ACL Festival 2011
Festival fever

Interview with Elbow: U2 and Jay-Z love them. You will, too.

Interview with Elbow: U2 and Jay-Z love them. You will, too.

Bury, England's sensitive and soaring group Elbow may not have a high-profile US presence, but they're playing to 15,000 fans a night in Europe. In 2008, the group's fourth album The Seldom Seen Kid won every British award known to man, scooping up the Mercury Music Prize, multiple Ivor Novello awards, and Brit awards - a series of events which catapulted the group from devoted cult favorite (think Wilco) to massive festival act (think Arcade Fire). Just this summer, they played the penultimate time on Glastonbury's mainstage, headlined a UK arena tour, and attracted praise by everyone from U2 to Jay-Z. If you've not listened to Elbow, they've name-checked Talk Talk and Peter Gabriel-era Genesis as sonic touchpoints, and a fawning press have often compared (or lumped them in) with their UK 'literary rock' peers like Doves, Radiohead, and I Am Kloot.

 
We recently spoke with Elbow's Richard Jupp about pints, string sections, and loving what you do as the band prepared to launch their fall US tour.
 
CultureMap: You've won nearly every music award out there in Europe, but the praise from American critics on the new record seems particularly effusive this time around. Why do you think Build A Rocket Boys has struck such a nerve?
 
Richard Jupp, Elbow: I think Build has garnered strong reviews because we haven't tried to replicate the success of the previous record, but made an album which is its' own body of work. I also think that it is down to the simplicity of both the music and sentiment of the lyrics which has struck such a chord for both critics and fans.
 
CM: There seems to be both a strong sense of nostalgia for youth and and tug of war between optimism and frustration on the new album - can you talk to us about the themes or ideas the band were focusing on when putting together the album?
 
RJ: During the madness of touring Seldom Seen Kid we took ourselves off to our friend's house on the Isle of Mull to re-group and tentatively begin writing the next record. It wasn't a conscious decision to get nostalgic, as we weren't in the twilight of our career (!), but Guy had the lyrics to "Jesus is a Rochdale Girl" already written out and the music came pretty quickly. The simplicity of the music and 'everyman' feel to the lyrics set something of a precedent and gave us the confidence to have space on the record. For me, the lyrics of "Lippy Kids" are the lynchpin of the record and the line "One long June, I came down from the trees" is actually in direct reference to "climbing trees, skinned my knees" on "Scattered Black and Whites" on our debut album Asleep in the Back.
 
CM: We actually can't remember the last time you've played in Texas - it's been at least five years. Do you have any recollections of previous visits from SXSW or otherwise?
 
RJ: I do have vague recollections of playing with the Black Crowes on our first visit to SXSW! I think we kind of overdid it a bit as we were so starstruck and amazed that we were playing at such an incredible festival that memories are…few and far between! I do remember meeting Mani from The Stone Roses there, though!
 
CM: In England, Elbow have gradually grown and grown their audience to the point where you are now able to play arena dates. Is it challenging to play for festival audiences that aren't as familiar with your material?
 
RJ: To be honest, it's not! So far this year we have played around 25 festivals around the world, with audiences ranging from a few thousand to about 80,000, and we bloody love it! Over these dates we have honed the set to accommodate both old and new fans. We now feel comfortable with the set, and are looking forward to getting over there [to the USA] and seeing what you think.
 
CM: Quite a few Elbow songs make use of choruses and/or strings - will you have any of that in your live show on the North American tour this month?
 
RJ: Yes. We will be taking two string players with us this time, the beautiful Jote Oshan and Stella Page.
 
CM: As an investor in a craft brewery, I was pleased to see that the band have an Elbow-branded Cask Bitter bitter on draught and bottles in the UK, with some proceeds going to Oxfam. How did that come about? Do you have time to sample all the American craft brew while on tour in the US?
 
RJ: We simply got together with a local brewery called Robinsons, based in Stockport near Manchester. I'm pretty sure they heard about our interest in all things liquid and alcoholic! We came up with an Elbow beer called "Build a Rocket Boys" The tasting sessions were interesting to say the least! And yes, I'm sure we will make time to sample any and all American Craft brews while we are over there.
 
CM: Finally, you've been doing this for 20 years now. What motivates you to keep writing, playing, and connecting to new people after all this time?
 
RJ: What's not to love about being in a band with your best mates, being able to do it full-time, having families, and traveling the world playing the music you have written! Plus you're meeting people who appreciate what you do, and catching each other's eye on stage and thinking 'WOW'.
 
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Elbow will perform at the Austin City Limits Festival on Sunday, September 18 at 5:30pm on the Google+ stage.