Elvis Costello is as unpredictable as life is, and he likes it that way.
"I never plan a next move," says Costello. "I don't have that ambition to say, 'I have to do this that way this time.' You'll be disappointed. I just find myself doing things. You just follow it through the best way you can and get the most out of it and have the most fun you can have doing it."
Costello is currently on tour with the Police and will perform May 27 and 28 at the Hollywood Bowl.. His new album, Momofuku, named for the creator of Ramen Noodles because the album came together almost instantly, was released on vinyl and digital-download only in April and on CD earlier this month. He hadn't wanted to release it on CD, feeling that CDs are a dying media form and vinyl is the way "the Supreme Being intended" recorded music to be delivered.
Over lunch in Knoxville, Tenn., Costello was a far cry from the angry young man he was once reported to be.
He jokes easily: "I have the blood pressure of an 18-year-old. Unfortunately, it's an 18-year-old Labrador," he says just before ordering a salad and a baked potato.
Costello is gracious with fans wanting autographs and photos with him, seems optimistic about the future of music, talks of being happily married (to singer/pianist Diana Krall) and the father of year-old twin sons (and an adult son from a previous marriage) and how much fun he has working on a new TV show for the Sundance Channel. He also says that before recording Momofuku, he really didn't have plans to ever record again.
"I sort of got myself in the frame of mind that it wasn't any fun anymore because the business was so screwed up that it sucked out all the things I liked about it," says Costello. "That ended the minute you handed the record in. But I really like playing so I thought, 'Let's just do that.' Then I thought, 'No, that's crazy. Change the business if you don't like the way it is. Don't give up on it now.' "
The world became aware of Elvis Costello in 1977 when his album, My Aim Is True, marked the arrival of a literate and edgy new British singer-songwriter. He was lumped with the punk movement and later New Wave, but Costello continually confounded expectations. He recorded an R&B album, a country disc, collaborated with pop master Burt Bacharach and later released music in the jazz and classical categories. Revered as one of music's greats, he has also been criticized for his eclecticism.
"People just get way too serious about everything," says Costello. "They overanalyze it and try to solve this big jigsaw puzzle and get all indignant in some of the write-ups: 'Only do what I want and everything will be all right.' Well, obviously, I'm not going to do that! I'm doing this over here and it may not be to your taste and you may not like it, but I'm doing it so I can find out about it and have those experiences.
"This juvenile idea of 'our music and their music' is ludicrous. There is no 'our music and their music.' There's just 'music.' If you don't understand it, at least have the honesty to admit you just don't or that it just isn't for you. The biggest misconception is that you're doing it to look clever. It isn't exactly difficult to be the cleverest person in the room in show business. The last thing I would do is to make myself look smarter than the next person. I'm just not interested in being smart. I'm interested in feeling things."
Costello recently filmed four episodes of a new talk/music show, Spectacle: Elvis Costello With, which will premiere on the Sundance Channel in November. The first guests are Tony Bennett, Lou Reed, Elton John (also the show's co-producer) and President Bill Clinton.
Costello says he has no idea what the future will hold, but he isn't worried.
"I think the record business has gotten a bit overheated in the past few years. It started to resemble the blockbuster-movie business - how many it's sold in the past week. Tell me how many it's sold five years from now and tell me how smart you were. Most of the people making the judgments about what to do and the way things are in the business are people who have been there five minutes and won't be there in five minutes. I've always taken this as a vocation and taken the position that I'm going to be here a long time."