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Interview: Elbow

9 min read

They have sold millions of albums during their 15 year recording career as a band with studio albums including Build A Rocket Boys! and The Seldom Seen Kid being regarded the world over as staple releases in the world of alternative rock.

They have been awarded countless accolades for their musical achievements and have fans in every county around the globe that have been by the bands side since their debut album, 2001’s Asleep In The Back and the band show no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

Elbow has recently released album number 5, The Take Off And Landing Of Everything which has been led by the successful lead single, New York Morning. With fans eager to see the five-piece on tour with the latest studio collection, the band are set to bring their current tour to Australian audiences including two nights at the world famous Sydney Opera House in October. We were lucky enough to speak to the bands drummer Richard Jupp about the bands brand new record, upcoming tour and the defining moment of the bands time together so far. Here is what he had to tell us…

Brendon Veevers: Hi Richard! How are you doing?

Richard Jupp: I’m really well thanks Brendon, it’s great to talk to you.

Elbow-TheTakeOffAndLandingOfEverythingBV: Thanks for taking the time out of your hectic schedule to speak with us. I want to start off by asking you a little bit about the new record The Take Off And Landing Of Everything  which you and the band released a couple of months ago. For those who may not have heard the record yet, can you sum up in your own words where you believe the band is at with this latest LP?

RJ: We have kind of gotten to this stage in our careers that we are looking towards but also spending time looking back and asking ourselves ‘ have I achieved everything that I want to achieve’. There’s been a lot or reminiscing about being a kid, being a teenager, that sort of thing. I mean, we’ve always kind of been together since we were about 6 months old; obviously Mark and Craig are brothers, and we’ve known each other as a band for about 20 odd years now. So, it’s kind of a little bit of a reminiscing period for us and also a look to the future – basically a little bit of a check of what’s going on really. It’s a bit vague (laughs) but that generally I think sums up where we are at with the new record I think.

BV: The band has been together for over 20 years. What do you think the secret to longevity has been for Elbow, particularly for a band that has had no personnel changes since day 1?

RJ: You know?  It’s a weird one really. I mean, we have always respected each other’s positions. The job we do is a very odd one but we appreciate how lucky we are and how hard we work.

It’s really that respect of talent, I mean, yeah, we are good at what we do and we care deeply about it and one another and we keep each other in check. But at the same time the most important aspect, the kind of glue to it really is that we make each other laugh. That’s really the be all and end all of it really. We can look at each other on stage in front of 50,000 people or 70,000 people and have this sort of cheeky little grin on our faces (laughs). That’s sort of what keeps us together. It keeps us intrigued. We just make each other laugh. We bring different things to the table. We’ve got different interests.

Outside the band we hang out a lot and when it comes to work we are like 5 little girls: we’re hollering and hooting and basically just mucking about really and it kind of surprises me that we’ve lasted this long (laughs). At the end of the day when it comes to the music, we are very professional but we are also able to have a good laugh with each other.

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BV: What’s the band like when you all enter the recording studio to record a new album? Do you go in with a blueprint of how you want each song to sound like as a finished product and set out to achieve that or is it more of a spontaneous, go with the flow type of environment were things change a lot during the recording process?

RJ: Do you know what; it can be anything really from one day to the next. Have you ever heard of the show Blue Peter?

BV: I have yeah!

RJ: Yeah, so as you probably know they make things out of toilet rolls and cereal packets and stuff like that. We’ve talked about this in interviews before and we’ve talked about this in between ourselves – when we are together in the studio, it’s like Blue Peter. That’s a really strange thing that we do.

In terms of the process being spontaneous or being more like a blue-print, it’s a matter of going and hunting for the sound.  There can be a sound or a melody or just something simple that can prick an idea and we’ll have to go hunting for it. It’s like in The Sad Captains with the hand claps and the drums. That was just two pieces of wood that we had found in the studio. They sort of sound light. It wasn’t a hand clap because that’s not exactly what we wanted as that would have taken away from the feel of the track. So we found these two pieces of wood and we slapped them together in the studio and that was it.

