After two decades in the game, the gorgeous, grandiose, and entirely grounded music of ELBOW culminated in the Brits latest release Build A Rocket Boys! Skillfully woven, some tracks on the album grab sweeping instrumentation from 2001's Asleep in the Back and joyous guitar rhythms from the 2008 Mercury Music Prize-winning album Seldom Seen Kid. Bassist Pete Turner cheerfully chatted about Elbow’s latest effort -- and other assorted topics, including the band's surprising connection to Manchester-by-the-Sea, Mass. -- in the midst of some crappy New York weather. Fortunately, he and the band will be headed for sunnier skies this weekend: Elbow are set to play at the Coachella Music & Arts Festival in Indio, Cali., this Saturday, April 16.
So where are you at the moment? What's going on?
I'm in New York at the moment and it's absolutely wonderful. You'll have to bear with me: today is Tuesday, I'm here tomorrow and on Thursday I leave for L.A. When I left Manchester, ... it was absolutely beautiful. Spring is my favorite time, actually, it's lovely. My garden's just come into it's own, actually, the wisteria's kind of growing, there's lots of blossoming, it's beautiful!
Build A Rocket has gotten a pretty warm reception, how would you define it, and what does it represent to you and the band?
To me it’s the only album we could have done after everything happened with Seldom Seen Kid. There were so many things that were beyond our control with that album. The thing I love about Seldom Seen Kid is that it wasn't deliberately written to be kind of like a crossover album. We wrote an album and it just happened to cross over, you know what I mean? Which is really cool – there was the sun coming out at Glastonbury, the Mercury prize and the other awards and stuff. And we kind of just got together and it was really cool -- we were all in completely the same place and none of us wanted to do like a Seldom Seen Kid part two or like this big anthemic album, and then we didn't want to go left field. We could have only written [the new album] now. It was fun to write and we were all kind of confident about it. It was the easiest album we've ever written by a long way – it was a lot of fun, it was good. Hey, have you got a Manchester or a "New Manchester" by Boston?
Well, there's a Manchester in New Hampshire, and there's Manchester-by-the-Sea at the coast.
I only ask because [Mark] Potter, our guitarist, his wife Katy is from there. And he met her when we doing a tour with Doves – this is quite a few years ago – but Jeff and Annette, Potter's mother and father-in-law live there and they're the coolest people. If you could pop that in, just in case they see it, that would be cool.
A lovely part of America, I always think is Boston. It has a very European feel. It's very, very beautiful. This is it: America always amazes me how completely different cities are – it's unbelievable. We all kind of come out here and are always blown away. New York and Chicago have a very old, industrial vibe to them – they're absolutely beautiful in a very different way to say, Boston. I love it – I love coming over here, it's great.
You mentioned the recording process for Build a Rocket – what was your experience? Did it differ from the way you recorded other albums, in the past?
Well, I think it’s a little bit rough around the edges. Seldom Seen Kid -- the attention to detail made it , well, it was quite a rich sounding album. This was a bit rough, but everything you do hear on it was really thought out, whereas with Seldom, the attention to detail was huge. On [Build a Rocket] we used a lot of first takes and like I said before, it was just very, very easy – it was a lot more relaxed. I think what we did was followed the idea "less is more." I think we were kind of aiming it at people that got Asleep in the Back, we kind of went back to the basics, kept it very simple and stripped it back. It was ridiculously easy and if I'd kind of thought about it a couple of years ago when everything was happening with Seldom, then I really would have thought it would have been a difficult album but it was just really was easy.
I mean, you've got Asleep in the Back and we had to re-record that album because it got dropped. Then Cast of Thousands we stopped writing while we were touring Asleep in the Back -- we got to writing it, and were like "shit, how do we do this, we don't know!" and then like Leaders of the Free World was written when at that point our record company, V2, was kind of like going down. And then Seldom Seen Kid was written when we didn't actually have a deal. So this one, we knew that lots people would hear it and it was really easy. But I thin it was kind of written because we knew all these people were going to hear it – and it was kind of like "well, this is what we do" rather than try and kind of almost cash in on the success that we'd found. So it's a very honest album, I think.
