The joint is jumpin’

El­bow have never had band-of-the-month suc­cess, but lead singer Guy Gar­vey says they pre­fer to make mu­sic on their own terms – even if that means sac­ri­fic­ing per­sonal re­la­tion­ships. He talks to Brian Boyd

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Music -

WHEN HE was 18, Guy Gar­vey wanted to con­quer the mu­sic world. It took him a while be­fore he even got started: his band, El­bow, were formed in Manch­ester in 1990 but didn’t get around to re­leas­ing an album un­til 2001.

Now, three al­bums into their ca­reer, El­bow haven’t con­quered the mu­sic world in terms of sales and recog­ni­tion, but they are one of the most ac­claimed bands of re­cent years. Sure, not many peo­ple may know about them, but those who do are in thrall to their moody, am­bi­ent, gim­mick-free sound.

Fan club cheer­lead­ers in­clude U2, REM and Coldplay, but El­bow res­o­lutely refuse to com­pro­mise their sound for com­mer­cial ends. “In the time we’ve been go­ing, I’ve seen many bands come and go,” says Gar­vey. “And th­ese would be bands whose first album went triple plat­inum but then they just dropped from sight. I think, with us, we’ve been lucky in that there never has been much hype around us. We’ve never been a band-of-the-month type, we’ve never been the new, hip band.

“It has been a very slow build for us, and per­haps it’s bet­ter that way be­cause I’ve seen what can hap­pen in this in­dus­try to those in­stant suc­cess sto­ries. We sell a steady amount of records very qui­etly and we tend to keep our fans from one album to the next.”

Gar­vey is aware of the dis­tance be­tween the crit­i­cal ac­claim and com­mer­cial sales, but adds that it’s ir­rel­e­vant to El­bow’s mu­si­cal vi­sion.

“There can be no com­pro­mise. We’re not go­ing to do mu­sic we don’t be­lieve in for mon- ey. We stick to our guns but we’re not awk­ward about it. We do ra­dio ed­its, we do pop videos. It just seems that we are at a cer­tain level and that re­ally isn’t go­ing to change that much. It’s not re­ally a case of build­ing up from each album for us; ev­ery album we put out is the very best we could do at the time.”

El­bow’s new album, Sel­dom Seen Kid, is an­other cor­us­cat­ing col­lec­tion. From the truly star­tling opener, Star­ling, to the al­most Led Zep sound­ing Grounds for Di­vorce and the crooner style of The Fix, it’s per­haps the band’s most in­tense work to date.

“We wanted to make a re­ally per­sonal, re­ally dra­matic album,” says Gar­vey. “There’s an aw­ful lot in this, and the whole album is writ­ten in a pretty lin­ear way. From the first song the main themes emerge. I re­ally did put a lot of my­self into the lyrics, but that’s al­ways been the way with me. I’ve think I’ve sac­ri­ficed a few re­la­tion­ships over the years be­cause of this band. It can be very all-con­sum­ing.”

Al­though loath to sin­gle out one new song, Gar­vey does men­tion that The Lone­li­ness of a Tower Crane Driver is a per­sonal favourite. “It’s a sort of ev­ery­man story about how empty the lives of the out­wardly suc­cess­ful can be. It could be a theme for the album. Like a lot of the songs, it’s easy to sing be­cause the mu­sic is so evoca­tive. It’s some­thing that’s im­por­tant to us, the mu­sic hav­ing that sense of con­vic­tion. We may not take our­selves that se­ri­ously, but we do take the mu­sic se­ri­ously.”

For The Fix, the band sum­moned Richard Haw­ley to add vo­cals. “We met him first when we were on the same bill as him at some show in Ten­nessee,” Gar­vey says. “We just got on with him from the very first mo­ment. He’s a se­ri­ously tal­ented artist, and he got his vo­cal part done in less than an half an hour, which we all found amaz­ing. Hope­fully, there’ll be some more duets in the fu­ture – I’ve got my eye on Björk and Jane Birkin.”

El­bow are a rar­ity in to­day’s down­load cli­mate in that they are a real “album” band. Gar­vey be­lieves this is why their profile re­mains rel­a­tively low. “The sin­gles chart does dic­tate what gets played on ra­dio, and sin­gles have never re­ally been our forte. But even now, a hit sin­gle doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily lead to big album sales. It’s a very changed en­vi­ron­ment. We re­main an ‘album’ band and that might make us a bit old-fash­ioned, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.”

El­bow are one of the few rock bands to tour Cuba (un­like other bands who have played there, they’ve done shows out­side Ha­vana). They weren’t too im­pressed by what they saw.

“We pride our­selves on the fact that we are the first-ever rock band to play a gig in a Cuban car park. It was a very strange ex­pe­ri­ence. We found it to be the most beau­ti­ful coun­try in the word, but mu­sic over there is still seen, I think, as some­thing that can be a sub­ver­sive force. We were out with some lo­cal hip-hop­pers one night and they got taken away by the po­lice in front of us. And I re­mem­ber one guy who came to a show wav­ing a Cana­dian flag and I ex­plained to him that we were Bri­tish, not Cana­dian, and he just said ‘it’s the only flag I have’. The whole idea of us tour­ing there was as part of a cul­tural ex­change – but, oddly, no­body trav­elled in the other di­rec­tion.”

Coldplay’s Chris Martin once ad­mit­ted that he “bor­rowed” from El­bow’s Grace Un­der Pres­sure track for the song Fix You, and many other bands have sim­i­larly been “in­flu­enced”.

“I knew Chris Martin was a fan,” says Gar­vey, “but I thought he might have vol­un­teered the in­for­ma­tion be­fore a jour­nal­ist, who I be­lieve was you, put it to him. There are other peo­ple out there as well, but you know, all mu­sic comes from some­where and most things are a reap­pro­pri­a­tion of some sort.

“Mainly though, I’m just happy with the fact that we could be con­sid­ered a mu­si­cally in­flu­en­tially band.”

El­bow (from left): Pete Turner, Richard Jupp, Guy Gar­vey, Mark Pot­ter and Craig Pot­ter

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