Elvis Costello Interview
Feb 11 2005
By Jonathan Trew, Evening Mail
Q: The Delivery Man seems half love songs and half angry, political songs. Is that how you conceived it?
A: started writing it in 1999. I suppose I wrote the first line-up of The Delivery Man narrative and then I started attaching the songs that were in the voices of the characters. Then for various reasons I put it to one side.
When I returned to Delivery Man, all the other songs came in a rush. I made the decision then just to give the narrative a central place in the record and speak in the voice of the characters, interrupted by the world.
So you have Bedlam knocking down the door. You have Monkey To Man which is not exactly a light-hearted song in terms of topic but is presented in a musical form which is lighthearted. Last of all is Scarlet Tide, which is hope.
So I didn't have a preconceived plan. I allowed the actual development of the music to come through.
Q: The album has quite a muscular, southern rock feel to it. How much of that is to do with it being recorded in Mississippi?
A: We recorded Monkey To Man in a great little studio, but it wasn't anything to do with the edges in the music.
Our approach to the recording with Dennis Herring helped. The fact that we went and played the songs at a club gave a spontaneous feeling to the performance.
Q: So in a sense you road-tested the songs before recording them?
A: Up to a point. We just played the local tavern a couple of nights. Then we went up to Memphis and did the same thing.
We recorded most of the record in one weekend.
I have loved a lot of the musical forms that the songs on this record refer to. For most of my semiprofessional/ professional career, somewhere in the mix has been a lot of the stuff - country, ballads and R'n'B.
Q: What factors influence the albums you make?
A: I don't really plan it in advance. Something just presents itself to me.
One of the reasons that I put The Delivery Man to one side was because the record company was in disarray.
I was already scheduled to produce Annie Sofer van Otter's For The Stars, and of course I got sort of promoted from producing the album to costarring on it. In the same year, I received this unexpected commission to write a score, Il Sogno - The Dream - from a dance company.
It wasn't anything as analytical as looking to challenge myself.
I'd had opportunities to work with orchestral groupings, but there was no evidence of it on record. For the record buying public, it came out of the blue.
Q: You often reinvent your own songs. When you first write a song and record it, do you regard that version as just a starting point?
A: I don't really think about it analytically - I think it's just a matter of process. The other night we were playing in Rome and they had put us in a concert hall. The acoustics would not really suit rock 'n' roll so we were playing on the more controlled end of our repertoire.
I was teasing people, saying, "You know you can get up and dance if you want to". As often happens in these fancy halls, they were a bit embarrassed.
I said: "If you are all going to sit down then I am going to sit down too." So I just sat and sang two ballads.
Q: Can you tell me about the Hans Christian Andersen project you are working on?
A: Well, it has this word opera attached to it because the commission to write it came from the Danish opera.
What I am actually doing is telling a story about Andersen.
There are a lot of interesting things about him and the people he knew during his life.
I've invented a story that is extracted from certain details of his biography.
That's pretty much all I can say about it right now - I'm in the process of writing it.