Elton John: “Billie Eilish has just astonished me.”

by James Hendicott
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Elton John

Flamboyant rock icon Elton John has been promising to slow down for years. At the same time, he shows no sign of actually doing it. Foregoing a moment of lockdown peace, Elton was forced to postpone his farewell tour – one he insists will be the end, but many suspect won’t be – and set about writing a record by Zoom instead.

On it, Elton explores a heap of his old hits with the assistance of a plethora of young superstars, as well as working with them on some of their tracks. The result – The Lockdown Session’ – is a record that he seems to feel is helping him to stay young and vibrant.

“I had no plans to make any music at all during lockdown,” Elton told the press at an event to celebrate the new record. “So, this really came together as an accident. It started in March 2020 when I met Charlie Puth at a restaurant in Los Angeles. I’d never met him before and he actually lived only four doors away from me in LA and he said, I’ve got a studio if you feel like coming up while you’re here and writing something. So, I did and it’s the track that appears on the record, ‘After All’, and that was fantastic. “

“And the next day I went next door to my music publisher’s house, who lives three doors away from me, and I worked on the Surfaces track via Zoom, the first thing I’d ever done via Zoom. They were in Texas and I played piano on some of that track. And so the first two things really were those two things. And I came back to England and then Damon Albarn asked me to play on ‘Gorillaz’, Rina Sawayama asked me to do a duet and play piano on ‘Chosen Family’.” 

Elton’s motivation to help other artists is well established, and part of the story behind the record, though he feels some of them don’t particularly need it, he’s just excited by the collaboration.

“I do a lot of radio shows,” he says. “I’ve done a radio show for six years in a row now on Apple and I’ve created and cultivated friendships with young musicians, and that’s really spurred me on. It excites me when I hear something new by somebody new, a Billie Eilish or a Lorde or a Khalid or in England by Berwyn or someone like that or…”

“Billie Eilish has just astonished me, when I played that first record by her. So, it gives me access. And when I love a record by someone new, I interview them on the show, or I phone them up. Even if they’re in Australia or they’re in Europe, it doesn’t matter, because it’s important for me to offer a hand of friendship and offer a hand of authenticity to what they’re doing.” 

“Because when I first came to America, Neil Diamond, the Beach Boys, Leon Russell, The Band, George Harrison, all got in touch with me and Leon Russell took me on tour and it made me feel very happy, that they liked my music and it validated what I did. So, you must always try and pass those thoughts on to other young musicians, because it helps them.” 

“It was a lot different via Zoom. I’ve never recorded via Zoom before, so that was a little different. But if the person you’re working with, the producer or the artist, knows exactly what they want, and tells you what they want, then it really makes things so much easier.” 

“If people are vague and say, I’m not sure about that, you don’t really know what they want. Sometimes, when I’m playing on something, I can be a little too Eltonish and they say, can you cut back a little bit on that, you’re playing on my record, you’re not playing on your record. And so it’s really helpful and it’s really interesting, to see what they want rather than what I would have played. I end up playing something different.”

Elton John plays the Dublin date of his farewell tour on the 28 and 29 of March 2023. His duet album ‘The Lockdown Sessions’ is out now.

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