That was one thing that struck me about Build A Rocket – I realized you could hear bits of Asleep in the Back but also bits from Seldom Seen Kid, but it was sort of you'd taken the songwriting and brought it together to create almost a grown-up version of past work?
Yeah, what happens is every album we write is that we learn from the previous one and we move forward with it really. Well, really, you know, it's like, when you love a band and their your band. And then they find success and you just don't want them to disappoint you and if they suddenly kind of like start writing absolute bollocks it kind of sullies anything they've done. And I mean, me and Guy have done lots of promo and when you do it and speak to journalists and kind of get an idea about the album, just from talking about it and talking to people, so many journalists kind of said to us or would come in and were like "I'm so relieved!" It was like people were worried that we were going to turn into, you know, idiots, and just kind of cash in. This was never a thing really or ever an option – we all knew where we were going to go with it [the music].
I think that comes across in the sound, too. It's very laid back but it’s very secure, if that makes sense?
Yeah, nice one. I think we're just really happy. [The album] is kind of the only thing we could have done for us. What we've kind of always said is "what would we want to hear next from us?" and this was the theme when we were writing. That's kind of how we went about it, really.
Well, I don't like to anticipate things from bands. Because you think, well, maybe they've changed their sound, or tried something different but it's interesting that you all didn't do anything that massively different with Build a Rocket.
Yeah, I mean, it's like we're massive fans of bands, and I don't want to be let down by my favorite band, you know. It's kind of like when you get, say, a new Radiohead album. And as a fan of music myself, it's like, I know what I want from my band and I kind of assume that people are into our stuff exactly the same.
So I have to ask then, what are you listening to at the moment?
Well, right now I've got the Clash on. I came back to my hotel room and thought – "I'm fucking knackered!" - but I'm just a bit jetlaggy! And I just got back to my room and thought "I want to hear some Clash!" But I'm really loving – do you know Beach House? They're my favorite band at the moment.
Why in particular?
Well, I'm listening to Teen Dream – just her voice – me and Guy were both saying, if we were in a different band, we'd love to have a female voice. It's like Cat Power as well – just blown away. Absolutely fucking brilliant!
I was also curious about Coachella – you're playing there this weekend.
Well, we played in probably about 2001 or 2002 when Asleep in the Back was out. It's a pretty cool festival. It's pretty hot. It's very desert-y. And it's just great. We're all really looking forward to it – it will be a good laugh, I think.
Are you looking forward to seeing anyone in particular there?
Well, I’m looking forward to seeing Animal Collective – I don't really know of anyone else! I think Mumford and Sons are playing. We know Marcus because he was with Laura Marlin and she supported us in Europe, so it will be nice to see him, and they're doing really well over here which is great. Back home, they [are huge] as well. And you can totally see why. I saw them actually at Glastonbury a year or two ago, and they're such a good live band – whether it's music that you love or not, you know, there are some bands live that you just can't argue with. And they're absolutely incredible live, so it will be nice to sort of see them. Otherwise, you always kind of bump into people. That's the nice thing about festivals – you always see your mates, people you've not seen for a while, so that's pretty cool.
So, to wrap things up – what’s next for the band? How will Elbow continue to grow?
We've kind of been talking about where we're going to go next – for the next album. I think we'd really love to do a true concept album. For us, an album as a body of work is what we really love, and that's the most important thing. And so that's like an idea that we kind of got. We'd like the next album to be beefier and heavier and we've got the best drummer in the world, so we'd like to get more beat-y. I don't know! We think about these things and then you actually get down to it and things can always change. When we were doing [Build a Rocket] we were really enjoying Tricky and Massive Attack and Portishead and stuff like that. But I think a big, fat, beefy, beat-y album would be cool. I'd like to do a true concept album and get really pompous and overblown with it.
What kind of sound would you want to go for?
We always kind of go back to it, but The Sophtware Slump from Granddaddy is, I think, really one of the best album's that's ever been written. From start to finish, it's – well, I think that we hope with our albums that they're somewhere to go - like a mood. If you feel a certain way you can go and live there for 40 minutes or whatever. I think that's the thing: I think every band is working towards a classic album. I don't think you never actually know that you've done it until years later. I think that's kind of where we're at really and I think that's what we'd love to do.