Elton John says his forthcoming collaboration with legendary singer, songwriter and sideman Leon Russell marks a new chapter in his recording career, saying: "I don't have to make pop records any more."
Speaking at the launch of the album at the Electric Cinema in West London last night (July 5), John said: "I thought, 'The world isn't screaming for another Elton John record and I'm not screaming for it either unless it's going to be different. In the '70s, '80s and '90s, the record companies always said we had to have a single and I think I fulfilled my brief. But at 63, the singles chart isn't one I'm going to be in very often. To me now, it's all about writing albums and trying to be mature."
John recruited Russell for the album, aptly entitled "The Union," after rediscovering Russell's music 40 years after they toured the United States together. Russell was a big name in the 1960s and 1970s, playing keyboards for the likes of Phil Spector and the Beach Boys, making solo records and writing songs including "A Song for You," "This Masquerade" and "Delta Lady." But he largely fell off the radar in the late 1970s and has suffered from poor health in recent years, although he kept touring.
John described Russell as his "idol" and working with him as a "humbling and moving experience." He hopes the exposure from the album will bring new attention to Russell's solo output.
"There's no point doing this record if it doesn't bring his work to light," said John. "I want him to be comfortable financially. I want his life to improve a little."
John and Russell worked with John's long-time songwriting partner Bernie Taupin and producer T Bone Burnett on the collaborative project, which also features guest appearances from the likes of Neil Young and Brian Wilson. Journalists at the launch also heard a playback of the 16-track album, which has a rootsy, almost gospel sound, and was recorded live, with most tracks done "in one or two takes."
In an entertaining Q&A session hosted by U.K.-based broadcaster Paul Gambaccini, John also held forth on Christmas albums ("My record company in America asked me to do a Christmas record and I just told them to fuck off"), videos ("I fucking hate videos") and even which of his songs would be the best introduction to his music for a 6-year-old ("Just show him 'The Lion King'").
John said he plans to tour with Russell next year and hopes to make another record with him if "The Union" is a success. He also plans to do a solo covers album in the near future.
"The Union" will be released Oct. 19 in the United States on Decca Records, and Oct. 25 in the United Kingdom on Mercury.