Interview: Elbow talk success, the Olympics and the future

REPORTER Andrew Trendell talks to Elbow bassist Pete Turner about their past, future and Olympic-sized ambitions.

After years of toil, frustrationon and their music going unheard, Elbow are finally reeping the benefits of over a decade of hard graft.

“We’ve always felt like the bridesmaids,” laughs Pete, considering Elbow’s long history of flirting with the mainstream but never quite cracking it.

In 2008, all the years of uphill struggle finally came to an end when they took home the Mercury Music Prize for the universally-acclaimed Seldom Seen Kid.

Along with the band’s anthem, One Day Like This being all over the airwaves, it wasn’t long before the band found themselves headlining festivals and selling out arenas.

As the band prepare for an Olympic summer with First Steps - their soundtrack to the London 2012 Games - Elbow are also gearing up to round off the campaign for their hugely successfully fifth LP Build A Rocket Boys with a mammoth arena tour.

Andrew Trendell chats to Elbow bassist Pete Turner.

How did the band approach the heavy task of writing a song to soundtrack the London 2012 Olympics?

“First Steps has been a long time in the making. We’re really proud of it, because we had to go about writing it in a different way.

“We were very conscious of it not being a typical Elbow song. Right from the beginning Guy (Garvey, singer) was saying ‘I’m not going to sing on this song’, because as soon as you hear his voice it becomes an Elbow song.”

How do you feel about the extent to which the Games have married music and sport this year?

“There’s a lot of excitement around and I love how they’ve got involved with music. It’s made me want to watch it - I’m not sure how much I’d watch otherwise. Like a lot of people, I’d watch the athletics and the 100 metres but I’m just not a big fan of sport really.”

“Everyone’s up for it - not just sports fans. It’s a bit like the Jubilee. If it’s good fun and it brings everyone together then it’s got to be good.”

So will the band be performing during the games?

“I don’t think I can tell you really. I’m not sure - I’ll just say that I don’t know.”

What do you make of the rest of the Olympic songs chosen?

“I’ve not heard a lot of the other Olympic music, apart from a bit of that Muse song. I like the cool wig-out at the end - it sounds pretty big. They’re a top band so they were always going to do a good job.

“We’ve known Muse for years. We’ve toured with them and always see them at festivals. They always put on a good show. Both us and Muse like prog rock but they just go full-force down the road, whereas we’re a little less bombastic than they are.”

The first time I saw Elbow live was supporting Muse on their 2003 arena tour. Did you get you get a taste for it back then and think ‘we can do this’?

“We’ve always thought that we can, but when we got to arenas we wanted to make them a more intimate kind of place. So that’s what we did the first time we toured.

“It worked really well because Guy’s great at bringing everyone together.”

So what can fans expect from your November arena tour?

“We’re rounding up the whole Build A Rocket Boys album and this one’s going to be similar to the last arena tour with bringing the crowd in and making the room feel smaller, but there will be new lights, new visuals and new ideas.

“We’re going to look back into the back catalogue a little bit more and fish out some songs that we’ve not played for a while. But it should just be a couple of hours of fun and partying every night. It’s a nice way of rounding off the album and the year.”

Guy said something at Latitude about preferring not to play guitar any more. Is that why older songs like Newborn and Mexican Standoff aren’t in the set as much as they were?

“We brought Leaders of the Free World back and we’re all enjoying that and might carry on but Guy’s been focussing on entertaining stadium crowds recently.

“There are new songs that he’s written and playing guitar on so he might go back to little bits here and there if it calls for it.”

And what kind of progress are you making with your new album?

“We’ve been writing over the last six or seven months and we’ve got maybe just over half an album ready and it’s just a really enjoyable process at the moment. We’re enjoying experimenting and listening to good music and it’s really good fun. It feels like a luxury – it’s so cool.

“It feels very experimental and we’ve been going very leftfield with things. Spiritualized get referenced quite a lot and we’re trying out new things. We’re referencing My Bloody Valentine, Ride and bands like that and the songs are taking nice little turns. 
“We were working on this new tune the other day and Guy said ‘this is like a little Jewish folk song’, and we listened back to it and thought ‘that’s brilliant, we have to keep that vibe’. It’s got this great feel of one of those Eastern European stop-animation films. I love it.”

After the success of Seldom Seen Kid, how does it feel to write music in the certainty that a lot of people will hear it?

“That’s something that we definitely felt after The Seldom Seen Kid had come out. Following that up, if we’d have actually thought about it we’d have been saying ‘now this is like we’re doing our second album’ – but it wasn’t. We knew that people would want to hear it, buy it and be interested and that just made the whole process a lot more relaxed.

“I remember around the time of Leaders of the Free World when I was walking down the street and a fan came up to me and said ‘when’s your next album out?’ and it had been out for six weeks. That was really frustrating because we’d been working for years on this album and no one knew it was out. But hopefully now people have got the chance to go back and explore the songs on those old albums.”

Elbow play Nottingham’s Capital FM Arena on Monday 26th November.

Tickets are £29.50 and are available by visiting or by calling 08444 124 624.