When a phone conversation begins with a roguish voice on the other end of the line saying, in a quite-familiar British accent, “Hello there, it’s Elvis Costello here,” it’s a definite “wow” moment for a 50-something music enthusiast who must have spun the albums “My Aim Is True,” “This Year’s Model,” and “Armed Forces” hundreds — if not thousands — of times in the late ‘70s on her (now Vintage) Yamaha turntable.
The acclaimed singer/songwriter/producer has released more than 30 albums — covering a variety of genres from punk to country — since arriving with a bang on the music scene more than four decades ago. And he doesn’t appear to be slowing down at all.
Costello, 67, kicked off his 21-city “Hello Again” tour in Memphis earlier this month and he and his band, the Imposters (Steve Nieve, Pete Thomas, and Davey Faragher), along with legendary guitarist Charlie Sexton, will make a stop at the Providence Performing Arts Center on Thursday.
While the pandemic lockdown gave Costello an opportunity to take his musical talents in several uncharted directions, as well as spend time with his family — he lives in New York City with his wife, jazz pianist/vocalist Diana Krall, and their 14-year-old twin sons (he also has an adult son from a previous marriage) — the Grammy Award-winning musician said he is excited to be back on tour.
“As musicians, we’ve done a lot of work while we’ve been unable to play [live], and we are carrying that over into live performances now,” he said in a recent phone call from Raleigh, N.C., prior to the fourth show on the tour. “Everybody has had different approaches, but for me, it was like, all right, let’s kick out of this and try to reach out with the music the best we can.”
Known for a string of hits including “Alison,” “Oliver’s Army,” “Pump It Up,” “Everyday I Write the Book,” “Veronica,” “Accidents Will Happen,” and his rendition of Nick Lowe’s “(What’s so Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love and Understanding,” Costello said he is enjoying digging deep into his record catalog and playing a mix of old, new, and even some yet-to-be released songs on his current tour.
“We were obviously really longing to get back to play just to see each other as well. We have worked together so much, and to invite another pal [Sexton] to come along and play with us has added another edge of excitement to it,” Costello said. “And it gives us some other possibilities in the way we arrange both the new songs and the old songs because we never want those songs to sound like they’re played in a kind of rote kind of way. You want to keep the songs alive — not by changing them out of all recognition, but just by making sure that you’re playing the song and it’s not playing you. That’s the key to the older songs.”
He added: “You have to play it like you just thought of it — not that you can go back in time and be the person you were when you wrote it necessarily, but you have to treat it like it’s a new song and you have to sort of tell that story again.”
Born in London and raised in Liverpool, Declan Patrick McManus changed his name in 1977 after he signed his first record deal. He borrowed Elvis from Elvis Presley and Costello from his musician father, Ross, who used Day Costello as a stage name.
The 2003 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee has performed and recorded with some of the music industry’s top names, from Paul McCartney to Burt Bacharach, and his songs have been covered by the likes of Linda Ronstadt, George Jones, Johnny Cash, Rod Stewart, and Bette Midler.
In addition to his 2020 album “Hey Clockface,” Costello earlier this year released “La Face de Pendule à Coucou,” a six-track EP of French adaptations and remixes (including two that feature Iggy Pop) of songs from “Hey Clockface.”
Continuing in what some would call a rather unconventional music trajectory, Costello in September released “Spanish Model,” an album that features Spanish singers from around the world bringing their vocal interpretations of songs from Costello’s 1978 “This Year’s Model.” The idea was conceived by Costello and longtime collaborator, award-winning producer Sebastian Krys and all of the songs are sung to the Attractions’ original master recordings and instrumentation, he said.
“They did an incredible job. Very few of them sounded anything like the Attractions and I sounded in 1978 for a couple of reasons: A lot of them are ballad singers [and] their adapted versions sometimes brought out the melodies of my original tunes because I — particularly then — sung with a lot of attitude and sometimes kind of disguised any kind of beauty in the melodies, to be frank,” he said. “So it was interesting to hear a bit more empathy in some of the renditions and, you know, of course it’s reached audiences we’ve never spoken to … who have literally never heard my name.”
Costello said there are artists from 12 countries represented on the album. The first song from the project is a version of “Pump It Up,” performed by Colombian pop star Juanes.
“In a way, I get to be the songwriter for Sebastián Yatra [a Latin pop artist from Colombia] and Cami [a Chilean pop singer] and there’s something lovely about that, about knowing my songs, through these reinterpretations — even though people don’t know that they’re reinterpretations, don’t know the original history of the songs, and are hearing them for the first time — they are liking them,” he said. “A lot of the songs are in Spanish and I don’t speak Spanish, so I’m really responding to the sound, the emotion in the voice, [and] the different styles over such a very broad geographical area.”
His eclectic musical meanderings also have Costello working on music for a stage adaptation of the 1957 film “A Face in the Crowd,” a critique of the media and the corruptive influence of celebrity starring Andy Griffith (in his film debut), Patricia Neal, and Walter Matthau.
“So yeah, you can say I’ve been involved in developing a few things,” Costello said, adding that his focus now is on the current tour.
“At the moment, it feels good. It feels like we’re doing what we want to be doing, which is springing some surprises and pulling some songs out that I know people like and always seem to call for — but also a few that maybe they don’t expect us to play. And of course brand new songs are always good in a show because it gives it a jolt,” he said.
While meeting and connecting with fans is a challenge, given COVID-19 safety protocols, Costello said that “everyone is doing the best they can” given the situation — even if, he quipped, masked audience members do look like they’re “all bank robbers.”
“Everybody’s become very expert at eyebrow semaphore,” he said with a chuckle. “So I can’t honestly say I can see their smiling faces out there, because I can’t see their faces. But I can hear their hands and see their reactions the best I can in the lights and, you know, I think we just have to go by that, be satisfied by that, and not wish for the moon right now.”
Elvis Costello & The Imposters at the Providence Performing Arts Center, Thursday, Oct. 28, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $39.50. For event and ticket information, visit ppacri.org.