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interview by Alexander Laurence

(left to right)
Mark, Jupp, Guy, Pete, Craig
Elbow is a five member band from Manchester. Their debut record entitled Asleep In The Back was nominated for 2001's Mercury Prize. Three years ago, they received a recording contract at Peter Gabriel's Real World Studios by winning a local battle of the bands. Island Records was caught up in a merger and the album was never released. They went back to their day jobs. In the meantime they released a few indie EPs.

Last year, V2 Records finally took notice and signed them. They currently have a hit record. The week that I spoke to them in February 2002, their single was in the top 20 in England.

Elbow has frequently been compared to early Genesis and lead singer Guy Garvey sounds like a young Peter Gabriel. They also evoke Prog Rock bands of the 1970s. Many people have compared them to Radiohead as well. Their record is full of influences and has the weight of waiting ten years to do a proper record.

I found the band to be very approachable. They look like regular guys and seem close and friendly. You would hardly think that they were in a band.

I had a coffee with them recently before a show at the Virgin Megastore. It was a great turnout for a band that most of us in the States have only heard about in the past three months. We huddled around a table and talked about their new record.

Guy Garvey: vocals
Pete Turner: bass
Mark Potter: guitar
Craig Potter: keyboards
Jupp (don't ask us.... he's a one-namer) drums


AL: You guys are really a band. You have known each other for a long time.

Guy: It's been the same band for eleven years. We can't compare this to any other situation because none of us have worked with anyone else. Maybe it would be good to work with others but maybe we were really lucky to find each other.

AL: You have known each other for a long time and you come from the same neighborhood?

Guy: Mark and Craig are brothers and Pete and Jupp are practically brothers. The four of them went to primary and secondary school together. I met Mark in a class at art college.

AL: Did you guys grow up listening to Stones Roses and Happy Mondays?

Guy: When we started that scene had already happened. It was great. The Stone Roses are still great to listen to.

Craig: We were more into The Happy Mondays.

AL: Did you go to the Hacienda?

Guy: Yeah. Our tour manager, Tom, used to do the sound there. We did the last show there before it closed down.

Pete: Yeah we did. Nothing to do with us. It was an accident.

Mark: It was a Tuesday night. It was a club called Stone Love. We just happened to be the last band on.

AL: Then they ripped the place apart once you left the stage?

Guy: We started it didn't we? We took some bad mushrooms and started it all by tearing a few planks off the main stage. The manager said let's do the whole thing. Then it closed down. That's a true story.

AL: Do you guys do drugs before a show? If you are the drummer it's probably a bad idea?

Jupp: Yeah. It's very bad.

Craig: We have shots of vodka and orange, or vodka and coke.

Mark: We drink. We don't really do drugs and then play.

Guy: Drinks and sleep deprivation are our drugs of choice. We find it hilarious when we don't have any sleep. We are dead looking.

AL: I guess that when you played in LA there was overcrowding and a riot. The fire marshal came in and kicked out some people. Was the band that was scheduled to follow you (South) even allowed to play?

Craig: South got to play but to about a third of the audience. We had to cut our show down three songs. It was irritating. It works better that way.

AL: You won a battle of the bands prize to record at Peter Gabriel's Real World Studios and Guy has been compared to Gabriel vocally. Are you fans?

Guy: We recorded the first record at Real World Studios. I am more into Peter Gabriel than the others. I like the early Genesis. They were like storytellers. I read somewhere about a guy who called himself a music psychologist. He reckoned that the stuff that you listen to between the ages eight and eleven has the most influence on you. In my case it's true. I used to sing along to Peter Gabriel's solo records during that time. I thought that he was amazing. The first Phil Collins album has a song that is the musical blueprint for "Newborn." It's a song called "Entangle." The structure of the song and the arrangement is taken from a Phil Collins song. I enjoy that. Many artists who are really shit have maybe one or two great songs. It's a shock to find. Even Howard Jones has done a good song. It's called "Don't always look in the rain." It's a diamond in the dogshit.

AL: What do you think of people comparing you to Radiohead?

Pete: I love Kid A and Amnesiac. It's like our music in that it's late night music. You put it on when you want to feel a certain way. It's a certain vibe and a certain mood.

AL: Who writes all the songs in Elbow?

Mark: We all do. We work at home a lot on multi-tracks. Come up with ideas and instrumentals.

AL: Was the album more schizophrenic in that way since there was more than one songwriter?

Guy: Definitely. More than that because it's very eclectic in the way all our separate music influences come about. Some songs remind people of Radiohead. Other songs remind people of DJ Shadow or Triphop. You are hearing those songs on their own out of context. It also took six years to write. We only stay with one style for so long. The album is about where we are from. It was all about our frustration living in our hometown. We wanted to do something else.

Craig: It's also the same thing with the production. We keep it interesting by not recording it all in one studio at one time. We are used to that because we were dropped by an earlier label and we had to go back and record the same songs. We used about six songs form the Real World sessions on the new album.

Guy: Anything that we didn't use that was on the first album became a B-side somewhere else. They were all worthy of being album tracks at one point. We wanted to make sure that they got out there at one point. We didn't want to leave Island Records anything valuable in their vaults.

AL: They could have released that eventually in spite of your success. Since there are so many songwriters in the band, you must have a second album already planned or demoed?

Jupp: We have a lot of ideas lying around.

Mark: We are looking forward to recording and getting into it again. We have a working title "Inventions."

AL: Your single "Asleep in The Back" is in the Top 20 this week. What was it like being on Top of The Pops with all those pop stars like Kylie and Robbie?

Guy: Yeah. We had a live vocal and the band was miming in the back. Since we weren't playing live we had four mates from home behind us playing the brass. We didn't use the musicians on the record. Everybody has a big grin on their face during the performance. It was fucking great. I rang up my mate Neil at work and said: "We have been talking. Do you want to be on Top of The Pops with us?" I told him to take a day off. He told the manager to fuck off.

Craig: We were on with Westlife. Shaggy and Ali G. were also there. Ali G. was funny about a year ago. Now he's boring.

AL: Who does the Elbow website?

Craig: We are all involved with it.

Guy: There is a message board. We reply to all emails. We reply to everyone. We are all getting our own pages very soon. We are going to update it all the time and that should be amusing. We are bound to trade insults for days.

Pete: They'll be a competition who hits who's page the most.

Mark: Maybe it's not a good idea.

Guy: Pete, what's your favorite album?

Pete: Fuck off!

AL: Which bands have you played with the past year?

Guy: Doves, Trail of Dead, Mercury Rev, and South. Also Electric Soft Parade. They just released an album.

AL: Do you have any hobbies?

Guy: Sleep deprivation.

Jupp: Tea and cigarettes. I plan to go fishing. Hopefully we will have some time off.

Craig: Watching TV.

Pete: Wanking.

Guy: Wanking each other.

AL: You guys are close.

Mark: Skiing. (laughter)

Guy: Parachuting.

Pete: Naked cycling. We have stills of the naked cycling.

AL: What drives you in life?

Guy: Money and greed.

AL: Do you like Video Games?

Guy: I am addicted to Grand Theft Auto 3.

AL: Any messages to the fans out there?

Guy: Thanks for buying the record.

AL: Any advice to people who want to make music?

Guy: Do it yourself. Do it yourself as long as you can. Promote yourself. Make your own records on your own label. Don't mess around with record company people.

-- Alexander Laurence

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