FOREWORD: Eels brainchild Mark Everett has suffered for his art too long, enduring family and friends’ tragic deaths while absorbing sundry other calamities I’d wish only on Bin Laden and Hitler. His ’96 debut, Beautiful Freak, and its whimsical narcotic spellbinder, ”Novocaine For The Soul,” really broke through on modern rock and college radio in part due to Beck’s ‘chilaxed’ downcast suburban ditty, “Loser.”
Though ‘01s Souljacker pumped up the volume and increased intensity, its dark characterizations provided ghostly reminders. After this interview, ‘03s live-in-the-studio Shootenanny and ‘05s Country-styled acoustic retreat, Blinking Lights and other Revelations (with high-profile contributions by Tom Waits, Peter Buck, and John Sebastian), branched out within the folk-pop realm. The Eels ’09 disc, Hombre Lobo, kept Everett’s ambitious musical streak alive. This article originally appeared in Aquarian Weekly.
Last time I spoke with eels frontman Mark Oliver Everett (a.k.a. E), he was still recovering from the cancerous death of his mom and the concurrent suicide of his sister (documented on ‘98s eerily dirgey Electro-Shock Blues). Then, with the cautionary nursery crimes and unresolved riddles of ‘00s beautifully rendered Daisies Of The Galaxy, recorded with R.E.M.’s Peter Buck and Grant Lee Phillips, E delivered some of the most poignant and carefree tunes in his canon.
Two years hence, the loosely thematic Souljacker finds E relaying depressing accounts gathered from acquaintances while being enamored by the perilous thought of an individuals’ spiritual embodiment being stolen. Helped along by former PJ Harvey co-conspirator John Parish (co-producer/ multi-instrumentalist), Joe Gore (guitar), and Kool G. Murder (bass/ synthesizer/ clavinet), the inventive L.A.-via-Northern Virginia sage continues to spin glum tales concerning some “Dog Faced Boy” and “Bus Stop Boxer.” Beautiful illuminations such as “Friendly Ghost” and the melancholic “Fresh Feeling” show definite signs of uplift and hope amongst the ever-present glare of despair.
On Last Call with Carson Daly, the now full-bearded E, dressed in casual tee with eyes hidden behind shades, convincingly pile-drove through “22 miles of road” for a soaring guitar version of “Souljacker Part I.” Later on, he moved over to keyboards while one-handedly banging a drum for the fierce “Dog Faced Boy.”
In the past, E’s shaven face took on the look of a frail, insecure naif lost in an inevitable “World Of Shit.” Now, our reluctant hero has the somewhat secure fuzzy appearance of an older, wiser, rugged troubadour. Perhaps the facial hair covers up the emotional scars of a traumatic past. Either way, the revolving assemblage E casts as the eels remain one of indie rock’s hottest prospects.
AW: Did John Parish provide many of Souljacker’s cinematic moodscapes?
MARK: We have similar love for little noises that make people get up and see what’s wrong with their stereo. I don’t know how to describe what he does. It’s something that’s all his own. I thought it was a good match.
Give me some background on Kool G. Murder.
He’s been around awhile. He’s a Silver Lakes hipster. He plays around with a lot of people doing remixing and d.j.ing. I met him through a friend of a friend. He came over one day and never left. Now we can’t get rid of him.
I’ve heard of indie rockers like Beck coming from Silver Lake, but it’s cool hip-hoppers thrive there as well.
Silver Lake is a melting pot.
Why put the 4-song EP, “Rotten World Blues,” on a separate disc alongside Souljacker?
I’m against records being too long. Just because you could fit 74 minutes doesn’t mean your album should be that long. But I’m just an old crank. Every country has a different version of Souljacker. England has an extra track because they have such an import problem. Same with Japan. They wanted me to add an extra track until I made the suggestion of four extra tracks. To my surprise, they agreed.
You take on the persona of “Dog Faced Boy.” He seems to be a kid that got picked on and rejected in high school.
That song was inspired by a woman I know who was kind of hairy as a kid and was teased by classmates and called gorilla girl. She had a Christian fundamentalist mother. She begged her mom to shave her. Then, I turned it into a dog-faced boy to make it convincing to sing in the first person.
Did you have the tortured childhood many musicians complain about?
Everybody’s childhood was fucked up, it seems, in one sense. I guess some have an ideal childhood, but I don’t know anyone.
Sometimes the early struggles become their muse for life.
But I don’t want to make a life out of that. The gorilla girl has become the hottest girl in town. They always get the last laugh. The geeks shall inherit the earth. The girls that were hot in high school that you wanted to go out with become unattractive while the others become attractive. It makes you believe in God.
Does your bearded appearance reflect the “Dog Faced Boy” character?
No. It just sort of happened. I stopped shaving.
Was the searing “What Is This Note” put at the end of Souljacker because of its derivation from the preceding moodscape?
I don’t know if it’s that much different from “Souljacker Part II” and “Teenage Witch.” It’s just so aggressive. I love how it smashes you in the face after “Souljacker Part II.”
It seems as if Parish was highly involved with the bent cocktail jazz -bossa nova “That’s Not Really Funny.”
Oh completely. That’s all him. What I love about it is it really rocks out without having elements you’d expect in a rock song. There’s hardly any drums and no real bass guitar, yet somehow it really rocks.
The anguished dirge, “Bus Stop Boxer,” really hit me. It seems so earnestly depressing.
Every other song was inspired by a real life person. That was inspired by one of the record engineers we worked with. He made the mistake of telling me a story about his childhood. (laughter) Next thing, I wrote a song about it.
Do you enjoy other semi-orchestral contemporary mood rockers such as the Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, Spiritualized, or Grandaddy?
Yeah. I like all of those. I haven’t heard Grandaddy, but everyone says I’d like them.
What’s this about a meditation retreat you went on? Did it help your writing?
Totally. I was in the middle of Electro-Shock Blues when I went on that. This album just had to wait in line.
What are you currently working on?
I’ve got a couple records in the can and I’m working on one. I’m also working on a Sam Shepherd film that’ll hopefully be shooting this fall.