Eels - Interviews - Soundblab

Eels

by Pete Sykes Rating: Release Date:

Mark Everett has had a busy year. In 2005, his band Eels released Blinking Lights and Other Revelations, a sprawling and intensely personal double album widely considered his masterpiece. But then: nothing, for four years, until Hombre Lobo appeared in 2009, followed swiftly by End Times in January this year, and now Tomorrow Morning, the final part of a trilogy. Eels albums have always had distinct emotional tones (most recently, the strange, bleak Souljacker, the celebratory Shootenanny!, and the reflective Blinking Lights...) but these three were consciously designed to follow an emotional arc: Hombre Lobo's primal joy gave way to the bleak melancholy of End Times and now the cautious, fractured optimism of Tomorrow Morning. Soundblab has heard it and is pleased to report that it's really quite lovely, warm and comforting where Hombre Lobo was rough and End Times was bleak, and containing at least two terrific pop songs ('Baby Loves Me' and first single 'Looking Up'). We sat down for a chat with Everett about the new record, why The Beatles split up, and 'bringing it'.

Are you excited about the release of the new album?

I am, yeah. I've finally gotten to this point where I've got all three of them out. No wonder I'm so tired.

Tomorrow Morning is the final part of a trilogy. Did you conceive it as a trilogy when you were writing Hombre Lobo, or did it just work out that way?

At that point I knew that's where I was going, pretty early on. I originally conceived it as a two part story and then I realised pretty early on that it would be three.

Would it be fair to say this record finds you more optimistic than End Times did?

I think you could say that, yeah! After the last record, I don't think you could go much further down. Maybe if I made an album about my family dying… (Note: he's actually already done that: 1998's magnificent Electro-Shock Blues).

Did you make a conscious decision to make an 'electronic' record?

Yeah, well I had two ideas: one was that I wanted to make an electronic record, and the other was that I wanted to make a warm record, kind of a celebration of all the nice things in life that I enjoy. And then I thought, what if I combine those two ideas? I thought that'd be interesting.

How was the recording process different from your 'rock' records like Souljacker or Hombre Lobo?

All three of them were very distinct processes unto themselves. Hombre Lobo was more of a band type record, and End Times was a very solitary experience and more of a personal kind of songwriting approach. And then the new one was very experimental and probably the most fun of them all to make.

There are quite a lot of strange and discordant sounds in the backgrounds of the songs. How did you come up with them?

That's the funnest stuff, that kind of stuff! We don't have any rules about that. It's just anything goes. I never really met a sound I didn't like. Well, except…I'm not crazy about fingernails down a chalkboard, but I could probably find a way to use it.

What bands or artists influenced you on this record?

None, because you haven't got time to listen to music when you're making it all day!

One of the songs, 'Baby Loves Me', kind of reminded me of Prince…

Well, I never heard that before, but I'll take that as a compliment…

It was intended as a compliment. Do you like Prince?

I do yeah. I think if I had to give anyone any credit for musical influence for that one…a few years ago I listened to a lot of Peaches.

[One of the refreshing things about Tomorrow Morning is the sense that its best moments have come about naturally, rather than as a result of pressure from a record company to produce a hit album. Early Eels singles - you may remember 'Novocaine For The Soul', 'Last Stop: This Town' and 'Mr. E's Beautiful Blues' - were released on American behemoth DreamWorks, but Everett's magnum opus Blinking Lights... came out on indie label Vagrant, and the new record is released on Everett's own label, EWorks. But surely three records in 18 months is a lot of work when you're your own boss?]

This is your third album in 18 months. Do you enjoy working at such a pace?

An album every six months, three in a row, I'm starting to understand why The Beatles only lasted for six years… It's exhausting. But it's fun! I think it's more interesting for artists to be able to come out with records more rapidly than they normally would do because that's how it was back in the 60s. But back then they were all taking speed because they didn't realise how bad it was for them. As soon as The Beatles switched to pot and LSD, they stopped touring and didn't put out so many albums.

And I guess they had record companies making them put out records every six months. You release material on your own label now. I guess that gives you more time, more freedom?

Yeah, totally. A record company would tell me not to do this, they wouldn't want me to put out a record every six months. They like you to do it at the most every two years.

Do you think that record labels are on their way out, now that everyone is downloading?

It sure seems that way doesn't it?

Is that a good or a bad thing?

I don't know yet… I certainly have seen a lot of positive repercussions in my situation. But it's all happening so fast, who knows where the dust is gonna settle? It'll be interesting to see what it's like in 10 years.

Do you think that if there weren't any labels, your career would have turned out any different?

Yeah, I feel kind of lucky that I'm at the point I'm at now, that I have an audience… I think it must be more difficult if you're a new band now, it must be a lot harder to get an audience.

You're touring again this summer - are you looking forward to it?

I am at the moment, because I haven't done it for a while. I didn't do it for the last two records because I didn't feel like it and I didn't want to just go out and do it because you're supposed to do it; that's not a good enough reason. I am feeling now like I wanna do it again, but after a couple of weeks I'll probably change my tune…

Do you enjoy touring generally?

No! I don't like all of that travelling, it's very… taxing. But the good part of it is, it's fun, you're travelling with your friends, there's a lot of fun times.

You're playing some festivals this summer. I've never thought of Eels as a festival type band…

Yeah, we've done our fair share of it.

Do you have a 'festival set'?

Yeah, if we don't play any festivals one year, it's probably because we're doing something that musically wouldn't fit with the festival theme, so yeah, you've gotta kind of… bring it.

[Everett's been exorcising his personal demons on record for his entire career - Electro-Shock Blues, for example, was his response to his sister's suicide and his mother's death from lung cancer - so it's probably no surprise that his 2008 memoir of his relationship with his brilliant, troubled quantum physicist father, Things the Grandchildren Should Know, was such an emotionally honest and affecting book, and as far from the traditional rock autobiography as it's possible to get.]

Your book about your father was very successful and acclaimed. Did that hearten you, or did you write it more for yourself?

I did it as an experiment, I mean I didn't sign a book deal up front; I just wrote it and I had no idea if I was even gonna finish it. And then when I finished it, I read it and felt like it… like it had something to offer, you know, to people? And I wished that I'd had something like that to read when I was younger, when it could've helped me. So at that point I decided to see if anyone wanted to put it out. I mean, it was enormously rewarding that it was received well…

Do you have any more books planned?

I hope not. It's too hard.

Harder than making these records?

So much harder! The hardest project I've ever worked on.

Are you writing any more songs?

Come on, give me a break! When the tour's over and the album's out, I'm gonna take a year long nap.

Your fans are very demanding so you'd better start writing again soon.

Ha! Well, I think I have no choice now.

Do you feel that making music is a compulsion, or can you ever see yourself retiring?

It's funny, I often go through these little periods where I think I'm gonna retire; I think it's some sense of frustration or exhaustion. And then I always come crawling back with my tail between my legs.

Mark, thanks for talking to us, good luck on the tour!

Yeah, thanks a lot, bye bye.

Pete Sykes

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Awesome interview!

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