Friday, July 13, 2012

Elton Discusses The British Invasion

Few UK acts can speak with more authority about US success than Elton John and what he is witnessing in the Billboard charts right now is really exciting him.

The superstar remains one of the most clued-up artists around about the machinations of the music business, especially when it comes to the charts and here he is observing a new march of British talent succeeding in the US in a way that has not happened in years.

“In the American charts at the moment you have Adele, you have Coldplay, but you also have Jessie J, Cher Lloyd’s record is happening, you have Ellie Goulding, The Wanted, One Direction. Two years ago this wasn’t happening and now the British invasion is coming again,” says Elton whose own countless US chart triumphs take in six No.1 albums and nine Hot 100 chart-toppers, including in Candle In The Wind 1997, the biggest-selling single of all time in the States.

Mumford & Sons, Florence + The Machine, Taio Cruz, Calvin Harris, Alex Clare, Emeli Sandé and Rebecca Ferguson also all get namechecks from the great man as do Ben Drew/Plan B and Tinie Tempah whose own US journey has already included a Top 40 album and million-selling single in Written in The Stars but he suggests this is only the start.

“I met Tinie Tempah the other day,” he says. “He’s going to break in America without question. He’s got the right attitude. He’s the perfect example of these new English acts that are so determined to do it and are really good guys. Tinie Tempah is one of the most impressive guys I’ve met in the last 10 years and also people like Ben Drew. They want it and they’re humble enough to know they’ve got to work for it and that’s a very encouraging sign.

“Ben is an incredibly intelligent person and so is Tinie Tempah. It’s great ratification these kids are coming along and not being too big for their boots, wanting to conquer the world and willing to work for it and that’s great.”

However, as genuinely thrilled as he is about all these acts’ US endeavours, his biggest excitement is naturally reserved for Ed Sheeran, who is on the books of Elton’s Rocket Music Entertainment Group and who got off to a record-breaking start Stateside at the end of last month when his album + debuted at five on the Billboard 200 chart. That made it the best start of all time by a brand new UK male solo artist on the countdown.

“What I’d say about Ed is that in the last year or so he was always great and he is so confident and so assured of himself and he’s loving every single moment,” he enthuses. “I say to artists if you don’t enjoy your success then you’re in the wrong business. You work so hard for it and when you do get to be successful and you do see the rewards it’s fantastic. I saw him at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and he was very happy with everything.

“He works bloody hard and he doesn’t complain. He’s a really kind of perfect artist to manage and he’s already said ‘Listen, I’ve got the next album finished.’ He’s been writing with Taylor Swift.

He’s going to be very big in America and so he should be.”

Elton’s own incredible US success owed much to him spending month after month on the road undertaking a relentless round of promotion across this colossal country and it seems like Sheeran is now displaying the same kind of work ethic. And that includes participating in all those meets and greets, which are part and parcel of making it in the States, but which some UK acts are just not willing to entertain.

“He doesn’t mind doing that,” says Elton. “I never minded doing it. I was in America for God’s sake. I was a kid in the candy store and he feels the same way and that’s very refreshing with an artist. Don’t moan and groan. Don’t piss the record company off. Don’t get too big for your boots. Just enjoy the process. This is his first release in America and he’s going to be a hit and he’s just overjoyed.”

In a career now incredibly spanning six decades, Elton across those years has lent his knowledge, experience and support to even some of the very biggest UK artists when it came to attaining success in the States. This list includes John Lennon whom Elton helped to land a first ever Hot 100 solo No.1 when he supplied harmony vocals and piano to Whatever Gets You Thru The Night. He also played a pivotal role in Cliff Richard finally achieving some notable success in the States after years of missing out as the veteran singer reached the Billboard Top 20 for the first time in 1976 with Devil Woman released on and championed by Elton’s Rocket label.

However, when it comes to Sheeran,Elton is not sure he has much to advise the young singer/songwriter on about succeeding in the US:“He’s such a social artist. He’s a pleasure to deal with and he’s enjoying it. The thing is when I went over there I was so carried away by the fact I was in America and I was meeting people that I loved, other artists that I worshiped and it’s just so exiting.

“He’s got that same feel as I do and I have no doubts. He’s great live. He’s very unusual live. He plays on his own. He uses a lot of loops and he’s endearing and the audiences love him.

“You know I’ve always said our mantra at the management office: if you can’t play live we don’t want you – and he’s one of those people who is great live. Last year he was a support act on the iTunes Festival. This year he’s coming back to headline it so he’s grown as an artist. He’s more confident, but the most wonderful thing about it is he absolutely loves it.”

One practical area where Elton surely will be able to offer some advice is on the subject of US radio. There remains much work to do in crossing over Sheeran to Top 40 with first Stateside single The A Team following an encouraging start at Triple A and Hot A/C.

