Elvis Costello wants you to know one thing — he’s not a journalist.

That’s obvious of course, he’s a legendary British musician who’s been creating brilliant rock music since 1977, but now that he hosts Spectacle, a talk TV show on CTV, some might mistake him as a newsman instead of a musician.

“Music journalists make assumptions about performers and their motivation because they stand outside of things,” he says on the phone from New York. “These days in particular there’s a problem of opinionating because everyone can publish now. I’m not interested in doing that.”
Costello is more focused on how his guests make music and the challenges they’ve overcome. He asked Rufus Wainwright about being pegged as a gay musician and got Tony Bennett to reveal that he passed up the chance to record the Louis Armstrong hit What a Wonderful World.

He also jams with his guests, playing alongside the Police and Spectacle’s co-producer Elton John. It’s likely he’ll perform with Smokey Robinson on the last episode of the season, which airs tonight.

The renowned guitarist, and husband to Canadian jazz musician Diana Krall, says it would be strange if he didn’t sing on the show. “If I set myself up as a chat show host, or the new king of late night, that would be different,” he explains. “I’d be taking up a new career, but I’m not. I’m speaking as a musician to another musician.”

Being an artist is, says Costello, a major asset for the job. He explains that he can connect with his guests on a level that other non-musician interviews can’t because he knows the job from “the inside.”

“I don’t play piano like Herbie Hancock, but I do understand the inside of it,” he says. “So the willingness to open up is probably based on that. And I’m not trying fit their answer into a preconceived thesis about them.”

This season Costello’s guests have mostly been music stalwarts such as Lou Reed, Kris Kristofferson and James Taylor, but he has had on younger acts, including Jenny Lewis, Wainwright and duo She & Him. While that’s a pretty diverse list of performers, he does wish he could interview more newbies.

“Do I wish we could have more young artists? Yes, I wish we could,” he says. “With them we base it more around musical performance because there’s less to reflect on and those artists were less comfortable talking about their motivations.”

While Costello says he “has a high regard” for all his guests, there was one interviewee this season that really stands out: Bill Clinton. “For him to take an hour out of his wife’s busy presidential campaign to talk about music was fantastic,” he says. “It was a genial interview, it was relaxed. I didn’t feel I missed an opportunity to grill him, because that’s like getting into the ring with Muhammad Ali.”

– Spectacle’s last episode, featuring Smokey Robinson, airs Friday night.