Interview - Elbow: Anxious moment as new album prepares for lift-off

After taking their seats in music’s big league, Elbow’s Guy Garvey tells Andy Welch why the new album is causing him sleepless nights.

Guy Garvey doesn’t strike you as a morning person.

From the lyrics he writes, the Elbow frontman seems like the kind of man who regularly lies in bed with a fuzzy head, “shaking off a heavy one,” to quote their barnstorming hit One Day Like This.

“Yes, I am up rather early,” he says, wearily. It’s 9am and he’s not slept much. “I have very interesting sleep patterns before an album comes out – on account of all the anxiety dreams. I had one recently where my friend had posted all my lyrics online. There was a hit-count in the bottom corner of the screen and people were giving me horrendous criticism, real damning stuff.” Garvey is not alone – guitarist Mark Potter has a recurring dream where his pedals malfunction, and by the time he’s righted the problem, the crowd have gone home, while drummer Richard Jupp – who also plays keyboards for the first time on the forthcoming album – has a nightmare of a mile-long piano, each key taking his entire body weight to press down.

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As dreams go, the meanings seem pretty obvious, but you do have to ask why Garvey, one of the most celebrated, romantic, poignant lyricists of our generation, would be lacking in confidence when it came to his prose. The band’s last album, The Seldom Seen Kid, was written following the death of a close friend, with grief informing each of the album’s 11 tracks, culminating with Friend Of Ours.

Descriptions of loss and male friendship don’t come more concise or devastating.

“I know I’m praised for my lyrics, but I’m not a natural,” he says, humbly. “I have to work really hard to get them to a standard I’m happy with.”

Build A Rocket Boys! contains more than its fair share of lyrical greatness. Jesus Is A Rochdale Girl is a particular standout, detailing Garvey’s first love when he was just out of his teens.

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“We’re great friends now,” he says, reminiscing. “I danced at her wedding... she was my saviour when I was 21. She used to steal me food from her dad’s restaurant.”

Now, aged 36, and after the traumatic events of the last album, Garvey admits to being in a very happy place. The band, too, is in rude health, with a new-found relaxed atmosphere running through the recording sessions of their fifth album.

“We used to be really hard on each other about everything,” he explains. “If someone was 15 minutes late for anything, we’d all play hell.

“It’s only recently we felt we could say, ‘I don’t want to see you at the studio if there’s something else you need to be doing’. If someone wants to look after their kids, or they just don’t fancy recording that day, then fine.”

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There’s also the added security of the stature afforded them since releasing Mercury Prize-winning The Seldom Seen Kid. “This is the first record we’ve made without some sort of financial spectre hanging over us. We weren’t writing with a collapsing record label behind us, or doubts about our future.

“We made enough money on the last album that we’re OK for at least another couple of years. We feel like a proper band.”

For Elbow fans, loyal since the band’s 2001 debut Asleep In The Back, the praise heaped upon Seldom Seen Kid was not undeserved, but also surprising. There was no magical change in direction or new sound that finally attracted the masses. It was the more indescribable phenomenon of timing that saw Elbow click.

“To be told we’d ‘made it’ after our fourth album was amazing, of course it was, but it did make me think we were 20 years late to the party,” says Garvey. “But the wonderful thing about the success of the last record is that Build A Rocket Boys! is going to be heard a lot. Whether people love it or hate it, it’s got a platform that we’ve never had before. And that’s what the album was designed for, for people to hear.”

Elbowing their way into the big time at last

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Guy Garvey first met Craig Potter at college in 1990 and was asked to join their band Mr Soft, as singer. They changed their name a number of times, settling on Elbow, and signed to Island Records in 1997. They recorded an album that was never released and were duly dropped. They finally released a debut, the Mercury Prize-nominated Asleep In The Back, in 2001, but it wasn’t until the release of The Seldom Seen Kid that they found mainstream success, winning the Mercury Prize, two Ivor Novellos and a Brit award. Elbow play Sheffield Motorpoint Arena on March 19.

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