We take five with Elbow’s brilliant bassist ahead of the band’s headline slot at the Downs Festival
Pete Turner greets us with a comforting northern drawl that immediately allays any fears of prickly behaviour, when we pin him down for a quick chat before soundcheck for the band’s sold-out forest gig at Cannock Chase in Staffordshire. Although, we’re yet to meet a bassist with diva tendencies, we have to say.
The lads have had a bit of a lazy day, he tells us (alright for some) but, to be fair, they’ve worked pretty hard over the past quarter of a century, and they deserve it. Elbow’s rise over the past two decades has seen them become one of the biggest bands in contemporary British music, and since their debut album Asleep At The Back, they’ve grown and grown in stature – with The Seldom Seen Kid winning the Mercury Prize in 2008 and 2014’s The Take Off And Landing Of Everything flying to the top of the album charts. They’ve a unique identity, a passionate fan base, mainstream success and critical acclaim – all the things a band could want, really.
They may have graced the likes of Abbey Road with the BBC Concert Orchestra; reduced pretty much entire audiences to tears with euphoric sunset slots at Glastonbury; closed the 2012 Olympic Games; and this year released their seventh studio album Little Fictions. But are they ready for Bristol, in full festival mode, on the Downs on 2 September?
Pete: Yes, can’t wait for that! We’ve played Bristol quite a few times; it’s always ace, and we’ve got friends there so we like to go out after. It’s a great town to go out and have some fun and shenanigans in. There’s actually something about Bristol that’s kind of similar to Manchester I think; the two places definitely have something in common. We know 3D from Massive Attack, so the last time we were down, we ended up at his place with him and his wife. I know they headlined the Downs Festival last year, which makes it all the more appealing. You get offered these things, and when you look at the history of the show and see Massive Attack have done it, you think; yeah, okay, that’s cool then!
TBM: They managed to conjure a biblical storm when they played; it made for a dramatic gig!
Ha, that kind of suits them though, doesn’t it?
We’re sure this year will be similarly epic. You’re rather suited to alfresco shows aren’t you?
Yeah we love them, but we did a show in Cork recently – called Live at the Marquee – which I really enjoyed too. At these shows, halfway through the gig it gets dark and it completely changes the atmosphere. I do love outdoor gigs but I love the festival tents and theatres as well.
We feel like we can’t die until we’ve seen One Day Like This with the sun slowly descending behind the stage – fingers crossed for fine weather in Bristol…
Yeah we’ve had a few gigs with really dramatic skies. There are certain songs like ‘Switching Off’, which we’ve been playing recently and which is quite an old song, that just suit those crazy red sunsets perfectly. It really adds to it, it’s brilliant.
Quarter of a century is quite the lifespan for any band – how do you feel about that?
It’s funny, I don’t think about how long we’ve been together – I just don’t question it. We’re just friends hanging out with each other and there’s a cycle to it all – we’ll spend a year in the studio and then have a year or so touring. It’s just how it is now, that’s how our lives are! But it’s not lost on us; we know how lucky we are.
You cut your own path with determination and stamina; and you didn’t blindly chase America. Integrity seems to have always come first, do you think that’s partly your secret?
It’s a difficult one because on one hand, you’re told that you need to appeal to a radio audience and all that, but you just have to balance it – which I think we’ve managed to do quite well. But there’ve been times where we’ve probably not done what we wanted to do when we’ve looked back on it.
Your music tends to elicit quite an emotional response – is this something that you set out to achieve when writing?
It just happens; there have been times where we’ve thought a song was sounding really epic and ‘stringy’, but also so obviously us. And then, you ask yourself; do we shy away from that? Magnificent was a little bit like that, but then we thought; “No, this song is going to this particular place; that’s where it’s naturally moving.” So to shy away from where something needs to be and is heading to, would be a little bit churlish. There’s a kind of songwriting that we’re known for and we decided not to shy away from it. But we really try and experiment and that’s what keeps it enjoyable and fun; we’ve always done that.
Your drummer Richard Jupp left the band recently. Has the dynamic changed a lot since you became a foursome?
Oh, absolutely, completely. It’s just one of those things – it’s a really sad thing that’s happened, that he’s not with us anymore, but it kind of changed things and spurred us on. It’s happened before, in the past, where we’ve lost deals and stuff like that – you just get on with it. So we did work differently on the last record; I’d always work with Jupp, and I kind of worked in a similar way with Pott which was great. On Head for Supplies, we had this real nice, clockwork, cyclical thing going.
Is there anyone you’d like to collaborate with?
We’re talking about that now actually; there’s a bunch of songs that didn’t make this album because they would have stood out a little bit too much so we’ve been talking about doing an album and making it something that we get our friends in different bands to collaborate on. We’d like to make more dancey songs. There’s a song we have that really would have stuck out – it’s got a real LCD sound to it, and it wouldn’t have worked, but we absolutely love the song. We’re actually in the process now of doing a tune with – actually I can’t say who it is! – but it’s a duet so we’ve got a friend of ours in to do it. It’d be nice doing something like that before the next Elbow album, just to keep it interesting.
What do you listen to when you’re on tour?
Well last night on the bus we were listening to Melody’s Echo Chamber, and Beach House; a bunch of stuff really. We’ve been listening to Alt-J – their new album is ridiculously good!
Visit The Downs Bristol website to find out more about the festival on 2 September: thedownsbristol.com