|The Elvis Costello
10 Questions for Elvis Costello
10 Questions for Elvis Costello
A: That's a pretty good way of putting it. The song is a panorama, really. The events are all true to life, but they're taken from several social occasions that I've walked through. Because of my age, maybe, I'm invited among certain company and I sometimes go out of curiosity where I might have once disdained to go. What's the alternative? The indie mentality, where I don't walk among those people because I'm righteous? That's dangerous. You have to go and have a look to see how human and frail they are, because then it takes away the terror. When you see these people up close, you realise how shabby and puny they are. Is the shaven-headed thug Garry Bushell? No, he's not actually. You'd be very surprised who that is. I'm not going to tell you, it'll only inflate his already inflated self-importance.
Q: You've worked a lot with classical musicians in the last 10 years. Do you have a completely different reputation among people like Anne Sofie von Otter?
A: Well, I don't suppose that any of the little nuances or petty memories
mean a damn thing to her, you know. All Anne Sofie knows is that I'm
guy who had some hit records and had a reputation before we worked together. I think the big misreading of my work with classical artists is that the ambition on my part is to be taken more seriously. I'm already taken way too seriously! It's not to make myself seem more important. It's because I genuinely like the opportunities that working with those people presents. I enjoy seeing what we can make together. And if it isn't enjoyed by somebody whose musical values are - with all due respect - restricted to a certain canon or style, that isn't my problem. I'm not forcing you to listen.
Q: There's currently another reissue campaign of your old albums, with
sleevenotes and extra tracks. Why? Are you unhappy with the way your back
catalogue has been packaged in the past?
A: My feelings about it change all the time. Somebody would no doubt remind you that I once said I was thinking of burying it all in a landfill and starting again. One of the main reasons for going ahead [with the current reissue programme] is that we did a very good job with the  reissues while we still controlled Demon, but Rykodisc got a lot of credit in America for all the work that was basically done in Brentford. Ryko never did a lick. And they really gave up on trying to present those records to the public after the three easiest-to-sell ones came out. So when I signed a deal with Rhino, we decided to do the job in America properly, and also wrest back some control over the Warner Bros records [from Spike onwards]. I got very demoralised with Warners at the time of All This Useless Beauty. I don't like making a record I care about and finding that nobody even knows it exists because people are too scared to take an advert in a paper in case they get fired for doing it.
Q: In which case you must have been outraged when Virgin recently paid Mariah Carey £20 million not to make any more albums for them?
A: Oh, I won't hear a word said against Mariah. She's on Def Jam, she's my label mate. I'm putting my name forward to produce the record. You see her sing the national anthem at the Superbowl? It was fantastic. I'd make a killer record with her. She needs to go back to her roots. Those Venezuelan-Irish roots. Make a true soul record.
Q: Do the Attractions still figure in your thoughts, or is that book closed now?
A: Two guys who played in the Attractions [Steve Nieve and Pete Thomas] are on this record and will be touring with me. There is no prospect of the four people who played on This Year's Model working together again. There were some benefits to us making two more records. The Brutal Youth tour was pretty good - until we got to Europe. We played Glastonbury and we were absolutely diabolical. We completely misread the stoned mood of the crowd and came on like Led Zeppelin. And the next tour we were tremendously erratic because the mood was so bad and the concentration so appalling. I ust couldn't tolerate it any more. I really don't want to rake over it. I don't need to write books about stuff in the past.
Q: You live in Dublin. What sort of life do you lead there?
A: We live about nine miles outside of town. In the years that we've lived there, the economy in Ireland has turned round - not taking any credit for that, like - so a lot of people are staying home or coming home. There's a spread of houses now where literally it was all fields until a couple of years ago. We've got a motorway coming right by us. I do most of my writing in Ireland, but if there is any free time we tend to go somewhere that's completely outside of music and city life: Ethiopia, the South Atlantic... It's great for clearing the mind.
Q: You produced The Pogues' Rum, Sodomy & The Lash. Do you regard Shane MacGowan as a casualty?
A: I have no opinion about that. It's entirely his business. Other people can be sanctimonious or pious about it, but the only person who knows what's right is the person himself. If he never wrote another great song he'd already have written more great songs than most people. I tried to get Rod Stewart to record The Old Main Drag and Rainy Night in Soho, when I was going to produce his record. Can you imagine Rod singing those? It would have been so brilliant. But he was too much of a fucking coward. He wanted to go and watch some racehorses. And what did he record instead? Cigarettes And Alcohol. (Sarcastically) Good choice.
Q: Are you alcohol-free these days?
A: I haven't drunk alcohol for six years. I lost the taste for it - literally overnight. It was the last day of making All This Useless Beauty. I just thought, That's it, and stopped. I used to drink a lot. I have a melancholy disposition and I think it probably wasn't helping my naturally gloomy personality. I've always been melancholy, since I was a little kid. But I don't think I was ever in trouble [with drink], certainly not the times when people thought I was. I remember being written off as an alcoholic in '84 by the music papers. "You saw me drunk a couple of times? Wow!" It's just that people never noticed before because I never showed it. I was completely drunk all the way through the early pop success, but nobody knew.