Q, January 1995

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Q magazine
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UK & Ireland magazines


Elvis Costello — The Q 100 interview

Phil Sutcliffe

How the devil are you?

I'm having a ball.

Being back with The Attractions, have you rediscovered the lad in yourself?

Not really. Everyone's a bit crankier in the best sense of the word. I was going to call the album Crank at one point, because that's probably what people think I am.

What do you think of when you think of Q?

It can be a bit stuffy. But its main service is to alert you that, Hey. that's out. And to find out where the last living member of Fat Mattress is — you think. Oh, that's where that bloke I lent £10 to in 1977 got to.

And where are you now?

At home, near Dublin.

What is ordinary life at home for you?

Well, I write most of the time. The good thing about living outside the town is that I can make as much noise as I want at any time of the day, if that's what I need, or I can have quiet. Even so, on tour I'm still writing songs crouched in cupboards in the middle of the night. I'm quite adept at writing things down in the dark. You can torture yourself with the thought of something crucial being lost forever. I mean, I've walked into a shop and bought a Dictaphone because I had something in my head and I knew I wouldn't remember it all the way home. There was muzak playing and I stood there with my fingers in my ears singing my bit of melody to myself while they put the batteries in. Or I've stood in one of those open phone boxes singing to my own answering machine. People think it's glamorous, songwriting, hut this is what it's really about, walking around singing to yourself and everyone thinking you're a loony.

Have you ever had writer's block?

I never say, Hey, I've got a block. That's asking for trouble. You can trick yourself into writing in any number of ways. Have you seen that Tony Hancock film. The Rebel? He's this Great new painter and when he's asked how he mixes his paints, he says, "in a bucket with a big stick". The critics all laugh at him, but, of course, it's true. When I start writing, if I haven't caught some sort of rhythm from somewhere and written a whole lyric straight off, I buy a huge sketch pad and throw all the phrases scattered from my notebooks and jotted on the backs of envelopes down on the page and see if some sort of link or pattern will emerge.

How has your life changed in the last eight years?

I got married again. I've been in Dublin for five or six years, adjusting to that. I've worked with a tremendous number of different people, all sorts of adventures. The way I work became much less "here's an album. there's a tour". I got out of that cul-de-sac.

What's your view of England now?

It feels like the forces of darkness are on shakier ground. Some of them should definitely go to jail; the rest of them, well, it'll probably all work out and they'll die screaming in agony. We can't ask for more than that, can we? (Laughs)

If you ruled the world...

It'd be really fucked!

Do you drive?

Yeah. In fact, I learnt in the last eight years. Watch out!

So what kind of bloke are you at the wheel of a car?

I ended up against a telegraph pole once because a guy came round a corner on the wrong side of the road. After that happens you tend to be a bit more cautious and I use the horn when I'm going round a blind bend like they do on the Continent rather than suddenly finding a truck full of milk churns thundering down at me. And I'm useless at parking, I want one of those magic cars you park sideways.

What books have you enjoyed recently?

I almost never finish books. The last one I read was Peter Guralnick's book on Elvis Presley. I do read a lot about music, biographies, historical stuff. But I never read new novels. I'm just not interested in them. From the reviews they sound ghastly. I take recommendations like the Booker Prize shortlist as an insult. All art competitions are an insult. That's why I'll never go to a music awards ceremony.

What do you think when you see old pictures of yourself?

Ugly git. But I'm not bothered about getting older. I quite like it. I was 40 a couple of months ago and I didn't get the slightest bit down until about two in the afternoon when I got fed up with everybody ringing me up to ask what I was doing to celebrate.

Do Oasis lift your spirits?

I quite like the sound of them, yeah. They make me laugh and I don't mean that in a bad way.

What's the present situation in regard to the beard?

I haven't noticed any new developments. I know from the letters page that Q readers are particularly sensitive about these matters. I really don't understand it. The beard was directly connected to my mind in some people's perception, as if it was growing inside my head.

What is the prince of all cheeses?

There's one in Ireland called Milleens which is great because it smells like old shoes.

How much does a pint of milk cost?

I don't drink milk. I drink black coffee and black tea. We don't have it in the house. Otherwise it would be a good question.

Could you give us a personal grooming tip?

Keeping nose-hair clippers about your person at all times is very important. You have to be aware of that. It's so easy to offend, particularly when abroad. To keep up with my grooming, I carry a Swiss army knife so my nails are always in immaculate condition and I can get a stone out of a horse's hoof as well.

What are you doing for Christmas?

I'm going away to the Caribbean. It will be the first proper two-week holiday I've had for about 16 years.

Tell us a joke.

God, really? I'm absolutely useless at telling jokes. I've written songs about how I can't tell jokes.

Oh go on.

The only one that ever comes to mind is ... I'm sorry, it's the old Roy Rogers joke, Roy Rogers is riding the range and the posse heads him off at the pass and the sheriff says. Roy, had news, the Indians have attacked your ranch. They've burnt it to the ground and they've stolen all your cattle. And Roy Rogers says, That's really terrible, I've got to get back! And the sheriff says, Roy, before you go, they stole all your horses too. Roy says, I've got to get back! I've got to get back! And the sheriff says, Roy, before you go, they took all your children away with them. Roy says, Oh my god. I've got to get back! I've got to get back! And the sheriff says, Roy, before you go, the chief took your wife to be his squaw. Roy says, I've got to get back! I've got to get back! And the sheriff says, Roy, before you go, there's just one more thing. Roy says, What's that? And the sheriff says, Roy, sing us a song, will you?

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Q, No. 100, January 1995

Phil Sutcliffe interviews Elvis Costello.


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Page scan.

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Page scan.

Cover, contents page and inside cover.
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