Sir Elton John has told Music Week that breaking through as an emerging artist remains just as tough as it ever was.
“Unfortunately it’s happened all through the history of music, it’s a crapshoot, down to happenstance and luck,” he said, speaking to Music Week for our world exclusive cover interview alongside Rocket Entertainment’s David Furnish and Rachael Paley.
Elton’s affections for new music are well documented and he shed new light on his status as something of a mentor figure for the generation coming up behind him.
“I went through the second album process with Sam Fender,” he said. “He came [to see me] and was worried, then he finally cracked it and I lived through that and to see him soaring now, you’re just like, ‘Yes, yes, yes!’ I did that with Brandon Flowers too.”
As well as Glass Animals’ Dave Bayley, Elton has also recently collaborated with Island group Yard Act.
“I love them,” he said. ““I’ve become very close with James [Smith, frontman] and I love what they do.”
Elton also told us how Lewis Capaldi sought his opinion while making the hotly anticipated follow-up to his debut album, explaining that the advice he received early on in his career spurs him on to do the same.
“Whenever I see something that really affects me, I get hold of those people on the phone and say, ‘Listen, you don’t know me, but I thought that was brilliant, well done,’” he said. “I know Paul Weller does it and McCartney keeps his ear to the ground, but I just go a little step further. I make sure I telephone or FaceTime them, and then they become friends.”
Sir Elton added: “It meant the world that George Harrison was getting in touch, or that The Band came to see me, that Leon Russell took me on tour, that Linda Ronstadt was at my concert. It’s nice to be able to give people that confidence.”
The 75-year-old also spoke about the changes he’s seen in the industry over the decades.
“A record now can hang around on the radio for a year, like Cold Heart for example,” he said. “In the old days, when you went into the charts, the record was gone in a week, so I made two albums a year, so did the Stones and The Beatles in the ’60s. It made me much more adventurous and creative. There was no social media. I’m not a big social media fan. I don’t have a phone so how can I be?”
In 2018, Elton signed a deal that means Universal Music Group’s global labels will “release all of Elton John’s new music for the rest of his career going forward.” His publishing, merchandise, brand management and licensing rights, plus five decades of catalogue, were also covered by the agreement.
The star stressed the importance of his relationship with UMG executives, particularly Universal Music Group chairman & CEO Sir Lucian Grainge, Universal Music Publishing Group chairman & CEO Jody Gerson and Universal Music UK CEO & chairman David Joseph.
“All I want to talk to the record company about is music,” he said. “I don’t want to talk about royalties – that’s David’s job. I talk to David Joseph or Lucian or [EVP at UMG] Michele Anthony or Jody or [Universal Music Enterprises president/CEO] Bruce Resnikoff about what I’m listening to and what’s great. As the musician and the writer, that’s all I want to do. I don’t want to get involved in the day-to-day stuff.”
Elton John emphasised that, as his latest golden era continues, he will continue to support new musicians. He used the emergence of Billie Eilish to underline his reasoning behind his continued excitement about the business.
“Billie Eilish was a breath of fresh air because there was no one ever like her,” he said. “She’s 20, made three albums and she’s blossomed as a performer. Those kind of people refresh everything. That’s what makes everything in the music business so special.”
Read the full interview in the new edition of Music Week. Subscribers can read it online here. Click here for our Music Week Awards interview with David Furnish and Rachael Paley.