Elvis & Me: three young artists on the king’s impact

His influence stretches from music to fashion and beyond. Here are three of our fave young artists explaining why Elvis is always on their mind.

In partnership with Warner Bros.

Matt Thomson

The Amazons singer and big-time Elvis stan

As frontman of Reading-based rock band The Amazons, Matt Thomson has scored two UK top ten albums: 2017’s self-titled debut and 2019’s ‘Future Dust’. Here, he discusses his obsession with Elvis Presley and the band’s post-pandemic return to playing live – on a huge arena tour with Royal Blood.

Why do you think we’re still so fascinated by Elvis? 

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“I would say it’s similar to the Beatles: because you can trace so much back to him. His story is like a seed that rock and roll, celebrity and all of those things grew from. I would also say he’s similar to Bob Dylan in the sense that you can see a picture of him a million times but still not know who he is. And I’d say that’s increasing as we move further away from him in time.”

Can you remember when you first became aware of Elvis?

“I can definitely remember watching a countdown of the top 50 rock videos ever on a music channel. Number two was ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ by Nirvana and then ‘Suspicious Minds’ by Elvis was number one. He’s wearing the white suit and has five backing singers and this insane band on stage with him. The energy is just crazy, especially when he keeps the refrain going at the end.”

How would you describe his influence on your music and sense of style?

“I think he encapsulates certain things that we now see as staples of American culture, like jeans and t-shirts. I see him as the musical embodiment of that time. He’s almost so zeitgeist-y that he was harnessing the changes of that time, so now he’s the person we look to for that slicked-back hair look. The further we get away from the ‘50s, the fewer touchpoints we have, so Elvis has become the ultimate touchpoint for that era.”

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Could you write a song about Elvis? 

“Yeah, I’d like to. I think it would probably be a song celebrating the burst of colour he brought into a black and white world, that kind of epiphany for millions of people. Or maybe the song could be about how someone can turn from a flesh and blood human being like you and me into something that transcends all of that, like Elvis.”

Are you excited to see Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis movie? 

“I’ve devoured music biopics ever since [Johnny Cash film] Walk the Line. And from what I’ve seen, this one looks pretty amazing. It’s telling the story that I want to see told: Elvis’ origin story, that lightning-in-a-bottle thing. I’m sure there are lots of interesting stories to tell, but I find that first era the most explosive and interesting. And I’m looking forward to seeing Austin Butler as Elvis. He was amazing in Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood.”

What are your band’s aims for 2022? 

“We’ve been writing a new record that’s out in September, and it’s the anchor that everything is based around. We’re going on tour in October in support of that album, and we’re playing festivals leading up to it over the summer. We’re just thankful, I think, and have a newfound appreciation for everything.”

To what extent has the album been shaped by the last couple of years?

“It was cathartic to make because I wasn’t able to see someone I love for six or seven months – it gave me some sense of control. I use songs on the record as a way of communicating with her.”

As a band, do you feel a bit like a coiled spring?

“I feel like a rusty coiled spring that kind of uncoiled too fast! We just went on tour with Royal Blood, which was an amazing and at times overwhelming experience. But we had to relearn how to tour [and get used to] the intense joy of playing live, but also the lack of sleep, bad diet and drink. There was a moment where we were like, ‘We’re not drinking tonight, we have to look after ourselves.’”

Wallice

LA’s alt-pop hero loves old Hollywood glamour

Rising artist Wallice just released her second EP, ‘90s American Superstar’, a glistening set of songs that namechecks classic movies including Clueless and 10 Things I Hate About You. Here, the LA native talks about Elvis’s unique dress sense and smashing her first ever UK headline show.

What words would you use to describe Elvis’ style? 

“Gaudy and I guess quite camp, now that we’ve seen what that looks like at the Met Gala [in 2019, the annual event’s theme was ‘Camp: Notes on Fashion’]. His dress sense was very flashy and it doesn’t seem like other male artists or celebrities at that time took those risks. I guess that’s why he really made a splash in the fashion world.”

You’re an LA artist and draw a lot from Hollywood in your songwriting. Does Elvis feel like a classic Hollywood figure to you? 

“Yeah, he’s a larger-than-life celebrity, a bit like Marilyn Monroe. I’m a big fan of Lana Del Rey and she always talks a lot about Elvis and Priscilla Presley in terms of that old Hollywood glamour, so I think I became even more aware of Elvis through her.”

Which Elvis song would you like to cover? 

“I actually have a Spotify playlist of songs I’d love to cover, and ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’ has been on there for a while. I know there have been a few covers of that song lately – it’s on a car commercial at the moment I think. It’s just such a beautiful song and one of those classics that comes back every so often.”

Are you excited to see Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis movie?

“Oh yes, especially since I saw the trailer at the movie theatre. I actually grew up watching Austin Butler on Nickelodeon. And I saw that when he went to the Met Gala [in May], it was almost like he was still in character as Elvis. So I’m definitely excited to see his performance.”

You’ve just played your first UK headline show at The Lexington in London. How did it go? 

