Why Elvis Costello won’t go back to his roots
Wise Up Ghost is the latest in a long line of collaborations by Elvis Costello – this time with Questlove and The Roots. Teaming up with others has always been at the heart of his music, says the singer-songwriter
As always with Costello, Wise Up Ghost is just one plate spinning in the air. Plans are afoot to revisit Painted from Memory, his 1998 album with Bacharach. The American producer Chuck Lorre “has had a 10-year long ambition to turn Painted from Memory into a stage musical. I said to him, ‘Really? That’s fairly intense, melancholic stuff. What’s it going to be like? Is it going to be Virginia Woolf?’ Steven Sater, who wrote Spring Awakening, is collaborating,” he says, referring to the lyricist who adapted Frank Wedekind’s play for the stage, “and there’s a very noble director we’re hoping to work with.”
A book is also in the works. “I started it because my dad got sick, and it came out of conversations I had with him as I watched him disappearing. Some of it felt therapeutic for him to talk about the past, because when people’s memories start to go they can gather their wits about old events. We had some wonderful conversations. We didn’t live together for large portions of my youth, so it was good to talk about a lot of things. There wasn’t any psychological stuff to sort out, just talk.
“I started to write and discovered after he passed away that there were lots more documents about my grandfather, who was also a musician. I thought there was a good story in examining why do we travel like this and our views of music. It’s funny doing the record with Quest and realising that both of our fathers were involved in music. It does give you a slightly different view of things. It takes away some of the mystery, but you can also see how it can be turned into a magical thing in a split second.”
All those plates keep spinning. “It’s difficult when you’re balancing all these things,” Costello says. “You’ve got the shows with the wheel, you’ve got this record, you’ve got Burt calling at night, looking for lyrics for the musical, and I think The Imposters are playing the best shows of their career.”
The work ethic that drives him, he says, comes back to family. “My mother’s father was a solid Protestant working-class man from Liverpool. If you looked at ‘Protestant work ethic’ in the dictionary, Jim Ablett’s picture is there. So I’ve a little bit of that in there. It’s in the blood. I can’t do anything about it.”
Wise Up Ghost is on Blue Note