Since NBC’s Late Night with Jimmy Fallon launched in 2009, Elvis Costello has been a frequent guest. There, Costello got to work with the show’s in-house band, The Roots, and he struck up a professional relationship with the its leader, Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson.
That became a friendship — and that friendship eventually blossomed into a collaboration. But as ?uestlove tells it, the story behind Wise Up Ghost, a new album on which The Roots play backing band to Costello, is a little more sinister.
“Me and Steve Mandel did everything but plot a kidnapping and torture this record out of him,” ?uestlove says, noting that he and Mandel — the band’s recording engineer — had coveted working with Costello for years, but needed a way to catch his ear.
“When I did my initial interview with Lorne Michaels and Jimmy Fallon, and they were giving me scenarios of how this could be a good look for The Roots to take this late-night gig, one of the examples was, ‘And Thursday nights, someone like Elvis Costello could come sit in.’ So when I quoted that to Steve, the light bulb went off: ‘Bing!’” ?uestlove says. “Once we got him on the radar, we had to reprogram ourselves to not geek out. … We maintained our composure three times in a row, and then after the third appearance it was like, “OK. We got him.”
Costello and ?uestlove both recently joined NPR’s Arun Rath to discuss making Wise Up Ghostoff the cuff — without even alerting a record label first — and the possibilities that emerge when songs are written in rehearsal. Hear more of their conversation at the audio link.