Ringo Starr On Brexit, Beatlemania And 'Give More Love'

Sep 17, 2017

Ringo Starr, now 77 and one of the world's first bona fide rock stars, is still working at an incredible pace. The former Beatles drummer just released his 19th studio album, titled Give More Love — and that's if we're not counting the numerous projects he put out with the Fab Four before the band broke up in 1970.

Give More Love, which was released Sept. 15, has a long list of Starr's regular collaborators, including Peter Frampton, Richard Marx, and Benmont Tench. Former bandmate Paul McCartney also makes an appearance on "We're On The Road Again" and "Show Me The Way."

Nowadays, Starr tries to keep a low profile; his daily life is largely devoid of the scream-filled Beatlemania that took over the world in the '60s. But he has recently been in the news over a BBC interview in which he said, "I would've voted for Brexit. I would've voted to get out."

Starr, who was in London promoting Give More Love, spoke to NPR's Michel Martin about his memories of Beatlemania, his views on this political moment, the collaborative nature of this new album and the legacy he hopes to leave behind.

You can hear their conversation in the audio player, and read on for an edited transcript.

Michel Martin: You have been famous for most of your life now. I'm just trying to understand what that's been like — can you go to the store now if you want to grab some butter and eggs?

Ringo Starr: Yes. We go out, we wander around towns, cities and several countries. And yeah, I live a normal, normal-ish life. Sometimes I am spotted. Overall, it's nothing like it was.

Do you remember how you first realized just how big the craziness was around the Beatles? Because I know you guys spent so much time together as a group; did you guys all look at each other and say, "What's happening here?"

Yes. Although we started ... playing clubs, and we stepped up to theaters; that was like, "Well, we're on the move." And then we were big in England, of course. And then suddenly we were big in France, and Spain and Denmark. But none of them compared to when we got off that plane in New York. It was incredible. And then we thought, "Wow!" Because, you know, all the music we loved came from America, and we were there, and we had a No. 1 hit. Then we got to Shea Stadium and it was like, "What?" We looked at each other then and I promise you: "What? Look at this!" It was just far out.

Let's talk about this album, Give More Love. You have so many genres of music on this new album, from classic rock 'n' roll, to blues, to country. You've actually re-recorded a song you wrote for The Beatles' White Album, "Don't Pass Me By." You kind of country-fied it.

Well, it's a really interesting track, because every July 7 at noon, I do the Peace & Love moment. I've been doing it for nine years now. So last year, the bands that were playing my songs — and this is a band called Vandaveer — they did their version of ["Don't Pass Me By"]. And I said, "Have them do it in my key and I'll sing — I'm making a record." And that's how all of this came about.

How do you decide who you want to work with?

It's magic. [Laughs.] We write the songs — I write them with different writers — and when I wrote "Laughable" with Peter Frampton — he's the guitarist so he's going to do the solo, so that was answered... But it's all done mainly with feelings. For "Show Me The Way," [I felt] Paul McCartney would be great on that; thanks to our history together, I can just give him a call and he came over and played bass.

You mentioned "Laughable" with Peter Frampton. What were you thinking about when you wrote the hook?

Well, I think it was a great line: "It would be laughable if it wasn't so sad." I'd rather it was laughable than so sad, but a lot of things in the world today are sad. And I had a song on the last album ["Anthem"] where I actually mentioned: "It's not all knives and bullets / It's from hunger too." Millions of people are hungry. Millions of people don't have water. Millions of people are being blown up. There's a lot of craziness going on in the world at every minute of our lives, and we try and do our best to help the suffering.

You are a person who's traveled more than most people in the world, and have seen more of the world than most people. So I was surprised when I read that you support Brexit. I think a lot of people find that surprising given that you've had so much exposure to the world — I was just wondering about that.

Well, yes. There's nothing to wonder about. I was asked the question and the English people voted. And they voted to leave and they voted on Brexit. And, you know, it's a democracy. I think you've had the vote; the people have voted and it should go through. That's my point... This is the people's choice. And I'm afraid we should go along with that.

It's great that you're still able to work with Paul. On the other hand, you've had so many losses. We're losing some of our great performers, I can't even name all of them in the last year.

I know, it does seem it was a bad year. But I think if you look back, every year is a bad year. And even when we were young out there, we were losing people all the time. It's just part of the life we lead. A lot of my dear friends didn't make it to 30, didn't make it to 40. And that's just how it is. I've actually made it.

What do you want your legacy to be? What do you want people to think about when they think about Ringo Starr?

What a great drummer he was. What a beautiful human being, and he was so tall. [Laughs.]

Web intern Steffanee Wang contributed to this story.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Finally today, how many times do we say, here is a person who needs no introduction? But our next guest really needs no introduction. In fact, over a five-decade career, when he's been introduced along with his bandmates, it often went like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Cheering).

RINGO STARR: (Laughter).

MARTIN: He released his 19th album on Friday. It's called "Give More Love."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GIVE MORE LOVE")

STARR: (Singing) Give more love. It's what we know we need more of.

I love that song. You know, I love it.

STARR: You like it? And joining us now from London - you've figured it out by now - is the one and only Ringo Starr. Ringo Starr, welcome. Thank you for joining us.

STARR: Thank you, Michel. Michel, could I have a bit of screaming first?

STARR: Sure. Let's have some screaming. Let's have some more. Here it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Cheering).

STARR: No, I want it from you.

MARTIN: Oh, no. You don't want to hear that.

(LAUGHTER)

STARR: Only kidding. Let's get on with the gig.

MARTIN: OK.

STARR: Ringo here, "Give More Love."

