Now On The Line…Elbow Frontman Guy Garvey

Now On The Line…Elbow Frontman Guy Garvey

The Britrockers have embarked on a rare U.S. tour behind their 2008 release, The Seldom Seen Kid, and lead singer Guy Garvey checked in periodically to let us know how it’s going.

By Mike Errico

VIDEO: Guy Garvey and Pete Turner discuss their odd band name and their exceptional album, The Seldom Seen Kid.

Day 1
April 29, 3 P.M.
Now in Chicago, Garvey rings from the green room at the evening’s venue, the Park West.

I would say after New York, Chicago’s my favorite city in the U.S. It’s got the same sort of ethic as New York, a little bit of the community vibe — I would imagine being part of a city like that. We’ve been before, and Mark [Potter] and Pete [Turner] did some DJ’ing with friends of ours at an afterparty. I’m not a DJ, you know, and wouldn’t be ideal at selling dance floors. Depending on the dance floor, of course. Maybe a 1930s dance floor…

Yesterday we had a day off in Cleveland, Ohio. It’s Mark’s birthday today, so we started a little bit early: We got the tequilas in and it got a bit messy. Not to sound too Mariah, but different songs are harder to sing than others, so despite the fact that I can drink more than anybody in the band or crew, I actually behaved myself in the name of our art. My drummer [Richard Jupp] is particularly a pussy when it comes to drinking. That’s because his body is a temple. Yeah.

The set that we played in Washington [two days earlier] was in a historic synagogue, which was completely seated. We did more of the gentle tunes, “Scattered Black and Whites” (from 2001’s Asleep in the Back) and “Switching Off” (from 2004’s Cast of Thousands). It’s been different every night, and to be honest with you, we’ve yet to have a conversation about what we’re going to do tonight. You can change two songs in a set and change the atmosphere of the concert quite dramatically. And different places have different traditions when it comes to responding. In Germany, for instance, they fold their arms, expectantly it seems, as they do in Manchester. But what I realized was that in Manchester it’s rudeness, while as in Germany they’re giving music the same respect as they would ballet or theater. The audience’s response here has been incredibly enthusiastic. Despite the soft ending, “The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver” is getting the biggest reaction.

I’m listening to: “Alley Flowers” by Jolie Holland
I put it on this morning. I’ve got a little unit for my iPod with its own little case, like a vanity case or something, and you stick your iPod in the middle and it fills the room with music. This morning we listened to Bill Evans and Catalpa by Jolie Holland, and “Alley Flowers” is the song that jumped out. She’s got an exquisite voice.

I’m reading: Everyman, by Philip Roth
I like reading American authors when we’re in America, and Philip Roth I think is the best living one, though he doesn’t write women very well. He’s like this sort of doomy social analyst in his novels, and I found out he’s got a bad back and writes all of these books stood upright at a fucking lectern, like he’s writing the word of God because he can’t actually sit in a chair. So, with all this venom about American culture sort of spewing forth, he’s actually stood at a lectern. Fantastic.

Day 2
May 2, 4 P.M.
Garvey checks in from his hotel room in Denver, Colorado, where he has been wrestling with his computer.

The only thing I’ve noticed about the altitude here is that all of my toiletries expanded. All the bottles of fluids that keep me so radiant and young looking have gotten a bit bigger.

We had a day off yesterday in Lincoln, Nebraska, which was kind of a sterile town, really. We took a boom box into the swimming pool at the motel, had a lot of beer, and just hung out there getting wrinkly all day. The string girls just had a chill. I think they watched a movie on the back of the bus… There Will Be Blood, I believe. We met another band just by chance in there, a band called Grand Archives. They’re a Sub Pop band, and they were doing the same thing as us, they had some time off so they were just messing about in the pool. I’m not used to meeting men by saunas, but there you go.

Since Chicago, we’ve done just Minneapolis I think, which was superb. A little club called the Fine Line. We tried to get the people very fittingly to sing “Purple Rain,” with it being Prince’s hometown. That didn’t work, so they spontaneously broke into “Lean on Me.” which I absolutely love. I’ve been making little recordings for my radio show, and it always strikes me more when I listen back to the recording. It’s always a great sound, isn’t it, people singing together? We’ll see what the people of Denver fancy.

