In the Studio: Elvis Costello and the Roots Throw a Punk-Funk Party

Inside the unlikely pairing of the acerbic singer-songwriter with the baddest hip-hop band in the world

Elvis Costello and Questlove in New York.
Sacha Lecca/Rolling Stone
June 4, 2013 11:45 AM ET

During the four years that the Roots have been the house band on Jimmy Fallon's show, drummer-bandleader Questlove has dealt with pretty much every flavor of rock-star attitude. But he's always had an easy working relationship with Elvis Costello, who has appeared on the show three times. "It's a supercherry on top when someone encourages you to take it in a different direction," he says. "Elvis was wide open to have us reinterpret '(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea' and 'Less Than Zero.'"

Questlove: Elvis Costello and the Roots Recorded 'A Brilliant Album'

Their dressing-room jam sessions eventually led to a full collaborative LP, Wise Up Ghost, due out this fall. "We had no deadline, no labels involved," says Costello. "We were just doing it on our own." They considered revisiting Costello oldies, as they'd done on Fallon, but soon decided to work on new material. Says the drummer, "I didn't want to be the bad guy ruining well-known classics."

Costello enjoyed diving into the Roots' world, watching them develop his "little spidery sketches" into something brand-new. The results suggest a 21st-century version of Watergate-era funk – Armed Forces by way of There's a Riot Goin' On. With the album nearly finished – they're currently adding strings with an orchestra – Costello and the Roots can't wait to hit the road when their schedules align. "I'll tweet out anything," Questlove adds. "This is the only thing I never tweeted about. I wanted to make sure it was perfect."

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