MARTIN: (Laughter) OK. Do you remember when you first realized just how big the craziness was around the Beatles? Did you all - because I know you all spent so much time together as a group. Did you all kind of look at each other and say, what's happening here?

STARR: Yes. Well, I think, you know, though we started and we were playing clubs and then we stepped up to theaters, that was like, well, we're on the move. And then we were big in England, of course. And then, suddenly, we were big in France and Spain and Denmark and - but none of them compared to when we got off that plane in New York. It was incredible. And then we thought, wow, because, you know, America, all the music we loved came from America. And we were there, and we had a number one. And then we got to Shea Stadium, as it was like, what?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WANT TO HOLD YOUR HAND")

BEATLES: (Singing) I want to hold your hand. I want to hold your hand.

STARR: We looked at each other then - I promise you - what? Look at this. I mean, it was just far out. Anyway, so to answer your questions, yes.

MARTIN: So let's talk about the latest album, "Give More Love." You have so many genres of music on this new album. You have classic rock 'n' roll, blues, country. You actually rerecorded a song that you wrote for the Beatles' "White Album," "Don't Pass Me By." I want to listen to some of the original, and then we'll play the new version. So let's hear that.

STARR: OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T PASS ME BY")

BEATLES: (Singing) I listen for your footsteps coming up the drive. Listen for your footsteps, but they don't arrive. Waiting for your knock, dear, on my old front door. I don't hear it. Does it mean you don't love me anymore?

STARR: (Singing) More.

MARTIN: (Laughter) OK. Here's the new one. Here it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T PASS ME BY")

STARR: (Singing) I listen for your footsteps coming up the drive. I listen for your footsteps, but they don't arrive.

MARTIN: So you kind of countrified it.

STARR: It's a really interesting track because every July the 7 at noon, you know, I do the peace and love moment. And I've been doing it for nine years now. So last year, the bands that were playing, playing my songs, and this is a band called Vandaveer. They did their version of this, and I said, have them do it in my key, and I'll sing. I'm making a record. And that's how this all came about.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T PASS ME BY")

STARR: (Singing) Don't pass me by. Don't make me cry. Don't make me blue 'cause you know, darling, I love only you.

MARTIN: So how do you decide who you want to work with?

STARR: It's magic.

(LAUGHTER)

STARR: I write - you know, we write the songs. I write them with, you know, different writers. I mean, of course, when I wrote "Laughable" with Peter Frampton, you know, he's the guitarist, so he's going to do the solo. So that was answered. But it's all done mainly with feelings. And for "Show Me The Way," Paul McCartney would be great on that. And, you know, thanks to our history together, I can just give him a call and he came over and played bass.

MARTIN: Well, one would hope.

STARR: Yeah (laughter).

MARTIN: You spoke of - you mentioned "Laughable." You want to hear that? You mentioned you did "Laughable" with Peter Frampton? You want to hear a little bit of that?

STARR: I want to hear a bit of everything.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LAUGHABLE")

STARR: (Singing) Woke up this morning, I was feeling good. Turn on the radio, I understood. Things are changing like never before. Should I go back to bed and close the door? It would be laughable if it wasn't sad.

MARTIN: Well, what were you thinking about with "Laughable"? I mean, what is it that - the sad that you were talking about in the lyric?

STARR: You know, it was a great line. It would be laughable if it wasn't so sad. I'd rather it was laughable than sad, but a lot of things in the world today are sad. And I had a song on the last album where I actually mention it's not all knives and bullets. It's from hunger, too. Millions of people are hungry. Millions of people don't have water. Millions of people are being, like, blown up. You know, there's a lot of craziness going on in the world at every minute of our lives, and we try and do our best to help the suffering.

MARTIN: So, you know, it's one reason I was curious because you are a person who's traveled, I think, more than most people in the world and have seen probably more of the world than most people for most of your life. I was surprised when I read that you support Brexit it. And I think a lot of people find that surprising, given that you've had so much exposure to the world. I was just wondering about that.

STARR: Well, yes. There's nothing to wonder about. I was asked the question. And the English people voted. And they voted to leave. And they voted on Brexit. And, you know, I - it's a democracy. I mean, I think you've had the vote. The people have voted, and it should go through. That's my point. You know, I have been all around the world, but this is the people's choice. And, you know, I'm afraid we should go along with that.

MARTIN: So before we let you go, you know, it's sort of great that you still are able to work with Paul, with your colleague. And, you know, you've had so many, you know, losses. I mean, we're losing some of our sort of great performers. I can't even sort of name all of them in the last year.

STARR: I know. It does seem it was a bad year. But I think if you look back, Michel, every year is a bad year. And even when we were young out there, we were losing people all the time. It's just part of the life we lead, you know. A lot of my dear friends didn't make it to 30, didn't make it to 40. And that's just how it is. I have actually made it.

MARTIN: So what do you want the legacy to be for you? What do you want people to think about when they think about Ringo Starr?

STARR: What a great drummer he was.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

STARR: What a beautiful human being, and he was so tall.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: All right. Ringo Starr, what song do you want to go out on?

STARR: Well, let's go out - "We're On The Road Again." Let's rock it up.

MARTIN: All right. Let's rock it off. Ringo Starr joined me on the line from London. His latest album "Give More Love" is out now. Ringo Starr, thank you so much for speaking with us. I hope we'll speak again.

STARR: All right, Michel. Peace and love.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE'RE ON THE ROAD AGAIN")

STARR: (Singing) Got up this morning, packed my bags. Headed for the studio to finish this track. The alarm going on and a lot to do, we got to get it done 'cause we ain't coming back. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.