SXSW Interview: Elvis Costello
Austin Convention Center, Wednesday, March 16
Given his broad catalog, outspokenness, and vast music business experience, an interview with Elvis Costello should be both entertaining and insightful, and MTV exec and author Bill Flanagan seemed like a suitable interlocutor. For the most part things went according to plan, with the former Declan McManus talking music, including about his Faulkner-esque new album The Delivery Man, for an hour and a half. The Convention Center conference room was mostly full when Costello sat down in his wicker chair, and Flanagan promptly asked about his myriad record labels. This led to Costello presenting a minihistory of the industry since the Sixties, including his first experience with British indie Stiff, to being passed around by the majors "like old tea towel" during incestuous corporate merger orgies, adding that he once met "five different Warner presidents in six months" and that "R.E.M. was probably the last group to be creative on Warner." After perusing Walter Yetnikoff's autobiography, Costello said record execs "probably did more drugs than the artists," adding that often times new corporate suits are "paid a huge amount of money to basically fuck up records." More matter-of-fact than acerbic, Costello's comments then led to the future of record stores ("adapt or die"), Napster ("not unlike Joseph Kennedy from bootlegger to king maker"), and Slim Whitman ("a vanguard of music downloads"). At times Flanagan spoke over Costello and his questions meandered, but that didn't limit the funny anecdotes, self-deprecating jokes, or witty insights, involving everyone from Count Basie to Jerry Lee Lewis to George Jones. Here's to another quarter century, Mr. Costello.