“It was the best show I’ve ever done. It was only my third headline show ever, but I’ve also done some support shows in LA and New York. My second EP [‘90s American Superstar’] just came out, so it was the first time I’ve played live where the fans knew all the music. To see them singing along to the new songs was amazing and I honestly didn’t expect that. There were even some fans who’d flown in from Spain to be there!”

What has the reaction to the new EP been like? 

“Well, because my first EP [2021’s ‘Off The Rails’] was very well received, I was worried this one might not be so much. My manager tells me not to read the YouTube comments but of course I still do. So far, there’s only been one bad comment and the rest are really sweet. I just have to remember that at the show everyone was singing those songs back to me.”

What kind of DMs do you get from fans? 

“Often they’ll tell me how much a particular song helped them get through something in their life like a breakup, I read every message but can’t reply to all of them because it would get overwhelming. There’s just so much content on Instagram.”

What are your main aims for the rest of the year? 

“I’d really like a support slot on another artist’s European tour, which is ambitious I guess! And I’m working on another EP. My plan is to release three EPs and then an album because I really want to build a foundation first.

I have so many friends who’ve released albums that are amazing bodies of work – like, art pieces – and they don’t get the recognition they deserve because people don’t know their music is out there. I think their music will be found eventually, but for me, I want to have that slow build before I put out an album.”

Master Peace

Punk-rap rock star who wrote his own song called ‘Heartbreak Hotel’

South London singer-rapper Master Peace marked himself out as one to watch with 2020’s ‘Love Bites’ EP, a dazzling debut tha drew ceverly from early noughties indie. More recently, he teamed up with The Streets for the emotional banger ‘Wrong Answers Only’. Here, he discusses his Britpop-inspired music and appreciation for Elvis’s “out there” style.

How would you describe your Elvis look today?

“It’s very out there and creative. It definitely gives a bit of personality and I like that about it; it’s something I’d wear as Master Peace. You know, Elvis is very much a sex symbol. I’ve seen videos of him wearing looks like this back in the day, but without the T-shirt, and I feel like people would have been so excited to see that. They would have looked at him and thought: ‘Oh my god, I wanna be like you.’”

Why do you think Elvis is still talked about today? 

“Because he has so much charisma. I’m not sure we have anyone like that in the current generation of music [stars], but maybe that’s because times were different back then. Like, I’ve seen videos of him walking into a room and people are just fainting. And I ain’t seen that happen to anyone else, do you know what I mean?”

Why do you think he had that effect on people? 

“Again, I think it was because he was very out there. A lot of people are scared of what people think” they don’t want to be ‘too much’ or show who they really are. But when you see Elvis dancing, you know he’s not like that at all. Not many people have that confidence and that finesse. It’s all very well looking at something, but do you believe it? With Elvis, you believe it and you think: ‘Yeah, he’s the guy.’”

Which current artist would you like to see collaborating with Elvis?

“I’d say Harry Styles because he’s kind of got that Elvis vibe about him anyway. He’s very fluid and picky: he wears what he wants but it suits him. And I know I’m cheating here, but I’d also say The Weeknd because he’s just a superstar.”

Is there an Elvis song you’d like to cover?

“‘Heartbreak Hotel’. I love the fact it’s very slow and intimate. And I love the alliteration of the title and also that juxtaposition. A hotel is somewhere I think of as very relaxing – like, you go there to chill at the spa. But heartbreak is obviously not like that at all, so it’s a very interesting title. I actually wrote my own song called ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ a few years back.”

What are your plans for this year? 

“Well, it’s funny because people know who Master Peace is now, but they haven’t seen all of me. I’ve got an EP coming and then an album. I’m really hunkering down on who I am as an artist.”

What’s the overall vibe of the EP? 

“Britpop. It’s got a very early 2000s Gorillaz kind of vibe, but with elements of Oasis, Arctic Monkeys and Bloc Party. No one’s really doing that sound anymore and I want to bring it back because it means a lot to me. I’ve always prided myself on singing in my own accent when a lot of other artists sing in an American accent. When you hear the EP, you’re gonna be like: ‘Yeah, he’s a straight up indie-Britpop kind of artist.”

How will you know when the EP is finished? 

“You know, sometimes I feel like you can never beat the first take [of a vocal]. It’s good to hear the little breaths and fuck-ups rather than doing 100 takes and trying to make it perfect. Like, I love it when you can hear a door slamming or someone swearing in the background. There’s a song on the EP that’s almost like gibberish: even I can’t make out what I’m saying in places. But it’s one of my favourite songs I’ve ever made because it’s just so free.”

And how far along with the album are you? 

“I’d say about 20 per cent. I’ve got one song I’m really confident about. We’ve made a few other songs but I feel like they’re not really hitting the way the first one hits. So right now it’s about taking that first song and using it as a signpost for where I want to go with the rest of the album. I’ve gotta say, I’m pretty excited about it.”

Take a look at NME’s special film edition Elvis digital magazine right here. Don’t miss Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis starring Austin Butler and Tom Hanks, in cinemas June 24. Book tickets now.

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