Ringo Starr on Recording ‘Zoom In’ During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Chris Willman
·4-min read

Although some Zoom-style collaborating was inevitable in making “Zoom In,” his five-track extended-play mini-album, Ringo Starr did allow a few vetted friends inside his L.A. home studio, even if some never got far beyond the welcome mat. It provided relief from brooding over having his second planned summer tour with his All Starr Band canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Starr Zoomed into a room with Variety to talk about his new record, plus Peter Jackson’s upcoming film of 1969 Beatles footage, “Get Back.”

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“Zoom In Zoom Out” is your first EP, after 20 solo albums. Is that because the pandemic made doing something shorter more feasible?

After I finished “What’s My Name?” — the last album I had out — I thought, “That’s the last CD I’m going to make. I’m going to make EPs.” I loved EPs growing up; I had a Ray Charles collection of EPs that I found in Hamburg when I played with bands there. I like having four or five tracks. And I wanted to change things so I don’t always have to be the co-writer. When I started, I asked Diane Warren for a song, and she sent over “Here’s to the Nights.” Of course, she sent it over in the key of F-demented, and I was like, “Fuck!” With Benmont Tench’s help, we lowered the key to somewhere a human can sing.

What was it like recording during the pandemic?

It’s been a lifesaver for me — a bit of socializing. We’ve got the masks on with people working. Nathan
East came over and played bass on three tracks, standing by the door. [Laughs.] Some days, you’re down and you’re fed up. The misery has been losing two tours [planned for the summers of 2020 and 2021]. I love going out and playing. But the alternative, of getting your own way, could be death.

Your hair is growing out, after decades of having it close-cropped. You’re letting your mop top fly again?

I first got a buzz cut in ’96 and did it myself ever since; I never went to a barber. This is my COVID haircut now. Or my COVID not-haircut. I’m shocked I’ve got so much! I love it. I get up in the morning, and I’m like [miming admiring himself in the mirror], “OK, brother!”

People will see a 50-years-back version of you this year in the “Get Back” film. You’ve said you weren’t happy with director Michael LindsayHogg’s edits for the “Let It Be” movie in 1970.

It focused only on the one down moment. And, laughingly, I like to say that Michael Lindsay-Hogg was in most of the shots. [Laughs.] Thank God Peter came along and decided he’d take the gig. I was there, and I said, “I know there’s lots of humor there.” Peter was putting it together then in New Zealand, and every time he came to L.A., he’d come over with his iPad and show me scenes where we’re just having fun — I mean, we’re playing, but we’re having fun as well.

Anything besides fun you think will be a revelation in “Get Back”?

We’d decided to play together, as a live band. And we did think of other venues, and then, “Wait, let’s just go up on the roof.” Michael shot that stuff on the roof really great, with a lot of cameras. [In ‘Let It Be,’ it was edited down to 21 minutes], but now it’s 43 minutes long. And it’s great.

Things You Didn’t Know About Ringo Starr:

Age: 80

Hometown: Liverpool

Selling out: In December, Starr released a book of photos and text, “Ringo Rocks: 30 Years of the All Starrs,” recapping his last three decades of touring, exclusively via Julien’s auction house. But it’s sold out, except for the autographed $500 special edition.

Boxing day: Starr loves the boxed sets and remastered editions of Beatles albums overseen by Giles Martin, partly out of self-interest. “You can hear the drums now. I love Giles, because he loves drums.”

Guest list-a-go-go: Among the choir singing backup on new song “Here’s to the Nights” are Paul McCartney, Dave Grohl, Finneas, Yola, Chris Stapleton, Sheryl Crow and Corinne Bailey Rae, who “just sings out — she just takes hold of it so great.”

Boogie on, reggae drummer: The EP includes a reggae song, “Waiting for the Tide to Turn,” and legendary Jamaican guitarist Tony Chin was impressed by Ringo’s chops. “He said, ‘Hey mon, you played the drums? Good drums, mon.’ So, my reggae training paid off.”

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