Interview after concert on 1999-04-26: Milano, Teatro Nuovo
LibertÓ, 1999-06-15
- Eleonora Bagarotti



My music is for peace


Interview with the musician Elvis Costello after the recent concert in Milan, Italy

The English musician Elvis Costello, after his collaboration with the mythical American composer Burt Bacharach for the masterpiece "Painted from Memory", is on tour with the pianist Steve Nieve and he has performed in Italy. After the cities of Bologna and Cremona [last year], this time the select cities are Milan and Rome. In Milan, after the concert at the "Teatri Nuovo" in P.zza San Babila (April 26th) Costello and I have met behind the scenes and here is the interview.


Elvis Costello, alias Declan MacManus, London ’54, proposed an incredible concert in which technical perfection and passion were on equal footing. "Peace, Love and Understanding", that is to say – through the music – "the world needs some, this time…"

Smiling, chubby, Costello has two sparkling eyes that scrutinize from behind the lenses of the mythical, dark glasses (he was one of the first to wear them). I present myself and, as since the interviews with "big" are always characterized by a strong, initial emotion to me, I try to be ironical.

You have eaten an enormous ice cream before the concert. That’s why your voice is so beautiful?

The ice cream – above all the Italian one – it helps. Only the voice, however, not the line.

But the music comes before all.

Yes, we can sacrifice…

During this second series of concerts with Steve Nieve (the pianist of "The Attractions") you have sung all the songs of "Painted from Memory". How did you collaborate with Bacharach?

The first time we have casually met was in Los Angeles, during the ’80, while we recorded in the same studios. Although I was described a "post-punk musician", I’ve always admired Burt. The occasion to collaborate was a song for the soundtrack of the film "Grace of My Heart", directed by Alison Anders. When we’ve recorded "God Give Me Strength", well, we were dying to do something else. We have written together "Painted from Memory" and we have recorded it during 18 months because Bacharach is always very busy. Furthermore, we’re similar composer: we both compose with the piano, despite the fact that I’m a guitar player, and we both place the music before the words.

You constantly evolved, as musician, during 21 years of career. Did you weigh up successes and failures?

Of course. Beyond the success of "Painted from Memory", the twentieth anniversary of my career has struck during the tour with Steve Nieve.

Looking back, what gives me satisfaction is the fact that the music always represented an endless continent to me, with many, mysterious earths to explore. Sometimes the critics have not understood but it doesn’t matter because the result is that I never get tired. Otherwise, if I had done the same thing over and over again, [wouldn’t] my audience get tired too?

What about your professional future?

A "developing" future, as ever.

The repertoire of the concert, tonight in Milan – beyond your classicals "Alison", "Veronica", "Red Shoes" and "Watching the Detectives" – you have sung a song about the family and serenity of life together, written with your wife and a second, new song more melancholy, written with Steve Nieve. Could we consider them an advance of your next record?

My next record will be with Steve and this is a novelty because, although we’ve played together for a long time, we now compose together too. Steve is a very talented musician and he’s the musical director of this tour. We have written lots of songs and shortly we’ll work to the new album. Steve is a pinch of Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, Russ Conway. I don’t like to speak about my private life but I have a talented and sensitive wife.

You have collaborated with famous musicians, spacing [spanning] each musical kind: Paul McCartney, Tony Bennett, Johnny Cash, Chat Baker, Roy Orbison, Dusty Springfield. Does anybody of them had a particulary influence on you?

I have taken and - I hope – given something during each collaboration. I knew and I’ve already listened to the music of the artist I have worked with. Jazz, rock, country or classical. It doesn’t make a difference to me. The world is big and I write for the people who know that and want to feel it.

Personally, I think your texts are very intense and refined.

I always write and compose what "I feel". Sometimes the critics have misunderstood that kind of "final-without-end" in my songs but I deliberately do it because each one, with sensibility, could "feel" the conclusion. I think I have a sensitive audience. I am very lucky.

Eleonora Bagarotti