Isn’t it great when you discover something that you immediately love that you’d never even heard of before? That’s getting harder and harder to do in the plugged in world we swim in. So after the 20 year old British band Elbow finished the first song at their sold out concert here in New York, I knew I had discovered something special.
What blew me away was how I’d managed to miss them for all these years. All of their albums have sold a million copies, and they did the BBC theme for the London Olympics! To everybody at the show, they were more than familiar. They were the band they’d loved forever. They knew all of the words, cheering at each opening chord, and singing along on every song, creating an emotional connection that I rarely see at any show. I saw plenty of people crying with joy, napkins in hand, smiles ear to ear.
The leader of this love fest is a chap named Gus Garvey, who has the voice of an angel, and the gregarious personality of a game show host, or a master of ceremonies. He led the crowd on a musical journey, emoting with heartfelt gestures that never felt forced. It was the proverbial ‘Having Them in the Palm of Your Hand’ performance. The thing is, the music matched that performance. This group does what I coined ‘Beautiful Music’, which is not dissonant, pounding, or abrasive. Instead, it builds into a crescendo, like a symphony. It wells up like a fountain, swelling till it overflows, creating an overwhelming emotional response in the listener. Beautiful Music catches you off guard, and suddenly takes you over, leaving you marveling at the majestic nature of the experience, because of how it creeps up on you unexpectedly. A great example of this is the song “Mirror Ball’.”
Commentators have compared Elbow to Peter Gabriel and Genesis, which I can see, but to me, they are more like two other 90’s groups, House Of Love, and The Verve— two of my favorites. They’re like House of Love in the use of very original, different beats and rhythms, and The Verve in the sonic and emotional sense. In an interview I read, Garvey says that he doesn’t like when an artist sounds the same on every song, that it’s not fair to the listener.
Elbow changes it up through out their recordings and concerts, varying the volume, speed, instruments, and the beat. Each song sounds unique, like it’s own island. For example, the two women who are backup singers also play a violin and a viola, adding even more to the symphonic nature. Therefore, it stays fascinating till the end, and nobody wanted it to stop. It’s interesting to experience real intense longing for encores, not just a desire to not want to go home. You know it when you feel it. No one wanted to leave.
Look, I can think of a handful of movies that should be made into musicals. Waiting for Guffman. My Cousin Vinny. The Shawshank Redemption. (JK on that last one.) One movie that doesn’t come immediately to mind is King Kong—not the original, the ’70s remake, or the overwrought Peter Jackson version from a few years ago. Alas, I’m not the one making decisions when it comes to musical theater, as evidenced by the fact that Kathie Lee Gifford currently has a show on Broadway right now. Obviously I also wouldn’t come up with the plan to turn King Kong into a big-budget stage production featuring songs by people who are actually pretty good at making music.
King Kong: The Eighth Wonder of the World is set to premiere in Melbourne in May 2013, according to The Guardian. Those kooky Aussies! And, yes, Massive Attack and Sarah McLachlan are involved, because why not?
The next version of King Kong will feature music by Elbow’s Guy Garvey, Massive Attack’s Robert Del Naja, the Avalanches and Sarah McLachlan. All have signed on as contributors to a new stage musical, premiering in Melbourne next year.
The soundtrack is being assembled for a new big-budget production, directed by Daniel Kramer and featuring a one-tonne animatronic gorilla that will lumber across the stage. "We’ve made some music for a giant robot ape!" the Avalanches boasted on Twitter. McLachlan was a little more demure, and specific: "Wrote a new song for the character of Ann Darrow," she said. "It’s a very intimate, quiet song."
The soundtrack for King Kong, the Eighth Wonder of the World is being arranged by Marius de Vries, who has produced records for Rufus Wainwright and Elbow, and who directed the music for Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge. The score will bring together "new and pre-existing tunes", according to a press release, including the 1930s standards "I Wanna Be Loved by You" and "Get Happy." In addition to songs by Garvey, Del Naja, McLachlan and the Avalanches, the French DJs Justice are also contributing some material. "It’s the perfect match for those tracks," they said in a video, because of their "theatrical and epic feel".
Ummm, alright. So half of it is new music, and the other half a collection of old songs? This is gonna be weird. But hey, at least those music nerds who have spent the last decade eagerly waiting for new music by The Avalanches will be tricked into listening to showtunes written by Sarah McLachlan! Does it get any better than that?
Over the past twenty years, British rockers Elbow have cultivated a devoted fan-base with their expressive lyrics and intimate sound. Their latest album, Build a Rocket, Boys! — it’s already surged higher on the billboard charts than any of their previous efforts, landing in the number two slot in the UK — creates a thrilling tension between backwards-glancing lyrics and a decidedly of-the-moment, even optimistic sound. Now touring around the world, we caught up with lead singer Guy Garvey and bassist Pete Turner while they were in town for a gig.
