Elvis Costello on the Spanish model: “Because we can, and I imagined it”

“The feeling on stage was, ‘What, let’s have a good time, because we don’t know when we’ll do it again.’ I don’t think anyone thought it would take that long.

Elvis Costello remembers the last time he stood on a stage in front of an audience – on March 13, 2020, one of the last concerts in London before the pandemic ended live performances. “On Wednesday night I was at Anfield watching Liverpool lose to Atlético [Madrid], with 55,000 people. Thursday night I was playing in Manchester and saw holes in the crowd where people had obviously thought better to come, even though the show was sold out. Likewise in London.

There was, for the first time at one of the shows I attended during that hectic week, a real sense of fear in general. At one point, Costello addressed the crowd, “Everything will be fine if we do the right thing. Or maybe we are not. But our hour must come. The Costello songbook has often lingered on emotional darkness, but it’s not, I think, customary to tell your crowd to prepare for death.

“Did I say that?” he has answered. “Oh great. I have a dark sense of humor, but I don’t think anyone thought it would get as bad as it was. So I told the guys when we walked into them. backstage: “Let’s play ‘Hurry Down Doomsday’, the time for that song is finally here. I said it with a hissing attitude beyond the graveyard.”

Elvis Costello on stage with The Imposters at Hammersmith Apollo on March 13 last year, one of the last concerts in London before the lockdown © Jim Dyson / Getty Images

It turned out to be a busy pandemic for Costello. He released a new album, 2020’s Hey clock face, and finished another. This one, titled Spanish model, doesn’t introduce anything new to Costello, but it’s definitely a new album. Released with a new remaster of This year’s model, his brilliant 1978 album, Spanish model presents an assortment of luminaries from the Spanish-speaking pop world, including Colombian star Juanes and Luis Fonsi, creator of the must-see 2017 Despacito – sing spanish versions of This year’s model material, backing the Costello soundtracks and attractions.

It is the kind of project that rather invites the question: why?

“Because we can, and I imagined it,” Costello says. The idea arose out of being asked to take the song “This Year’s Girl” and add a female voice to it, making it the theme for the second season of David Simon’s TV show. the devil.

“We reviewed the tapes and found them in good condition,” he says. “And when we pushed the faders without my voice, something was happening that you had never heard this way before.” So, after you’ve fiddled with a song, why not play them all, in Spanish?

I mention Dave Edmunds’ version of Costello’s song “Girls Talk”, and how that seems to mean something different from Costello’s own version just by sounding different. “I think it’s a lot deeper, in the sense of transformation,” he says. “Not being a Spanish speaker, I had to believe it had been done with integrity. The artists wanted to ask me about the little idioms in the lyrics, so they could make it work in a Spanish adaptation. These are obviously not literal translations, as literal translations would not work with music.

“So that alone changes the task of adapting it truthfully. If the nuance of the lyrics is changed slightly, I embrace it. And, of course, the most obvious thing, in the case of the young women singing on the record, is that it turns the perspective upside down. The songs tended to be perceived as the gaze of a young man, and at the time I felt that people read something in them that was not always there, that was hatred of women. But I guess the way I’m singing makes everything sound pissed off and angry.

Elvis Costello at the Old Waldorf nightclub, San Francisco, 1978 © Richard McCaffrey / Getty Images

Costello has one of the richest catalogs in pop: 44 years of records, many of which are brilliant, glorious and fascinating failures, none boring and improvised. He is not too concerned with this past; he wants to be seen as looking to the future. A gentle inquiry into the inheritance is met with the answer, “This is a business page question. I am not building a legacy. I won’t be there to worry about it.

Instead, it works. He and his producer / collaborator Sebastian Krys have worked on nine separate albums in the past few years, since 2018 Look now. This flurry, he says, is a response to the fact that he had spent several years recording only collaborations or appearances as a special guest.

“I woke up one day and said, ‘What the hell am I doing? Why am I not recording correctly? Why am I still not doing this? ‘ We were doing Look now because I had a buildup of really good songs, and the minute we started doing that, one thing led to another.

He is also realistic. “People don’t hold their breath until my next record comes out. It’s not that kind of career anymore.

So does he miss the days when people held their breath until his next album, when he seemed more central to popular culture? “It’s a relief, to be honest. you do not invite [fame] and you cannot predict its longevity and most of the time you are unaware of it or you are deeply ungrateful of it. I never felt at the center of anything. I was not paying attention to these markers. I was thinking about the next song and always have been.

So what Spanish model isn’t, Costello insists, it’s nostalgia. “In my opinion, you could have made this record last week, if you could find people who could play like that,” he says optimistically. He has no desire to make the soundtrack of other people’s sentimental journeys in the past. “A lot of songs have remained in the repertoire. But my attitude towards all the old songs is that if I can’t sing them the way I feel them now, I shouldn’t be singing them. If I sing them out of nostalgia, then there’s no point in doing it.

He would rather you think about Spanish model like a new album. It might be a bit too much, but to be fair, it certainly doesn’t look old.

Spanish model‘and the remastered vinyl edition of’This year’s model‘are published on September 10 by UMC

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