At 15 years old, Elton John started playing piano at a local pub called Northwood Hills in London. From that point on he took on many roles in music: assistant at a publishing company, member of a band called Bluesology, and staff songwriter at a label. By 1969, he released his first album. Since then, he's released over 30 more, selling hundreds of millions and cementing his spot as a living legend.
And he's still going strong. He's currently on the road for the Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour, stays deeply involved with social issues around the world, has his own Beats 1 radio show on Apple Music called Rocket Hour, and the biographical movie Rocketman is in theaters. It features new music from Elton and a soundtrack out on Interscope Records.
There's a lot to talk about with Elton John, but one of the things that fascinated us most is that after all these years, Elton John still cares about new music. He's constantly playing young, emerging artists on Rocket Hour, and he's shown a genuine interest in the future of music. He even hung out with Young Thug.
Read our short conversation with Elton John about the new music he's listening to these days, and keep up with his current favorites on the Rocket Hour radio show on Apple Music's Beats 1.
How do you keep up with new music?
It's always a mixture of sources. I get a new releases list sent each week and then get what I want picked up for me from the likes of HMV or Rough Trade. My Beats 1 radio show means I get sent a lot of new artists and tracks directly before they come out as well. I've never lost that desire to hear and discover new music—I've never become comfortable with settling for what I already know.
I've never lost that desire to hear and discover new music—I've never become comfortable with settling for what I already know.
What do you look for in a new artist? Is there anything specific, or different in every case?
It's always different in each circumstance. You can't quantify it, or know what you're listening out for until you hear it. But once you've heard it, you just know what you've been missing. That buzz keeps pushing me to discover new music.
With hip-hop especially, we see a lot of artists from other decades completely ignore it. You seem to really enjoy it. Have you always felt that way about hip-hop or did it take a while to click with you?
We've seen time and time again that reluctance from the establishment to embrace the new when something fresh comes along and threatens the status quo. And that's what hip-hop did. It took the power and the control out of the hands of the old guard and gave it to kids on the street. It completely tore up the rule book, and thank God it did. It was so thrilling. That's what new music should do, shake things up and confuse or scare the regime.
hip-hop took the power and the control out of the hands of the old guard and gave it to kids on the street. It completely tore up the rule book, and thank God it did.
Aside from the artists you've supported on Beats 1, are there any new artists that you're really into that might surprise people? I think everyone was really surprised and happy to see you hanging out with Young Thug.
I'm currently loving new stuff by Collard, Loyle Carner, Dave, Slowthai, Little Simz, Ray BLK and MoStack.
What do you like about them?
They've all got that energy, that originality. It's really exciting time for creativity and new stuff coming through. I also love Khalid, he's a great writer, a great singer and he's going to be a great artist who has a long and interesting career. And Billie Eilish, she is one for the most talented young ladies I’ve ever heard. Her album was amazing. She's come a long way very quickly. She's an incredible word of mouth artist. All the tracks we’ve played have been so different, and that’s what I love about her. There's is no box to put you in. There are no rules. I can’t wait to see her live because she has something very special going on. Talent like hers doesn’t come along very often.
it was a really nice meeting [Young Thug] and I loved him. I left feeling full of energy... He’s a really talented guy.
What was it like meeting with Young Thug? What did you guys talk about and what did you take away from speaking with him?
I love that song "Memo" and I love him. He sampled "Rocketman" on his track "High," which I thought was a fabulous compliment. I met him in Atlanta because he heard we had played one of his tracks on the Rocket Hour. It was a really nice meeting but I didn’t know what to call him, Thug? Mr Thug? Sir Thug? I could see the headline in the paper: Queen meets Thug. But anyway, it was a really nice meeting and I loved him. I left feeling full of energy as I do when I meet great new artists. He’s a really talented guy. I'd love to hear him sing more, and I said this to him when we met. He's got a great voice.