GUY GARVEY has just disembarked from a train that's taken him across the English countryside. The excursion was practical in nature for the vocalist/lyricist of Manchester rock band Elbow, but Garvey's also heeding the creative advice given to him by Peter Gabriel, in whose Real World Studios the band tracked a sizable chunk of their sixth studio LP, The Take Off and Landing of Everything—their first album to reach number one in the UK.
"Peter was very specific about sensory perception with the world whizzing by, and connecting with something primal, which allows you to access different ways of thinking," Garvey explains over the phone. "He said he used to grow his beard, put on dark glasses, and write all his lyrics on moving trains in disguise. It's just so much fun writing, even if you're writing a delicate subject. I'm loath to say that it's ever difficult."
Difficulty, however, appears to be a subjective term for Garvey and the rest of Elbow when it comes to their new LP. Before The Take Off and Landing, the band had spent scarcely three weeks apart over the course of 20 years, steeped in a cyclical creative pattern that's yielded five albums of the ethereal, cathartic rock that's made them one of the biggest bands in England. The band took 18 months off from live performance, during which time Garvey retreated to Greenpoint, Brooklyn, in order to experiment with Elbow's winning formula.
"More than anything," Garvey says, "the break was to take stock in where we were at and to find a different way of working; to experiment with different combinations of band members where the music was concerned."
Those new combinations of songwriters within the band generated surprises for Garvey, who on prior albums would keep a hand in Elbow's musical arrangements before taking them away to forge lyrics and melodies in solitude. In particular, the stunted, acousticguitar-led "Fly Boy Blue/Lunette," written by band members Mark Potter, Richard Jupp, and Pete Turner, initially represented a roadblock for Garvey.
"They had the musical chorus, they had quite a few dramatic moves in it, and I realized I or Craig [Potter] might have been the ones who prevented that piece of music from sounding the way it does," Garvey says. "On first listen I remember finding it confusing. It wasn't until I sat with it for a while that I really got into it. I might have gotten it away from what it is, which is a great song."
The Take Off and Landing of Everything is as ambitious and dramatic a record as Elbow has made, luxuriating in sweeping theatrics and gut-wrenching, heavily poetic lyrics. The first single, "New York Morning," was written as an ode to the cogs and citizens of the Big Apple, where Garvey was able to write uninhibited by public recognition, unlike in his native UK.
"There were lots of big themes that needed a sort of monastic contemplation," he says. "There was a fresh enthusiasm for being in the band that came from writing apart, and it gave us time to ponder where we wanted to go next.
"Also, this is the first time ever that all five members of the band have loved every single song on the record. That's never happened before. We don't feel like there's any chaff there."