Ed Harcourt talks “reflective” new album and his work with Sophie Ellis-Bextor and Lisa Marie Presley

Ed Harcourt has spoken to NME about what went into his “reflective” new album ‘El Magnifico’, as well as his work with The Libertines, the success of Sophie Ellis-Bextor and his unheard music with Lisa Marie Presley.

Released last week, ‘El Magnifico’ marks Harcourt’s 16th studio album – following the two instrumental records ‘Beyond The End’ and ‘Monochrome To Colour’, and the full-bodied spiritual successor to 2016’s acclaimed and rock-leaning ‘Furnaces’.

“It’s been an interesting eight years,” Harcourt told NME. “I got out of London and moved out to the countryside to a little village in Oxfordshire. After ‘Furnaces’, I proceeded to take stock a little bit – but I didn’t really write any lyrics. I made two cinematic instrumental records, but once I had those out of my system around 2020, that’s when I started writing ‘El Magnifico’.”

With the “apocalyptic dad rage” of ‘Furnaces’ drawing on the ominous nature of where world politics was headed, Harcourt noted that many themes of the record became more of a tragic reality.

“What can I say? I’m a sage, I’m a prophet, I’m a soothsayer!” he joked. “After that, I had no desire to write lyrics. The fallout of ‘Furnaces’ was quite heavy-hitting, so I just had to ruminate and take a step back. The meditative aspect of doing ‘Beyond The End’ and ‘Monochrome To Colour’ was a nice reinvigorating process – it was like a reset button.”

He added: “I also had ‘Loup GarouX’ [side-project with  Gorillaz and Senseless Things’ drummer Cass Browne and The Feeling bassist Richard Jones] – which was great because I could continue the madness and chaos of the post-’Furnaces’ sound.

“What was great about that band was that it meant I could go straight back to writing songs on the piano, because you’re always reacting against something else. ‘Oh, I’ve just been writing some loud and angry guitar music, now I better get onto the piano for some sweet, romantic songs’.”

Ed Harcourt. Credit: Steve Gullick

The years between also saw the past Mercury Prize nominee complete his trilogy of albums produced for Sophie Ellis-Bextor, make some more high-profile appearances with his “sort-of brother law” Carl Barat‘s band The Libertines, and the sad passing of his friend and collaborator, Lisa Marie Presley. Harcourt spoke to us about taking stock, and unheard music in the vault with the latter.

NME: Hello Ed. When you came to start writing lyrics again after ‘Furnaces’, what were you reaching for? 

Harcourt: “We’d gone into COVID and lockdown, and I had a lot of time to write! ‘El Magnifico’ came out of the ashes of that because a lot of the songs touch on escapism, mortality and elements of grief. There are songs about near-death experiences, fever dreams, daydreaming. It’s a very self-ruminative record. For my next album, I probably won’t focus on my own thoughts as much and will maybe be more of a storyteller.”

How did that sense of reflection inspire the sound of ‘El Magnifico’? 

“When I sit behind a piano and sing, it feels like an extension of me – like it’s where I’m meant to be. That’s where I’m most happy. I fell into that happy place behind the piano and took it from there. That’s what I’m known for, and this record is an amalgamation of everything that I’ve done. It’s got the fiery elements of ‘Furnaces’ but then touches of my earlier stuff in the lo-fi piano pop. You follow the white rabbit down the hole and see what happens.”

…To make a greatest hits record?

“Well, you know! It’s all bangers no mash, man.”

Ed Harcourt – CREDIT: Press

Having worked so closely with Sophie Ellis-Bextor, what’s it been like to see her become such a global phenomenon with the resurgence of ‘Murder On The Dancefloor‘ after featuring in Saltburn?

“It’s incredible. Who’d have thought? It just shows the power of viral memes and TikTok. It was inescapable, but good for Sophie. If people listen to that then they’ll hopefully listen to the albums that we did! I’ll be the little stain on her golden coattails. I’ll be in Abbey Road with Sophie soon, doing some writing with a mystery collaborator – which is really exciting. More on that soon…

“The real Sophie is an incredible woman. She’s a polymath and a renaissance woman. She’s a very loving and brilliant mother who has managed to juggle that with an amazing career. With that comes experience. Like everyone, she’s had her peaks and her troughs. To finally have this beautiful second wind is fantastic. If you stick it out for long enough, it’ll come for you.”

Are you hanging on for a Saltburn moment of your own?

“I’m waiting! I’ll be ready. I’m in the wings and poised to soar into the heady heights of viral meme-dom!”

Just keep your clothes on.

“No, I’m gonna get naked, I think.”

@bbcradio2 The Libertines perform an incredible cover of Alone Again Or by Love! #R2PianoRoom | Listen on BBC Sounds | Watch on BBC iPlayer #thelibertines #petedoherty #carlbarat #garypowell #johnhassall ♬ original sound – bbcradio2

You recently joined The Libertines on stage again for their recent BBC Radio 2 Piano Session. Were you involved in their new album ‘All Quiet On The Eastern Esplanade‘? 

“No, I was just asked to come along and be MD on that session and just help the guys with the Love cover. I was impressed by them, and they did such a good job on that – especially Carl. Carl just nailed that guitar part. He was amazing. I’ve known them for so long, and Carl’s obviously family. I enjoy working with the guys; it’s always quite an experience. I just get a call on the day. I call myself ‘The Fibertine’.”

Speaking of legends, you worked with Lisa Marie Presley on her 2012 final album ‘Storm & Grace’. After she sadly died last year, you wrote about unearthing an unheard song you made together… 

“I was just going through the stuff that we’d done, and I found this song called ‘Light Of Day’. It’s so beautiful and hymnal, and she sounds incredible on it. It’s just sitting there. I’m not sure what we could do with it. It would be amazing for people to hear it because it’s truly beautiful. I would love people to hear it because the tone and inflection in her voice is quite beautiful. You can even hear a bit of her father [Elvis] in there. It’s really quite special.”

This is a big question, but what was she like?

“She was great – she swore like a sailor and could drink 15 pints of Guinness and still be standing. She was quite petite, so that was quite impressive. She was really open to everything when we were working, and we clicked really well. I really enjoyed working with her. It was quite mental; she came to my studio in London with her ex (Michael Lockwood) and they’d literally been chased through the city by paparazzi in their taxi. When you live that kind of life, it can be quite hard to be normal and stay grounded because it’s just a complete circus sometimes.”

And you felt that presence – ‘I’m in the room with a Presley’? 

“Yeah! I had a great time with her on New Year’s Eve once with her and Priscilla. That was all quite fun, but I’ll have to tell you more about that on a later date…”

‘El Magnifico’ by Ed Harcourt is out now. He plays at in-store show at Banquet Records in Kingston-Upon-Thames on Monday April 8, before a run of European summer headline shows and US dates with The Afghan Whigs.

The post Ed Harcourt talks “reflective” new album and his work with Sophie Ellis-Bextor and Lisa Marie Presley appeared first on NME.

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