Elvis Costello enjoys TV role as "carnival barker"

Fri Dec 4, 2009 5:52pm EST
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By Cortney Harding

NEW YORK (Billboard) - Elvis Costello, the British singer-songwriter who swept through the London pub scene, the punk movement and the New Wave fad while retaining his signature sound, continues to release great work 30-plus years into his career. His latest project, the country- and folk-inflected "Secret, Profane, and Sugarcane," arrived June 9 on Hear Music.

Costello is determined to make his mark on TV as well as popular music; his show, "Spectacle," blends music and interviews with superstars and up-and-comers. A DVD of the first season was released November 17, and the second season premieres December 9 on the Sundance Channel.

Billboard: How do you curate the shows and decide on the guests?

Elvis Costello: Well, of course you can make a wish list, but even though you can theorize all you want, you've got to get people into the theater. After that, I think the most important thing is contrast. You need people who are more gently spoken together with people who can really grab you by the throat. It's not a bad thing to also have people who have a broad popular appeal and don't often get to play in intimate settings.

Billboard: You hold your own as an interviewer against big personalities like Bono and former President Bill Clinton. How did you prepare to interview these people?

Costello: With someone like Bono, at one time, I was on top of the bill and he was just coming up. And all of sudden he got on a rocket ship and just took off, and his music was just designed for such huge, wide spaces. But he's still a human being with anxieties and insecurities. On the show, Bono talks about being in the company of Frank Sinatra and realizing that he was in a heavyweight league.

When I talked to Clinton, we mainly talked about music, but I did ask him one very serious question, about whether he consulted music when he was faced with a difficult policy decision. And I could see the impact that question had was different than him just reminiscing about music, and I felt like I had been sparring with Muhammad Ali and just laid a glove on him.

Billboard: Were you influenced by any particular music shows or talk shows when you started putting "Spectacle" together?   Continued...

<p>Singer and songwriter Elvis Costello gestures as he discusses his new program "Spectacle: Elvis Costello with..." during the Sundance Channel's panel presentation at the Television Critics Association summer press tour in Beverly Hills,California in this July 10, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/ Fred Prouser</p>