I’m listening to: “Tyler” by UB40
“Tyler is guilty/the white judges said so.” It’s a great tune. Over breakfast yesterday morning, Pete, my bass player, came on my radio show and that’s what he picked, that’s what he wanted to hear. UB40, they do some terrible commercial shit, but their first album was great, very moody. Did you know that “Red Red Wine” was written by Neil Diamond? Do you know that when he performs it live, he sticks in the rapping that UB40 added. Can you believe it? (Rapping) “Red red wine, you make me feel so fine…”

Day 3
May 6, 3:30 P.M.
Now in Vancouver, Garvey sounds a little hazy from a long night in Seattle bonding with opening act Air Traffic.

I had too much fun last night. Seattle’s just such a great town, it’s so similar to Manchester in so many ways. But then of course it’s got the sea, and therefore the coastal weather, so it was really fresh and beautiful. And the people of Seattle seem to be a lot more laid-back. I have to say it was the best crowd this tour. Not just for us, but for Air Traffic as well. Their performance last night was spectacular, and they’re really nice lads. We went to the bar underneath the venue, and they were threatening to close as soon as we got in there, so we were power-drinking, really. It’s good to have that enthusiasm on the bus, you know.

I did a good trick, actually. When our sound check had finished a really nice barman called Nathan, I think he was called, made me a vodka tonic and refused to let me pay for it. So I asked everybody in the room to tip him really heavily when I was onstage. And I saw him afterward and said, “How did you do, Nathan?” He said, “I did all right. And you ever need anything, here’s my number.”

My friend Steve Young lives in town as well. Steve and I used to get together and play each other music once a week when we were kids. He was reminding me of some of the bands that we introduced each other to last night. He introduced me to Ron Sexsmith’s music, and I ended up interviewing Ron on my [BBC] radio show a couple of months ago. So he was taking credit for Ron Sexsmith and Spiritualized, and reminding me that I introduced him to the The and Talk Talk. He’s still got a cassette that I made him, with Spirit of Eden on one side and Mind Bomb on the other. He’s still making me compilations, although these days he lectures in geopolitics. He’s a world changer, our Steve.

I’m listening to: “Love and Other Planets” by Adem

It says, “Come with me/There’s something you should see … Put on your warmest coat.” It’s along those kinda lines … “But on a clear night … You can just make out love and other planets.” It’s obviously romantic to the person he’s talking to, but he’s also throwing it out there that there’s love everywhere, and all you have to do is go and have a look, and it’s absolutely everywhere. I love those unashamedly, unabashed, positive gestures. You know, it’s so easy to get caught in a trap of not wanting to show the extent of your romantic feelings because it’s in some way threatening your manhood or your “cool factor.” Anybody who would be put off by how much romance there is in our music isn’t welcome, anyways. It’s like, when did the world ever need a bit of hope and a bit of love and a bit of positivity more than it does at the moment?

I’m reading: What’s it called? [Turning away from the phone] Can you remember the name of that newspaper at the truck stop last night? We were right in the middle of Christ knows and I picked up a local newspaper and the headline was that some local mothers had gotten together and redecorated one of the classrooms at the local school as a surprise for the teachers. I was like, seems like a very sweet place to live. Not the usual horror story headlines that you get.

I’m reading: I’ve not had a chance to read much. I’m trying to fix my computer with all the spare time I’ve got. I’ve got a Powerbook G4 that needs throwing in the fucking bin. It’s an absolute pain. If it was a person, it would be like a cantakerous mule and I hate it. I hate it with every fiber of being.

Day 4
May 8, 5:20 P.M.
Having traveled south from Vancouver, Garvey phones from backstage at Bimbo’s, the San Francisco club.

We’re coming off a day off in Oregon, where we went whitewater rafting along the Rogue River. Three boatloads of us, all the band and crew, in Category 4’s and 5’s. We nearly lost one in the string section, but she managed to cling on. Afterwards, we all went to a place where you can play pool. Oregon’s got this big weed thing, it supplies all of New York’s weed, and I think the waitress was stoned. It took fucking ages to take our order and then even longer to get it. Once we realized she was stoned, it stopped being irritating and started being very funny to watch her work.

I suppose being a lapsed Catholic and playing in a Catholic church last night I had plenty of old memories come back to me from my altar boy youth… We made our own starch out of sugar, and the cotta — the white outergarment just about your waist — became like cardboard for me and my brother, so when we sat down, our heads disappeared into it, to the hilarity of each other and most of the congregation. It really upset my boss, father Joe Feely. He called us a pair of duck eggs… about as foul-mouthed as the man got.

