Elbow - Guy Garvey on “Little Fictions”
Mar 24, 2017
Find It At: AMAZON
Guy Garvey and his band Elbow may have called their joyous new album Little Fictions, but in conversation the British alt-rocker is instead frank, forthright, and boldly truthful. Little Fictions is the Manchester band's first album without drummer Richard Jupp, who had been with them since their formation (and 2001's debut album, Asleep in the Back), but left the band last year to focus on other creative projects, including his drum school. On the heels of Little Fictions' release—the band's seventh LP—last month, Garvey freely cracked wise about penning lyrics that detail his sexual proclivities, taking jabs at buddy Benedict Cumberbatch's face (the Sherlock and Doctor Strange star appears in Elbow's recent video for "Gentle Storm"), and how chess star Bobby Fischer is a muse for a song on what will be Little Fictions' follow-up. The raucously gregarious frontman dishes on all that and more below.
Kyle Mullin (Under the Radar): I read that the making of Little Fictions was different than The Takeoff and Landing of Everything in that it was a little more of a band album, that the sessions were more collective.
Guy Garvey: Yeah, The Takeoff and Landing of Everything was us writing separately and then coming together later. For Little Fictions, we lost Richard [Jupp], our drummer. That sounds weird—we haven't lost him, he's not dead, and he's still drumming, just not with us. He decided to stop playing with the band, which was a happy coincidence to be honest, but it was still sort of weird and sad after 25 years. But somebody had to be the first to leave. It was still sad though. Once he left and we licked our wounds, we realized that after 25 years of making music in the same format with the same people, any change in personnel would refresh the whole thing. And even though this album was just released I'm already full steam ahead on the next one. It's like I've fallen in love with the process of making music all over again.
Tell us more about what made you fall back in love with music again.
Well it doesn't matter how great your job is, you come to see it as work at some points. And because things weren't right in the band, for one reason or another, I don't want to suggest Richard was the problem but there was an elephant in the room and none of realized how big it was until it wasn't there anymore. And suddenly we realized it was a chance to change how we did things, and we grasped that with both hands. And a more frivolous, instantaneous, faster way of working came about. We've always labored our songs, and spent months fixing songs up into great pieces of music, when we could have abandoned the song that wasn't working and written five in its place. Now we have a new attitude of capturing the initial spirit and vibrancy of a song, and as much as possible trying to make that the point.
That's obvious throughout Little Fictions—the joy is audible, it's quite upbeat.
Weirdly, often the times are out of step with the way a person feels. Modern psychoanalytical methods don't allow for you to feel more than one emotion at any given time, and anyone that only feels one thing is probably the person we need to help most. You can be sad about your father dying and elated about your team winning at the same time. So hopefully we all have a stream of narratives coming out of us at the same time. And while my country voted itself into a cultural quagmire full of shit, in terms of leaving Europe—and it won't just be a cultural disaster, it'll end up being a humanitarian disaster of a different proportion we've not seen since Ms. Thatcher was in power. But while all that was happening in the world, I was falling in love with the most wonderful woman, and ended up getting married. And now I'm expecting a child next month.
Thanks you very much. So that's where I'm at, and this newfound enthusiasm has been getting into that room and stuck into our writing. And not laboring it, knocking off at 4pm and going to the pub to get drunk with your pals. The rest of the world does that, why not us?
I think "Gentle Storm," captures that mix of emotions you mentioned earlier—yearning, melancholy, joy. I also love the video for it. How did you get Benedict Cumberbatch to make a cameo?
Do you know the original? Godley and Creme made the original video, "Cry," that we pastiched, and then Michael Jackson stole [Kevin Godley's] original idea for the video for the song "Black or White." But in the '80s, it was a massive coup when that video came out, such simple portraiture of people singing the song with their faces melding into one another. It's a really beautiful portrait of how we're all different and the same, really lovely. And "Gentle Storm" reminded me of the song "Cry," so I asked the band if they remember it, and everyone apart from [keyboardist] Craig [Potter] did. Craig's only two years under us, and it made me think no one under 40 remembers it. And firstly it's a brilliant pop song, second of all it has this iconic video, and lastly Kevin Godley went from being a musician to a music video director for bands like Duran Duran and others. I reached out to him and introduced myself, and asked if we could steal his ideas, pass them off as our own, and if he'd help us make it. He said "Yeah! Great." And I knew it would lead people back to his original video, which is so poignant. As far as Benedict Cumberbatch being in the video, my wife [actress Rachael Stirling] and I met at his wedding. She's known him since she was 12 or something, and I've known him for a few years. She's in the video as well, and I've written so many songs about her. I realized if I put Benedict in the video for "Gentle Storm," more people would watch it, and he was very kind and gave me his fans. And who's got a more interesting face than Benedict's?
