“John Lewis got in touch and said 'Beatles, Michel Gondry', and we said 'Yes please!'...” hmv.com talks to Elbow's Guy Garvey
2017 is turning out to be a bit of a bumper year for Elbow fans. Having already released their seventh album Little Fictions in February and delivered this year's 'surprise' set at Glastonbury to celebrate a decade of the Park Stage, the last few weeks have seen the band announce the release of their first 'Best Of' compilation, as well as soundtracking this year's John Lewis Christmas advert with a cover of a Beatles' classic, 'Golden Slumbers'.
With their new compilation landing on the shelves in stores today, we caught up with frontman Guy Garvey to talk about the process of selecting tracks for their first Best Of, how they got involved with the John Lewis ad, and how their eighth album is shaping up...
You're releasing your first 'Best Of' compilation this week – why did you decide to put one out this year? It's quite often something bands do when there's a gap between albums, but you've already released Little Fictions in 2017...
“Well, the reason we've not done it sooner is because we were worried that it looks like we're winding down, which we're definitely not. It was a way of leading new fans to our work, we're really proud of all of our records and the first one, Asleep in the Back, is 17 years old now. It was our manager's idea, he was watching Foo Fighters at Glastonbury having never been a fan before, and he was like: 'I don't know what album to get'. So he automatically went for the 'Best Of', and he phoned me and said because of the way people consume music now, it was something we should consider.
“The way that streaming works is that the last thing you released is the first thing that appears when people type your name in, so we thought we should do a 'Best Of' as a directory to our other albums for new listeners, and we were due to do that next Spring, but when we were offered the John Lewis ad we realised that was another way to lead people to our music. So it's all about fresh ears.”
How did you go about selecting which tracks to include? Did the whole band get involved with that?
“We did. Four-way Skype conversation after four-way Skype conversation! I mean, it gets dirty. Even when we're considering a setlist, we fall out like crazy, so you can imagine the Best Of conversation was very frustrating, very heated. But it's good that we're all passionate about what we do, we have different opinions on what's the best stuff. And I mean, literally, four different opinions! So yeah, it's just about cooled off now, that conversation!”
It must have been tricky to condense seven albums' worth of material down to 14 songs (for the standard version) – were there any contentious omissions?
“Any contentious ones? Yeah, all the songs! Listen, it's like every tune had a champion, every tune we've ever released. The four of us are satisfied with the two disc version, but we all feel cheated by the one CD! I just think the really lovely thing about this is that Mark, particularly, is really great at ordering things in a way that gives a flow to it, you know? And it works as an album in its own right. For us, it's just a collection of beautiful memories, and hearing my voice get older and younger by the tune is really quite amusing as well! But yeah, in the end we ended up with something that we're really proud of as a record in its own right.”
You've had a bit more room to manoeuvre on the deluxe version, but the running order is still the same on the first disc – did you consider changing it, or was it approached as two separate sets?
“Two separate sets. Or, if you like, a Side A and a Side B. Again, the second disc works as an album in its own right, and we're an album band, so it's important, that.”
You've also included your cover of 'Golden Slumbers', which featured on this year's John Lewis Christmas ad – how did you get involved with that?
“John Lewis got in touch and said 'Beatles, Michel Gondry', and we said 'Yes please!' It's such a beautiful song, I don't ever remember not knowing that song, it's such a part of my background. My mum said she was having a particularly hard time when that record came out, and she said 'it saved my life, it really did'. So to hear us covering it means an awful lot to my mum, you know? It really moved her.
“It's just such a privilege, we really didn't bring anything to the table, the song is absolutely a masterpiece and I thought the advert was brilliant, I really, really liked it.”
You've got quite a bit of touring booked for next year already, are you thinking about the next album yet?
“We are, I'd say we're about a third of the way through writing it. We don't stand still for too long, because if you stop writing you have to remember how to write again when you start! So we just ploughed on through. It's really exciting, the stuff we're doing. It feels like we're delving a bit deeper, and at the same time it feels a bit more musically ambitious so far.”
Do you write on the road, or do you need to lock yourselves away to work on something?
“To a degree, but not really on this particular tour. We were working quite intensely leading up to going on this tour, so I gave it a break. I guess on the plane on the way home is when I started writing again, and I'm going to the studio this afternoon to try out some ideas.
“The lovely thing is, in my position, is that I've got ten pieces of music that the lads and I have put together on my laptop, and I can work on a plane. It's a really exciting thing, writing. It always has been, for me, it's my favourite part of the job.”
You've mentioned in an interview recently the idea of doing an EP as a prequel to Little Fictions, is that still the case?
“I'm not sure actually, we started developing it and I think it might be an album, haha! So yeah, I'm not sure that's gonna happen, we started writing it and we thought: 'Hang on a minute, is this a bigger piece of work?' So I think it might end up being an album.”