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Transcript of internet chat from 2001-06-05, 20:00 ET (US)  with Elvis Costello and Ann Sofie von Otter

Yahoo! Chat with Elvis Costello & Anne Sofie von Otter

 

Elvis Costello and Anne Sofie von Otter joined us for a chat on Yahoo! to talk about their new album, For the Stars. Here's what they had to say...

YahooMC: Please welcome Elvis Costello and Anne Sofie von Otter to the room!

Elvis: Hello.

Anne Sofie: Hi.

beebedy: Ms. Von Otter – why Elvis? What drew the two of you together?

Anne Sofie:
Because I met him in the ‘90s when he and his wife came to my concert. We got to know each other. Someone said we should play together. The more I got to know him, the more my wind wandered toward a possible collaboration. I had been thinking of a crossover recording. But I really didn't know what shape and form it would have, and needed somebody to help me. So after getting to know Elvis, I thought this was the ideal person for this project.

lnaalba: Elvis, what was it like to work with Annie?

Elvis:
I really loved her voice when I first heard it and sat in the audience for the first couple of years. My wife and I sent her flowers, which made her agent curious. The opportunity to work together in a concert was very light-hearted. We sang "Baby It's Cold Outside," as it was 15 degrees. Once we started to talk, we learned each other's taste in music. She sent tapes to me. We made some mixed tapes and swapped them back and forth until we came up with the songs you hear on this record. In the process, she suggested that I might sing on something. I suggested I might have a couple new songs and she selected a couple of songs from my repertoire. We each chose about half the record, I suppose.

portland_77_champs: Hello Elvis & Anne Sofie, I enjoyed the new album very much. I'd be interested to hear about some of the songs that were proposed for the project that didn't make the cut.

Anne Sofie: There was one that made it to Japan but not other markets – "You Go To My Head."

Elvis: And some we rehearsed but didn't record: "Condition of the Heart" by Prince. "How Insensitive" by Jobim.

Anne Sofie: And some standards: "Dancing On the Ceiling."

Elvis: And a rare one from the ‘50s called "I'm Up a Tree" – a NoŽl Coward song. A whole different record could have been made from those choices. So good question, but in the end, the strongest songs seem to be the ones that are the mood of this record, and that's obviously why we chose these titles.

sheinkc: Good Evening. Congratulations to you both on a beautiful CD and collaboration. If you could recommend a favorite album or recording of each other's, what would it be and why?

Elvis:
That is a massive choice!

Anne Sofie: It comes and goes, what you like. I like the Bacharach one very much at the moment.

Elvis: The one you told me that surprised me was Kojak Variety.

Anne Sofie: Oh yes, where you do covers.

Elvis: I'm very fond of Handel's Marian Cantatas. And of Wings in the Night – the Swedish composers record. Those are beautiful. But it changes. The Schubert record...Speak Low... It depends on your mood.

Anne Sofie: I like very much your collaboration with the jazz guitarist.

k_schick: Hi Elvis & Ms. von Otter...I was wondering if Tom Waits had any input to your choice of his songs? And have you heard any feedback from him about them?

Anne Sofie: I think he might have been quite surprised, particularly that we found our way to "Broken Bicycles."

Elvis: One of his most beautiful compositions, but not one as readily remembered as some of his others. I know he has a copy of the record.

jenq: Anne Sofie von Otter ... was there anything about working with Elvis Costello that surprised you?

Anne Sofie:
I was pleasantly surprised that he has an answer for anything – in a good way! He could solve all my problems.

MattR29: Elvis – I speak to your fans every day, and the number one thing they all ask is about a new studio album. Do you ever feel pressure to do things your fans want to hear, or are projects like For The Stars so rewarding that it doesn't matter?

Elvis:
Well, it's a two-part question. The first part ... absolutely not. Each record is a separate adventure. You learn so much from everything. I'm very, very lucky to make music both my vocation and my living. Each thing I do is important in that moment as the last and the next. There are no side projects.

timon_of_athens2000: Anne Sofie – Is it hard working with a living composer?

Anne Sofie :
:) The answer is no. It was more fun that way. The living composer in this case is Elvis himself; so if I have things to ask and need feedback, I can ask him.

Elvis: I don't play cards as well as Schubert used to...

jenq: Anne, is there another artist who you would really like to work with?

Anne Sofie:
I've thought about that...nobody really comes to mind in the way that Elvis did. He’s such an all-round person I could work with – he's a good producer, songwriter, he can sing...I can't think of many other people who can do all that.

henry_c_myers: Do you two plan on doing any shows together?

