Eels' Mark Oliver Everett: It's important to have impending disaster be a possibility
Photo by Piper Ferguson
After putting out a wonderful trilogy of Eels albums in quick succession between 2009-2010, Mark Oliver Everett (better known by some simply as E) took some well-deserved time off before releasing his auspiciously titled new album, Wonderful, Glorious, earlier this month. E also left the familiar basement recording studios of his past behind, moving to a spacious refurbished house in L.A. where the band recorded their new album.
E has stuck with his current lineup for a few years now (The Chet, Knuckles, Kool G Murder, and P-Boo), and the familiar level of creative comfort that the group has built together imbues the new songs with an assertive spirit and assured energy. E brings this trusty band of musical outlaws back to First Avenue tonight, a club that he has developed an admitted affinity for over the years -- so much so that the band is currently selling a tour-only double live album of their last two memorable stops at First Ave.
Ahead of Eels highly anticipated return to Minneapolis this evening, Gimme Noise was able to chat briefly with Mark before the band's recent performance at the Showbox in Seattle, where he opened up about how the recording went for the new record, how loneliness informs his songwriting, and how he wants everyone in the family to buy individual copies of his new album.
Gimme Noise: Let's start with Wonderful, Glorious -- you recorded the album in your new L.A. studio, leaving the basement recording sessions of your past behind you. How did that process go?
Mark Oliver Everett: Over the years, the basement got more and more piled up with musical instruments, to the point where it was getting hard to fit people in there. And it turns out you need people to play musical instruments in order for them to make sounds. So we were forced to look for a bigger space.
So, how did the new environment shape the sound and vibe of the album, if at all?
Well, one thing we can do in the new studio that was pretty hard to pull off in the old studio is that all five of us can set up and do a live take of a song together. Which is a nice thing when you want that, because you get a certain energy from that that you can't get otherwise.
How easy or difficult was it for you to put the brilliant trilogy of albums you recently completed behind you in order to start a new creative chapter with Wonderful, Glorious?
Well, it was kinda hard to figure out where to go after that. And, it took some time for the dust to settle. And ultimately, I decided that an interesting plan would be to not have a plan for once, and just meet up at the studio on a given date and just see what happens. And that's what we did. It could have been a disaster. But, I think it's always important to have impending disaster be a possibility. Because that also means that you might get somewhere interesting.
I can imagine that impending disaster also inspires creativity?
If you're lucky.
There's a definite contradiction between the overwhelmingly positive title of the new record and the somewhat dark songs found within it, as well as the warlike image on the cover -- a balance that has existed in your songs for a while now. Does that delicate struggle between happiness and melancholy fuel you creatively?
Yeah, I mean I'm just trying to reflect all of the different experiences of life, and a lot of it is universal and things that we all go through. But in my case, some of it was extreme examples in some areas, but I think maybe that all just helps make it something that is strong enough that anybody can get something out of it, hopefully.
There also seems to be this struggle between togetherness -- this strong sense of unity -- and being lonesome that permeates the songs on the new album. Do you draw inspiration from both of those concepts as a songwriter?
Yeah, I do. You know, I'm a pretty lonely person a lot of my life, and yet I, like most people, also desire company. I want togetherness, as much as possible, and so there's always a push and pull with that type of stuff.
The opening verses of the new album are "Nobody listens to a whispering fool" and "I've been as quiet as a church mouse." Is that a way for you of announcing to the music world that you're back, while also making a statement towards how the quieter moments on some of your recent records have been received?
I haven't thought of it that way, but I suppose that after not making music for a couple of years, it makes sense that I would come out and say 'I'm tired of being quiet.'
Well, it's good to have you back -- you spoiled us by putting out those three records in such a short amount of time, so that you going quiet for a couple years had us a bit worried.
Thanks. I think something that people misconstrued about those three albums coming out within a few months of each other is that we made them all very quickly. But it wasn't like we put the first one out and then quickly went back into the studio to make the next one so that it would come out six months later. There was four years after the Blinking Lights album came out that we didn't put anything out. And all three of those albums were made during those four years. By the time Hombre Lobo came out, all three of them had been finished.
You've really settled in comfortably with your current band, both in the recent live shows that I've seen you play, as well as in the studio. How has your familiarity and trust with those guys taken your music forward?
That's definitely what the new album is all about -- this band that I've been on tour with for a while now. It's the first time that we all contributed to writing new music together, because it just occurred to me that they are such a great band and I'm just so lucky to have such an amazing group of talented musicians with huge imaginations -- it would be stupid not to make new music with these guys. We genuinely enjoy each others company, which is a great asset.
You're now ten studio albums deep into your Eels career. Did you ever think you'd still be making records 20 years later?
It's all so amazing to me. I'm just so fortunate. When I was a kid, I didn't think I was going to live past 18 for some reason. I didn't have any plans for the future, I didn't have any hopes. And the only thing I had any interest in was making music, but I never thought I realistically would be able to do it as my life. That I got to do it [make a record] once was a miracle, and the fact that I've been doing it for this long now is constantly amazing to me.
Do you allow yourself the luxury of looking back on your work, or are your sights always set on the future -- on what you're doing next?
I'm always aware of the past, and the arc that I'm trying to build from year to year and album to album. But I'm always very deep into the future and you don't get a lot of time to go into the past. The only time I dip into the past is if I need to learn how to play an old song that I want to play in concert. And even then, I try and treat the song as if I just wrote it today, and I'm going to play it in the style that I want to play it in today as opposed to years ago.
There are some ambitious arrangements on the new album. How have they been transferring live on tour--are you happy with the results so far?
I couldn't be more happy with the results. I mean, we've only done four or five shows so far, but they've all been fantastic experiences. It seems hard to think that we could end up having more fun than we had on our last tour, but that appears to be the case.
Awesome. I can't wait to witness that on Friday night at First Avenue. I'm really looking forward to that show.
We always look forward to playing at First Avenue. In fact, we have a new live double-CD that is only available at our shows, and both discs on it were recorded at our last two stops at First Avenue. It's called Tremendous Dynamite 2010-2011.
Yeah, totally. It was extremely beneficial for me, personally. I recommend it for everyone.
How different was the creative process for you going into each of those projects?
Writing a book was probably the hardest project that I've ever worked on. That was really difficult, but that was really rewarding once it was over. And doing the documentary, really it was the BBC that made it originally -- it was their doing and they just called me up and asked me to be part of it, so it wasn't as hard for me. But I was a little bit worried about going on this trip across America and meeting people who know my father, who was pretty much a mystery to me. I just had to be brave enough to go for it, and it turned out to be a really great experience.
Did pouring yourself into those projects free you up creatively when you eventually returned to writing songs?
Yeah, anytime I take a break from music I come crawling back with my tail between my legs begging music to take me back.
Is there anything about the new record that I didn't touch on that you want to be sure to mention?
Just that it's an album for the whole family, and everybody should have their own personal copy so that no one is fighting over it.
Safe travels from Seattle, E. We're all looking forward to seeing you Friday night at First Avenue.
Thanks. I can't wait to get there.
Eels perform tonight at First Avenue with Nicole Atkins. 18+, 8 p.m. Click here.
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