da Q 2004
INTERVIEW: Elton John still
turned on by new music
LONDON (Billboard) - As a
major artist on major labels for nearly 35 years, Elton John long ago proved
himself one of the most durable artists of the rock era. At 57, the many
challenges he rises to are the ones he sets himself, with a solid schedule
of writing, recording and performing that would stretch musicians three
decades his junior.
Nov. 9 marked the North
American release of two ambitious projects: "Peachtree Road," a new studio
album for Rocket/Universal, and "Dream Ticket: Four Destinations Four DVDs,"
a 10-hour package issued in the United States exclusively by Minneapolis-based
retailer Best Buy.
John performed concerts for
"Peachtree Road" Nov. 4-5 in one of his adopted hometowns, Atlanta, and
will play a British tour in December before returning to Las Vegas to resume
his "Red Piano" residency at Caesars Palace in February 2005. He is also
completing work on the musical "Billy Elliot," a stage version of the 2000
film about an 11-year-old boy who becomes an acclaimed ballet dancer.
John spoke with Billboard
about his current and upcoming activities and his views on the music business
and how it has changed since his emergence in the early 1970s.
Q: THE NEW ALBUM SEEMS
INVESTED WITH THE SAME SPIRIT AS 2001'S "SONGS FROM THE WEST COAST." WAS
THAT YOUR INTENTION?
A: On the last album, (producer)
Pat Leonard got me back to doing stuff that was much more simple, playing
more piano, doing what I do best. Trying to be Elton, not trying to be
anybody else. That really paid off, and then this album I decided to produce
myself, which I'd never done before. I knew I wanted to make an organic
record like "Tumbleweed (Connection)" or "Madman (Across the Water)," with
a band playing, which we did on "Songs From the West Coast," so to continue
it, but using my band.
Q: WERE YOU HAPPY WITH
THE WAY "SONGS FROM THE WEST COAST" PERFORMED AT RETAIL?
A: In the U.K., I was ecstatic,
it did 1.4 million copies, which was extraordinary as it didn't have that
(many) big hit singles off it. In America, I was very disappointed. It
did 600,000; they didn't really know what to do with it. I think it has
done 3.5 million copies around the world. I can't grumble at that.
When we put an album out
now it's all about TV and doing (deals like) this Best Buy thing. I noticed
what they did with the Rolling Stones (on last year's "Four Flicks" DVD).
It has been like working with an old record company, they've been so enthusiastic.
I've got the XM radio ad, the NFL are using (current U.S. single) "Answer
in the Sky." That's the way to go.
Q: YOU HAVE SEVERAL OTHER
PROJECTS IN DEVELOPMENT. ARE YOU PLEASED TO BE WORKING IN DIFFERENT MEDIA?
A: "The Lion King" opened
so many doors for me in the '90s. Up to that point I was just making albums
and touring and promoting them, which was OK, but "The Lion King" obviously
enabled me to write for animation. Consequently, it went to the stage.
Then I wrote for "Aida." I've written another two musicals, two film scores,
so ... I'm not bored with my life.
Concertwise, in an eight-week
period over the summer I played over 70 different songs. Elvis Costello,
in a three-week period, sang about 85. But that's how an artist keeps himself
on his toes. I've played with my band, I've played solo ... I did the orchestral
stuff, and then I came to Las Vegas. And I could tour with Billy Joel if
I wanted. They're all different options.
Q: WHAT'S THE LATEST UPDATE
ON THE "BILLY ELLIOT" MUSICAL?
A: It is going to open in
May in London at the Victoria Palace, and we've been finding the boys (to
play the lead). We're going to need a lot of them, because their voices
are going to break and then that's it. But it is in really good shape.
Q: WHAT CAN YOU TELL US
ABOUT YOUR OTHER THEATRICAL PROJECTS?
A: I wrote "The Vampire Lestat"
with Bernie Taupin, which was his first foray into the theatrical world.
It is an amalgamation of the first two Anne Rice books, something we've
been trying to do since the 1970s. I've written 60 songs in one linear
year, the most I've ever done in my life. To be honest with you, it is
much easier to write a musical than it is to do an album, because you have
a knowledge of the characters. If you're writing an album you don't know
what you're going to come out with.
Q: IS THE SONGWRITING
PROCESS WITH BERNIE THE SAME AS EVER?
A: Yes. No collaboration
whatsoever beforehand or any hint of what's going to come, just a folder
full of lyrics that I get slightly before the album. I look at them, but
I don't have any preconceived ideas until I set foot in the studio.
Q: THE SINGLES FORMAT
HAS ALWAYS BEEN IMPORTANT TO YOU, AND YOU'RE A KEEN CHART-WATCHER. BUT
WITH THE TRADITIONAL SINGLE IN A PERILOUS STATE, WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?
A: I'm a bit of a Luddite.
It doesn't really interest me if people download, and the ringtone chart
doesn't interest me at all. It might make the record industry a bit better
if people go and make albums rather than just singles, it'll get rid of
some of the pap, hopefully.
In America, radio stations
play records for too long. Look at the AC (adult contemporary) chart, which
I'm crawling up. Dido's No. 4 with "White Flag." I mean ... stop it! There
should be a legal amount of time they can play a record and then drop it.
If the radio stations don't change their ways, people are going to switch,
because it's ridiculous.
Q: SO WHAT IS YOUR VIEW
OF THE BUSINESS?
A: I have an optimistic view
of everything. You have to, otherwise you would go nuts. The thing that
really worries me is, how can Rufus Wainwright be played? How can Ryan
Adams get played? There's no real outlet for bands like Basement Jaxx or
Groove Armada in America -- where does that music fit in? It's an essential
part of the recording scene.
Q: YOUR ENDORSEMENT HAS
BEEN INSTRUMENTAL IN DEVELOPING MANY YOUNG ARTISTS. HOW DO YOU RETAIN THAT
A: From 1970-75, when we
could do no wrong, it was all done on momentum and adrenalin. Then it's
someone else's turn, you lose that adrenaline and you don't really get
it back. The only way I can get it back is by listening to people. I'm
the ultimate record fan. I still go out and buy records, I'm searching
for stuff because I can't hear it on the radio in America, and I'm here
I have a little column in
Interview magazine, to write about the records that I like. If I can help
in any way then it's great, because it was done for me earlier in my career
by people like George Harrison sending me telegrams when I flew to America,
by the Band coming and seeing my concert and Leon Russell taking me on
two tours. You've got to pass that down.
At 57, you're an old man
now, you can't possibly feel like you did when you were 20, 23. I have
as much enthusiasm for music as I did at that age, but times have changed.
Q: ARE THE MAJORS STILL
CAPABLE OF NURTURING NEW ARTISTS?
A: If you have an organization
like a Sony, BMG, Universal, Warner Bros., they're so large, how can you
have the intimacy? You can't. They're going to be all about putting out
the new Eminem record and the new U2. I think people like Sanctuary can
find the older acts who don't have a home, and they've done such a good
job, the younger acts are looking at them.