Saturday, November 17, 2012

Q&A with Sir Elton

Singer-songwriter Elton John is scheduled to give his second concert in South Korea on Nov. 27 at the Olympic Gymnastics Arena in Seoul. The concert will be co-hosted by the Hankyoreh and production agency Access ENT. Unlike his first concert, which was held at the Olympic Stadium‘s outdoor stage, this event will be held indoors, making it possible for the audience to enjoy better sound quality. With the concert just around the corner, the Hankyoreh interviewed Elton John via email.

Hani: It has already been 8 years since your last Korea visit. How do you feel? Is there anything specific that you would like to do while you are in Korea?

EJ: I first visited Korea in September 2004 for a concert at the fantastic Seoul Olympic Stadium. It was a privilege to play in this vibrant country and I am very much looking forward to revisiting. My tours are structured quite tightly so that there is little time to see much of the individual countries apart from the hotel and the venue, but I always try to find out about the local music and musicians and usually come home with a pile of CDs from each town.

Hani: When it rained during your performance in 2004, you spontaneously played “Singing In The Rain”. What do you remember about Korea?

EJ: I remember how warm the audience was and how exciting it felt to be playing in a country where I hadn’t performed before.

Hani: How do you think Korean fans are different from other fans around the world?

EJ: It is always a joy for me to find that, wherever I play, the audience members are familiar with my songs and want join in and share the experience. So in that way Korean fans are similar to fans everywhere - they enjoy the music, they want to be entertained and to go home having had a great musical experience. And that is what we try to give them.

Hani: What songs are you planning to play? What would be the main theme?

EJ: The show will be a combination of the big hit singles and much-loved album tracks. I can guarantee that everyone who attends will know many, if not all, of them!

Hani: This concert is part of a tour to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the song “Rocket Man”. Do you have a specific affection for the song? And are there any messages or stories about the song?

EJ: When I was a boy Dan Dare was a comic book hero, and space travel just a romantic idea, not a reality. I was 14 years old when Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space; my songwriting partner Bernie Taupin was just 11. Bernie and I did not meet until 1967, and two years after we met, Neil Armstrong became the first man to step on to the moon.

Our generation was smitten with the glory and excitement of space travel. Rocket Man - and indeed Dan Dare on the Rock of the Westies album - came from those boyhood dreams of travelling beyond the stars and looking back on Earth.

Not long after the Rocket Man single was released, my band and I were invited to the NASA headquarters in Texas and shown around by Al Worden, Apollo 15 command module pilot. It was thrilling to find that real astronauts liked our song, Rocket Man, which was about an imaginary astronaut.

In April, 2012, I heard that European Space Agency astronaut Andre Kuipers had made a special point of playing Rocket Man over the airwaves of the International Space Station on the song‘s fortieth anniversary. So on the April 17, the exact anniversary of its release around the world, I played Rocket Man during my Million Dollar Piano Show in Las Vegas, and later sent a recording of that performance to the astronauts at the European Space Agency. So, yes, I have huge affection for Rocket Man and for the magic and excitement of space travel that Bernie Taupin’s lyrics convey.

Hani: What do you think is the reason for your popularity over the years?

EJ: Ultimately, it is all down to the music. Since my career began in the late 1960s people have identified with the songs that Bernie Taupin and I write, they have bought the records and they come to the concerts. And thankfully, over 40 years later, they still love the music.

Hani: How do you feel when you are performing on stage?

EJ: I feel at home, I feel excited, and I feel extremely privileged and fortunate to have a great band and to be able to perform my music all over the world.

Hani: Is there a secret as to how you can perform worldwide at such pace?

EJ: There is no secret. It’s my job and I love doing it. Plus I have a fantastic team behind me, who all work together to make our tours as comfortable and enjoyable as possible.

Hani: The musical “Aida” will be shown in Korea around the end of this year. You have been successful at such a broad range of musical projects. After all of that you had done, do you still have dreams that you strive to accomplish?

EJ: I continue to be thrilled at the worldwide success of Aida, and also of Billy Elliot the Musical. In 1999, when I became involved in writing Aida with Tim Rice I could not imagined that it would continue to find international success thirteen years later - that is a real bonus. I do still have dreams that I would like to accomplish but they are not necessarily formulated - it is more a case that I dream a great project will come along - as Billy Elliot did - that inspires me to create something new and appealing.

Hani: You participate in many charities. What are your thoughts on the charities?

EJ: I am proud of the achievements of the Elton John AIDS Foundation. We are one of the world’s leading nonprofit HIV/AIDS organizations, and so far have raised over $275 million to support programmes in 55 countries worldwide. However, as anyone who works with charities will know, there is always so much more to do so we are never complacent about our achievements.

I also try to help other charities where I can, especially those that my friends are involved with. If I can help them raise a lot of money for a very worthy cause then I am happy.

Hani: What is your secret in writing music? What does music mean to you, and have you ever thought of giving it all up?

EJ: There is no secret. I am very fortunate to have a wonderful songwriting partner, Bernie Taupin, whose lyrics inspire me to write melodies, and I have also been inspired by other lyricists, for example Tim Rice for The Lion King and Lee Hall for Billy Elliot. Music means everything to me. I live my life in music and cannot imagine living any other way. Even if I had not become a working musician I would have been happy to work in a record store, anything, as long as I was involved in music.

