Las Vegas Sun, April 20, 2007

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Las Vegas Sun

April 20, 2007

Q+A: Elvis Costello

Singer talks about shrugging off labels as his music evolves

By Jerry Fink Las Vegas Sun

Rolling Stone magazine lists Elvis Costello as one of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. This week a few lucky fans were able to see the King of America in a laid-back setting at the Palms, sponsored by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Miller Genuine Draft beer.

Costello began his career in the mid-1970s in England. At first, he was classified as a punk rock, new-wave sort of guy. Ultimately, the 52-year-old musician has defied all labels. In 2003 he married his third wife, jazz pianist and vocalist Diana Krall. In December the couple had twin boys.

Before Tuesday's late-night interview-performance, Costello talked about family, music, his collaboration with Burt Bacharach and other topics.

Q: How is it, at age 52, to be the father of baby twins?

It's great at any age.

Tell us about your involvement in this Hall of Fame project.

I knew Warren (Zanes) from way back. They did these events in Cleveland, events to celebrate musicians. That's what the institution does. If you want to go see Vick Flick's guitar - he was the guy who played the James Bond theme - they've got it at the museum. That's where you have to go if you want to see the guitar.

Any concerns about the interview format?

I trust Warren, and I can have fun with this. And what better place to do it than Vegas?

What's the purpose?

To answer questions from an informed point of view. (Interviewees) might say something truthful or revealing or, heaven forbid , entertaining. The answer doesn't have to be serious. I hope the evening won't be a somber one.

I don't see any harm can come of it. It's not going to tell you everything. It's not going to ruin you to tell you what the songs are really about. If you, as a listener, know something about how the song came into being it might increase your appreciation of the song in some way, or change your appreciation of the song.

How has your music developed, evolved since the '70s when you were a punk rocker?

I'm trying to grow more fingers.

Your music was more complex than most punk rockers of that era.

That's like going from A to D. Not a big difference. I never considered myself to be a punk rocker. Actually, I've been writing most of my career. There are times when some things are more complicated than others. When the opportunity presents itself, when someone asks you to write something for a different circumstance, you might use different tools. When you need to pick up something small you don't use gloves, you use tweezers. That's the way it is with music. You use the tools that get the job done.

You will be discussing the tools of your craft at the Hall of Fame event?

The discussion about the craft - when you say that it sounds like it's going to be technical and not very thrilling.

(Some would-be musicians) just simply have the impulse to write a song or imagine themselves being like somebody else (another artist) or the equal of something or someone that went before (and they're looking for something that) will help make them that way. But what they're missing is the thing that made those musicians they love great is that they didn't always make things obvious. They usually had some idea about music that was different to everybody else, and the idea probably changed over time. The Beatles I admired, the Bob Dylans, Marvin Gayes. They covered a lot of ground. They didn't stand still. Some of them went even further afield with experimental music. But it's just all music to me. I don't think I'm putting on a different set of clothes. I'm still essentially me.

When did you first come to Vegas?

I came here in 1980 the first time, for a visit. I don't gamble, but I don't say that very loud here or they take away the key to your nice suite and give you a broom closet. I find Vegas fascinating. In 1980 it was sort of the end of the old Vegas, just before the change of the city. A lot of the very old places I read about were still there. They were going through a period of having country music here. It was a big draw. Waylon Jennings was playing one end of the Strip and Willie Nelson on the other. Now they have clowns performing everywhere.

Everything is changing, including the music business. Is that good or bad?

It might be changing. It's a different shape than we are accustomed to. My father was named after Ronald Colman. Ronald Colman was a big-time silent actor. He was also a big-time talkie actor as well. But not everybody made that transition. The same might be said of the recording industry.

You collaborated with Burt Bacharach. That sounds a little odd to me.

I haven't worked with him in a while. But Burt Bacharach is one of the greatest R&B composers of all times. That's the kind of music I like, R&B.

And now jazz?

And jazz. I like jazz pianists quite a lot.

Have you ever performed a concert with your wife?

I've got up and performed with her on a couple of occasions. We usually keep it for a special event. We did a benefit concert for a hospital in Vancouver. We could be like Steve and Eydie. Nothing against them. But my wife and I have separate careers, and we play together sometimes. Or we could be Captain & Tennille. I'd be Tennille.

What music do you and your wife listen to at home at night?

At the moment, 1950s English children's songs.

Jerry Fink can be reached at 259-4058 or at