Elvis Costello: “I had half a bottle of Pernod”
Posted last Friday The Boy Named If –along with The Imposters-, album number 32 in the catalog of the Elvis Costello, the ideal excuse to talk again with one of the most prolific British musicians and also with better answers.
In 1977, you said that your main motivations were “revenge and guilt”. Is it still like this?
I’d had half a bottle of Pernod when I said it. I thought it sounded good, the journalist thought the same and now there are people who quote it to me as if it were a page from the catechism. It was just a vehement moment, you wanted to sound dramatic, right? But if you think about it, it doesn’t make sense. It is a very ridiculous phrase, yes.
How did you learn to go beyond the public figure?
Making more than 30 albums. Each one has a different personality. And that allows you to unravel the mythical aspect that the first albums had, because if you listen to the songs of those first albums, you will find many more nuances than what appears at first glance. And, to a certain extent, if you stay with my face and my voice, things sound more aggressive because I am a “freak of nature”. I have a gap between my teeth. In my mouth, the sound explodes as if it is always threatening or insulting [risas].
You mentioned that your new album, The Boy Named Ifdeals with the maturation process from childhood to adulthood. What led you to think of that?
Not being able to travel and not knowing when I would be back on stage gave me time to think. I started looking at some songs that I had, and they were… I hate to say “philosophical”, but yes, they were philosophical, because they had to do with looking at life at different times: childhood, when you leave behind innocence, confusion of being a young adult, and so you change your perspective…
But what do you think made those themes emerge in your writing?
I have twins who are turning fifteen next week and an older son who is in his forties, so I have experience with these transitions. I lost my father 10 years ago and my mother early last year. Those things make you think back to yourself when you were a kid.
What do you still like about doing rock?
I don’t really like rock. I like rock & roll, which is not the same thing. If we leave out the “roll” part, the fun is lost. And when people ask me “what’s your favorite record?” I usually don’t mention any electric guitar records from the last 30 years, because the rhythm is so square. I like things that float a little more or have swing, be it rock & roll or jazz, or the rhythm of a Hank Williams, for example.
last year came out Spanish Model, with Spanish-speaking singers doing versions of your album This Year’s Model. Did that give you a new perspective on those songs?
I was surprised to discover that several of the songs have much better melodies if sung by someone with a voice obviously more beautiful than mine.
In 1977 you were banned forever from Saturday Night Live, when you surprisingly changed the song and started playing “Radio, Radio”, in the middle of the show. What do you think of that now?
Before anyone knew it, we were back in England and recording the missing parts of Model. We forgot about the United States, what interested us was the Top of the Pops in England. Honestly, we never thought about NBC again… It was clear that we were not going to do well on TV. But you know what? Honestly, I never cared.