Costello Reflects On Career At SXSW
In the somewhat strange setting of an enormous Austin Convention Center ballroom, Elvis Costello sat yesterday (March 16) for a public interview that marked the beginning of Texas' annual South By Southwest (SXSW) music festival. For nearly 90 minutes, the veteran artist discussed his career with MTV Networks executive Bill Flanagan, engrossing and entertaining the crowded room.
"I don't know why that is," Costello answered when asked why he thought he was still a viable artist nearly three decades after his first release. "I just do what I do."
"I've been very, very fortunate," he said, referring to the many "great opportunities" his career has offered. "And a couple of those that came up were quite amazing."
Among them: working with a wide range of established artists, from Jerry Lee Lewis and George Jones to Tony Bennett, Count Basie, Burt Bacharach and the Brodsky Quartet. Obviously humbled by such collaborations, he said, "These are the things I'll take away with me."
Costello defended his prolificacy and the wide-ranging experimentation he has indulged over time, which has seen him record everything from punk-era new wave classics to opera, simply saying it was a case of "not allowing critics to write your records for you."
Jokingly, he described the difference between his longtime band the Attractions and its more recent replacement the Imposters as "less hair, more face."
Besides a singular different member -- bassist Bruce Thomas, with whom Costello has a well-known adverse relationship, in the old band and Davey Farragher in the new -- the bands are virtually identical, with keyboardist Steve Nieve and drummer Pete Thomas rounding out the lineup.
"The reason the Imposters are different than the Attractions is because there's a vast amount of experience in the other members," he said, noting that in the nine years between the two bands, "no one was sitting by the phone waiting for me to call." Instead, each was working on other projects, which brought more to the table.
"The other reason is because of the kind of musician Davey Farragher is," he added, noting that "Bruce simply can't play a groove." Despite that, he also called the Attractions "the best band of '77 by a country mile."
When it was brought up that he has reissued catalog titles in differing deluxe editions on two different labels, Costello said he was not trying to milk money out of die-hard fans. He sees reissues as being "for those who missed it the first time around," not for "those obsessed with having everything."
Saying "radio is my enemy," Costello admitted not expecting widespread support from traditional music business channels when he releases a new work, such as his latest rock album, "The Delivery Man" (Lost Highway). "I just want to get the music visible," he said. And to do that, the tenaciously touring artist said hitting the road is the way to get that done.
"It's always been about playing," he said. "It's not about records. Live work is where it's at."
-- Barry A. Jeckell, N.Y.