BACKSTAGE: What music is Elton listening to these days?--
Elton talks to Interview magazine's Ingrid Sischy
27 June 2003 @ 15:30
This interview is published in Interview magazine on July 1, 2003:
INGRID SISCHY: Okay, Elton, it's summer and the stereo is on. What are you listening to?
: The White Stripes record, Elephant [V2 Records]. It's one hell of an album. I haven't heard a better rock 'n' roll album since Nirvana's Nevermind . Jack White's guitar playing is fabulous. Meg Whites drumming is great. It reminds me of great blues music--really soulful, really heartfelt. It's because there are only two of them. Sometimes with small units--Cream, Jimi Hendrix, the Who--there's so much space between the musicians that the soul comes through. Elephant is really a classic album. I cannot stop playing it.
IS: And so the people who say that they're just this year's flavor...
EJ: Well I don't think they can be this year's flavor because they've made three albums before. They've been around for a while. They opened for the Rolling Stones last year and they held their own. I also think the image they present is very interesting, and I love the fact that their music comes from the blues. All the great guitarists--Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Keith Richards, Pete Townshend--all their music comes from the blues.
IS: Their whole attitude feels very American.
EJ: Yeah, absolutely. The blues came out of America. But you know what's exciting about the White Stripes? The musicianship. With many American bands, everything is a formula--they're quiet, then they're loud a bit, and the singers always sound the same. The White Stripes have a star quality because they're different.
IS: What else stands out?
EJ: Pete Yorn's album, Day I Forgot [Columbia]-I like his voice and the songs are really great. It's also a return to musicianship--songs from the heart, songs from the soul. There's a group called Paloalto who have an album, heroes and villains, on American Recordings, which is melodic and really great. I've also been listening to the Groove Armada album, Love Box [Jive Electro]. It's sensational. You have to stay with it, but once you do, you'll never take it off. The same with the latest Massive Attack album, 100th Window [Virgin]. It's a return to music.
IS: You say "return to music," which implies that it has been somewhere else. Where is it returning from?
EJ: From most of the formulized crap you hear on the radio. I listen to radio constantly in search of new things, and I hardly ever hear anything different. I hear all this formulaic music, and then they play Clocks by Coldplay, and I think, "Oh, quality."
IS: What about records that you think are great, but that haven't taken off yet?
EJ: Like the Ms. Dynamite album, A Little Deeper [Interscope], which hasn't been a commercial success in the United States at all. Apart from Eminem, who is in a league of his own, she's streets ahead of almost anything out there. She's challenging what people are doing in the rap world by saying, "Where's your conscience? What are you doing? Enough of the bling, enough of the videos, enough of the hype." The problem with most rap is that it just stayed in the same place, with the same beat. I mean, the 50 Cent single, In Da Club, [Shady/Aftermath] is a great single--you put it on and you want to dance. But can I listen to the whole record? Not all the way through. Whereas, with Mary J. Blige--she's in a different jet stream, baby.
IS: What other newish releases have you heard that strike you as "quality"?
EJ: Lucinda Williams' World Without Tears [Lost Highway]. Her audience is growing all the time. Her work doesn't sound mass-produced and it's lyrically intelligent. Listening to her album is like going to a great art exhibition after seeing a really bad one. You think, "Well, this is the real thing." You put on The Essential Leonard Cohen [Columbia Legacy], which came out last year, and you go back to Suzanne and it still sounds great because it's a beautiful song sung by a person with passion, integrity and talent. There was a time when people like that came out of the woodwork, from 1964 to 1972 maybe. It was like an explosion.
IS: What was it about the time that made that happen?
EJ: In the 1950s, you would just go into the studio, record three tracks in three hours, and that was it. That was how the old Motown and Stax and Elvis Presley records got made. But when the Beatles started making records like Revolver  and experimenting in the studio, suddenly there were no rules. You didn't have to make a two-and-a-half-minute single-you could make an eight-minute single. People were interested in creating new sounds. For the Beatles, recording a song meant spending maybe three days on a track.
IS: Why don't musicians experiment more now? One can't simply say because music has turned into an industry--no one is actually forcing people to be boring.
EJ: It has to do with getting a hit. I just did a record with Brian Wilson, a single that's going to be on his album, and there's a great line in it that says, "How can we still make music after MTV?" It's all about packaging, the visual, instead of what's actually on the record itself. Today, the visual content often overrides the sound.
IS: But there conies a time when an artist has to forget what the trends are and do what is in his or her heart, and hope that there will be an audience for it.
EJ: I think more and more people will be willing to take that chance once again. You're seeing it right now with people like the White Stripes.
Also - see Elton interviewing Andy Roddick for Interview magazine