You’ve known each other for over two decades–how did you come together?Guy: Well me Mark and Jupp were in the same year in school and we just decided to put a band together and play anything we could. Craig is Mark’s brother and we found out years later that Mark’s father had told Mark, on the quiet, that he wasn’t allowed to use his car to take his equipment to practice unless he let his brother be in the band –which worked out really well for us. I had been in a band at school but never played a gig, just hung around looking like a band. I’m from a big family and have five older sisters who were all very music and I was something of a novelty in a house of five girls and they were very concerned that I have their taste in music so they would sit me down and tell me what’s good so I always grew up accepting music. Around the time I joined the band I didn’t know if I wanted to be an actor or a musician. I knew I wanted to show off. And we were together before writing lyrics became important to me and that remains my favorite part of the job.
How would you say your sound has changed?Guy: We were awful, we played like this bizarre jazz funk which was like all the music we were into rolled into one. Pete: It wasn’t even really music we would listen to, I remember thinking that I would never listen to this off my own back. Guy: But it came about through all of us wanting to play better so we would play and try and fit as many tricks into a song as you can and our songs would get longer and longer. We thought this sort of uptempo funky shag would get us a record deal one day. Pete: Funky bullshit.
There are five of you. How do you take all your different musical talents and interests and turn them into a cohesive sound?Guy: It’s twenty years in June that we’ve been writing music together and the individual song is really important to us but beyond that we’ve always been an album band without every questioning being anything else, the idea that you can go and lose yourself in a record is something that everyone in the band loves. Where you tastes meet, because we all have different tastes in music, is an appreciation of subtly and drama in music. So it takes us a long time to write our stuff, it’s not like one of us writes it and then takes it to the band.
Do you come up with a concept together?Guy: Well this time more than ever before, thematically, I knew that I wanted to write about the past but that’s because life’s been good. So my favorite albums are narrative with a start and an end. I realized I had all of that in my past that I could tap into. So it was a lot easier than any of the others.
Why did you chose the title Build a Rocket Boys! ?Guy: It’s a lyric from “Lippy Kids” and it’s a cry of enthusiasm and encouraging young people to be all they can be and to have as much fun following their ambitions that they can possibly get out of life. And even though it’s addressed to young people, it’s addressed to people my age. As I approach forty and am starting a family and the rest of us have kids now, I hear a lot of my friends suspecting young people have been up to no good and it’s because you’ve got more to protect when you’ve got a family and a home and it’s easy to look at young people with suspicion. It’s really disjointed in the UK and the young people are really disenfranchised. I suppose it was a way of saying that I’ve been in the same gang I’ve been in for twenty years and we’ve made it out living just reminding people to remember they were young once and treat people with respect regardless of their age.
Is playing music something you’d have been doing whether you’d been successful or not?Guy: We’ve had some many ups and downs and we’ve been lucky to make a living with it for ten years but if he wasn’t a musician he’d be a time fighter pilot. Pete: In Star Wars. Guy: And I’d be a shark hunter.
Writing or performing?Pete: I love being on tour and I absolutely love doing gigs. A lot of our crew are best friends and there’s a real nice atmosphere when you go away. I love the fact that when we write our album, considering it’s the job that we do, it’s as close as we can get to like, going to the office everyday. We go, we’re in this atmosphere, its very close to home and we get on it and get creative and have fun. I like all of it. Guy: There’s a nice regularity to the writing side. It’s like you can have a life outside of the studio, I can go to the pub after work and yet you think about it all the time. Pete: And when we finished this album it was one of those things like….I couldn’t believe that these things I think about constantly, it was an end. And then with the touring it’s like you go away and tour and you have schedules and itineraries and you have to do this and that. Guy: This last tour in the UK, when we came home…you know that feeling when you’re a kid and you’ve been away on holiday? You come wish fresh eyes and the familiar becomes extraordinary and you notice the tiniest details in a way that you haven’t before and it’s because a week to a kid can be life changing so you’re not the same person coming home. I had that same feeling when I came home after tour and only then did I realize the size of the rooms we were holding and it is an extraordinary thing to me, it’s not in any way shape or form normal and I came home changed.
Was that the first time you felt the weight of what you were doing?Guy: Yes, yeah. We fought really hard to make these arenas intimate and the way we designed the stage set was deliberately to make it intimate. Pete: That tour was in our lives about eight or nine months before we knew about the whole thing. There was this build up and then in two weeks time the whole thing’s gone, it’s the end of that. Guy: It’s crazy, it all comes down to that moment and 20,000 people enjoying our music was fucking brilliant.
Are there any rituals you do before a show?Guy: Vodka tonics.
Do you do anything creative outside of music?Guy: I’ve been asked to write a forward to a Penguin Classic.
For which one?Guy: You get to choose! Basically, they get song writers to pick their favorite books and write a forward. So I’m going to do a forward to William Yeats’ poetry.
Can you listen to an album right after you’ve completed it, or is it still too fresh? Guy: It’s like a nice bottle of Brandy, or something.
Dust it off the shelf in a few years… Guy: Well, a few weeks…throw on my dressing gown…but I’m excited to listen to it and the longer I leave it, the better it will be. Pete: It’s really nice going back isn’t it?