love those remasters, because one, now you can hear the drums and two, you can hear everything else. I always smile because the first thing that was remastered was Yellow Sub. And Paul and I went to EMI in London, and we’re sitting there, and we’re going, “Who played that? What’s that?” ‘Cause we hadn’t heard it since the day we did it.

How is progress on the Get Back movie going, and how involved have you been?

Well, I was more involved two years ago. Peter would keep coming in to LA and I had some talks with him. I’ve never really liked the original one, it was too miserable. The only good thing Michael Lindsay-Hogg did was— which we suggested—he filmed us on the roof. We went through, “Let’s go to Egypt, let’s go on a mountain,” so we went on the roof. And if you look at the roof thing, it was seven or eight minutes in the original, and now it’s 43.

So Peter—who got 56 unused hours, for Christ’s sake—when he was in LA he would come over with his iPad and play me pieces he’s found. And I said, ‘Look at us, we’re laughing, we’re having fun,” and we did. It wasn’t all related to that one bad moment. That part did happen, but there was a lot more joy.

Author and music journalist Alan Light is the former Editor-in-Chief of Vibe and Spin magazines, and hosts the daily music talk show “Debatable” on SiriusXM. 

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