Elbow's Craig Potter on iPads, tour fatigue, and hitting #1

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Elbow.
PHOTO BY TOM SHEEHAN

By Andrew Blair

If you don’t know of Elbow by now, you should probably stop reading this and go spend some time under a tree, staring out into space, contemplating your existence up to this point. Unless, of course, you want to be brought up to speed and welcomed into a community of people who love the brooding baritone lyrical genius of lead singer Guy Garvey, sung over pulsing drums, spacey melodic piano, and topped off with anthemic triumphant sing-along choruses.

Manchster, England’s Elbow have quietly created an international following that stretches into the far corners of the globe (the band will be playing in Russia this week). Having recently released their sixth full-length album, The Take Off and Landing of Everything — which for the first time in their 20 year career debuted at #1 in their home territory of the UK — the band is now closing out a North American tour.

I had the pleasure of talking to keyboardist and arranger-producer Craig Potter before the band played a nearly sold out show at the Fox Theater, the second to last stop on a very successful North American Tour supporting their new LP.

San Francisco Bay Guardian How has the tour been thus far? Nearly every show has been sold out, and you just played the Sasquatch Festival. Any highlights? 

Craig Potter The tour has been really great, a huge success. We’ve been really happy, and the audiences have been really brilliant. Like you said, a lot of the shows have been sold out. It was really fun to sing "New York Morning" in New York; that was a highlight for us, I think.

SFBG This is your first time playing the Fox Theater. How do you like the venue? 

CP Oh wow, we just arrived actually. It is a beautiful room, big stage, really impressed with it so far.

SFBG So the new album debuted at #1 in the UK?

CP Yeah, we are very pleased about that. Our other albums have sold very well, but I don’t think we’ve ever got the #1 slot. We had a chance to [hit #1] with the last album, and it did really well in the first week, but it just so happened that Adele was selling millions every week so we kind of missed out. So this is our first one and we are very pleased.

SFBG Where did the majority of the songwriting happen for the album?

CP We are always writing a lot while we are on tour, and if we take big breaks it takes us awhile to get back into it. However, most of this album was written at home in Manchester. When we are home we all have different days off during the week. So what happened for this album was, we would get together with whoever was available, maybe one or two other band members, and work on the songs. Richard did a lot of the drums by himself, and we are all involved in the editing of the songs, but the lyrics are very much Guy’s lyrics.

SFBG There seems to be a travel or movement theme to a lot of the lyrics on this record, “New York Morning”  being one of the pillars of that theme. Was there something that Guy was going through that influenced the lyrical content of the songs?

CP Guy had recently broken up with a long time girlfriend and he was traveling to New York rather frequently, but the travel side of it is about touring as well. "New York Morning" is about Guy’s experiences there.

SFBG The song “Colour Fields” was created using mostly an iPad. Is that a process the band uses a lot?

CP There are loads of amazing apps out there and we don’t limit ourselves as far as hardware or technology — if it sounds good, it sounds good. The drum track for "Colour Fields" was created using an iPad.  There are lots of amazing things you can do with an iPad, so we definitely don’t shy away from it.

SFBG This being the second to last stop on this tour, are you all ready to go home, or being that it has been so successful, are you sad to see it end?

CP We try to keep these tours to about three weeks — by the time it gets to the end, it is nice to know you will be back home soon. Guy might give you a different answer, as he kind of is just getting going at this point and would like to see it continue a bit longer, but most of us have families now. I am certainly looking forward to going back.