|The Elvis Costello
Transcript of interview from 2003-09-16tv: Channel 5, Terry
& Gaby Show - Solo & interview
Terry & Gaby Show
J= Jimmy Tarbuck
G: our next guest is the winner of two Ivor Novello awards, a Grammy, the Nordoff-Robbins Silver Clef award, and today the winner of the Gabby Roslin award for the guest that's got me most excited since our little show hit the rocks, that's absolutely true, he's released over 300 songs and written over a dozen albums. Please welcome, the excellently..the wonderful, I can't say that word, the wonderful Elvis Costello!
J: (on rapturous applause) I think they like you.
EC: It's a very nice welcome, thankyou. You're getting tongue-tied there Gabby.
G: I know, I couldn't read the words Chris Evans had written for me. Now, you've got a new album called North, tell us about the title.
EC: I have. You know when they say something's 'gone south'... and it means it's broken. It's the opposite of that. It's the opposite of that, so it's in the general direction of North.
G: Ok. So tell us about the album.
EC: It's an album of 11 ballads, 11 love songs, it starts out in a kind of bleak place, little by little love comes into the picture, you're a bit bewildered at first, you're a bit scared. You deny it. Little by little you accept it, and then celebrate it.
G: So when you set about writing an album like that, did you know where you were gonna go with it?
EC: No, sometimes when you songs come into your head, and you put them aside for a while and have to wait for them to finish themselves, these songs were waking me up, tapping me on the shoulder, demanding my attention. I was on the road with the Imposters, my rock 'n' roll band, and had these songs which were really really quiet, really quiet songs, really gentle, and not really like anything else I've written.
I've written a lot of songs at the piano over the years, but these are very gentle, in I use my voice as I speak now, my speaking voice. I wrote them at the piano, sometimes you have the choice to make them louder, sing out, electric instruments and everything. But you lose a little something sometimes, sometimes the tenderness goes away, making them into something else. I thought, 'I'm just gonna record them like I hear them' and some people will be a little surprised by them'. I've done a lot of ballads, I've actually had a lot of success with ballads over the years. I never really truthfully think about success when I'm making a record, I never think about whether it's gonna be in the charts or anything, I just try and make the best record I can.
G: So where does 'Still', your single, where does that come in the story?
EC: That, I suppose you might say, is a song of celebration, so it's on the upside of the record. Side 2 as we used to say.
G: Let's have a look at that.
'STILL' CLIP PLAYS.
J: Lovely. He said a great thing before, I said 'How do you write these songs?', you know trying to get into it, he said 'You've got to be in love to write songs like that'...that's lovely.
EC: Well I think there's a lot of love in these songs, and I don't mind saying so. I think, and if that's a little hard for people to take who've heard me sing with a lot more anger and bitterness, there's still a lot of things in the world that you should be disgusted with, and there'll be another time to sing those. Just 'cos I sing quietly know, doesn't mean tomorrow I won't be picking up the electric guitar. Two days time I'm gone a play a rock 'n' roll show in California, two days after that I'm gonna start a world tour with Steve Nieve playing these songs. I'm a little bit greedy, I wanna be able to do all the types of music that I love. I don't want to have to make a choice.
J: Do you prefer the stadium shows, or the intimate, you know...
EC: Like here?
J: If you like, or a small hall.
EC: I don't really like the big stadium shows, occasionally I get asked to do festivals, and you make a different show for that. But really my preference is a theatre, an old fashioned theatre. I don't like modern venues with no sides to the stage, I like the shape of it, and I like a balcony.
J: Somewhere like the Palladium. You'd be great on there.
EC: Somewhere like the Palladium yeah. I played the Palladium once, I was thinking of you when I did it.
J: Thankyou (laughs)
SHOW GOES ON WITH OTHER SEGMENTS FOR A BIT...EC HAS SPORADIC COMMENTS DURING THE OTHER SEGMENTS..
J: Now Mr Costello, we're gonna talk about modern art, do you have any?
EC: I don't. Other than myself.
G: What do you think of it?
EC: Oh I..you know, I love to see each new surprise of art, I don't think we should make up our mind either way.
J: What about an unmade bed? (IN REFERENCE TO TRACY EMIN)
EC: An unmade bed could be very beautiful.
J: Yes, I've got four of them, should be worth a fortune, shouldn't I!
SHOW A CLIP OF ELDERLY PEOPLE MISUNDERSTANDING DAMIAN HURST, USUAL GUFF, 'IT'S JUST ANIMAL'S HEADS', 'IT COULD BE ANYTHING', 'IT HAS TO BE EXPLAINED', BLAH BLAH BLAH...
G: A lot of reaction from around the audience, and a reaction from you as well.
EC: Well, you know Rembrandt was an artist, and he painted carcasses, so you don't necessarily know why he did it, he's not here to say.
NEXT SEGMENT SHOWS AN OLD LADIES DREAM COME TRUE BY PLAYING AN ORGAN...
G: Have you ever played an organ?
EC: No, Steve Nieve who plays piano with me, actually played the Albert Hall organ once. That was pretty exciting, we fired it up, got the man with the key, switched it on and fired it up. We sang a song with it, backed by the organ.
