E. talks about his relationship with Elliott Smith, Hungarian zither music, and the making of his tenth record, 'Wonderful, Glorious.'
Mark Oliver Everett, AKA E. Photo by Piper Ferguson.
Last week, Eels' newest record Wonderful, Glorious hit every store in the country simultaneously, and goddamn right, it was a beautiful day. I've been a fan for a while now, so before they left for a world tour (which kicks off February 14 in Santa Ana, California), I called up E (nee Mark Oliver Everett) to find out how the record was made, what it was like coming of age in the music industry alongside Elliott Smith, and whether Hungarian zither music is the future of Eels. SPOILER ALERT: It is!
Noisey: Hi E! To start off, I have a bone to pick with you. I recently made one of the worst financial decisions of my life while listening to “Trouble with Dreams," a cut off your 2005 record Blinking Lights and Other Revelations. Do you feel any responsibility about that?
Mark Oliver Everett: What did you do?
I signed a lease on a house I couldn’t afford.
Ah, well you weren’t playing attention to the lyrics then. I wasn’t saying follow your dreams, I was saying there is trouble in dreams. You have to pay attention, so I take no responsibility at all.
Pshaw. I have to say that when you put out Essential Eels and a rarities album followed by your concept trilogy, I thought we'd never see a straightforward Eels album again. What made you want to put out a plain old album?
It was either that or put out a four-disc rock opera, so I went with the easier choice.
After putting out the trilogy and an autobiography, it seemed that you had reached some kind of resolution. So where does your new record come from?
It’s actually kind of a mystery to me. It’s the first time I went into the studio with a completely blank slate, with no plan. We just lugged in equipment and waited to see what would happen see what would happen, organically, when five guys got into a house full of instruments. I usually have a pretty clear idea of what I want a record to sound like, but this time I actively decided that the plan would be to have no plan.
How do you feel about the result?
I’m very happy about it. It was a funny and exciting process to make the record and I think it turned out pretty nicely.
E. Photo by Piper Ferguson.
Eels has an ever-changing roster of members. How do you start with new people and build rapport?
That’s one of the things that can be difficult. Or it can be really simple. You can get great stuff in the end either way. Some of the most difficult musical relationships can create great music. It’s just the magic of personal and musical chemistry. You just hope you get lucky.
But if you do click with someone, why not just keep them around and keep making music together?
Well that’s the reason I’ve been with the same guys for several years now. I looked at a lot of bands who were married to each other and they were making the same record over and over again. It was the only music they could create within the limits of their collective imaginations. Then you look at The Beatles and that limitation didn’t happen, but those were guys with boundless imaginations. That doesn’t happen very often and that’s why they are The Beatles. The reason I want to collaborate with other people is to get stuff that I’m not going to get out of myself. But these guys I’ve been working with the last few years, I’m constantly bowled over by them
I agree. Before you formed Eels you were a solo artist called A Man Called E, and you even opened for Tori Amos. Is there any real difference between which people saw opening for Tori Amos back in the 90s, and Eels?
In my mind when I signed my record deal to put out my E records, I told the head of the label that my plan was to evolve and change from year to year. He said he thought I was going to get the chance to do that with him, which I did for a year or two, and then at one point I changed the name and continued. It was more fun and interesting when it became Eels. It’s more of a changing prospect from year to year.
Is that evolution important to you?
I didn’t ever do it for the sake of doing it. I changed, because I had a lot of things that needed to come out. I mean, I’m not putting out an album of Hungarian zither music just to be different.
What if Hungarian zither music is your true calling?
You’re right. That’s a great idea. That’s what I’m going to do next.
Your 1996 album Beautiful Freak really put the spotlight on you. Was that MTV-ification of your art invigorating or horrifying as an artist?
Some of both. It’s exciting at first. For anyone who has been through no one paying attention to your music, the attention can be pretty exciting at first. Then the dark underbelly of it all started to come out and it became very obvious to me that I wasn’t interested in that world.
You and Elliott Smith were the first artists signed to Dreamworks. Did you guys learn the ropes of the mainstream music biz together?
Elliott lived in the neighborhood and we were on the same label and he was discovering all the same stuff I was discovering about the business and its dark side. I really struggled with it and Elliott was even less prepared to deal with it than I was. I had a hard time, but he was absolutely unequipped for it.
You wrote a book, Things The Grandchildren Should Know. What's it like going from writing a book and then going back to writing music?
Great. Writing a book is so hard. I just sat there by myself for a year and once it was over and I got back to making music, it was like a nice dip in a pool on a hot summer’s day.
