Guy Garvey, frontman and lyricist of Manchester’s late bloomers Elbow, is an avid listener to new music.
The silver-tongued vocalist hosts his own weekly BBC Radio show, which means he’s exposed to a legion of unsigned bands on a regular basis. As for his own career, Garvey is readying for the release of his debut solo LP – but for now, he speaks a familiar lament about the lack of time and opportunity for the current generation of emerging artists to develop their talents over time, in the same way Elbow did for some ten years before finding mainstream success.
“People listen to songs, not albums,” says Garvey of the present musical climate. “Even if they do listen to albums, they don’t pay for them. And bands have to release more material to excuse going on tour just to survive as a band, otherwise they have to get a full-time job. And together writing music becomes so impractical that they don’t pursue it. So what’s happening now is you get one or two albums, then a band splits up through pressure – which is terrible, it’s awful, and there needs to be a new way of convincing people to pay for their music, convincing people that it’s a good idea, because it’s not tenable the way it is.
“We need to work out a new business model to protect the music that we’re losing. We’re losing a generation of it. All the music that’s getting through – and I hate to say this, because it’s not that it’s bad music – but the only music that gets through is from people whose parents can bankroll them. So The Jam wouldn’t happen, The Clash wouldn’t happen, the fucking Beatles wouldn’t happen in this climate.”
It might seem a pessimistic view to take on the verge of launching a solo career, but the unflappably humble Garvey knows he’s in a privileged position to be able to follow his creative muse thanks to a long and successful time at the front of one of Britain’s most respected alternative rock bands. Elbow’s most recent full-length release, 2014’s The Take Off And Landing Of Everything, was their first to top the UK charts, arriving three years after the platinum-accredited Build A Rocket Boys! and six years after The Seldom Seen Kid, which won the prestigious Mercury Music Prize and propelled Elbow onto the international stage. Going solo remained an ambition of Garvey’s, and the process behind his new album, Courting The Squall, was a refreshing one.
“At one point I had seven amazing musicians playing things at my bidding, at two o’clock in the morning in a beautiful studio in Wiltshire, Peter Gabriel’s place,” Garvey says. “And the minute I realised I didn’t like what we’d all been playing for a couple of hours, I went, ‘Stop! That’ll do. See you in the morning.’ And you can’t do that in a band, you know – you’ve gotta see something through to the bitter end. If you’re not feeling a song but somebody else in the band is, you sit back and you wait to be asked to perform, but you let the process go – you let whoever’s favouring the song rule the ball, so to speak – and quite often you’re very pleasantly surprised by something you didn’t think you’d like turn into something you love. But it’s a lot quicker, moving on your own.”
The opportunity to craft an album under his own name saw Garvey indulge some influences that will perhaps surprise Elbow fans, including a formative love of hip hop. “There’s not many genres of music that I haven’t found something in that I’ve really liked,” he says. “Even the odd club classic. I listen to all sorts of music. I really loved early hip hop, particularly when I was a kid.”
While he’s not exactly rapping, Garvey’s hip hop education is evident on Courting The Squall’s more free-flowing vocal deliveries – “going with the groove and the vibe and the feel of something”, as he puts it. However, the turmoil of his personal life aired on The Take Off And Landing Of Everything following his split with his partner of ten years, the writer Emma Unsworth, still filters through his work.
“There were bits and bobs that were a little bit too painful to put on the last Elbow record, because they were still too raw, and I can’t go into much detail, but they don’t sound that way now, in retrospect. Just little bits of personal detail which would’ve perhaps jarred people that I’m close to if I’d have put them out sooner. But it all comes from somewhere, you know? If you live with somebody who writes in any way for a living – particularly if they write creatively – it’s all got to come from somewhere.”
In true Garvey and Elbow style, then, the singer’s solo record is a musically and lyrically detailed examination of highs and lows, triumphs and tribulations. Before he departs, Garvey is eager to assure Elbow devotees that he’s got no intention of leaving behind his friends in the group to go it alone permanently.
“They’ve been popping into the studio this week while I’ve been rehearsing for my solo tour. [There’s] no need to worry – as soon as I’ve had my little fling, I’ll be back in the studio with them boys, and all they’ll hear for the next six months is me saying, ‘Well, I didn’t do that on mine…’”
Courting The Squall by Guy Garvey is out Friday October 30 through Universal.