Despite the haunting vibe he conveys in his songs and the delightfully dour look he conveys on the press photo to the right, Elbow frontman Guy Garvey is actually one of the funniest and easiest to talk to guys I've ever chatted with on a band interview. I had the pleasure of talking to Mr. Garvey on the phone last month as he was doing press for Elbow's latest quiet masterpiece, The Seldom Seen Kid, and their upcoming North American tour that brings them to Chicago tomorrow night for a headlining show at The Park West. Click on the jump below to get the full scoop on the making of the new record and how a love of flatuence jokes has been a core virtue that has kept the band together for almost 20 years.
Your debut record didn't hit these shores until 2002, so I was surprised to read you guys have actually been playing together as a band for 17 years now. How have you managed to stay together so long?
Well, the same thing that brought us together really…it sounds terribly clichéd, but the love of making music. Pete Turner, the bass player, is my best friend, and I didn’t even like him for the first couple years…
You didn’t like him at first?
No I didn’t, I thought he was a pain in the ass…but yeah, we became friends and now he’s me best friend I think. There’s a few things that keep us together and on an overall level they impress me with their music ability, still. Still stun me all the time...and another thing is the amount of history we share in our bond. We’ve seen so much shit together, as well as some great stuff together. So a very very sort of specific angled sense of humor arises from that as well. Also, on a practical day to day level…they all love talking about food, they all find flatulence jokes funny and they all find sleep deprivation pretty amusing as well, which is quite lucky cause one thing you don’t do a lot of in a band is sleep.
Sounds like you’ve found the perfect group of guys for a band…
Oh, absolutely…and they’ve been together longer than I’ve been around. They’ve known each other since they were at primary school. I’m still the new boy after fucking 17 years, can you believe?
So…new record? How are things different this time around?
This is the first album that we’ve written and recorded completely ourselves. We’ve always written them before [ourselves] and co-produced them but there wasn’t anyone else involved this time. And for that, it’s been the greatest experience. It was a long process because we’ve come from one record label onto a new record label, so there was a good couple of years in the middle where it was very unclear about where the next bit of money was going to come from, how we were going to get the record into the public eye. But that kind of created its own working environment…whereas Leaders of the Free World was made in a great big space with a lot of money, this one was made in a back room, just the 5 of us. And had all the benefit from in those terms a very conspirital, sort of well kept secret of the record. This one was born in many different atmospheres if I come honest…some great things have happened and some awful things have happened the last 2 and half/3 years. V2 going under was pretty terrifying. Our friend Bryan died, which was really heavy duty. That was awful. And then on the flip side of that, two in the band had babies and fell in love. So that’s all good and hopefully the whole lot is on there.
Bryan was a mutual friend of the band?
He was a singer/songwriter from Manchester, a great man…very very sadly missed by everyone that knew him. And a very good friend of ours.
You mentioned that V2 going bust was pretty awful as well, what exactly happened and how did you land at Fiction?
We were lucky, we had friends on both sides of the agreement…we had friends at V2 who, it was more important to let the band go to continue creativity that it was to hold on to for the sake of making a few more of pennies. Everybody was our allies at V2 and still our allies…they were a great label, they got us from the bedroom to the Mercury Award, you know? They were fucking great people…it’s just small business. Not tiny…it was a well funded independent. You have to make brave decisions in the creative world, they were on the wrong side of a couple calls and in put them in financial dire straights…and it was a shame. But luckily we had friends there and then we had the people at Fiction who were really enthusiastic about having the band. There is a general consensus that we are the biggest band that never got there. It would be nice to alter that situation.
I’ve read that alot about Elbow being "the biggest band that never..."…maybe it’s still to come??
Well…I can’t complain about the way it’s gone. We’ve all lived very comfortably for 10 years off writing songs for a living. Really can’t complain about that.
So, you've got a big tour lined up as well for the record…
Yeah, can’t wait, man. Too far, too long…in fact we’ll be in Chicago on [guitarist] Mark’s birthday.
Anything different in the live show this time around?
We’ve got a string section with us. It just allows us to play more of the songs from all the records.
How was it practicing with them and getting that all synced up?
It was just brilliant, there’s only a couple of them but they’re fantastic girls. They’ve played on every record we’ve made. They’re brilliant.
Anything you’re looking forward to on your return to the States?
I love your Mexican food…I’ll be getting in to a bit of that. Hopefully I’ll be running into my friend Jim Fairchild, he was the guitarist in Grandaddy, he’s a great bloke. Also the Watson Twins, good friends of mine, can’t wait to see them, they’ll be supporting us on some dates. Yeah, so seeing me old mates…and just marveling at the different cities. I think Chicago is the one I could live in the States, and I’m not just saying that because you’re writing for a Chicago publication. It’s got that thing that Manchester’s got, you know? It’s big enough to do what you need to do, and it’s small enough to have some sense of community as well. I love that about it.
I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard anyone equate the two, but now that you mention it, it does make sense...both of our cities are quintessential old school industrial stalwarts.
I would say that Seattle was the other one I figured I might be able to live in, but Chicago just has the edge because of the history.
Speaking of the cities…what’s the story behind people from Manchester being called “Mancunian?” How did they come up with that?
Mancunians?? You know, I haven’t got a scooby doo…I do know that the word Manchester comes from the Latin for “hill shaped like a breast.” So maybe it’s got something to do with that??