Reader's Digest (Australia), August 2022

From The Elvis Costello Wiki
Jump to: navigation, search
... Bibliography ...

Reader's Digest
  • 2022 August

Australia publications



Online publications


A Fresh Frame

Stewart Bell

Elvis Costello has been delivering hits for decades. Stewart Bell discovers the pandemic has had a big impact on his latest music.

Elvis Costello is like your friendly, local mailman because he reliably delivers. Incredibly, the singer-songwriter has done this for more than four decades with a passion and intensity behind the microphone. It's the sort of energy we all need more of in the current times.

For 67-year-old Costello, his latest album, The Boy Named If, feels like a visceral journey that captures the beauty and pain of life. It's the sort of rocking thought-provoking listen that can only come with depth of experience.

And perhaps, a pandemic, with its need for a new approach.

"We were more fortunate than many other people [during enforced lockdowns] in that our jobs could be pursued as best we could from where we were [living]," says Costello, exclusively to Reader's Digest from his home in Vancouver, Canada.

Alone with his guitar and outside distractions largely gone, Costello found he was able to write his songs quickly. "The words are dragged out of you by the rhythm of the guitar playing," he explains. "Then you stop and put some little refinements on that so we can turn corners in the songs. Ideas about how to arrange them start to come very easily from that".

Once the songs were 'out', Costello and his band - The Imposters - got on and worked like most of us did during the pandemic, remotely, with surprising results.

"Pete Thomas, our drummer, was saying to me, 'I play every single day, and I'm ready to go whenever we get the call'. And I sent him a song that I was working on and he sent it back with the drums on it. And I thought Wow, that actually sounds like we could be in the room together."

The process continue with each member. Bass player Davey Faragher and keyboardist Steve Nieve added their pieces to the scores. "And before we all knew it we had just made this record - it didn't take long."

Trust and longevity as a group helped make the time just another extraordinary shared experience. "If you have worked with two people on and off for 45 years and the other for 20, then you've seen a fair amount of life together" he says.

"We have shared misfortune, sadness, children growing up, in some cases, grandchildren being born and the departure of parents - all of the things that mark life out."

This familiarity stretches into Costello's songwriting. If he writes a tune with lyrics portraying different times in his life, the others understand the motive and context.

"The music is there to animate those words - take them out into the air, make them vivid."

Although The Boy Named If is his 32nd studio album, Costello's enthusiasm for the process remains infectious. But, you can tell he and The Imposters had fun making it because it rolls with such beautiful energy and swagger. It's a feast for the ears; gritty and bass-driven, accented by cracking drums and keyboard and doused in Costello's unmistakable, still-punchy vocals.

Incredibly, the album sounds as if it was played live, in one take, with the band all in one room. But, while the pandemic prevented this, there were some interesting upsides.

"When you think about recording sessions, you're often in different boxes inside the studio," Costello explains.

"And you don't always limit yourself to the first take of the song with everybody playing. You quite often add other elements.

"So it's not so different. It's just a frame of mind. I teased the guys that I think it's to do with the fact we don't have to look at each other. So, we'll have to play wearing blindfolds when we go back into the studio next time and see what happens."

However, while the album The Boy Named If is a collection of 13 snapshots - tracks that take you on an emotional roller coaster from childhood through to adulthood and beyond - Costello essentially says don't overanalyse it.

"Oh, I think the songs always come first," he says. "Obviously there has to be an idea for a song and then the way in which they belong together becomes apparent, because you've found a common approach to sound or it's in this mood," he says.

But Costello doesn't like his work to be labelled as a single form of music. "I don't really go for the word genre - I think that's a word that's overused," he says. "It started creeping into writing about music at the time when people were trying to over-intellectualise things. It's a pretentious word to say there are differences in approach to how you play music."

He strongly objects to music critics placing defined borders between musical styles. Because in his eyes, one music approach can naturally 'fold into' another. "That's how rock 'n' roll started," he says. "It was a madcap collision between a couple of existing forms of music. And no one went 'Oh, that Elvis Presley, he's playing that rhythm and blues genre along with that hillbilly genre. This'll never work out!' Nobody thought like that. There were thinking That sounds great! Let's put it out! And people went crazy!"

Costello’s eclectic music earned acclaim with hits in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Worldwide hits like ‘Watching The Detectives’ (1977), ‘Pump It Up’ (1978), ‘(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding’ (1979) and ‘Oliver’s Army’ (1980) ensured his place in the new wave movement.

Over the decades, he has also collaborated with artists like Paul McCartney, Tony Bennett, Burt Bacharach, Johnny Cash and Brian Eno. Costello loves to tour, but it’s not so clear-cut in a COVID-normal world. “Things are on a different timetable in different parts of the world,” he says. Still, they managed to perform 22 dates last year in the US, and this year the band has been pumping it up in the UK, Europe and Canada on the Boy Named If & Other Favourites Tour – with shows scheduled later this month for the US.

Away from the punishing, bright limelight, Costello lives in Vancouver with his wife, jazz pianist Diana Krall, and their twin sons, Dexter and Frank, now 15. His great passion, in addition to music, is soccer – and he is a Liverpool fanatic. So ask him what he’s watching, and it’s that. “One of the great conveniences of streaming for me is football, being able to see Liverpool beat Arsenal,” he says. Beyond that, Costello is discovering a whole new world of content and art via Dexter and Frank.

“I’ve been caught up with the Marvel Universe these past two years, so that’s been good,” he says. “But one of my lads really likes anime, and I discovered a whole world of art there that I wasn’t ware of. So it’s great when one of your children says, ‘OK, let’s watch this’ – and it’s not something that I would choose. It drew me right in, and it made me want to see more of those sorts of films. I thought that the layers and the creative use of animation and the storytelling was on another level to things done by Disney, where the parables are pretty simple.”

That’s Elvis Costello, always appreciating the art for what it is – thought-provoking. No doubt it’ll inspire him and The Imposters for the next album.

Tags: The Boy Named IfThe ImpostersPete ThomasDavey FaragherSteve NieveElvis PresleyWatching The DetectivesPump It Up(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding?Oliver's ArmyPaul McCartneyTony BennettBurt BacharachJohnny CashBrian EnoHello Again TourThe Boy Named If & Other Favourites TourDiana Krall


Reader's Digest (Australia), August 2022

Stewart Bell interviews Elvis Costello following the release of The Boy Named If.


2022-08-00 Reader's Digest page 28.jpg 2022-08-00 Reader's Digest page 29.jpg 2022-08-00 Reader's Digest page 30.jpg 2022-08-00 Reader's Digest page 31.jpg 2022-08-00 Reader's Digest page 32.jpg 2022-08-00 Reader's Digest page 33.jpg
Page scans.


Back to top

External links