Elbow

Weathering the Storm

Jun 01, 2008 Summer 2008 - The Protest Issue Photography by Aubrey Edwards Bookmark and Share


Given all the obstacles Elbow has faced over the past three years, it’s quite an accomplishment that the veteran Manchester, England, quintet were able to write an album at all, let alone one that is arguably the best of their decade-long career. The sinking of their long-time record label, V2, and ensuing legal battles left Elbow doubting the fate of their fourth album and contemplating getting day jobs in order to survive.

“I’m very, very proud of the band for keeping their heads and working hard even though the future was so uncertain,” says frontman Guy Garvey. “We didn’t know the record was coming out while we were writing it. We didn’t know if we were gonna be able to afford to tour it or have to get jobs…it’s been bloody crazy to be honest.”

Garvey and his bandmates—Pete Turner (bass), brothers Mark (guitar) and Craig Potter (keyboards), and Richard Jupp (drums)—found themselves label-less when V2 went under shortly after the release of Elbow’s acclaimed third album Leaders of the Free World.

“It meant [V2] couldn’t continue to promote Leaders as they promised,” Garvey explains. “So we had a legal staring competition and refused to do any more work for them. We just decided to get back into the studio and get on with the next record as a way to distract ourselves.”                 

The result is Seldom Seen Kid, an epic album that contains elements of the ups and downs the band has weathered over the past three years. Soaring melodies, balls-out rockers, romantic ballads—you name it, Kid’s got it.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…it’s all in there,” muses Garvey. “Even Pete’s boiler breaking down during the winter of 2006—that will be informing the way he plays a bass line and therefore part of the record. The whole thing is in there.”

In addition, both Potter brothers had children, Garvey fell in love, the band found a new label (Fiction in the U.K. and Geffen in the U.S.), and they lost one of their closest friends, Manchester musician Bryan Glancy, to whom they dedicated the new album.

“There were certainly elements of helping me through the grieving process where this album was concerned, particularly the last song, ‘Friend of Ours,’” says Garvey. “I wrote the beginning of the song the day after Bryan died and I couldn’t finish it. I wrote the end almost a year to the day after he died. It offers a note of hope as all our songs do, even the darkest ones. It’s important to offer hope, especially in troubled times.”

This winning formula of channeling darkness and light through goose-bump inducing melodies, bittersweet, insightful lyrics, and Garvey’s earnest delivery has undoubtedly resonated with Elbow fans; Seldom Seen Kid debuted at number five, the band’s highest spot on the U.K. chart to date. “It’s fantastic,” says Garvey about Elbow’s chart success. “To be away for as long as we were—nearly three years without a tour and a release—and to come back and have it so well received was just great. It’s a weight off all of our minds.”

Seldom Seen Kid features the band’s first duet, with none other than another of northern England’s smoothest crooners, Richard Hawley. Even though Elbow and Hawley live only 20 miles apart—Garvey in Manchester and Hawley in Sheffield—it took a 4,000-mile trip to Tennessee to perform with Pixies legend Frank Black to bring them together.

“All three of us got on really well, and the gig culminated with Frank, Rich, and I doing a version of Pixies’ ‘Cactus,’” Garvey recalls. “It was quite a moment for me. On the way home, Rich and I had both had a few drinks in the airport and he just whipped out this portable Battleship game and went, ‘Look what I’ve got!’ And I don’t know how he knew that I’d be over the moon about this, but I was. And we played drunken Battleship all the way home and we became firm friends and decided to do a duet together.”

The resulting duet, “The Fix,” is a departure from the rest of the album—it’s a playful tune about two hustlers planning their rosy future. “With Richard’s tradition in music, I thought it’d be really good fun to go outside of the area I’m normally in and write a Tin Pan Alley-style Abbot & Costello kind of duet,” Garvey explains. “I really enjoyed doing every minute of it.”

Elbow have not yet achieved the commercial success in the U.S. that they have in their native U.K., still their American following is substantial. “There was a concern with our last record company that Leaders of the Free World obviously being a deliberately politically titled record would in some way damage our reception in the States,” Garvey says. “But I’m very happy to say that it brought a bunch of beautiful, free-thinking individuals over to our side. So without our even being over in the States, our audience tripled on that record.”

That’s no small feat for a band that has maintained its integrity and continues to challenge itself and its fans, despite the troubled music industry climate. Garvey explains: “It’s about making music with immediate appeal, or making music that lasts a lifetime, and hopefully we do the latter.” 

 



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