"As the songs really started to take shape, they overtook each other or fell behind like horses in a race..." - hmv.com talks to Elvis Costello
Even for someone as prolific as Elvis Costello, the last few years have been exceptionally busy ones for the veteran songwriter. Since 2018, Costello has delivered two brand new full length albums - 2018's Look Now and 2020's Hey Clockface - as well as putting together a 'super deluxe' edition of his classic 1979 LP Armed Forces, which also arrived in 2020.
This week he returns once again with another new album, this time with his band The Imposters. Produced once again by Sebastian Krys, his latest creation The Boy Named If arrives in stores on Friday (Jannuary 14) and ahead of itsrelease we fired some questions over to the man himself about how the new album came together, and his plans for what comes next...
Where did the idea for the title and theme for this album come from?
"Out of the big book dreams. Words scribbled down in the middle of night or typed in transit, joined together with scraps of recording; hums and counters tapped eventually become stories and melodies."
When did you begin writing the songs on this album? Was there any particular song or spark that started the ball rolling?
"These songs arrived in the summer of 2021, all at once. As the songs really started to take shape, they overtook each other or fell behind like horses in a race."
When you’re writing a song, do you know immediately whether it’s going to be an ‘Elvis Costello’ song or an ‘Elvis Costello and the Imposters’ song? Is there a difference between the way you write for each?
"I never think about the artist billing when I’m writing, I’m too busy sensing the right music to carry meaning or a feeling. When songs first emerge, they could just as easily be accompanied by someone playing the spoons or a polka band for all I know but a loud electric guitar and a drummer in a basement turned about to be what was needed."
Did the pandemic interfere with the way you recorded this album at all? Was there anything you had to do differently?
"We had time and opportunity, that’s all I’d say. If there was anything I might have wanted to do differently, I would have done it."
You’ve worked with Sebastian Krys as co-producer again on this album – you seem to have formed quite a partnership there, what does he bring to the table?
"He has been my friend since we met while I was rehearsing NIGHTSPOT, an instrumental score written for Twyla Tharp and the Miami City Ballet, so you could say we met in a dance club. Humour is a necessary part of success and disaster alike, so I am glad we have found so many opportunities to work together; first producing me singing, 'Losing Game' with Marisol from La Santa Cecilia then contributing to 'Cinco Minutos Con Vos', a track from album, Wise Up Ghost with The Roots.
Sebastian helped my friend Guadalupe Jolicoeur with the translation of a verse into Argentine Spanish which was sung by Marisol, long before she appeared on “Spanish Model”, a new mix of “This Year’s Model” with a cast of Latin wonderful artists singing new lyrical adaptations over the original Attractions instrumental performances."
That's quite a lot in a short space of time....
"That is one of ten record albums on which we have worked together since 2018: Look Now, the E.P., Purse, the mixing of three records worth of live material for the Armed Forces box-set, Hey Clockface, the French language E.P., La Face de Pendule à Coucou, Spanish Model, The Boy Named If and one more that I could tell you about but then I’d have to kill you. You could say he brought a lot."
There’s been a huge amount of stylistic variety in your albums and collaborations over the years – are there any projects or ideas you’d like to take on but haven’t yet managed to tick off of your ‘musical bucket list’, so to speak…?
"Do you know the Hank Williams song, “'My Bucket’s Got A Hole In It'?"
What are your touring plans for the new album?
"We are playing England, Scotland and Wales in June 2022."
It must be a challenge putting together a setlist at this point, what kind of show can we expect? Do you like to change things up each night?
"In October 2021, we played twenty-two days in the United State, our first show since March 2020, when we played the Hammersmith Apollo. For the first time since 1977, I had two albums of unplayed songs at my disposal. Not only did we premiere the songs from The Boy Named If but The Imposters took possession of the six songs from Hey Clockface, songs I’d recorded in Paris with other musicians or in Helsinki, on my own in early 2020.
"All of these new songs provided a different road down which we approached the other songs in our repertoire and having Charlie Sexton joining us on guitar gave an extra dimension to the entire set. As they say: 'We hit at eight, Don’t be late.'"
Do you know yet what your next project is likely to be yet?
"You wouldn’t believe me if I told you."
The Boy Named If is available in hmv stores now - you can also find it here in our online store.