By Brad Knutson
Often referred to as one of the biggest bands that never made it, Elbow nonetheless has made a steady living cranking out moody atmospheric Brit-rock for the past ten years. Originally signed by Island Records in 1998, the band was dropped after a year, which led it to EMI, who ended up dropping the group after only a couple of months. The band finally broke through in 2001 when V2 Records released its debut full-length, “Asleep at the Back.” The record earned the band a Mercury Prize nomination in its home country, which consequently earned some critical buzz in the States leading up to its domestic release in early 2002. It appeared that Elbow was poised to become the next Coldplay, but despite a consistent output of great material in the years to follow, the band never experienced the massive commercial success experienced by its similar-sounding UK peers. In the fall of 2005, it seemed as though Elbow might finally enjoy its moment in the spotlight with the release of the heavily promoted effort, “Leaders of the Free World.” Despite containing some of the band’s most pop-friendly material to date, the album only managed to reaffirm Elbow’s steady position on the very outer fringes of the mainstream market. Making matters worse, a year later the band found itself a victim of the industry once again when V2 Records went bust in January of 2007.
“You have to make brave decisions in the creative world, they were on the wrong side of a couple calls and it put them in financial dire straights,” says Elbow frontman Guy Carvey. “They were a great label…they got us from the bedroom to the Mercury Award, you know? It was a shame.” Fortunately, Carvey and the band were able to rebound and find a new home, this time landing on the resurrected Fiction Records imprint. “We were lucky, we had friends on both sides of the agreement,” says Carvey. “We had friends at V2 who knew it was more important to let the band go than it was to hold on to for the sake of making a few more pennies… and then we had the people at Fiction who were really enthusiastic about having the band.”
With the business side of things finally back in order, Elbow is now back to devoting all of its attention to music and the band’s currently hitting the road in support of its latest subtle masterpiece, “The Seldom Seen Kid,” which hit domestic store shelves this week.
“This is the first album that we’ve written and recorded completely ourselves. We’ve always written them before [ourselves] and co-produced them, but there wasn’t anyone else involved this time. And for that, it’s been the greatest experience,” Garvey proudly declares. “Whereas ‘Leaders of the Free World’ was made in a great big space with a lot of money, this one was made in a back room, just the five of us.”
The change in the recording process is quite evident upon listening “The Seldom Seen Kid.” Overall, the album has more of an intimate vibe reminiscent of Elbow’s debut, especially when compared to the bigger rock sound the band flirted with on its last effort.
“This one was born in many different atmospheres,” Carvey says. “Some great things have happened and some awful things have happened the last three years. V2 going under was pretty terrifying. Our friend Bryan died, which was really heavy duty. And then on the flip side of that, two in the band had babies and fell in love. So that’s all good and hopefully the whole lot is on there.”
Unfortunately, even with the album peaking at number-five in the UK album charts last month and the lead single, “Grounds for Divorce,” breaking the top twenty, realistically Elbow will most likely continue to be the band constantly revered by the critics but seldom seen by the masses. Like any other ambitious musician, Carvey would ideally like to remedy the latter, but in the end he’s really just happy to be able to continue doing what he loves.
“I can’t complain about the way it’s gone,” he says. “We’ve all lived very comfortably for ten years off writing songs for a living. Really can’t complain about that.”
Elbow plays April 29 at Park West, 322 West Armitage, (773)929-5959, at 8pm.