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Paul McCartney and Taylor Swift recall making music under pseudonyms

The two famous singers have both released songs under fictitious names.
Paul McCartney and Taylor Swift have some similar songwriting processes.
Paul McCartney and Taylor Swift have some similar songwriting processes.TODAY Illustration / Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

Do the names Bernard Webb and Nils Sjöberg ring a bell?

During a new interview for Rolling Stone, Paul McCartney, 78, and Taylor Swift, 30, discovered that they have something unique in common: they’ve both written under pseudonyms in their careers.

The two singers met in McCartney's London office back in October and opened up about their songwriting secrets, quarantine experiences and more.

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“I think, when a pseudonym comes in is when you still have a love for making the work and you don’t want the work to become overshadowed by this thing that’s been built around you, based on what people know about you,” Swift said.

She added, “And that’s when it’s really fun to create fake names and write under them.”

McCartney asked Swift if she had ever written under a fake name, to which she replied, “I wrote under the name Nils Sjöberg because those are two of the most popular names of Swedish males.”

Under her pseudonym, Swift wrote the 2016 hit “This Is What You Came For,” performed by Rihanna and produced by Swift’s then-boyfriend, Calvin Harris. According to Rolling Stone, Swift's involvement wasn't revealed until months after the song debuted.

"Nobody knew for a while," she said. "I remembered always hearing that when Prince wrote ‘Manic Monday,’ they didn’t reveal it for a couple of months.”

McCartney is no stranger to writing under a pseudonym himself, explaining that “it also proves you can do something without the fame tag.”

“I did something for Peter and Gordon; my girlfriend’s brother and his mate were in a band called Peter and Gordon,” he said. “And I used to write under the name Bernard Webb.”

McCartney also revealed another pseudonym that he released music under that was fairly unsuccessful called Fireman, telling Swift, “We’d make these tracks, and nobody knew who Fireman was for a while. We must have sold all of 15 copies.”

Both artists have been staying busy during coronavirus lockdowns creating music under their respective names, with Swift working on her best-selling surprise album “Folklore” and the former Beatle working on “McCartney III.”

Throughout their conversation about their quarantine projects, the duo bonded over their writing process. They both said they draw inspiration from what they are watching and reading, even if it’s just a phrase or a word.

"I always thought, ‘Well, that’ll never track on pop radio,' but when I was making 'Folklore,' I thought, ‘What tracks? Nothing makes sense anymore. If there’s chaos everywhere, why not just use the damn word I want to use in the song?’” Swift recalled.

McCartney told Swift, "I think a love of words is a great thing, particularly if you’re going to try to write a lyric, and for me, it’s like, 'What is this going to say to that person?'

"I often feel like I’m writing to someone who is not doing so well," he explained. "So I’m trying to write songs that might help. Not in a goody-goody, crusading kind of way, but just thinking there have been so many times in my life when I’ve heard a song and felt so much better. I think that’s the angle I want, that inspirational thing."

McCartney ended their free-flowing chat by reminiscing of his days in The Beatles with one of his “favorite” stories with the band.

“We were in a terrible, big blizzard, going from London to Liverpool, which we always did,” he recalled. “We’d be working in London and then drive back in the van, just the four of us with our roadie, who would be driving ... You couldn’t see the road. At one point, it slid off and it went down an embankment ... We ended up at the bottom.”

He continued, “It didn’t flip, luckily, but so there we are, and then it’s like, ‘Oh, how are we going to get back up? We’re in a van. It’s snowing, and there’s no way.’"

But despite the unexpected crash, McCartney said it helped him realize a life lesson.

“We’re all standing around in a little circle, and thinking, ‘What are we going to do?’” he recounted. “And one of us said, ‘Well, something will happen.’ And I thought that was just the greatest. I love that, that’s a philosophy.”