Buzz Magazine, March 2020

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Buzz Magazine

UK & Ireland magazines


Elvis Costello Q&A

Carl Marsh

One of Britain's songwriting greats, a graduate of 1970s punk and latterday auteur, Elvis Costello talks to Carl Marsh ahead of a Cardiff show with his band The Imposters.

Back in 2005, after Glastonbury, you said that you didn't want to play England or Wales again, as you thought the British public had lost touch with your music. How are you approaching that now?

That was a good lesson on why you should never answer a question directly off the stage! I'd just opened a tour with Bob Dylan, playing in a big arena in South Carolina. I had such an unbelievable reaction, even though I was just playing on my own. I came off and went, "Well, that maybe explains a little bit of a difference." Then of course you've got the interview — I don't have control of what they did to it! Next thing you know, it's in the tabloids and it's like "TRAITOR COSTELLO!" But I never said any such thing.

I haven't lived in Britain for 30 years. So, whether I feel entirely at home or not, you can take what you want out of the fact that I've not lived there. I lived in Ireland for many years and North America for the last 15. That doesn't mean I have any superior or negative feelings. I still travel home all the time to visit my mother, or my eldest son who lives in London. Although the family I have right now are the other side of the world.

Do you think you will ever come back to live here in the future?

I mean, it isn't my decision to make alone, is it? As a family, we have to think if it's a great idea. My wife [Diana Krall] loves to be in Britain, but she doesn't get to tour around Wales and Scotland, let alone Ireland, as much as I do.

I was brought up with your music in the 1970s. Would you say you're more of a storyteller than a songwriter?

How do you write a song? If they knew how to do that, they'd be doing it all the time. People assume I'm writing everyday but I'm not. I really don't have a sense of how I define myself. If you ask me what I do, I could have a big grand idea and say I'm a writer. It doesn't say "writer" on my passport, it says "musician." Musician contains songwriter, narrator and storyteller. Musician will cover it.

Do you write songs differently than you did 30 or 40 years ago?

Yeah, you can't get the quill pens now! [laughs] Sometimes I'll get an instrument that I don't play very well and fool around on it. Other times, you can pick a guitar up and it can turn into something very familiar You can start strumming, one chord will lead to this chord, and it's predictable. The piano is a bit more like a voyage out to sea. Recently I went back to some of my notebooks and looked at the way the lines were developed in some quite famous songs. They could've gone a completely different way if I'd written that. I didn't remember that until I saw them again.

Now you type something directly into a computer, which is convenient because you can communicate it to someone else really quickly. When you do it with a pen, pencil or a sharp stick, you're doing something that is going over it. In the period where I had the most success, I'd write the lyrics out over and over again in the book. I suppose I was testing their consistency.

Do you still feel like you have something to prove in the music industry?

I never think about the music industry. I'm not in a league like a footballer I don't think about how I have to win the cup. I feel very fortunate that my vocation is also my occupation. The biggest drawback to having a long career is the sense of entitlement to the audience's attention. You don't demand it. I try to stay out of the business pages. If I can still pay the rent and keep the lights on, I've made my contribution.

Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff Bay, Mon 16 Mar. Tickets: £38.50-£82.50. Info: 029 2063 6464 /

Tags: Wales Millennium CentreCardiffWalesThe ImpostersGlastonburyBob DylanSouth CarolinaIrelandDiana KrallScotland


Buzz, March 2020

Carl Marsh interviews EC ahead of his planned concert with The Imposters, Monday, March 16, 2020, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, Wales. The show was ultimately postponed.


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Page scan.

Photo by Ray Di Pietro.
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Cover and page scan.
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