We took a slightly different approach this time around whereby we worked kind of separately for the first time on an album so you’ve got tracks like Real Life which was written at home by Craig. He brought the melody in and then we sort of Elbow-ized it over the recording of the record. Honey Sun was written by Mark entirely. He brought the whole thing in and we tried various drum ideas and this hall of strings but it really didn’t need it. It was just amazing that it was just there – done. Drums, guitars, backing vocals. And then Guy took that away and he put his lyrics over the top.

Also, on this record we all took a day off separately. I know that sound a bit frivolous (laughs) but in doing, so the person that was at home wrote. And when you came back in there was just a different dynamic every day. There were different ideas floating around.  Whether we do a drum day or just mix it up so you know what, it can be absolutely anything on any given day and I think that for us, that works really, really well because every day is a surprise. Everything points toward. Incrementally if you take the last jump you just don’t know. Everything is a nice surprise for us.

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BV: What would you credit as being a defining moment in the journey and the success of Elbow over the past 15 years?

RJ: I would say it was the Leaders record (2005’s Leaders of the Free World). We were on the V2 record label at the time. We were really excited about the record; we thought it was really strong. There was a semi political element to it, you know, a lot about the Iraq war. It was just a really weird time but we thought that Leaders was a really great record and that it would sort of break us but we didn’t have the backing of the label. Unfortunately they were in a bit of a shit state so they couldn’t give us the money to tour the record or to promote the record so we were  a bit put out but we had so much confidence in the record that we kind of walked off the label and said that we weren’t gonna tour it.

But to that records detriment, for us it was a real boost. It was like “okay, we always manage to do well on our own”. We have an amazing manager in Phil Chadwick who has always said to us “you just do what you do and I will do what I need to do and I will make sure that you get to continue doing what you want to do” which is to be in the band and to make music. So we didn’t have to worry about any of that. We didn’t have to worry about any of the repercussions of walking off the label or anything like that.

Even though we had no backing, Phil said he would make it work. Luckily we then went on to Fiction (label) and wrote The Seldom Seen Kid, our biggest record, it broke us worldwide and the rest as they say is history but Leaders was a defining moment for us as musicians and songwriters and as professional musicians. From that record we knew that we could take this on for a lifetime.

BV: Each of your albums have done well in the charts and kept your fans very happy throughout the last 2 decades. Does the band ever feel pressured to replicate success of previous records by fans, your labels or yourselves when you decide to create a new record?

RJ: You obviously want to do the best that you can do and whether that is, ummm, it depends on who is listening to the record really. I mean, with Seldom and tracks from that like Grounds for Divorce, that was a great sync track. We didn’t have a song on the radio; really, it was all through the TV. But when we did Build (2011’s Build A Rocket Boys!) I think a lot of people expected us to do four versions of Grounds for Divorce or eight versions of One Day Like This and you know, slap a lot of strings on it, some big guitars and some drums and go down that route but we didn’t we didn’t want to and we thought it would cheapen our back catalogue because we have always been known for being a responsible band, you know. So, it was a case of “oh, shit, right, what are we gonna do with Build A Rocket Boys!?

But again, it was another grower so in Holland, Belgium and most of Europe, the track that sort of kept us up there was Lippy Kids. It’s one of the sort of, as you would say, quieter songs on the record but it’s got that question and answer “Build a Rocket Boys!” and the crowd started singing “Build a Rocket Boys!” and it was just huge. So, its testament to what we do and what we do well. We don’t want to go down that route of writing an album just to bang it out. We take great care in what we put out but also we have a great backing with Fiction and Polydor.

BV: You will be visiting Australia toward the end of the year to promote the new record. What can Australian fans expect with the new round of shows?

RJ: We have so much more to play these days, you know, tracks like Real Life and New York Morning. We have got some absolute belters in there which, mixed in with the older tunes, they work really well. We are really looking forward to performing these smaller theatre shows which is just so much better for what we do. We love doing the arenas and the massive productions but to get back over to you guys to do these sort of 1500-2000 capacity venues is kind of exciting. It’s gonna be a lot of fun.

Elbow’s new album The Take Off And Landing Of Everything is out now.

Australian fans can catch the band on tour in October at the following venues: