Time Out Singapore: 05.03.11
Armed with an encyclopaedic musical knowledge, a true wordsmith’s love of language and 35 years’ performing experience, Elvis Costello waxes lyrical on a life in music prior to his MBS show on 7 March
If you’re not busy at the same time, do you and the lady wife [Diana Krall] travel together round the world on tours?
We travel so much that it is the greatest luxury to be at home.
You’ll be the first artist to perform at Marina Bay Sands Grand Theater. According to one weblink I saw, you will ‘gratify audiences from all around the world’. That’ll be nice. Have you seen Marina Bay Sands yet? It’s pretty big. There’s a casino too, if you’re feeling lucky after the gig.
‘Gratifying’ people is what I was made to do. I haven’t seen either the theatre or location but I won’t be a patron of the gambling room. I will wager but never bet odds.
So your Asian tour is stopping off in Hong Kong, Japan and Korea. Is there an Asian city you prefer performing in above all others?
I do not have a favourite. Obviously, I have visited Japan for more than 30 years, while I am making my Korean debut, so comparisons are not really possible.
A lot of people over here know you for your rendition of ‘She’ (it comes up a lot on TV trailers, local radio and love-song compilations) but some are probably a bit young to know your older stuff. For someone who’s written so many originals, does it get on your nerves that one of your most famous tracks is a cover?
There is an old saying: ‘You don’t buy a house if you only like the door.’ I would be surprised if people come to a concert only to hear one song. I’ve had a number of successes [with] other people’s songs, so it would be foolish of me to resent them.What reason do people have for attending the show? They will hear songs from every year and even from the future.
The last album National Ransom was another collaboration with T-Bone Burnett, who produced some of your older records and like yourself is highly prolific and diverse, having worked with a wide range of artists including Counting Crows and Gillian Welch. What is the special quality he brings that makes you two jell?
We have had a great time together. He has never needed to lie about [his] height. He knows the words and which ones to say among musicians. I am in complete agreement with [his] dislike of mp3 and other brittle, insubstantial methods of insulting your ears and brain.
You’ve revived your Spinning Songbook gimmick for the upcoming American tour with The Imposters, and the Singapore gig will be a greatest-hits set too. Is that big wheel coming out over here too?
‘The Spectacular Spinning Songbook’ is not a ‘gimmick’ but a highly sophisticated system of avoiding the obvious and a finely tuned piece of showbusiness machinery that is still under construction at a secret location, so will not appear in Singapore on this occasion.
You’ve been pursuing a country tip of late, but is there any particular period of your career you tend to avoid when you’re playing live – albums where you’re perhaps not so proud of the results, collaborations that didn’t work as well as you’d hoped?
I tend to avoid my infant years.
We’ve got our Mosaic Music Festival just after your gig – the big festival of the year with artists like Aphex Twin, Saint Etienne, The National, Jamie Lidell, Joanna Newsom and The Bad Plus all playing. You’re on an Americana tip at the moment but are known for your eclectic tastes – do any of those names appeal? Which current artists do you prefer?
You like the word ‘tip’, don’t you? Did you win it in a raffle? Seriously though, I very much enjoyed Joanna Newsom’s last release. She is a tremendous artist. Anyone who confidently issues a triple album in these days gets my vote.
I loved your TV show Spectacle: Elvis Costello with…. My favourite episodes were the ones with Bruce Springsteen, Jenny Lewis/She & Him/Jakob Dylan, and Rufus Wainwright with his (sadly now deceased) mother Kate McGarrigle. Who was your favourite guest?
Those were all fine shows. I loved singing [The Miracles’] ‘You Really Got a Hold on Me’ with Smokey Robinson, doing crazy background vocals with Kris Kristofferson for Norah Jones’ setting of an unpublished Hank Williams lyric, twanging the electric guitar on Neko Case’s ‘Prison Girls’ and sharing the last verse of [The Band’s] ‘The Weight’ with Ray LaMontagne in a one-off band with Levon Helm on drums. That was an unbeatable evening. The Imposters gave terrific backing to Bono and The Edge, and Bruce Springsteen could not have been more generous with his time. I think many people’s favourite single performance was that of Jesse Winchester. It completely stopped the show and brought a tear to the eye of several people present.
Will that show be re-commissioned?
Not at the present time.
What do your kids like to listen to – do you play them your own favourite music at home, or do they make their own discoveries?
They like all kinds of music: Nat ‘King’ Cole, The Beatles and Geeta Dutt are current favourites. They are just discovering that sound also comes from those flat, round, black discs of vinyl and shellac. ‘When My Sugar Walks Down the Street’ conjures a completely different picture in the mind of a four-year-old.
The recent album of yours I enjoyed the most was the one you did with Burt Bacharach, Painted from Memory. Is there any chance you two might work together again?
Burt and I wrote two further songs over the last couple of years. I would be happy to work with him any time.
If push came to shove, would you be able to choose your favourite from your own songs that you’ve recorded since 1977?
Like anybody, a favourite song would depend on the mood of the day. I always like the answer that is attributed to Duke Ellington to the question, ‘What is your favourite composition?’. He would apparently reply, ‘My next.’
I last saw you at the Glastonbury Festival in 1995 with The Attractions. You played for about three hours and totally rocked. ‘Pump It Up’ was amazing. Thanks for that.
Three hours? Really? I’m glad you enjoyed the show. See you again soon.