G: On your new album, you do solo stuff, but also you play with a massive 48 piece orchestra. Which do you prefer?
EC: Well, depending on the song. Some of the songs we did with just piano, and maybe just a little bit of drums. I wrote the orchestrations for this record myself, it's the first record I've written all the orchestrations for myself, and even waved my arms around and allegedly conducted the orchestra. Tried not to confuse them, sometimes you have to say 'come in here..give it a lot of strength', that's what it is. Not that technical.
G: You've had hits in over 4 decades. Amazing. Has the industry changed very dramatically for you, do you think?
EC: For me, no. I mean I'm just doing what I do and I've found a place in each time in my career, but of course it's changed radically, and not always for the best. Every time everyone says 'It's all terrible now' you can look back to a year in the past, the most famous example is in my opinion the best single ever released, when we still had 45 singles, the Beatle's Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever was kept off the number one spot by Engelbert Humperdink's Please Release Me. So when people say 'it was all better in the past', you have to remind them of that. I apologise to any Engelbert fans!
G: What about people today, like your brothers have got a band called Riverway, and they're just starting out Riverway, so do you think it'll be tougher for them in the industry, to break in?
EC: Well because they're not blonde and eighteen and do dance routines, it is perhaps. You know they're young men in their twenties and thirties, and they've got beautiful songs, and they're just doing what they believe in, and they've got to stick with that same as anybody who's got to stick with what they believe in. It's not everybody's fortune...I'm fortunate in that my vocation has become my livelihood, and if I were to start now I don't know whether I'd even have the fortune to get even as far as making a record, truthfully.
G: We keep asking everybody that comes on in the music business about Pop Idol and Fame Academy..
G: Oh really.
EC: I feel they're really dreadful yeah, they trick out of people a sort of longing for fame, it is called Fame Academy not Music Academy. Although some of them can ably sing, it's always in imitation, they're not asking them to find their own voice, they're asking them to imitate someone else. And the dreadfulness of the people who judge it, who between them haven't got an ounce of talent in most cases (audience applauds)...and as most compliments these days are paid with sneers, so the dreadfulness of the way they break people down. The greed of the machine of a programme like that, to pick up a kid with a dream, suck them into it, tell them they're gonna be something and then even if they have limited success, it's gonna last one season then they're gonna end up in pantomime in Bridlington you know? That's about the height of the ambition of a show like that, but the pop music that it promotes, the ambition of it musically is to be a ringtone. That's novel, it's nothing, it isn't something to dream about.
J: I must pay you a compliment, that I remember. It was Jonny Vaughn's wedding, you were unannounced, and to start the dancing with Jon Vaughn and his wife, he just came on and sang 'She', and it was just a delightful moment. It'll be a memory for them forever, it was terrific.
G: Talking of weddings, am I right in thinking you're getting married too? When is it? Don't give us the exact date..
EC: State secret.
J: I'll come out of a cupboard and I'll sing.
EC: You had a few hits didn't you in the sixties...
J: In the 60's yeah, one or two old ones...'Father get your nails cut you're tearing mother's sheets'.
EC: It's you and Joe Brown isn't it...'dad's gone down the dog track mother's playing bingo'...(laughter and applause)
AFTER A FEW ADS..
G: Mr Costello, you've won many, many awards. Which is the one you're most proud of?
EC: I'd say, I got one called the Ascap founder's award, which is a songwriters and publishers foundation in America, which was founded by Gerschwin and Irving Berlin among others, so that one. I've never really had many hits, I've just written a lot of songs, I've been keeping at it till I win them over. The fact that it put me in the company of Lieber and Stoller, and Bacharach and David, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder, that's something you'd have to say 'Have to take this one graciously'. Some of the others are just a thing for the industry to make themselves look important, and they need your name to justify turning up and eating a big dinner.
G: Well I'm sure you deserved it. What do you think of the Mercury prize this year, everyone was very surprised, it was last week wasn't it.
EC: I think that's bit of an inventive one to be truthful. I never pay much attention, I think it's every year they pull something out of... the only good thing is that it's invariably someone unexpected, so it shines a light on something not heard. Sometimes it's a name that's central and everyone's talking about it, so thats good.
NEXT SEGMENT AN INDIAN LADY MAKES A BAKED BEAN BALTI...YES THAT'S RIGHT...BAKED BEAN BALTI, A TRIUMPH FOR ALLITERATION.
G: Are you gonna try this?
EC: I have to say, I am about to leave the country, and I have to be on an aeroplane for eight hours.
J: Come on...it'll get you there a lot quicker.
EC: In the words of Colonel Bloodknot, 'No more curried eggs for me'.
G: Come one.
EC: I will taste just a bean.
G: Elvis, what do you think?
EC: It's the nicest baked beans I've ever had.
END SEGMENT OF THE SHOW, EC AT THE PIANO.
J: We've got hundreds of emails for you. You've written hundreds of songs, how do you remember them?
EC: Well sometimes I don't remember them. I don't know how I remember them, I have a funny memory that way.
J: Are there any you don't like, that's from Dave in Watford.
EC: Yeah, there's a couple I'd like to forget. Not too many though. Out of 300 odd.