Interview // Elbow
Originally published in the Irish Sun on August 24.
The Olympic Stadium it ain’t, but Elbow return to Ireland next month for a headlining slot at Electric Picnic fresh from their show-stopping performance at the closing ceremony of the London games earlier this month with a renewed sense of vigour.
Bassist Pete Turner explained: “It was all quite surreal. It was a very long day waiting around, but it was a very relaxed atmosphere backstage – everybody was just milling around. There was like a ten-minute walk from the dressing room to the actual stage, walking past all the trucks with people getting ready.
The Manchester five-piece performed their ubiquitous hit ‘One Day Like This’ at the ceremony – the song has practically become the soundtrack to televised sporting events – but few will have been aware that the BBC actually commissioned Elbow to compose the official theme for their Games coverage.
‘First Steps’ might as well be an Elbow song in name only because, as Turner reveals, the intention was very much to make it completely unrecognisable from what’s come before, and singer Guy Garvey decided early on that he wouldn’t be singing on the six-minute piece.
“The whole point was really not to make an Elbow song. Guy was saying from the start, ‘I don’t want to sing because as soon as I sing it is an Elbow song.’ It was kind of like a brief – we knew we wanted it to be a big orchestra piece, with gentle bits and loud bits. It was right in the middle of touring ‘Build’ and it was nice to come away from that and get in the studio and only have one song to concentrate on.”
While ‘First Steps’ was far from a typical Elbow song, it was clear why they were chosen to write the piece, as it was a flair for stadium-sized anthems such as ‘One Day Like This’ that had seen 2008’s The Seldom Seen Kid certified platinum while earning the band a coveted Mercury Prize, an honour they’d fallen just short of with their debut album ‘Asleep in the Back’ seven years previously.
They took their time with the follow-up, 2011’s ‘Build a Rocket Boys,’ which was in many ways a conscious return to the quiet and introspective style of ‘Asleep in the Back,’ a fact Turner feels is neatly demonstrated on the band’s new compilation of b-sides and previously unreleased tracks, ‘Dead in the Boot’ – the title itself an ironic nod to their first record.
“You can definitely hear a journey on ‘Dead in the Boot.’ Someone said that when they heard ‘Build’ for the first time that it felt like it was wrapping up a part of our career. ‘Build’ felt like it was going back to a very simple way of working and writing that ‘Asleep’ had, so it did kind of feel like we’d come full circle.
“It doesn’t feel like just b-sides and unreleased stuff that has been thrown together. We’ve wanted to release it for quite a long time, but we wanted to make sure we had as many tunes that we were proud of – I think it was 13 songs, but it could have been many more, but we thought: ‘too few is better than too many, and leave people wanting more.’”
On the subject of whether the band would ever consider releasing a collection of their more well-known songs, Turner laughs: “We can’t release a Greatest Hits because we’ve only got one hit – if we released a Greatest Hits it’d be a CD single!”
Turner feels that the new compilation tops off an era for the band, freeing them up to take things in a much more experimental direction for their next album, which is currently in the writing stage: “We’ve cut it down to about 12 songs we’re working on, and it’s going really well. We’re coming in different days and working in different groups, and that’s kind of speeding things up.
“You can probably tell that we’ve been concentrating on the b-sides album because there’s a lot of things that are quite leftfield and areas we’ve not always been in that we’ve wanted to go to. There are things that are quite Cocteau Twins-y and things that are quite My Bloody Valentine – there’s quite a nice mix of things.”
Elbow play the Main Stage at Electric Picnic on Sunday, September 2. Dead in the Boot is scheduled for release on August 24.