On 'Giants Of All Sizes', Elbow Offers Hope In Political Darkness Elbow has just released its eighth studio album, Giants of All Sizes. NPR's Sacha Pfeiffer speaks with frontman Guy Garvey about the record's themes: Brexit, injustice and grief.
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On 'Giants Of All Sizes', Elbow Offers Hope In Political Darkness

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On 'Giants Of All Sizes', Elbow Offers Hope In Political Darkness

On 'Giants Of All Sizes', Elbow Offers Hope In Political Darkness

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SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Finally today, Manchester, England, has a rich music history. You may be familiar with some of the great bands that hail from there - The Smiths, Joy Division, New Order, Oasis, The Verve and the band we're going to hear about now, Elbow.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY TROUBLE")

ELBOW: (Singing) Any mist on the common ground will lift with a kiss. Our love is these days' piano.

PFEIFFER: Elbow is known for its deeply personal songs. On the band's latest album, "Giants Of All Sizes," lead singer and lyricist Guy Garvey reflects on the death of his father last year. Some of the songs also explore a different kind of grief - one caused by the political issue that has consumed Britain over the past three years, Brexit. Guy Garvey joins me to talk about that new album.

Guy, thanks for being with us.

GUY GARVEY: A pleasure. Thank you for having me.

PFEIFFER: In terms of the emotions of your new album, you've described it as having a huge heart but a bruised heart. You've also said that it can be a bleak album. And you've called it an angry, old, blue lament. But I think the music is often beautiful, and the lyrics are heavy but not depressing. So how do you explain what you're doing emotionally with this album?

GARVEY: I'm trying to get to the roots of my emotional response to the music we've made is first and foremost. And as I started writing, and as I showed the boys notes I'd made, I said, I have to write what's going on. I have to write my reaction to the Manchester bomb attack, my answers to Brexit. And I have to mourn. I have to explore mourning.

And the national backdrop - the uncertainty in the country is palpable in every conversation you have. The most damaging thing about wedge-issue politics is that people become entrenched in their opinions to the point where they can no longer debate. And people are fed more and more and cleverer arguments for their own position because of the way that social media works and because we all feed ourselves the news we want to hear. So now we have a situation where 50% of the country - or rather, both halves of the country think the other half not just to be wrong or in disagreement but thoroughly bad people. It's precisely the same.

PFEIFFER: Well, and a similar situation in the United States as well - exactly.

GARVEY: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. So to me, now, it's a disaster that we're leaving Europe. It's an absolute cultural disaster. It will end up being a humanitarian disaster. It already has. There's jobs being lost all the time. But it's become secondary to the division in the country. I can't see a way out. I think we need to leave Europe and then work hard to get back in. But in the meantime, the division has to end.

PFEIFFER: Well, your upset and your grief, it seems, over England leaving the EU is the subject of one of your songs. It's called "Empires," and let's listen to part of that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EMPIRES")

ELBOW: (Singing) Baby, empires crumble all the time. Pay it no mind. You just happened to witness mine.

PFEIFFER: Guy, you sing that empires crumble all the time. Is that how you see Brexit - as an empire crumbling?

GARVEY: No (laughter). I mean, the worry is that - without going too far into it, if we leave Brexit and don't suffer for it, then Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain will follow. And then the European experiment is over. That would be an empire crumbling.

PFEIFFER: Interesting. So - but if Britain does suffer, then it might prevent other countries from thinking they want to follow Britain's path.

GARVEY: Yes. This is what I think. This is my own opinion. I'm willing to have it changed by any good argument (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EMPIRES")

ELBOW: (Singing) And I'm bound to get busy with checking on the living, and I'll wring out their hands and my eyes with the sobbing. But how can a bland, unremarkable, typical Tuesday be Day of the Dead?

PFEIFFER: Your band, I believe, has been together in some form for almost three decades now. Is that right?

GARVEY: Yes. You wouldn't know it to look at me, Sacha.

PFEIFFER: (Laughter) You know, and over the decades, you've written songs about pain and heartbreak and failure. And you've said before that that in some ways reflected your mindset in your 20s.

GARVEY: Yeah.

PFEIFFER: But you seem - from what I've read, at least - personally in a much different and happier place now. You got married. You have a young son. How has aging changed the way you write lyrics and think about your music?

GARVEY: Well, I'm happier than I've ever been. I had a moment of elation coming out of a supermarket with my son recently. If you'd told me even four years ago that I would be in a supermarket, I would have been very, very surprised. It's one - it was one of my least favorite things to do.

PFEIFFER: Too domestic? Just kind of too mundane?

GARVEY: And I hate being advertised at. And that's kind of all it is. I heard a woman outside a closed supermarket the other morning say, oh, man, I just want to get in there and do my thing. And I thought, wow. I do not think of it like that.

(LAUGHTER)

GARVEY: Anyway...

PFEIFFER: What was your supermarket moment?

GARVEY: I was quite late, shopping in the morning. Jack was in the trolley.

PFEIFFER: That's your son.

GARVEY: Yeah, my 2-year-old son. I managed to get all the shopping and entertain him and eat into his naptime, which usually turns him into a little Hulk. And I managed to do all of these things, and I was just - I felt absolutely bullet-proof - excellent parent material.

And as I came out of the supermarket, he was laughing his head off at something stupid I was doing. And I just thought - and it popped into my head that I had never been happier than that moment. So, in answer to your question, I don't just feel the things that have made it to the record. And even when I was grieving, there's so much love, you know.

PFEIFFER: Well, isn't it interesting that sometimes things that at a certain point in life seemed unappealing and might actually have been unappealing at that point in life - later in life, we find it quite joyful, and it makes us very content?

GARVEY: Yeah - the simple things, absolutely. And also, one of the main themes of the record - towards the end of the record, with the song "Weightless," I sing "Weightless" to my son about my father. And that lyric is really simple. I couldn't expand or improve on it, so I just repeat the whole thing. It says, hey, you look like me, so we look like him. And when the time came, just as you are, he was weightless in my arms.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WEIGHTLESS")

ELBOW: (Singing) Hey, you look like me...

GARVEY: I wasn't referring to my father's physical weight, actually, although that does kind of let the listener know that he was ill. I simply mean that it was so easy to love him in the end, where it hadn't always been. You know, I think most people have a complicated relationship with at least one of their parents. But towards the end, in the tangle and the summing up of the man, he was a great bloke. And Jack's arrival made dad's passing part of life rather than the end of it. And so, you know, with the best will in the world to make a dark record full of angst, anger and mourning...

PFEIFFER: (Laughter).

GARVEY: I can't help but offer a note of hope at the end of it.

PFEIFFER: Some happiness crept in there.

GARVEY: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WEIGHTLESS")

ELBOW: (Singing) He was weightless in my arms.

PFEIFFER: That's Guy Garvey of the band Elbow. Its latest album is called "Giants Of All Sizes."

Guy, thank you very much.

GARVEY: Thank you. I really enjoyed it.

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