Elvis:
Not this summer, because I'm in the studio making my next record, and you're committed quite far ahead, right?

Anne Sofie: Yes.

Elvis: But the possibility of concerts is wide-open. It's something we'd both like to do.

Anne Sofie: Perhaps in 2002.

beebedy: Would you call this work together a pure collaboration? An even trading of responsibilities?

Elvis:
I think so, yes. The songs were chosen together. I may have proposed the initial repertoire, but it quickly became a dialogue. Many of the songs were selected by Anne Sofie directly, and the songs I co-wrote with the Swedish composers certainly wouldn't have come into existence without her. It didn't involve any other parties like record companies. They were supportive but stepped back and let us develop it in our own way.

Anne Sofie: Yes, absolutely.

MattR29: Elvis, you seem to have a great relationship with Sweden. Why is that?

Elvis:
It's the first place I ever played outside of England. I did TV in Sweden shortly after my first appearance in England before I was professional. I took a day off from work and went there. So perhaps they're used to me now and I don't scare them anymore with my alarming appearance.

ululating_estelle: Ms. von Otter, what kind of vocal adjustments did you have to make to sing in a pop idiom? Was it frightening setting aside your classical vocal technique?

Anne Sofie:
No, it was pleasing. It was fun. It was what I've always wanted to do...I say that as a joke. I do enjoy singing like that. I do it around my house. It is very different, but with the help of a microphone and some good earphones, it was possible. I know I don't sound like a proper pop singer, but it was a better way of singing those songs than with a classical technique.

miss_lola25: Mr. Costello, what was it like to sing along with a mezzo-soprano?

Elvis:
I think we realized pretty early on that we couldn't be the new Nina & Frederic.

I don't know if you remember who they are. Or the new Sonny & Cher...or even Christina Aguilera and Ricky Martin...or Fred Durst. We weren't trying to sing as if we were staring into each other's eyes. We found a way to use our voices in a contrast rather than in a complimentary way because our voices are so different. We really enjoyed singing together, but used it very sparingly, and it was very effective that way. I played as a dramatic way, coming into the song as a character and we found a way that it worked.

sheinkc: Ms. von Otter and Mr. Costello – How do you think that you complement each other musically?

Anne Sofie:
In this recording, I was the one using my voice for the most part and Elvis had the ideas for the backing. We complimented each other very well because Elvis is good at listening to what I have to say!

Elvis: For me, even though I didn't propose some of the songs, I had a hand in writing some, and Anne Sofie suggested doing "This House is Empty Now." I played her a version of "Baby Plays Around," which is my wife's composition, but I didn't want her to be influenced by the fact we had written it – and it became her favorite. It's a question of trusting one another, and the strengths that you have to bring to a record like this.

Being a songwriter and know that she would sing a new song of mine is very thrilling.

Let alone hearing her sing songs that already existed.

marycciu: Now that you've "crossed over" are you thinking of continuing into something else out of your normal sphere of things?

Anne Sofie:
I'd love to do some more of this kind of music. I don't know when it will be.

But definitely the last word hasn't been said.

seventy7stitches: Mr. Costello – I've noticed that your own voice has changed and matured a lot over the course of your career. Has this influenced your semi-recent departure to lighter tones of music?

Elvis:
No. It doesn't really work like that. Anne Sofie has a choice of colors she can employ that comes from vocal training. I don't have that. But different types of songs influence the way you sing and I tend to sing with much more vocal range than I did early on and there's different effects that creates. I can still sound exactly like I did...give or take a little bit the way the shape of your teeth are or something...as I did in 1977,

if I'm singing that material. But if I'm not, I'll use a different vocal sound. But if I were to sing rock & roll songs, it would sound the same it always did. It's not a conscious change.

It's just...you use one voice in one type of song and one in another and over the years,

I've had the opportunity to sing a lot of different types of songs. The length of your teeth is actually very important when singing.

timon_of_athens2000: Anne Sofie – Are you planning more stage roles in the future? Which ones?

Anne Sofie:
I am doing Carmen next summer in England. And apart from that, I am not planning any new roles at the moment.

denvergreens: Should opera, jazz and folk be taught in public schools to keep the art forms alive with new generations?

Anne Sofie: I think generally that music is an important subject and which way you choose to teach it is less important, as long as it's a good way of teaching it.