I did have a bit of a Lost in Translation moment with my girlfriend. She got up and was having her breakfast, I was on the wrong side of a few beers, I’m just like, “How are you?” “Fine, how are you?” “Fine. What are you doing?” “I’m having my breakfast with my dad. What are you doing?” “I’m just on the tour bus. See you tomorrow.” I can’t wait to be in the same time zone again. After I got off the phone I had a look on my face and Mark [Potter, keyboards], who’s been with his partner longer than I’ve been with mine, leaned over and said, “We don’t bother. We call every three days to catch up and make sure we’re OK, but we don’t bother with a nightly phone call because ¾ of them are terrible.” Smart.

The end is nigh. We’ve played everywhere now, churches, synagogues, ancient nightclubs like this one. The new and the old songs are loved equally, which is always a relief, and we’ve just been having loads of fun doing it. We’ve tried to fill the space we’re in and have a unique experience every night, and we’ve all got a taste to write — as soon as you get on the road everyone starts thinking about the next album.

I’m listening to: “Chico” by The Concretes

I’m reading: [Laughs] I haven’t read anything. Me and Philip Roth are still strangers.

Day 5
May 9, 6:45 P.M.
In high spirits, Garvey checks in from poolside at L.A.’s storied Roosevelt Hotel. We inform him that the hotel is supposedly haunted by the ghost of Marilyn Monroe.

See, that’s it, man. You know you made it if you’re haunting the Roosevelt. Let me just check this out. [Away from the phone, calling out to his bandmates] Hey, did you guys know that Marilyn Monroe haunts the Roosevelt? [Pauses] We’ve already got a sighting of Marilyn here, mate. On the street. We have also seen shit Superman, shit Batman, shit Spider-Man, and … oh yeah, shit Incredible Hulk. It’s really good. Pete said that he felt like that this morning.

You know, I’ve realized that most Americans haven’t seen as much of America as I have. The amount that I’ve looked out on the road, you know. When you go home after a tour, your stimulus just disappears. Even if you sat in a moving tour bus doing nothing, the stimulus is there, the scenery passing by, everything that you’re witnessing. And when you go home the familiar becomes very mundane for a little while, and I will very, very sadly miss America for a few days when I get back to Manchester.

If you ask a different member of Elbow it’d be a different story. My personal favorite was the church in Vancouver. That was the most relaxed, and it was the most I enjoyed the songs. I have a lot of history with the Catholic church, so all day being around that building was making me think of my childhood and the latent Catholicism that comes through my lyrics all the time. I had a good relationship with God until I was in my early twenties. And then the existence of Christ and God became very secondary to, you know, the moral code I picked up from my upbringing, and I lost my faith, but not in a terrible way at all. So being around that building I was enjoying the heritage and the culture and celebration and community.

Definitely the barbeque we had in La Grande, Oregon. It’s a pretty poor community, lots of trailer homes and things. We had a barbeque by the side of our hotel, and the lady from the front desk bought her whole family. We had lots of fun teaching these American kids the games we used to play in the north of England. Do you know what “Curby” is? It’s a good game, man. You throw a ball from one side of the curb and you try to hit the opposing curb in such an angle that the ball bounces back. It’s harder to do than you would imagine. If it bounces back, you walk halfway across the road and you get another chance, and if you bounce again you get a point. First one to three wins. Good game.

It got pretty messy in Seattle. Because they closed the bar early and my old friend Steve Young was there, so I was mixing it up pretty bad.

In Vancouver, in the church. I invited everybody to sing the first line of “Newborn,” and without waiting for the rest of us, one solitary voice at the back of the room sang the line at the top of his lungs, and that really made me laugh. He was just so up for it that he just went ahead and did it.

I bought a porkpie hat in Seattle, and I’ve worn it every day since. It might make the trip home. It might be one of those things that you wear on tour but not in your neighborhood. My manager says it’s very Clockwork Orange.

The two girls that flew from Oklahoma to Chicago. They’d never been on a plane before. They’d seen an awful lot of shit over the previous five or six years, and the big sister, I think, looked after the little sister after their mother had died. They both had quite a personal connection to the tunes, so they made the journey together with the younger sister’s boyfriend. After the show, we got drunk with them.

I’m listening to: “Have You Forgotten” by Red House Painters

Oh my God, it’s so beautiful. So beautiful. “I can’t let you be/’Cause your beauty won’t allow me/Wrapped in white sheets/Like an angel from a bedtime story.” Oh it’s just so beautiful.

I’m reading: I still haven’t picked anything up. I’m going to read Philip Roth on the plane. [Laughs] You can read books at home, though, right? You can’t always stare out the window at the American wilderness.