That's true. Better still: in an older interview you talked about wanting to perform the song "Independent Woman," as a backing track while Benedict stood onstage reciting Shakespeare. That idea didn't seem to work out, but is at least satisfying to have Benedict cameo in your video?
[Laughs] Any opportunity to work with Benedict just can't be passed up. One thing that most people don't know about him is he's an amazing mimic, a brilliant one. You should challenge him on that if you ever get the chance to speak with him.
So Rachael and Benedict go way back? I'm just thinking about how you mentioned earlier about Rachael being your musical muse. When you're writing a song about someone you're so close to, how do they react?
Well, when we got good reviews for this album, my wife acted like she was solely responsible. I was reading reviews to her, and she was lying on the sofa, all heavily pregnant, saying, "Well, I haven't worked for months, and I'm getting these great reviews!" And I kept telling her: "Yep, it had nothing to do with us, baby." She loves it, really. It's a double edged sword—no, that's not the right phrase. A two sided coin maybe? It's got its ups and downs, anyways. I also write about our arguments. The title track is about our arguments, and about the little fictions when you're arguing with someone, if you're both shouting and just being ridiculous with each other. It makes you wonder why you do that with the ones that know you best in the world? We hate falling out, my Mrs. and I. But we do it so dramatically, it's very cinematic when we do.
Is writing and singing about those types of things therapeutic? Or is that a cliché?
When we were working on the album nobody knew Rachael was pregnant. But if you listen to the lyrics, it's obvious that I'm approaching fatherhood. It's good to have truth like that in the lyrics.
I also wanted to ask you about the music itself. After your drummer left, you had an opportunity to experiment with loops more? Was that exciting?
I guess it was out of necessity. To be fair, Craig has been half of the groove machine, he'd push Jupp further than he wanted to be pushed in fact. Not that he's mean, Craig pushed me to work harder too. He's become a great producer, not just because of his technical skill but because he brings the best out of people.
What about the new music you're working on now for your next album?
Well I can tell you about some of the things that have inspired me recently. There was a documentary on TV called Inside Christian Dior. My wife was watching it, and I said "Is it about anoxia and androgyny?" I was very dismissive. And she said "Oh no. It's reflective of the times, although the work they made could only be afforded by a handful, it trickles down and defines an era. It's an enormous responsibility, and you get these brilliant creative people as the heads of fashion houses." I first of all felt stupid for patronizing her, and it got me started thinking about excellence. So I've been thinking about excellence and, as long as it's not elitist, then excellence is generousness of spirit, it's a gift to everyone who experiences the work. And not just in art, but engineering and everything. Another thing that been inspiring me is this documentary Larry Flynt vs. the World. Oh hang on a minute, I've got it wrong! Bobby Fischer vs. the World. Larry Flynt is the pornographer, right?
Yes, I believe so.
Right, Bobby Fischer was a chess champion.
Right, not the same at all. [Laughs]
They both involve pawn—the words "pawn" and "porn" sound the same to me, because I'm English. [Cackles devilishly] How could I have gotten that wrong. Anyway, Bobby Fischer, the American chess champ that took on Spassky, joined the Cold War and became of international concern. And this guy, like a lot of geniuses was crazy, spent his whole life searching for meaning. By the end, he was a frustrated old right wing conspiracy theorist and not a very pleasant character. And the last footage of him, he's become a loathsome character. And his last words were: "Nothing heals like the human touch." The one thing he never had throughout his life was a partner or love of any kind. And then he spent weeks in a hospital at the end of his life and was being cared for by people for the first time, really. So "Nothing heals like the human touch" is the working title for a song at the moment. Because we all know that's true.
That's interesting. Some musicians I've spoken to get inspiration more subconsciously, and can't explain it, and others like you seem to get inspired more directly.
Inspiration comes all the time. Sometimes it's years after I write something that I realize what I was writing about. Your choice of language, melody, tone, and timbre, every decision is based on something that's going on with you or someone in the group. And you can go back to listen and think: "Fucking hell! I've given away way too much of myself there." There's one song on my solo album [2015's Courting the Squall] that basically outlines some of my sexual proclivities. Pretty harrowing Catholic imagery from my childhood. And I thought "Jesus fucking Christ. Why the hell would I sing about that?" But it's out there now. Other times you look back at a song you were critical of, like the song "Not a Job" from our second album [2003's Cast of Thousands], we hated it by the time it was released. And we didn't want it to be a single, we fought the company every step of the way. Now that I listen back I love it, it's so sweet. So there you go: you never know what you've got.
Well I do appreciate your taking the time. You're much more frank and forthcoming than a lot of musicians I interview. You don't mind doing press?
You know what man? Sometimesyou find more about what you do by talking about it. And monosyllabic, surly bastards usually have something to hide, ie. they've not really thought about what they're doing. [Again, cackles devilishly]
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