You’ve said in past interviews that putting out things you’ve made is very hard and unpleasant. If that’s the case, why do you keep at it? Is the compulsion to create so strong that you can’t help it?
That’s exactly it. Just can’t seem to help the need to make stuff. I love making it, but the rest of it is very unpleasant.
Should we end this interview right now? I don’t want you to suffer on my account.
No, no, you’re pleasant. But once the record is done, it just becomes such a day job. Even, yes, talking about it over and over again. When you make the record, you’re excited this thing exists that didn’t exist before. You just have to train yourself to let go of it. To just have to let out in the world, because people are going to do with it what you will. It’s hard. I think it’s probably similar to post partum depression. Turns out I like being a pregnant woman but I don’t want to have a baby.
I saw a Law & Order episode like that once.
Well, that’s my dream.
Your dad’s impact on science has been compared to that of Albert Einstein’s. Do you feel pressure to contribute as greatly to music as he did to science?
No. My father’s contribution to science is so big and so involved. If you were to make a comparable contribution to music you ‘d have to be Bob Dylan or something, I don’t think I’m Bob Dylan. We’d all love to be Bob Dylan. Even Bob Dylan would like to be Bob Dylan.
I don’t want to be Bob Dylan. What songs are on your playlist right now? I’m guessing Bob Dylan and The Beatles?
The thing about me is that most of my musical influences were made during my formative years. Pretty early on I started making my own music constantly. When I wasn’t doing that, I wanted to give my ears a break. I just don’t spend much time listening to music, I just don’t have a lot of time for it.
What do you think you’re going to do next?
We have a really long tour ahead of us and I don’t really have the ability to see beyond that. That’s the end of the story. I am very excited about it, though.
What can fans expect from the new album?
It should be a wonderful and glorious experience.
Eels new record, Wonderful, Glorious, is out now on Vagrant Records. You can pick it up right here, and catch the band on their current tour, which is really long and goes all over America and Europe. Those dates are below.
Also, you should follow Melissa on Twitter, because she's smart - @woolyknickers
Eels 2013 Tour Dates
02/14 – Santa Ana, CA @ The Observatory
02/15 - Los Angeles, CA @ The Fonda Theatre
02/16 - San Francisco, CA @ The Fillmore
02/18 - Portland, OR @ Aladdin Theater
02/19 - Seattle, WA @ Showbox Theater
02/22 - Minneapolis, MN @ First Avenue
02/23 - Chicago, IL @ Vic Theatre
02/24 - Columbus, OH @ Newport Music Hall
02/25 - Toronto, ON @ Phoenix Concert Theatre
02/26 - Montreal, QC @ Theatre Corona
02/27 - Boston, MA @ Paradise
03/01 - New York, NY @ Webster Hall
03/02 - Philadelphia, PA @ World Café Live
03/03 - Washington, DC @ 9:30 Club
03/04 - Carrboro, NC @ Cat’s Cradle
03/05 - Atlanta, GA @ Variety Playhouse
03/07 - Dallas, TX @ Granada Theater
03/08 - Houston, TX @ Warehouse Live Ballroom
03/14 - Belfast, IE @ Limelight
03/15 - Dublin, IE @ Olympia
03/17 - Manchester, UK @ Academy
03/18 - Glasgow, UK @ O2 Academy
03/19 - Leeds, UK @ O2 Academy
03/21 - London, UK @ O2 Academy Brixton
03/23 - Bournemouth, UK @ O2 Academy
03/25 - Brighton, UK @ Dome
03/26 - Norwich, UK @ UEA
03/27 - Nottingham, UK @ Rock City
03/29 - Bristol, UK @ O2 Academy
03/30 - Birmingham, UK @ O2 Academy
04/01 - Amsterdam, NL @ Paradiso
04/06 - Copenhagen, DK @ Grey Hall
04/07 - Hamburg, DE @ Grosse Freiheit
04/08 - Berlin, DE @ Astra
04/10 - Belgium, NL @ Cirque Royal
04/12 - Caen, FR @ Le Cargo
04/14 - Salzburg, AT @ Republic
04/15 - Fribourg, CH @ Frison
04/16 - Zurich, CH @ Volkshaus
04/18 - Milan, IT @ Alcatraz
04/19 - Graz, AT @ Orpheum
04/20 - Linz, AT @ Posthof
04/21 - Vienna, AT @ Gasometer
04/22 - Munich, DE @ Muffathalle
04/24 - Paris, FR @ Trianon