Published Sep 19, 2013During his 35-year career, Elvis Costello has been an incredibly prolific collaborator, so it seems natural that he would eventually hook up with the Roots, the band now on every musician's speed dial given their enviable presence on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Their collaborative Wise Up Ghost, out now on Blue Note Records/Universal, however, wasn't a spontaneous or sudden affair. As Costello tells Exclaim!, the partnership developed gradually over the past couple of years to the point where both parties agreed the next step was to make an album.
"When I first went on [Fallon], I didn't know what the protocol was about the Roots accompanying people," Costello says. "I'd seen them do it on a number of nights, but I didn't know how tight they were with those artists. They could have been friends from another occasion; I didn't think it was necessarily something you could request."
During a subsequent appearance on the show, an idea was hatched to rearrange one of Costello's old songs. The track chosen was 1983's Grandmaster Flash-inspired "Pills and Soap," which led Costello to re-imagine the song under the title "Stick Out Your Tongue." It was a writing technique he employed elsewhere on the Wise Up Ghost, on which the Roots' taut grooves at times recall Costello's early work with the Attractions, which in turn has rekindled a lot of his old lyrical venom.
The end result is modern beats and samples driving Costello's soulful and sometimes ragged vocals. Costello says he was conscious of people believing he was venturing into hip-hop by working with the Roots and is pleased that the results have proved those assumptions false.
"It would just be idiotic to assume that I would even think about trying to do a rap record," he says. "But there are plenty of songs I've done where the declamation of the lyric has been more important than the melodiousness of my voice. Right from the beginning, 'Pump It Up' is from a noble lineage of one-note songs, where the rhythm is driving it as opposed to melodies that, as they used to say, the milkman can whistle."
As for touring plans, while Costello and the Roots launched Wise Up Ghost together with a show in Brooklyn earlier this week, Costello's next appearances will be completely solo affairs this November in the U.S. Northeast (see the dates here). There are no Canadian shows as of yet, but now that Costello resides in Vancouver for part of the year with his wife Diana Krall and their family, he says he would love to play more often north of the 49th.
"There are parts of Canada that I haven't been to in many years, and there are parts of Canada that for some reason I never managed to play," Costello admits. "After 35 years there's still places where I'm making my debut. I managed to play Luxembourg this year for the first time, and Derry [Ireland] for the first time, so there's still hope for Nova Scotia. I mean, my hope for it."