Music Interview: Elbow

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You don't really expect to be speaking to Guy Garvey at 9 o'clock in the morning.

From the lyrics he writes, you might assume the Elbow frontman would be in bed with a fuzzy head, the aftermath of a few too many ales the night before, consumed while talking into the wee hours with a handful of close friends – 'shaking off a heavy one,' to quote their barnstorming hit One Day Like This.

"Yes, I am up rather early," he says, wearily. "I have very interesting sleep patterns before an album comes out – on account of all the anxiety dreams.

"We all have them, the whole band. I had one recently where my friend had posted all my lyrics online. It looked like one of those religious posters you used to get in Athena, you know, like a cheesy looking desert background with a psalm written on it in italics.

"There was a hit-count in the bottom corner of the screen and people were giving me horrendous criticism too, real damning stuff."

Garvey then explains his bandmates' dreams; Mark Potter's recurring one, where his guitar loses all its strings and effects pedals malfunction, and by the time he's righted the problem, the crowd have gone home. And drummer Richard Jupp – who also plays keyboards for the first time on the forthcoming album – his nightmare consists of a mile-long piano, each key taking his entire body weight to press down.

As dreams go, the meanings seem pretty obvious. No indepth analysis required here, but you do have to ask why Guy Garvey, one of the most celebrated, romantic, poignant lyricists of our generation, would be lacking in confidence when it came to his prose.

The band's last album, The Seldom Seen Kid, was written following the death of a close friend, with grief and mourning informing each of the album's 11 tracks. It culminates with Friend Of Ours and the line "Never good at goodbyes, so gentle shoulder charge, love you mate." Descriptions of loss and male friendship don't come more concise or devastating.

"I know I'm praised for my lyrics, but I'm not a natural," he says, humbly. "I have to work really hard to get them to a standard I'm happy with. I feel an incredible responsibility to the rest of the band, and to the song as well."

Build A Rocket Boys! contains more than its fair share of lyrical greatness. Jesus Is A Rochdale Girl is a particular standout, detailing Garvey's first love when he was just out of his teens.

"We're great friends now," he says, reminiscing. "I danced at her wedding...

"The song's about how important she was to me back then. She was my saviour when I was 21, she used to steal me food from her dad's restaurant."

Now, aged 36, and after the traumatic events of the last album, Garvey admits to being in a very happy place. The band, too, is in rude health with a newfound relaxed atmosphere running through the recording sessions of their fifth album.

"We used to be really hard on each other about everything," he explains. "If someone was 15 minutes late for anything, we'd all play hell.

"When we decided that this was what we were going to do at the expense of everything else, we got this sense of responsibility – to the band and music.

"If one of us hadn't done enough work, we'd all feel guilty about it. It's only recently we felt we could say, 'I don't want to see you at the studio if there's something else you need to be doing.'

"If someone wants to look after their kids, or they just don't fancy recording that day, then fine. We've got to the point where we all trust one another enough to know that the others will act in the best interest of the record if you're not there."

There's also the added security of the stature afforded them since releasing Mercury Prize-winning The Seldom Seen Kid.

"This is the first record we've made without some sort of financial spectre hanging over us – we weren't writing with a collapsing record label behind us, or without a record deal, or doubts about our future.

"We've made all our other albums shrouded in instability, but this time we were as safe as houses, and we made enough money on the last album that we're OK for at least another couple of years. We feel like a proper band."

For Elbow fans, loyal since the band's 2001 debut Asleep In The Back, the praise heaped upon Seldom Seen Kid was not underserved, but also surprising. There was no magical change in direction or new sound that finally attracted the masses. It was the more indescribable phenomenon of timing that saw Elbow click.

"It was very odd hearing people say we'd arrived after our last album," ponders Garvey.

"We thought we'd made it after we got our first record deal. We'd been a band for 10 years before that. To be told we'd 'made it' after our fourth album was amazing, of course it was, but it did make me think we were 20 years late to the party.

"Some people might think all that's a back-handed compliment, but the wonderful thing about the success of the last record is that Build A Rocket Boys! is going to be heard a lot.

"Whether people love it or hate it, it's got a platform that we've never had before. And that's what the album was designed for, for people to hear."

l Elbow play at the Sheffield Motorpoint Arena on March 19

Paul Weller at the First Direct Arena, Leeds. Picture: Anthony Longstaff

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