Hani: Among all the prestigious awards you have received, which one stands out the most and why?

EJ: I have been honored with many awards, and I cannot honestly choose one that stands out above all the others.

Hani: This year, you released an album called “Good Morning To The Night” which is reminiscent of “Love” by the Beatles. How did you come about releasing this album?

EJ: In 2007, when I was on tour in Australia, I came across an album by Pnau in a Sydney record store. I managed to contact the duo, Nick Littlewood and Peter Mayes, and persuaded them to come to London and sign to my management company. They were interested in the idea of remixing some of my early recordings, so I gave them free access to the master tapes of all my studio and live albums from between 1969 and 1977, and asked them to rework the material as they wished. Nick and Peter worked on the project for a few years, and the result was the album Good Morning To The Night. Pnau used hundreds of elements from 42 different songs, then added loops, samples and their own material. I was delighted with the result, and completely overwhelmed when the album went to number one in the British charts.

Hani: With Pnau, you wrote “Good Morning To The Night” for the London Olympics and released a collaboration album which reached #1 on the UK charts. How did you feel about the success of the album and how did it come about? Sorry to not have seen you during the Opening or the Closing Ceremonies of the Olympics. Was there a reason why you were not able to attend?

EJ: Pnau did not create Good Morning to the Night specifically for the London Olympics, but we were very pleased when it was chosen by The London 2012 Olympic Games as one of five official songs by for the sports presentation programme. I felt very proud and privileged to be invited to perform at The Queen‘s Diamond Jubilee concert on June 4, but I was not involved in the Olympic concerts. This is because I had a long-standing arrangement to spend the whole of August with my family and friends at our home in France, where we were able to relax and enjoy watching the Olympics on the television.

Hani: Last year, you produced animation “Gnomeo and Juliet”. During the release of this movie, you had mentioned that you are working on an autobiography for your next film project. Is there any progress, a story line, or the production team?

EJ: Rocket Pictures, our film production company, is in the early stages of developing a biographical musical fantasy based on my life.

Hani: In 2010, your first son Zachary was born. How has your daily life changed since Zachary was born? Is it hard work taking care for the baby? And what would you like your son to become?

EJ: As I am sure any parent knows, having a child completely changes your life in ways you could never have imagined. You find new depths of love, and experience pure joy, along with a huge sense of responsibility. Nothing can prepare you for it and nothing comes close to it.

Hani: You have worked with Bernie Taupin since 1967. It has been 45 years. How is it possible to maintain a partnership for such a long time? Do you ever have arguments?

EJ: There is a magic in the partnership between Bernie and me that cannot be defined. I am fiercely proud of the longevity of our relationship and of the songs we have written, and no, we do not have arguments.

Hani: In June of 2012, you performed for Queen Elizabeth II’s 60 year anniversary event with Paul McCartney, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Cliff Richard, Tom Jones, Kylie Minogue, and Robbie Williams. How did you feel while performing at this prestigious event with all these great musicians?

EJ: As I have already mentioned, I felt very proud and privileged to be part of this wonderful event. To stand on that stage and experience the love and affection coming up from the crowds for our Queen was a unique and unforgettable moment.

Hani: You’ve been wearing numerous costumes ranging from Disney characters to Marie Antoinette. How many costumes do you think you have worn? Why did you start this? What’s your favorite costume? And why don’t you dress up anymore?

EJ: I really have no idea how many costumes I have worn - it must be hundreds if not thousands. Why did I start this? Because I could! I had a fairly conformist childhood and so the idea of getting on stage in completely outrageous clothes was quite alluring.

I don’t have a favourite costume, although most people would probably think that the Donald Duck outfit I wore in Central Park, New York in 1975 was the most outrageous. I don‘t dress up any more because I am 65 years old and I would far rather be onstage in a beautifully cut suit that in spandex tights. Having said that, my current stage suits do feature some fabulous artwork and thousands of crystals.

Hani: You were “knighted” by the Queen. Tell us about the story. What does this honor mean to you? Who gets this honor? I heard you are not supposed to tell people about it after you are informed. How did you hold it in? What does it feel like to be a “knight”?

EJ: I was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in February 1998. The award was given in recognition of my services to music and to charity, which pleased me greatly. As a proud Englishman I do consider the knighthood a huge honor, and will always remember that special day when I went to Buckingham Palace with my family to receive the award. It was difficult to keep the news secret until the official announcement, but somehow I managed to do so.

Hani: Have you heard of K-Pop? Recently, a Korean artist named PSY hit #1 on the UK charts with a song called “Gangnam Style”. Have you heard of PSY and his music?

EJ: Yes indeed I have heard of PSY and Gangham Style - the song has been impossible to avoid this summer!

Hani: What are you plans for the near future?

EJ: After I leave Korea I am playing in Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, The Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Then I return to London to spend Christmas at home with David and Zachary. Zachary will be two years old on Christmas Day, so it is an extra special day for the three of us.

- Hani

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