For nearly two decades, cinematic Manchester act Elbow have been fairly silent in the U.S., despite drawing comparisons to Coldplay, Doves, and Radiohead. Meanwhile, their five records have earned critical acclaim back in the U.K. Their last two -- Build A Rocket Boys! and The Seldom Seen Kid, were both nominated for the coveted Mercury Prize. The Seldom Seen Kid actually won it.
And yet, even with all this attention overseas, they've managed to miss the boat on several British invasions of the states. In fact, they've never performed in North Texas before. But, interestingly, that hasn't stopped North Texas music from having an influence on them.
Over the weekend, the band performed at Austin City Limits Music Festival. Their slow building songs and affable onstage banter -- singer Guy Garvey charmed the pants off of about 3,000 onlookers -- easily made their set one of the best of the festival. And, before they performed on Sunday, we had the chance to sit down and talk with guitarist Mark Potter, Keyboard player Craig Potter and drummer Richard Jupp about their stateside prospects and their intriguing North Texas ties.
Hit the jump to read our interview.
How long have you guys been in the States this time around?
Mark Potter: Just arrived yesterday. We just had a couple week break in the UK. It's nice to get back to it.
It's been six or seven months since Build A Rocket Boys! came out. Now that it's settled in, how is it going over live?
Craig Potter: We very much enjoy playing it live. Wish we could play more, especially at things like this when you've got a limited set and can only play an hour. They're all going down really well.
This is your fifth record, so you've got quite a back catalog now.
Richard Jupp: yeah it's nice to be able to sort of mix the set up a little bit. It's nice to sort of do different tracks now and again.
Do you dig into your back catalog very often?
Mark Potter: Mainly it's the last two records, The Seldom Scene Kid and Build A Rocket Boys, predominantly. It will be since we only have an hour to play today. But it's important for us to represent all the sides of the music we make, so there are mellower moments in the show and there are romantic songs in there. It works well, it draws people in. Rather than playing all your upbeat, rocky tunes, it's nice to have a bit of a journey into the set. I think it works at a festival, because a lot of bands are just full-on. It's nice to have mellower moments at a festival.
In light of that, do you feel like it's odd for a band that's as cerebral and mellow as you guys to be so popular back home?
Richard Jupp: The way we've done it is by not leading with the obvious singles, and going under the radar a bit.
Craig Potter: And not writing...
Richard Jupp: ...not writing big pop tunes. But our greatest marketing tool is word of mouth. People feel a lot more connected to the music, and it builds a stronger fanbase.
You've rarely toured the US, and I don't think you've ever come to Dallas, where I live...
Mark Potter: Sorry, man.
Are you guys making a push to break out into the US?
Craig Potter: We've done at least one smallish tour every album. We've all got families and it's difficult to be gone for more than three weeks at a time. We don't enjoy that. You never know. We'll just how it goes, really. We had a great time in Coachella, and we got a lot of good feedback. We're hoping to build on that and see how it goes.
With the last two albums being nominated for the Mercury Prize award, with one even winning, do you feel like you're at the highpoint of your career?
Richard Jupp: Just getting going.
Mark Potter: I feel like we're just getting going, even though we've been doing it for 20 years. As far as the songwriting is concerned, we've finally settled into what feels comfortable. And we have more confidence than we've ever had in the songwriting, which is perhaps why Build A Rocket Boys! is a little bit more stripped back and a little simpler in the songwriting and structures with a little less going on. The success of The Seldom Seen Kid gave us the confidence to make the record that we've always wanted to make.
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You talked about how your songwriting has evolved. Years ago, there was a band in Dallas called Lift To Experience...
Mark Potter: Oh yeah, amazing! They're friends of ours. We toured with them a long time ago. We got to know them really well.
Yeah, I believe the tour took place between Asleep In The Back and Cast Of Thousands. Were they an influence that record at all? I feel like I can hear it on "Grace Under Pressure."
Mark Potter: Perhaps, subconsciously. You can't help but be influenced by your peers and people that you meet. It's all a big melting pot, really.
Craig Potter: I don't think on "Grace," we had that in mind, but we were definitely huge fans.
Richard Jupp: Andy [young]'s drumming is just phenominal.
Craig Potter: Andy actually moved around the corner from us for like six months.
Richard Jupp: He came to our house for tea a few times.
Craig Potter: We got to know him really well.
You mentioned that you've settled into a brand of songwriting that you're actually comfortable with after 20 years of playing together...
Craig Potter: I wouldn't say brand. It's almost the opposite of that in some ways, in the fact that the last album almost seems to wrap up what we've been doing. A lot of people say that it has more of a feel of Asleep In The Back. And we almost feel like we have to go somewhere else with it now. So, it's not like a style or a brand. It's more that we feel a confidence with our songwriting, more than we ever had before. The whole idea for this album is "Let's go somewhere else." Where that is, we don't exactly know yet.
Mark Potter: And change the way we write. We're looking at different approaches to songwriting -- maybe taking an idea and going off in groups and working separately. We definitely want to approach the next record differently.
Have you gotten tired or bored with the methods you've used to write songs up until now?
Richard Jupp: No, we don't really have a set way of writing. It's random for us. It keeps it interesting.
Craig Potter: It's always been about the song. We wouldn't do something different just to be different. We'll see when the songs start happening and we'll see how it goes.