Elbow kick off their long summer of festival stops and gigs this Saturday at Slane Castle, supporting Kings of Leon, marking the 30th anniversary of estate’s first concert with then-headliners Thin Lizzy. The Manchester lads of Elbow, who wear their hearts so unabashedly on their sleeves as both musicians and close friends, have been supporting their beautifully crafted fifth album, Build A Rocket Boys!. The album has not only garnered the band a raft of enthusiastic reviews, but proved that the quintet were wise to take their time following the flurry of attention for 2008’s Mercury Prize-winning The Seldom Seen Kid.
State caught up with Garvey and bassist Pete Turner while the duo were in New York on a press junket prior to Coachella, so unfortunately, it was impossible to quiz the soft-spoken Turner on his comical, accidental head butt this week with Everything Everything bassist Jeremy Pritchard at a Villagers gig in Manchester. The bassist friends’ awkward, drunken embrace went awry and, as Garvey gleefully tweeted, Turner knocked out Pritchard’s tooth. No hard feelings between the two musicians however, as Garvey reported, “[Pete] phoned Jeremy who graciously received his contrition.”
Is there one song on Build A Rocket Boys! that, for you, resonates more than any other song on the album? Or has become a particular favorite?
Guy Garvey: It changes all of the time, but at the moment, maybe because I’m away from home, ‘Dear Friends’ It’s because the drums and the guitar were recorded in a dressing room while we were still touring The Seldom Seen Kid. We tried to re-record them, but we could never capture the vibe so we used the original one. On the album sleeve it says, “Recorded in the Elbow rooms.” The means that we don’t remember what city we were in when we recorded something!
You make a lyrical reference to Tennessee – were you there for Bonnaroo?
Guy: No! I’ve been to Tennessee, but the reason I mentioned it was when I was writing the lyrics to ‘Dear Friends’ I wanted to be far away somewhere, it had to be a music town, it had to be lyrical of course, and I was in Peter Gabriel’s [Real World Studios] writing the lyrics to that song. So were The Boxer Rebellion and Nate [Nicholson], the lead singer, is from Tennessee. I was really careful with that song. The idea of the song came from walking around Manchester listening to my Walkman ….
Guy: (laughs) My girlfriend loves that shit. She finds it hilarious. She always points out that I’m older than her as well. Listening to my iPod and I heard songs by Jackson C. Frank, John Lennon, Fats Waller and Spike Jones, because it was on shuffle, and I thought, all these guys are dead. This is what’s left of them. And that started me thinking that I wanted to write one for posterity; I’d never done that consciously. I thought, it has to be to my friends. These are my feelings about you. It started really bold and brave and there was a line that kept coming back, “we picked the bones of the night clean.”
Initially it was this huge anthem of rock and roll friendship. But I found it overbearing and hard to listen to and although it was sincere, it was too exclusive. It would have worked for all of those friends, it was about them, but outside of that it felt cliquey. I stripped out all the bravado and what I was left with was, “I thought about you today and it made me smile.” I got it all in the last two lines which is why those lines were, and I’m really proud of them, “You stuck a pin in the map I was in, and you are the stars I navigate home by.”
There are some enormously touching songs on this album and ‘Lippy Kids’ is such a standout. What was the evolution of that track?
Pete: That one started a few years ago. I’m pretty sure it was before we started writing this album. Me and [drummer Richard] Jupp were just playing in the big room and Guy came in and started playing piano. I was playing bass but it was completely different with this ridiculous sound, very weird. It was then left for about a year and Guy actually kept saying ‘Lippy Kids’ and I didn’t think anything of it because the sound that I had was really unusual and weird. But you change it. Between the bass and the piano line – we took the drums off because it didn’t need it. Jupp was really cool on this album with things like that. This album was a real less-is-more thing. So we stripped things back and if it wasn’t necessary, we weren’t having it. That’s how we were with Asleep in the Back, our first album. Self-restraint. It was cool. And ‘Lippy Kids’, I have to say, lyrically, is just pulls me. The line, “one long June, I came down from the trees.” I know exactly what that is; everyone does, I think. It’s what you, me, everyone has experienced. When you stop being a child and become a teenager, and then an adult. It’s just amazing.
What is it about Elbow that’s kept you together for 20 years?
Pete: We’re just really good mates. We find each other really funny. It got to me, and I wouldn’t want to name names, but I’m going to! When I first heard Is This It, the Strokes album, and I saw them, I was like, “Fuck, wicked, this is cool as fuck.”And then it’s really sad when you hear that they really don’t get on anymore. They write albums under pressure and stuff like that. Stone Roses as well. It’s sad when this great, wicked gang falls apart. With us, I’m so happy that we’re friends. We’re friends before we’re a band. I don’t even question it. The band is there, it’s part of my life, like my family are. You don’t choose them. They’re just there.
Elbow play Slane Castle tomorrow (28th)