Q&A: Eels Frontman Mark Oliver Everett Talks Writing Albums While Horny and Being a Rockstar
For the four-year period between 2005 and 2009 Mark Oliver Everett didn't release any new material with his alt-rock outfit Eels. But it didn't mean he was resting on his laurels. Quite the opposite, actually, as the privilege of hindsight reveals it as one of the truly prolific periods of his career.
During the quiet span Everett penned a memoir, Things the Grandchildren Should Know, and a trio of albums that were subsequently released during a 14-month span between 2009 and 2010. In advance of Eels' Granada Theater performance tonight, we caught up with the man called "E" to talk about beards, writing albums while horny, and feeling like a rock star.
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Each album was made in its own period but none of them came out until they were all three finished. After Blinking Lights came out in 2005 there was four years before the first one of these came out, so it was during that four-year period they were all made.
Are they intended to tell one story, for instance the an anger caused by the end of a relationship, turned to depression, and at last to acceptance? Or was that connected narrative something that became more connected in hindsight?
That's what I intended. I wanted them to be able to stand on their own as their own story individually and also be part of a larger story [when put] all together.
Why was it important to release the latest trilogy of albums so close together?
I felt after four years of not putting anything out it would be good to make up for lost time to put them out a little more rapidly.
Was there ever any pressure from a label or anyone to spread out the releases over a longer period?
Nobody likes the idea of putting out an album every six months except for me, apparently. It wasn't that hard for me because I didn't make the first one, put it out, and then have to make the next one in a hurry because I had already made all three of them before they came out. And I made them at a leisurely pace. It would have been a lot harder to do it the way bands actually did it in the '60s where they would put one out and then have to make another one to put out six months later.
Hombre Lobo seems to be a sort of extension of "Dog Faced Boy," or maybe the grownup version, the proverbial wolf man.
That's right. At some point it occurred to me, 'What would it be like if the dog-faced boy was not a teenager anymore but a grown man, what would he be like?' and I just kind of got carried away with the idea at that point. I had been working on some different kind of music at the time and I also happened to be growing a pretty bushy long beard and I was brushing my teeth one morning in the bathroom mirror and I thought, you know, this beard kind of doesn't suit the kind of music I'm writing right now. And so I decided to write some music that suits the beard, and that's when I started working on Hombre Lobo.
What experiences from your life while you were writing these three albums mirror actual material from the albums?
It was nice that there was four years that I had to work on these. Each one was directly related to stuff I was going to at the time. I was kind of horny when I made Hombre Lobo, I was sad when I made End Times, and I was hopeful when I made Tomorrow Morning, all because of things that were going on in my life. End Times was definitely about the end of a relationship, Hombre Lobo is about before a relationship even starts, and Tomorrow Morning is about getting a second chance to start over again.
As much as these three albums sound so different from one another, you've always been pretty good about going new directions on every album. Was there ever a point in your career where you ever worried that by not sticking to any one particular sound it would alienate or turn off fans in the process?
That's the challenging part about what we do; there is a great potential to lose people because they see you do something one year and if they happen to like it they come back the next time and it's usually quite different so they could [potentially] be disappointed. But I've just never been interested in those type of fans. For the fickle fans of the world there is always something new for them -- some new flavor of the month -- to get into. We were never built for the masses; we're happy with our 'beautiful freaks.'
Do you consider yourself a quote-unquote rock star?
On a good day, there are times when I have to admit that I am something like that. Like last night we played in London and we put on a pretty rockin' show, I've gotta say, and Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin was sitting right there watching us. At that point you feel like a rock star.
I don't feel like there's any negative aspect of that. I just feel incredibly lucky to get to do what I do. It's fantastic. Nobody in my shoes has the right to complain about it.
How does writing a book compare to writing an album?
Writing a book is much harder than writing an album, it turns out, for me. It's the hardest thing I've ever done. I don't recommend it. With writing a song there are all sorts of variables, you can make all sorts of changes with the mix, and it's fun. And it's usually, in my case, very collaborative. But writing a book is very lonely and very exacting. It's just you and the words and nothing else. It's tough.
Were you surprised the book received such positive reviews?
It was a great feeling because it was just an experiment in my mind. I didn't sign a book deal up front. I just did it to see what I could make of it, and by the time I finished it I felt like there was something there that had something to offer, so I decided to put it out. It was a really nice feeling when it received such a positive reaction.
How do positive album reviews compare to positive book reviews? Do they feel any different because, for instance, your book is so personal?
Yeah it is. It's always a strange feeling when somebody tells me they read the book because I have to stop and think about all the personal and embarrassing details about my life they know. But it feels good when you're that open of a book, literally, and people like it. It's a good feeling.
Are you still rocking your beard these days?
I do have quite a long beard, almost to the point where I don't have to wear pants. Some places you go they think it's really strange. In fact, one place we were just at was Amsterdam, and as we walked around there everyone looked at us like we were total freaks because of the beards. Nobody has a beard in Amsterdam. We were trying to figure out why and we came up with the theory that because they smoke a lot of pot there and it's too dangerous. They might light a beard on fire.
Or because that smell lingers longer in beard hair, it seems, than other types of hair.
Oh yeah, it's too much of a flavor savor.
Do you still record a lot in your basement and/or using a four track?
[The trilogy] were all done in my basement studio, and End Times was done, a lot of it, on four track. It was an appropriate way to do End Times because that album was about loss and I thought that's a good situation where I'm alone and I should be the recording engineer and not have anyone else in the room so I'll really open up more. With the four track I become the recording engineer. When it gets beyond four tracks I have to get somebody to run the stuff, so in a way four track is harder for me.
You guys seem to drastically change up your shows from tour to tour. What can fans expect this time around?
I think this is possibly our most crowd-friendly show we've ever done. We're rocking, we've got electric guitars, we've got horns, and we're pretty much mining the entire catalog. I think it promises to be the feel good show of the summer. There's just a real positive vibe about the whole night every night.