hmv.com talks to... - October 21, 2021

"I love new experiences, and frankly lockdown gave me time to take stock..." - hmv.com talks to Elton John
by James
James
by James hmv London, Bio "Like the legend of the Phoenix, I've just eaten a whole packet of chocolate HobNobs..." Editor, hmv.com

"I love new experiences, and frankly lockdown gave me time to take stock..." - hmv.com talks to Elton John

What do you do when your 300-date, multi-continent world tour is interrupted by a global pandemic? Take a break and discover the joys of baking sourdough bread? Perhaps, but not if you're Sir Elton John. 

When the Rocket Man's epic retirement tour Farewell Yellow Brick Road had to be paused as countries around the world went into lockdown, instead of taking the opportunity to enjoy a little downtime Sir Elton set about recording a few tracks with other artists and friends. Before long he found himself in the middle of making what becomes the fifth collaboration album he's released over the course of an incredible career that had also produced 30 studio albums, 10 soundtracks and enough hits to shift more than 300 million albums worldwide.

Recorded over the course of several months at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, new album The Lockdown Sessions arrives in stores this week and sees Sir Elton collaborate with a wide range of artists that includes Damon Albarn, Nicki Minaj, Stevie Wonder, Lis Nas X, Stevie Nicks and the late Glen Campbell, to name just a few.

Ahead of its release, we spoke to the man himself about how the album came about, the challenges and joys of working in new ways, and why he's itching to get back out on the road one last time...

 

How did the idea for this Lockdown Sessions album come about in the first place?

"At the start of March 2020, we’d just finished the Australian leg of my Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour. We flew to Los Angeles, and then Covid hit and everything came to a sudden halt. During those first few weeks, I met Charlie Puth completely at random in a restaurant, and it turned out we lived four doors down from each other. As we suddenly both had time on our hands we decided to get together and write a song. That was ‘After All’. The following day I did my first Zoom session with Surfaces, and ‘Learn To Fly’ came from that.

"Back in England, I was asked to collaborate with Gorillaz. All of a sudden, it was like I was a session musician all over again, and I was getting asked to do all these collaborations with artists‐ some I knew personally, some I'd supported on my Rocket Hour show, some of whom I was just a fan of. From nothing, it suddenly took on a life of its own."

 

Were all the guests on the album recorded remotely, or were you able to do some of them in person in a studio?

"Apart from Charlie Puth, at the very beginning of lockdown, they were all remote and over Zoom. With Gorillaz, I was in London, Damon was in Devon. Surfaces were in Texas, I was in LA.

"With Rina Sawayama we quarantined for weeks before going into the studio and still recorded in separate rooms. 'It’s A Sin' was slightly different as we did that under strict social distancing circumstances for the BRITs, the vocals on the record are from that performance."

 

What kind other of challenges did you face while trying to make a record with so many collaborators under those conditions?

"It was a little strange to get used to at first, especially as I hadn't worked with a lot of collaborators before. I like to be decisive and forthright in the studio, and that can be harder to gauge remotely. Luckily the experience was great across the board and everyone I worked with was fantastic. They all knew what they wanted and were good at telling me if I was ‘over‐Eltonising’ anything."

 

Despite the challenges, did you enjoy making a record in that way?

"Absolutely. I love new experiences, and frankly, lockdown gave me time to take stock and reassess a lot of things. I got time to stay in one place, which I've never really done before. I got time to focus on my family. And if we hadn’t all been forced into this situation at the same time, I'd never have had the opportunity to work with all these great artists on this album. It gave us all a sense of connection at a time when maybe that was lacking in a lot of ways. Having said that, I can’t wait to get back to working face‐to‐face with people again."

 

The album covers a lot of ground in terms of different styles and you’ve talked about how it pushed you out of your comfort zone – were there any songs that were particularly tricky to get right?

"Each one was completely unique in the process and what it taught me. I’ve enjoyed every single minute and I’ve learned that there’s always something you can learn. Every single artist taught me something: it teaches you to do what they want you to do."

 

There are some incredible guests on the album, had you worked with Stevie Wonder before?

"I’ve been friends with Stevie Wonder for 50 years, I did 'That’s What Friends Are For' with Stevie, Dionne, and Gladys Knight. And he played harmonica on ‘I Guess That’s Why They Call it The Blues’, but this was our first proper duet and I'm so delighted it happened. His vocal performance is astonishing, the youthful energy in his voice is unbelievable by any standards ‐ he sounds like a 17-year-old again. On ‘Finish Line’ he produced something very special that Stevie Wonder fans haven’t heard for a long time. He’s a true genius."

 

How did the collaborations with Lil Nas X and with Nicki Minaj come about?

"Lil Nas X co‐presented my iHeart Award last year and I met him for the first time then; I said when I got the award how great I thought he was. It’s so brave to be an out, black, gay performer, he just doesn’t care and I love that. He’s an amazing visual artist as well as an amazing musician, and I think he’s only just started. He’s going to be around for a very long time."

 

There’s also a track on the album featuring the late, great Glen Campbell – how was that put together, now that he’s sadly no longer with us?

"I got a phone call from Glen Campbell’s label about the last song he wrote “I’m Not Gonna Miss You.” which was about his battle with Alzheimer’s. I thought it was one of the most beautiful songs that I ever heard, it blew me away. They asked if I would sing it at Abbey Road. I was honoured and jumped at the chance. The Lockdown Sessions is so fun, but to end it on such a poignant note added an extra dimension."

 

If all goes to plan, you’ll be resuming your Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour fairly soon – is there anywhere, in particular, you’re looking forward to playing?

"I can’t wait to get back out on the road so I’d say New Orleans, which will be my first show back. It’s been such a long pause due to COVID and then this extra wait due to my hip operation. My fans have been incredible, patient and so supportive. I really want to repay all the support and love they’ve given me."

 

Will any of the songs from the new album make the setlist, do you think? Will any of the guests feature on the tour?

"It would be hard, without the collaborators, to do the songs justice. We’ll have to see if the stars align for any of the shows, never say never!"

 

 

The Lockdown Sessions is available in hmv stores from Friday Octover 22 - you can also find it here in our online store

 

Want to win tickets to see Elton John live on tour in 2023? Well you can, here's how!

The Lockdown Sessions
The Lockdown Sessions Elton John

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