“The A Team has taken a long time [to break at US radio],” says Elton. “Look at Lights by Ellie Goulding. It’s now in the Top 10 in Billboard, but that’s been going maybe a year, 10 months. [The A Team] is not the sort of record American radio play. American radio’s gone very dance-oriented, of course, very R&B and hip hop and pop with Katy Perry and people like that and Nicki Minaj. The

A Team is the sort of record you have to stay with and work.”

Elton is anticipating a more straightforward time at US radio with Lego House, which will be the market’s next single, and knows in + the project is blessed with a number of potential big hits.

“We’ve got a whole slew [of tracks],” he says. “We’ve got the hip-hop side of him, which is You Need Me, I Don’t Need You, that sort of stuff and that’s what the album is all about.

“It’s a very varied album. It’s not just beautiful kind of songs. He’s a clever musician and because he’s a friend of all the English rappers like Tinie Tempah, Wretch 32, all that lot, that’s giving him a wider base of songwriting and a more broad appeal across the board.

“I’m not saying the mission is completed, because it isn’t. We’ve got work to do. The record company’s still got to bring this home. I’ve spoken to [Warner Music Group Recorded Music North American chairman and CEO] Lyor Cohen. I did this thing for Clear Channel the other night in the south of France and they’re so on board with him. It’s just relentless. We’ve been on this every single week making sure that it gets the adds at Hot A/C and it’s kind of like breaking down the Berlin Wall, but it’s getting there.”

The US achievements so far for Sheeran are clearly providing a perfect advert for the abilities of Rocket Music Entertainment Group, which Elton launched last year and which manages the careers of acts such as Lily Allen, James Blunt, Marina and the Diamonds, Leon Russell and the Rocket Man himself.

“It just shows we have a great management company and [adopt a] policy of caution, bringing out the record when it is the right time to bring out the record. We have [Rocket North America chairman] Johnny Barbis in America and a whole team of people helping on this record. We have a New York office, which is a very good office. If we didn’t have that we’d be struggling, but it’s important to have an American side of the organisation and it’s a very experienced side. It’s our job as managers to make sure that Ed Sheeran happens because it’s a brilliant record. He’s won Ivor Novellos. He’s won Brit Awards and now I want him to win Grammy Awards and it’s my job as CEO of the company to make sure our company looks after him. He’s got great people on the road. His manager Stuart Camp’s done such a great job.

“We’re a good little company. We treasure our acts and we relish them and we protect them and tell them the truth and Ed’s never shied away from the truth and he knew it was going to be hard to work in America to break this record, but he’s gone out there and he’s slogged his guts out. I can name you certain British acts over the past 20 years that failed to do that and thought just because they were successful in England it transferred immediately

to America, which is not just the case. This is a serious thing. If you want a career you’ve got to work for it. It doesn’t just happen because you’ve made a great record.”

In the coming months Elton will be busy himself with not one but two brand new albums of his own. He reveals his next studio album is already in the can, called The Diving Board and produced by T Bone Burnett, who was also behind his 2010 The Union album that reunited him with his old mentor Leon Russell and gave him his highest-charting new studio album on the Billboard 200 since 1976’s Blue Moves when it debuted and peaked at No.3.

However, the new album’s release has been put back until the spring because he does not want it to get in the way of Good Morning To The Night, an album by Australian dance music duo and Rocket signings Pnau featuring recreations of Elton recordings. This is scheduled for release in July.

“It’s really fantastic and [the album’s first single Sad, credited to Elton John Vs Pnau] is No.30 on the airplay chart already. I’m so excited with that project that I didn’t want the two albums to cannibalise each other so I put my album back to next March,” he says.

“The Pnau record is a totally different thing for me. I’m a dance fanatic and I LOVE that kind of music, but I’m certainly not technically qualified to do it, but this band Pnau, the two boys from Australia, we gave them all my old master tapes and what they’ve done, which is something that hasn’t ever been done before.

“For example on Good Morning To The Night - which is the first track on the album - they’ve taken bass drum, snare drum, bass, guitars, brass, horns and strings from nine different Elton John songs and created [a new tune]. It’s not a remix. It’s not a mash-up. It’s creating new songs from back catalogue, which is incredible,” he says.

“It’s so great to hear the album. It sounds so fresh with what they’ve done with it. The vocals sound great and it just reaffirms we wrote some nice songs and they were brilliantly recorded by Gus Dudgeon. It’s very exciting.”

Even four decades after his Your Song breakthrough, Elton can still talk so thrillingly about a new project - and it is just this kind of enthusiasm that is bound to rub off on Ed Sheeran.

- Music Week

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