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Interview about The Delivery Man
Detroit News, 2005-04-15
Alan Sculley

Veteran reminisces about his varied musical catalog, career

Friday, April 15, 2005
Hot Ticket: Elvis Costello

Experienced rocker radiates with humor, while keeping realistic outlook on music.

By Alan Sculley / Special to The Detroit News

Elvis Costello began his career in 1977 during the beginning of the punk/new wave movement. Since then, he has ventured into rock, country, classical and more.

To say 2004 was a banner year for veteran rocker Elvis Costello wouldn't be an overstatement.

Fresh off of touring behind his stirring 2002 rock album, "When I Was Cruel," Costello released two very different -- and acclaimed -- CDs on Sept. 21, the rocking album "The Delivery Man," and his classical work, "Il Sogno."

Then, in December, Costello capped his impressive year with three Grammy nominations -- including one for best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals for the song "Monkey To Man" and Best Rock Album for "The Delivery Man."

When the winners were announced at this year's Grammy Awards, the artist was nowhere to be seen.

To Costello, who was up against U2 in the song category and against Green Day's "American Idiot" for the best album honor, there was no point in attending the Grammys. He knew he had no chance to beat that competition, says Costello during a recent interview at the South By Southwest Music Conference in Austin, Texas.

"From where I was standing, I was happier to be in a club with the Killers or the Gorillaz or whoever they are and (skip) the madness for noble reasons, while the monolith that is U2 crushed us under their jack boot," he says.

That sort of practical outlook, laced with self-deprecating humor and a good deal of genuine humility, was frequently on display during a recent press conference with Costello.

Costello looked back on a career that began with the 1977 album "My Aim Is True" at the outset of the punk/new wave movement, and has since seen him build one of the strongest, most varied music catalogs around, with albums that have spanned the genres of rock, pop, country, classical and beyond. His collaborations have paired him with artists as diverse as Paul McCartney, George Jones, the Brodsky Quartet and Burt Bacharach.

His current focus remains on touring in support of "The Delivery Man," Costello says he began work on the CD in 1999, only to shelve the project for five years.

"I had the idea of the story," he says. "I had the initial songs, which were ballads, and I was getting ready to make the record when one of these corporate somersaults (his word for a shakeup) occurred and it became obvious that making a record for what then was Mercury (Records) would have been idiotic."

By the time Costello returned to "The Delivery Man," he no longer wanted to make a CD full of ballads (hence the presence of such rowdy tunes as "Button My Lip," "There's A Story In Your Voice" and "Monkey To Man"). Costello also decided how to use his story line.

"Most of the narrative detail is in the 'Delivery Man' song," he says. "And the other songs that are attached to the characters are from their perspective. So you have to use your imagination really.

"I didn't feel (like) making a beginning, middle and end story. Then it becomes an opera. It isn't an opera. It isn't a concept record either. It's a series of songs connected by the narrative, which is expressed in 'The Delivery Man' song."