Having experienced new levels of success with the release of their fifth album Build A Rocket Boys!, the album hitting #2 on the UK album charts, Elbow are a band at the top of their game, having gotten there through hard work and determination rather than media buzz or record label dollars. Working as an independent band for seven years before being signed, each subsequent album seeing them play bigger rooms to bigger audiences, theirs is a tale of incremental growth in epic proportions.
Recently completing their first arena tour of the UK, playing to crowds numbering in the tens of thousands, you’d expect the band to go a bit Bono and start speaking condescendingly about saving the environment or helping the poor before hopping on their private jet. However nothing could be further from the truth, as I found out when I caught up with drummer Richard Jupp ahead of their Australian tour as part of Splendour In The Grass, living up to my reputation for professionalism and calling him from the pub.
RJ: I’m just sat out the front of the gym actually. I’ve just done the school run and a few interviews, so I’m trying to be healthy, but it looks doubtful now, I can’t be arsed after you mentioned you’re in the pub, fuck that.
MF: (laughs) Yeah right on man, go work out your drinking arm.
RJ: (laughs) Yeah I think I just might. It’s a bit early though.
MF: Anyway, you guys have been getting a lot of attention after the release of Build A Rocket Boys!; what have you been up to?
RJ: Well we’ve just done our first arena tour of the UK, which went spectacularly well, so we’re all just still on this high from that. We’re about to head over to California tomorrow morning to do Coachella and a few other bibs and bobs over there and then we’ve got a week off over Easter followed by touring Europe, and then the pinnacle of the whole tour, coming out to see you guys.
MF: (laughs) Nice work, shameless flattery will get you everywhere with Australians. Good to hear you’re going over to the states though, that’s something you guys are really keen on doing isn’t it, breaking into the American market?
RJ: Yeah, I mean we’re just doing Coachella at the minute, there’s nothing else being planned, but yeah we’re just going to do Coachella and the bigger festivals and try and get over there more in the future. We have to balance that with family life though you know, school runs, going to the supermarket, cooking and cleaning and all that.
MF: Yeah it seems to me you are a very grounded bunch of guys, and I can imagine having played together for seven years before getting your first record deal means you’re very comfortable with each other.
RJ: Absolutely, there’s a quote we’ve had floating around with the last tour, that we’ve been together longer than we’ve not. I’m the oldest, I’m 37 and we’ve been together for 20 years this year. I mean the secret is that we just find each other hilarious, we find each other really funny and I think that’s how we’ve held it together for so long, especially when it comes to delirium on the road, that’s the time when you really know your mates. We just enjoy each other’s company, it’s no great feat of science. We respect each other’s abilities as musicians but in the end we can still take the piss out of each other.
MF: That seems to me to be the cornerstone of any relationship creative or otherwise. If you can’t poke fun at each other how can you possibly hope to work with someone for any length of time.
RJ: Exactly, and the machinations of the music industry are horrendous, all the travelling, the time away from family and just the intensity and rigours of touring; you need to have that sort of flip-side of, ‘wow, we are lucky bastards. We work hard, but christ we’ve been afforded these tremendous opportunities. Let’s not fuck it up, but let’s enjoy it at the same time.’
MF: Yeah well you can see that in your career, there’s never been any scandal or hub-bub around the band. Do you think part of the reason why that is is that you guys have experienced success step by step in lack of a better expression, rather than say blowing up with a radio hit and going from back room bars to stadiums over night?
RJ: Definitely, I think it’s come good that we’ve done the arenas on our fifth album. We know what it’s like to play to six people, and now we know how to play to 26,000, but without getting too caught up in it. I mean, with this last tour the main thing that got me was the amount of trucks that we had, we had six trucks and I was absolutely fucking blown away. I spent most of my time talking to the truckers and the riggers. Touring should be fun, there shouldn’t be this separation between the band and the crew, we’re all in it together.
MF: You seem as a band to have achieved the difficult task of amassing a large cult following, without really becoming a household name like a U2 or something. You don’t seem to have fans flocking your way because you’re the new trendy band.
RJ: On this last tour of the UK there was a hell of a lot of new people. Obviously there was the hardcore down the front, but to fill an arena you need a lot of people. Guy (Garvey, singer) actively asked at each venue ‘who hasn’t been to an Elbow show before?’ and there was a lot of people who hadn’t been. I guess we sort of popped our head over the radar with our last album, but it was just great to see how many new fans there were this time around.
MF: Achieving what you have in the way you have, I’d imagine it’s humbling, but at the same time something you’re very proud of.
RJ: Exactly that man. I mean we’ve been asked questions about whether we feel justified now, if we’re chucking Vs up to the people who doubted us in the past, but it’s nothing to do with that, it’s exactly what you said, it’s just something we’re very proud of. It’s not over yet, you know we’ll still crack out a few more albums, but at the moment it’s all good man.
The great thing is that we’re coming over to see you guys, and that just blows my balls off. We’re coming over to Australia and playing and there are people who are listening to our stuff and we’re doing an amazing festival like Splendour. We’ve been over a couple of times and every-time it’s like fucking hell, these people know the lyrics and the drum fills. I may sound a little bit naïve saying that, but it does still blow my mind.
MF: I can imagine. You do tend to give an impression of a band who likes to shy away from all the machinations of the music industry though; would you say you guys are private people?
RJ: Yeah kind of. We do giggle an awful lot about what we have to do and who we meet, but at the end of the day there is a job to be done and we fulfil all our obligations with a smile on our face. We’ve got a great tour team behind us; tour manager Tom Piper who’s a cracking lad, and when the job’s on the job’s on, so we’re very professional in that respect. At the same time we do interviews and all the rest of it, but we don’t like all the bullshit surrounding it, which we’ll make very clear, and it just allows us to get on with our job.