Elvis: I think they should lock the little scamps in a dark room with loud operatic recordings until they're very frightened. That should teach them. :) No, I agree with Anne Sofie that the teaching of music seems to be next to non-existent, and when it is done well, it can be absolutely thrilling and kids of all sorts of backgrounds, including learning disabilities, can be very free. It can be liberating. Not that they're going to become pop stars, but just that they can sing for themselves. If you don't even start to teach them that, they're not going to have that ability, that joy, that freedom. It doesn't matter if you sing in tune. You can develop the skills you're born with. You should be given at least the basic skills and not have it made a joyless process which it sometimes was at my music. Thus, I never learned how to read music until about eight years ago. Now there's a liberation in knowing how to communicate with the notated form just as there was in trying to imitate pop records that I love, which is the other way to learn music.

sheinkc: Anne Sofie – on the website for the album there is a video where you said something about how Elvis thought your voice was suited well to sing sad ballads. Can you speak more about that?

Anne Sofie:
I guess Elvis should speak about that, but I think he heard me sing all kinds of music and particularly liked when I sang sad, low-key, melancholy songs.

Elvis: Yes. That was the first thing that I found the most affecting and it's a particularly transporting area of your voice, but there are many other things that I enjoy in your singing. But it was the strongest for us to explore and if you hear the record, that's the way it turned out.

MattR29: Elvis & Anne Sofie: any hints on what you'll perform on the Letterman show on Thursday?

Elvis:
"For the Stars," the title from the record. It's the least typical of the record. They're not all slow, sad songs, but there is a feeling that many of us are familiar with where you get into a blue mood and kind of enjoy it. The songs have many different stories to tell, but at the end of the record, there is one brighter song that is a love song and that ended up being the title song. It's sort of the epilogue, the finale. It happens to be the one we're performing with a fairly large group flown here from Scandinavia.

fligflom2001: Anne Sofie – any future plans to visit Cleveland to appear with our world-class orchestra?

Anne Sofie:
I wish I did, because I worked with them once and enjoyed it very, very much!

girl_lori: Have you ever considered performing with Luciano Pavarotti?

Elvis:
Well, it's not something you can consider. I've never been asked to perform with him. I really don't have a secret list of people I want to perform with. I've been very lucky in the collaborations I've enjoyed in the last ten years. For myself, on a purely personal level, this level may be the pinnacle of that endeavor and there aren't a lot of people I long to work with. I've had the pleasure of working with so many that it makes you very enthusiastic about writing purely for yourself and singing your own songs. I can't imagine where you can go on from this, other than to perform in concert. I don't have that longing to work with someone else. It doesn't work like that. I have the feeling now I should sing purely for myself. Selfish? Maybe, but that's the way I feel.

purple_prole: What kind of music did you listen to when you were growing up, Miss von Otter?

Anne Sofie:
I listened to the Beach Boys, the Beatles. All the groups. I wasn't a Rolling Stones fan. My ideal sound was a little more mellow than that. What else? Crosby, Stills & Nash.

ululating_estelle: Mr. Costello, has your interest in classical art song caused you to think differently about the way you write your own songs?

Elvis:
I think all of the songs I've heard, whether they are folk or whatever, give me ideas. That's the joy and pleasure and inspiration in every song you hear. When you find a new way to approach music in general, you can dream about using something you've learned from that experience in order to write your own composition. I try very much not to use the expression "my music" because I don't believe it belongs to anybody. It's ludicrous, but you hear it constantly among pop stars. It's like saying "I own the color blue." It's your composition, but it's made up of music. You can't say you own the alphabet because you wrote a book.

beebedy: A question to both artists – What song was the first to strike you as true in your life?

Anne Sofie :
I only recently found out what it means for a song to be true, so I can't answer that.

Elvis: It never occurred to me that songs were anything but true. The first song I ever liked before I could talk was "I've Got You Under My Skin," by Frank Sinatra. My mother tells me that. It had that great line in it: "Use your mentality, wake up to reality." It's a fairly good motto.

beyondbelief99: Anne Sofie – be honest – what do you think of the hat?

Anne Sofie: LOL!

Elvis: It's what's under it that she's worried about!

Anne Sofie: I think it goes very well with the rest of what's under it.

Anne Sofie: Thanks to everyone for showing interest. I think it's great that people do this. I've never done it and I admire the people who chatted today.

Elvis: I've really enjoyed this. There have been many, many interesting questions. I look forward to our next one – we'll go old school. Thank you.

YahooMC: Thank you both for joining us tonight... and thanks to all of you for your incredible questions this evening. Good night, everybody!

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