Select, September 1995

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"Facial hairiness comes to us all…"

Clark Collis

Elvis Costello on martinis, C&W and Paul Weller's moustache

Your first country album, Almost Blue, met with all the enthusiasm of a barbecue set in hell. Weren't you concerned about donning the rhinestone Stetson again for King Of America?

Not really. I don't think you can worry about what the more narrow-minded people may think. I don't think I even connected the two records, because with Almost Blue the songs were pure country ballads written by other people; whereas my songs on King Of America only used that as a starting point. There's a line on "Indoor Fireworks" — You were the spice, the gin in my vermouth. Well, there aren't a lot of cowboys that drink martinis.

Half the album features Elvis Presley's old backing band. Wasn't that a bit unnerving?

Well, they are one of the great bands. A lot of these people I only knew from reading their names on record jackets as a teenager. But the producer, T-Bone Burnett, knew that they weren't living on a cloud, that you could get them out playing. We drew up a list of names and he'd go, 'Well, we need James Burton on that song.' And I said, 'You're out of your mind, we'll never get James Burton.' And he said, 'Yeah, you just call him up.' But it was terrifying at first.

Did they reminisce about The Singing Hamburger?

Whenever you work with anyone that's worked with someone really famous you try not to bug them about it. But stories did come out. They remembered the daft things — when Elvis got them dressing up in different outfits just to jazz up the rehearsals. So they'd all be in police outfits. Or Superfly outfits. Or he'd have all his cars paraded by and they'd just sit around digging them. But if I'd grown up as poor as him, I think I'd want to act like a potentate once in a while.

Explain that album cover…

I just thought it looked funny. We tried on all these crowns which was great fun. I had this Macbeth crown. And there were some Oriental crowns. But in the end I settled for the British crown.

You do look like the world's most miserable man.

Oh, it's a great expression. I did the session with Terence Donovan, who was one of those big '60s photographers. Actually it was difficult to keep a straight face because he had the best stories. He'd say things like, 'You don't want to worry about what they write in the papers — when I was married to Jacqueline Bisset…' And he'd just go off on some wild '60s story.

It was also the first public appearance of The Beard.

Yeah, but that's a different beard you see. People get confused. You know, the beard has fallen into the mists of beardness. It seemed to fit that picture. And then I shaved it off and grew back the really enormous beard. The freak-out beard.

That was horrible.

Yeah, but it did the job. It shook up a lot of people. Facial hairiness comes to all of us. I ran into Paul Weller the other day and he was sporting a rather worrying moustache — a sort of Stevie Marriott kind of number. And I said, 'Don't forget what you said to me at Live Aid.' Because I remember distinctly walking in and Weller saying, 'You look ten years older with that beard.' And now I'm clean-shaven. And he's got a daft moustache.


Select, September 1995

Clark Collis interviews Elvis Costello and reviews the Ryko / Demon reissue of King Of America.


1995-09-00 Select page 105 clipping.jpg

King Of America

The Costello Show

Clark Collis


Yes, it's a country record. Sure it contains a truly miserable version of The Animals' "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood." And, OK, the cover photo ushered in that darkest of eras: The Beard Years. But despite all this, there is little doubt that King Of America is Elvis Costello's "bona fide" masterpiece.

Recorded in 1985 with a roster of musicians that included the core of Elvis Presley's regular backing band, the album quite simply found Costello hitting his songwriting stride in a manner rarely seen before and hardly seen since. Almost entirely gone were complex word games that had frequently made Elvis appear more like a walking thesaurus than a songwriter and, in their place, on tracks like "Indoor Fireworks" or "Jack Of All Parades," came a raw-edged vitriol that even now puts the listener within splattering distance of the singer's bile.

So stripped-down are some of the tracks, particularly the hangover tribute "Big Light," that they seem almost childish in their simplicity. Not that an infant could have consumed the quantity of alcohol which, as Costello explains in the liner notes, was required to produce the brilliantly ragged performances featured here. Thankfully, whenever Costello's guitar-picking (credited to the Little Hands Of Concrete) failed him, legendary Prez sideman James Burton was more than happy to pick up the slack. The result — augmented here by give extra tracks and a storming collection of songs that still features some of the finest, if frequently nastiest, country-rock to be heard since Gram Parsons went to the great mescal mountain in the sky.

Soundbite: "Like a rhinestone beer boy."

1995-09-00 Select cover.jpg 1995-09-00 Select page 105.jpg
Cover and page scan.


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