Interview with Elvis Costello
New Musical Express,1985-05-18
- Mat Snow
A MAN CALLED UNCLE
What is the Elvis Seal Of Approval worth? Mat Snow asks for a few words of wisdom from pop's Uncle Brian. Pic Anton Corbijn.
LAST WEEK we thrilled to Elvis Costello in his IMP Records boss hat you know, the straw ice-cream salesman number. Today we find him in a more relaxed mood, padding around in the comfy old carpet slippers of pop's grouchy but lovable Uncle Brian, as he is fondly known in our last remaining haunts of the soulful semiquaver and passion-filled G-string.
Do you relish your avuncular role?
Like, your bestowal of approval, the Elvis Seal of Good Housekeeping, on such as Aztec Camera and Prefab Sprout?
"My impression of Prefab Sprout was with three gigs, and it was as if I'd produced their record or something. They're responsible for their own failings, they're their own band and nothing to do with me. I thought their first record had some really good things on it, the first four singles were brilliant; I think the new record's a load of nonsense, and I feel the same way about Aztec Camera. I hated seeing my name linked with all these people. It's just lazy journalism."
As for the second Pogues LP . . .
"Conspicuously, I'm not producing Aztec Camera or Prefab Sprout but I am producing this album. Deduce what you want from that. And I believe there's a version of 'A Pair Of Brown Eyes' being recorded on the other side of the Atlantic by my brother Coward . , ," (aka lanky Texan songsmith T-Bone Burnett, live collaborator with the solo Costello late last year as The Coward Brothers).
"He's producing a Peter Case album, who is in The Plimsouls, who at least has found his voice."
Meanwhile The Coward Brothers' first single is released in June or July.
"It's a cultural clash between bluegrass and Italian Communism. It's like The Louvin Brothers backed by The Pretty Things."
Is the US Trad-Rock Renaissance a genuine event or a figment of the music papers' imagination?
"Ask the bands sitting where they are, and I think they'll tell you it's a figment of the imagination, because they're still struggling to get a gig. You try and find The Beat Farmers in Los Angeles and you'll find them on a college station struggling to get on the radio, and they're being lauded here as the Next Big Thing.
"A lot of the bands are really good, but the danger is that's a blanket acceptance thing. Once you get a movement, it's here-we-go-again, the Two-Tone thing, the Mod revival. One band might be good and the other half dozen a load of rubbish. I can name half a dozen bands in America that I think are really great, which I can't in England. So that means to me that American music is more interesting at the moment, simply because they're the records I choose to play. But that doesn't mean a blanket acceptance of everything American.
"What I really hate is the mindless racist attitude of the English audience to American acts simply because they're American. It's beneath people to take exception to people simply because you don't like the politics of the country. It's ignorant. It's parallel to the very thing people are supposed to be railing at.
"You've got to be careful of this blanket acceptance of American music. It brings out this whole new brand of conservatism with a small 'c' because it's so traditional and everything. But the alternative to that is this pseudo- sensationalism that you have with Prince and Frankie Goes To Hollywood.
"I think Bruce Springsteen's a very sincere person who's had his life stolen from him by success. He's not apparently affected by it in the ordinary sense, but his amount of moves has been limited, which is a shame. But he still writes the odd good song.
How about Britain's own Bruce: is Billy Bragg opening up our ears to a more dissenting rock'n'roll?
"Well, I dunno. There are some people listening to him and there are other people talking at the back. I wish him all the very best. I think he's sincere and I really like his stuff. I did a show with him at the Logan Hall and it was extraordinary, the feeling he had."
Is Elvis' prolific diversification in the last six months a consequence of a fallow period as a writer and performer?
"I just decided it'd been seven years without any longer than a month's break and two years with five days' holiday. I thought it was a good time to stop, because I was getting bored. Not even bored, really. Getting a sort of maniacal nervous energy. I was working on complete nervous energy for the last couple of months last year. I was still enjoying it but I don't know how much the rest of the band were. I was playing longer and longer shows, it was a sort of hysterical energy you get when you're tired. I like being hysterical sometimes."
'Goodbye Cruel World' reconsidered?
"I think it's the worst record of the best songs that I've written. I'm not saying that the songs are better than any other I've written. It's the worst realised.
"If an explanation doesn't illuminate beyond the action, then there's no point to it. And equally, the action is pointless if you have to explain. There's always a dilemma, particularly in what I do, in choosing the thin line between explaining everything and robbing people of their imaginative process, and leaving it open to interpretation and things being lost. My reasoning behind writing Iyrics which sometimes people say are obscure is they're deliberately supposed to stimulate. Maybe one of the failures of the last record was that there were very good stories in some of the songs which the music didn't illuminate, so for me to illuminate them now is pointless.
Very succinct. Any last words?
Nice one, Uncle Bri. Keep taking the pills.