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Catching Up with Elvis Costello
Ladies' Home Journal, 2003-09-16


Catching up with Elvis Costello

Read about the new Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, then enter our sweepstakes to win tickets to his spring 2004 New York concert.

Singer, songwriter, and producer Elvis Costello was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March 2003, 26 years after the release of his first album, My Aim Is True. But he's explored many different musical genres. From his rock and roll classics, to his collaboration with Burt Bacharach, to his recently released album North, Elvis is a true musical chameleon.

We caught up with Elvis on the road during his current U.S. tour.

LHJ.com: I know both of your parents were involved in the music business. Is that what first got you interested/involved in music? When did you begin writing your own songs? And who were your greatest musical influences when you were growing up?

Elvis: Actually, I've been trying to escape the world of music since childhood but have only kept at it because of an overpowering sense of family duty, being one of the third in four generations of musicians. I started writing songs at 13 years old, although, oddly enough, none of those compositions ever troubled the hit parade. I think the defining musical influence of my childhood was the Bugs Bunny cartoon, "What's Opera, Doc?" I still cannot listen to Wagner with a straight face.

LHJ.com: What are the origins of Elvis Costello, the name?

Elvis: I can now reveal that all the previous explanations regarding my name are false. I won the name in a raffle. I'd been hoping for something a little more regal, even though I understand that Duke Ellington was not actually a real

[Editor's note: "Costello" is Elvis' paternal great-grandmother's maiden name and "Elvis" is, of course, an homage to The King. Elvis Costello's birth name is Declan MacManus.]

LHJ.com: You released When I Was Cruel in 2002 -- a straight-ahead rock record -- after having released several other more eclectic projects. Now you're following
that up with North in 2003. What is it like switching between genres?

Elvis: I imagine it is rather like changing from tweed to P.V.C. in the middle of a summer heat wave.

LHJ.com: You've recorded albums that can be classified as punk, rock, soul, and country. Do you find yourself gravitating to one genre over another or will you continue to try different genres?

Elvis: I find that my skin gets very sticky after detaching all those labels. Please advise?

LHJ.com: You've collaborated with so many great musicians over the years. Who was the most enjoyable and fulfilling to work with? Is there anyone you haven't worked with yet who you'd love to get in the studio with? With whom would you most like to sing a duet?

Elvis: Johnny Hallyday, the French Elvis. I appeared on his live radio show in Paris during the 1980s and was asked to mime my number. I regard this as the pinnacle of my pop career.

I must confess that the studio I work in is becoming immensely crowded and we have been thinking of chasing some people out of there. To be serious for a moment, I sang with Emmylou Harris on stage during the "Concert for a Landmine Free World" tour and would repeat the experience in the studio in a heartbeat, as she is probably the world's greatest duet singer and a wonderful writer.

LHJ.com: What was it like working with Burt Bacharach?

Elvis: Musically, it was a fantastic experience. However, in social situations I found that I suffered from acute invisibility whenever I stood next to Burt in the company of women. He is just too damn handsome, which I suppose is not
exactly a fault.

LHJ.com: Your cameo with Burt in Austin Powers 2 was delightful. What kind of reaction did you receive from that appearance?

Elvis: You can imagine how hard and tedious it was to watch take after take of Mike Myers flinging Heather Graham around in that tiny minidress. As to the reaction to my performance, I did briefly fear that I might be pursued by people attempting to determine the authenticity of the Tom-Jones-style sideburns that I sported in the movie.

LHJ.com: What is the significance of the title North?

Elvis: It is the opposite of the old expression "That's gone South," meaning that something is broken or useless.

LHJ.com: The fact that you play piano almost exclusively on North is a real departure for you. When you write songs, are you writing for a particular instrument and was it with yourself in mind as the performer that you wrote this album?

Elvis: My piano playing is only "exclusive" to two tracks on North; all the other songs feature Steve Nieve. However, I did compose all the songs at the piano and realized shortly afterwards that I would probably be the most appropriate
singer for these compositions.

LHJ.com: You recently appeared on TV's Frasier and guest-hosted for Letterman on the Late Show. How did you like those experiences and do you plan on doing more TV?

Elvis: I've enjoyed my occasional appearances on television, other than strictly as a musical performer. They are the maraschino cherries on the cake of life. It is more a question of whether TV is going to do anymore of me.

LHJ.com: It's been more than 25 years since you released My Aim is True. Do you have a single favorite album or song that you'd most want to be remembered by?

Elvis: If I live as long as I hope, people will probably be heartily sick of me. Consequently, I am not expecting to be remembered at all.

LHJ.com: Are there any activities while on the road that keep you balanced when not performing? Are you a reader and, if so, what are some contemporary books you would recommend? Likewise with film -- do you the get chance to see new films, or do you prefer older classics?

Elvis: The next time you experience the temptation to read contemporary novels, just read a couple of spiteful reviews of another writer's work, written by an author and you will probably be cleansed of the urge to spend any time with these people. On the other hand, I've thought for some time that there should be a cable channel that continuously broadcasts the films of the Marx Brothers or Preston Sturges, so they would always be there when you need them.


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