Songcraft: Spotlight on Songwriters

Ep. 153 - ELVIS COSTELLO ("Everyday I Write the Book")

Episode Summary

Elvis Costello, a 14-time Grammy nominee, Songwriters Hall of Famer, Rock & Roll Hall of Famer, ASCAP Founder’s Award winner, and one of Rolling Stone magazine’s 100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time joins us to talk about his muti-faceted songwriting career and the creation of his new album, Hey Clockface.

Episode Notes

Scott and Paul talk about their friends at Pearl Snap Studios and pinch themselves over having the opportunity to talk with Elvis Costello.

Elvis Costello discusses his new album Hey Clockface and talks about the record that set him on his musical journey; why he still likes writing in a notebook; the reason he resists the urge to go to an instrument too soon when he gets a melodic idea; the songwriting question he asked Bob Dylan; why he thinks he’s missed out on some cover songs; how he knows when a song is finished; the track on his new album that represents a songwriting “first” for him; his experiences in the studio with a gun-toting producer; and what he learned about the marriage of lyrics and melody from his co-writing relationships with Paul McCartney and Burt Bacharach. 

Released between 1977 and 1979, Elvis Costello’s first three albums—My Aim is True, This Year’s Model, and Armed Forces—were all included in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. That early period of his recording career yielded now-classic singles such as “Alison,” “Watching the Detectives,” “Pump it Up,” “Radio Radio,” “Oliver’s Army,” “Accidents Will Happen,” and others.

Though he established his career as a rock artist and reached commercial heights in the US with the pop hit “Everyday I Write the Book,” Costello’s more than thirty studio albums cover a breathtaking range of stylistic ground, from Almost Blue, his early 1980s album of country covers, to The Juliet Letters, his 1993 collaboration with The Brodsky Quartet, to North, an album of ballads partially inspired by his wife Diana Krall that topped Billboard’s Jazz chart in 2003, to Il Sogno, his first full-length orchestral work, which was performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, and topped Billboard’s classical chart in 2004, to Wise Up Ghost, a 2013 collaboration with Questlove and The Roots. In between, he’s continued to release albums both solo and with his bands The Attractions, The Imposters, and The Sugarcanes. 

Always an adventurous collaborator, Costello entered into a fruitful songwriting partnership with Paul McCartney that yielded more than a dozen songs, including Costello’s Top 10 single “Veronica” and McCartney’s “My Brave Face.” He went on to release entire collaborative albums with Richard Harvey, Burt Bacharach, Allen Toussaint, and others. He has written lyrics for compositions by Charles Mingus, Billy Strayhorn and Oscar Peterson, as well as musical settings for lyrics by Johnny Cash, and Bob Dylan. His songs have been covered by a range of artists including George Jones, Chet Baker, Dusty Springfield, and Solomon Burke. 

Costello has been nominated for fourteen Grammy awards, two of which he won, as well as an Academy Award for co-writing “The Scarlet Tide” with T-Bone Burnett for the film Cold Mountain. He has received two Ivor Novello awards for Songwriting, the Americana Association’s Lifetime Achievement in Songwriting award, and the ASCAP Founder’s Award, which was presented by Burt Bacharach. He was inducted into both the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and was named one of the 100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time by Rolling Stone magazine. His genre-stretching new album, Hey Clockface, was recorded in Helsinki and Paris, and was released on October 30.