You tend to think in terms of albums, but most listeners no longer do. Has that forced you to change your approach to recording?
Streaming hasn’t changed the way I write songs, but there’s a sequence of songs that I have carefully assembled — and I have to accept that no one will ever hear it like that, unless they’re of a certain generation. The worst thing that you could do if you intend to stay in this world would be to be King Canute and stand at the edge of the water going, ‘Go back tide!’ If people happen upon one of my songs in a playlist, so much the better; they’re not going to stream my songs in numbers that are going to make me Beyoncé, but I’m happy they’ll hear it. And the revival in vinyl isn’t just a fashionable fetish, it’s an acknowledgement that certain types of records from the past ought to be cherished in that form, to be held in your hand. You can have both simultaneously.
You own a lot of your master recordings. How important is that to you?
I own all of my albums except the ones made for Warner [from 1989 to 1996]. The ones I’ve recorded for Universal [starting in the late ‘90s] will revert to me and I own the ones before Blood and Chocolate, as well as my publishing. The kind of music I make doesn’t sell a lot of copies, and I’m not fantastically wealthy, partly because I’ve always invested what I have made into making more music or into fantastic follies like the “Spectacular Spinning Songbook” [the 1986 and 2011 tours on which Costello decided which songs to play by spinning a giant wheel onstage]. But I like the danger and the uncertainty. And the idea that there’s an audience for music I made a long time ago as well as music I’m making now is a wonderful thing.
At the same time, my catalog has been in some disarray for a number of years.
Are you planning to address that?
Recently I went to a meeting at a record company for the first time since the ’90s [at Universal, which last year renewed its global license deal for most of Costello’s recordings]. We began with the idea that if we were going to do another edition [of reissues], we couldn’t simply issue the records again. And I realized that, who better than the person who wrote the songs to tell you what else is there – things that I never released, live recordings. Let’s face it: This is now 40 years [after Costello’s early albums]. I can’t imagine there being another edition of releases after this one. And the first will be a six-record set based on “Armed Forces.”
Armed Forces is full of references to fascism, often as a metaphor, so it resonates with what’s happening now in an uncomfortable way.