A restrained chat with Elbow
Elbow's new album Build A Rocket Boys! is out now. We talk with bassist Pete Turner about the new album, fatherhood and having fun with your mates.
By Padraic O'Connor
It’s almost three years to the day since the release of Elbow’s Seldom Seen Kid - the success of which helped the humble UK 5-piece transition from cult band to everyone’s favourite band – and this week sees the release of the band’s long awaited follow-up Build A Rocket Boys!
Build A Rocket Boys! sees the lovable Northerners stick with what they know best, writing quality albums that take people on a journey and the new album’s universal themes of home, nostalgia, reflection and community will certainly see them welcome many more souls into their already burgeoning fan base.
Elbow go on a stadium tour this month to promote the album, culminating in a show at Dublin’s O2 on 31 March, before a litany of festivals await this summer – including a prime slot at Glastonbury where they’ll take to the Pyramid Stage on Friday 24 June just before headliners U2.
JOE.ie caught up with Elbow’s gregarious and genial bass player Pete Turner for a chat about the new album, fatherhood and just having fun with your mates.
JOE: I believe congratulations are in order, Daddy Turner.
Pete: Yeah, thanks. She’s five and a half months now. I’m waiting for that 6-month milestone where she starts sleeping through the night. Don’t think my little girl has any intention of that though. She’s a feisty little one.
JOE: So do you all still get nervous before gigs?
Pete: It’s mad. We all get these weird gig dreams before a tour… you know, your guitar’s the wrong way round or people wanting to leave the band that sort of thing. But then you go onstage and realize it’s quite natural and you almost forget what you’re doing, like you’re on autopilot. So you can just enjoy it.
It’s kind of like being on a rollercoaster you know. You have to be a bit nervous about it. But you have to be able to enjoy the ride too.
JOE: Did you feel any pressure, from the label or internally among yourselves, to follow up Seldom Seen Kid with an even bigger album?
Pete: We just got on with it really. Given the position we found ourselves in after the success of Seldom Seen Kid it would’ve been easy for us to go away and write ten big stadium filling anthems or we could’ve gone up our own arses and come up with some leftfield album that alienated people.
But we just thought “what do we want to hear from ourselves” and we went on and did that. We were confident going into it.
JOE: The album has a lovely ebb and flow to it, from bigger songs like the single Neat Little Rows to the reflective The Night Will Always Win.
Pete: Yeah, The Night Will Always Win is a beautiful song, it’s about our friend Brian (the Seldom Seen Kid from the previous album) who we lost a few years ago. It's just Guy [Elbow frontman Guy Garvey] saying that nighttime isn’t the time to think about sad things like that. You should think about them in the daytime when you’re with people and can talk to people.
JOE: Build A Rocket Boys! is almost minimal in parts. It’s the simplicity of songs like Jesus is A Rochdale Girl that shines through.
Pete: I think that we always try to exercise restraint. We know that a lot of times less is more and we’re better keeping it straightforward. It’s funny because we actually started out as a funk band years ago where we’d try and cram as many notes in as possible. Which was shite!
But we know if it doesn’t help the song then just leave it out. Plus it means you might get five minutes off during a gig to go and have a quick drink!
JOE: Did you find it easier to write this album than past albums?
Pete: Some songs were difficult. But it’s the same with any album; some songs you wrestle with and others just happen really easy. We just got on with it and had loads of fun.
JOE: There’s a wonderful moment in the video for the live version of “Lippy Kid” that you recorded in the Blueprint Studios in Manchester where you’re all there, heads down, doing your thing and in the middle of the song Guy has this momentary sideways glance and a knowing smile for someone in the band… not a staged shot of you all laughing together like you see in a lot of other videos. It’s a “we love doing what we do” moment.
Pete: That was funny actually because I’d been up all night the night before with Potter [keyboard player and arranger Craig Potter] and was really hung-over, which isn’t like me! Though we take writing and playing very seriously, as soon as we finish we like to have some fun. You just can’t take yourself too seriously, you know.
JOE: I don’t think your fellow sharp-witted Mancunians would let you away with getting big heads anyway?
Pete: Dead right. I think in that way Manchester is very similar to Ireland. There’s a shared sense of humour and you’re just not allowed to get too poncey or bigheaded. My brothers-in-law and friends just wouldn’t let me get too big for my boots. Wouldn’t happen!
JOE: You must be looking forward to touring the album?
Pete: We can’t wait and we have the summer festivals too where we’ll be catching up with people we’ve not seen for a while. It’ll be difficult leaving the kids and partners behind. But it’s a luxurious, lucky thing that we do and it’s not lost on any of us. We really enjoy and appreciate it.
JOE: So outside of all the awards and album sales, what’s it all about for you and the lads?
Pete: Well, Build a Rocket Boys! is about writing a body of work that will outlive you and is a place where people can go for 50 minutes. But outside of just this album, it’s about hanging out with your mates, writing music and having fun. It’s not a bad way to live your life!
Build A Rocket Boys! Is out now and Elbow play the O2 in Dublin on Thursday 31 March.