Tropical Depression, December 1984

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Tropical Depression
  • 1984 December

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Elvis Costello interview

Tropical Depression

After many hours of determination and perseverance, I was finally granted a short audience with "The King" (I hate that cliche). I found the self-proclaimed "Mouth Almighty" to be nothing like his crass image. He was actually soft-spoken and mannerly, and in the few short minutes I stole from his hurried schedule, quite sincere. Being an avid Elvis fan, I found it difficult to choose just a few questions when I could think of a million things I wanted to ask him. But for each of my questions, he chose his answers thoughtfully, emanating an essence of dedication and honesty that comes from within, and spoken by a true genius.

How long have you been writing songs?

Since I was about 16.

At what point in your career did you yourself feel you'd achieved success?

Hmmm, I don't think overall it's a question of success, I think it's so much individual successes, you know with each song, if you achieve what you set out to write in a song, then that's a success. I don't think that really qualifies in the way of how many records we sell. Obviously it's pleasing to get a record in the charts, you know 'cause that means it means something to a lot of people, but equally, some of the records I think have been our best have been the ones that have been overlooked.

Like which ones?

Nearly all of them!! (laughter).

What's your favorite?

When I'm in different moods I like different ones, I really like Get Happy and Imperial Bedroom and I like the new one. ("Only Flame In Town") I like the new one a lot more than I like Punch the Clock at this stage, beyond the recording. Sometimes you start to have doubts about certain things about a record after you've made it, for instance I went off the album Trust quite alarmingly. Although now I recognize there's quite a lot of good stuff on it, at one point I couldn't bear to be in room with it. Armed Forces I can't bear to be in the room with it. And that's our biggest selling album and we don't play anything off it, so it's probably a little curious to some people 'cause they normally expect you just to play the most successful tune, but I really feel we do a better show by (performing) some songs we really like.

You obviously have to please yourself also on stage.

It's not a question of that, it's a question of whether you can sing them convincingly, you know. That's why there are many other songs we don't do.

What do you hate most about being famous?

Well, again I never really notice it all that much. It just depends on where I go, you know. I never was a great one for "hanging out" as they say, so it doesn't really bother me. Some people feel very limited by the invasion of privacy everywhere they go. As long as people don't come and start hanging outside my house or something or really doing something that's overstepping the mark. I can go to shows and movies and walk down the street without getting into too much trouble or getting molested or anything like that. Generally people who stop you and speak to you, who recognize you are generally very polite, and I'm old enough and big enough to deal with them if they're not.

Are you still producing the Bluebells?

No, I only did a few tracks with them, I didn't really see eye to eye with their record company about the direction they were going in. They finally achieved what they set out to do, which is have some hits, and they've had two hits in England.

Did you enjoy producing them?

Oh, yea, I did, they're good friends of mine, good lads. But they had a lot of confidence knocked out of them by circumstances. For a little while they were touted as being the "New Big Thing," which they perhaps really weren't up to, and before they had a chance to really gain their confidence they were already being told they were washed up before they'd ever done anything, which is very bad. My opinion is that their record company pushed them in too many different directions and had them working with too many different producers. They've now achieved success working with Colin Fairley who co-produced some tracks with me. I think there is something to be said for the original idea, they've perhaps made a tighter sound now, they've improved technically as well. Colin has a lot easier job, they've become a lot more confident again.

How involved are you in the making of your videos?

Well obviously I have a veto on anything being too stupid. I know how to write songs and I know how to sing to a point, I know how to play certain instruments to a limited degree, I can arrange and I can produce up to a point so I can have a say in how the record sounds, I can express an informed opinion about what I think a track is doing, even if somebody else is producing the record. But with video, I don't know anything about filmmaking, I only know roughly what I want to... I don't really think it's a very expressive medium, therefore it's a necessary evil as far as I'm concerned. You know, if you don't make a video then somebody else is gonna make one which takes its place and it's rather odd that you're absent from that slot, so we just try to make them as good as possible. I don't take them as seriously as some others seem to take them, you know, but at the same time I want to make them good. We've made two very contrasting videos for the new album, one which is very lighthearted which is the one being featured on TV at the moment and the other one which is a lot more emotional which I think is quite an achievement to actually get something which is quite emotional, not a sort of contrived emotional impact. Those people that have been touched by it have been so genuinely touched, it's not some sort of theatrical thing, it's genuine. You'll have to see it and judge for yourself. That I'm very pleased with, we've got a contrast.

So you don't really like doing the videos, you feel you just have to?

No, I like working with the people, the last two directors I've worked with have been very talented. In the past we've worked with a variety of people, some of them were very good, some of them I didn't think did a very good job. Some of our earlier videos were really good. We did a good one last year which not many people saw, "Let Them All Talk" which was just good sort of aesthetically, it wasn't a very complicated idea. These last two I'm very pleased with, I like the one that's showing at the moment, I think it's funny and that's the main thing, the song is quite lighthearted.

Lighthearted as opposed to lightheaded. It's with a light heart rather than a heavy heart. That's not to say that it hasn't got a strong feeling behind it, but not everything must be intense and depressing.

How long are you going to be on tour for?

I think we've got 26 dates.

Will Nick Lowe be touring with you throughout the country?

Yes, we're old friends for years.

He produced many of your albums.

Yes, five.

When you're at home, what do you listen to?

Well it varies, I try to keep an open mind about music, I don't like to, at one time I didn't listen to jazz, now I listen to jazz and get so much from it. These people have a lot of feeling in their music. I used to listen to a lot of country, I don't listen to it quite so much now.

Are you out of that phase?

No, not really, I still have my favorite records. At one time I became a bit obsessed with it. I listen to a lot of soul music. I listen to some new bands, I like R.E.M. a lot. At the moment all my favorite bands are all American which is unusual. I like Los Lobos and I like Jason and the Scorchers. I like the Blasters, I like X. Really, with the English bands I find it hard to find any more that I like that much. I'd like to see what Aztec Camera is like 'cause I really liked their first album, they toured with us. I haven't really heard anything in England that's impressed me all that much recently.

I'd like to say Happy Birthday, you're birthday is this month, right?

Oh, yes, it is, yea.

You forgot? You're turning 30, congratulations! And thanks!

Tags: Mouth AlmightyGet Happy!!Imperial BedroomThe Only Flame In TownPunch The ClockTrustArmed ForcesThe BluebellsColin FairleyI Wanna Be LovedLet Them All Talk1984 US TourNick LoweR.E.M.Los LobosThe BlastersX (band)Aztec Camera


Tropical Depression, No. 4, December 1984

Tropical Depression interviews Elvis Costello.


1984-12-00 Tropical Depression pages 14-15.jpg
Page scans.

Photographer unknown.
1984-12-00 Tropical Depression photo 01 px.jpg

1984-12-00 Tropical Depression cover.jpg


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