I’m a fan. I’ve been a fan for a very long time. I was very excited to speak with Mark Oliver Everett, aka E, of the band EELS. It was not everything I dreamed. It was my fault. It felt like an updated version of The Chris Farley Show. Thankfully, Mark Oliver Everett was nice.
I was given the opportunity to speak with the musician because the EELS have embarked on another leg of a seemingly never ending tour. They’re supporting the new, good The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett and will be at the Lincoln Theatre on Saturday and The Apollo Theater on Sunday. I recommend attending these shows. Steve Perry may make an appearance. More on that later.
The first question I posed a man I respect as an artist was about his enjoyment level while making his new album. What a horrible question. It’s not a ‘fun’ album. The guy was not in a lovely place in his personal life. “Did you enjoy making the new album?” He had every right to hang up after that. He did not.
“I’m not sure if I could say I really enjoyed making it. It’s not like a fun kind of record to make. The last record was a really fun kind of record to make, they’re just different approaches and as long as you like the result they’re both valid approaches I guess.”
Of course he didn’t enjoy it! It’s about the end of a relationship! Jesus Christ man!
After opening with that winning question, I went album by album, asking a dumb question about one song I love on each of his records. I am not in high school. I am not writing for my college paper in a bind on a deadline I missed because I was busy doing fun things with my body. This interview was conducted via phone at the reasonable hour of 3pm. I was in an office. He was in an office. Adult people doing adult jobs and I’m asking shit questions like, “How did “Where I’m From” come about?” He did not hang up the phone.
“Well, I realized that you know, back when my family had all died, I had to go back to the family house I grew up in and I had to close it up and there was a very distinct moment when I closed the door and I made a point to not turn around and look back at the house, and I have literally done that with the whole family situation every since. And you do anything you can to survive a situation that intense. Now all these years later I realize there’s also an unhealthy aspect to that.”
You didn’t know about the long, sad history of his family’s suicides? I did! Maybe I shouldn’t have led with two questions about feelings and the origin of songs of which I KNOW THE ORIGIN. I know the origin of these songs because in 2008 PBS aired the award winning documentary Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives and I watched that first airing. My friends and I texted each other to turn on PBS RIGHT NOW because the guy who sings the sad songs we liked was on the TV. You can now watch this documentary on the EELS Vimeo page. I recommend you do.
Are you glad you did the doc with PBS? I don’t know if it was for PBS or just on PBS, but I enjoyed it as a viewer (Why does he need to know this? Is he going to stop the interview to commend me for following a career? Do I think he’s going to ask me to go on tour with the band?).
Yeah, that was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I didn’t really know what to expect from that one and they came to me about it and I was like, well, I might as well experiment, kind of like everything I’m doing, experimenting I guess, and it turned out to be a really good thing for me. And I mean most of the things I know about my father I learned through that.
Are you glad you know those things? I don’t know if that’s a loaded question or not, but…
Oh, I know what you mean. Yeah, ultimately it’s just having a much fuller understanding of him and why he was the way he was and it let’s me be able to forgive him for his shortcomings.
So ultimately it was a very big positive?
Not a horrible question. Not a horrible follow up question. Why I didn’t continue with the flow of the conversation I do not know. I went back to the dumb song line of questioning. I asked about “I Like The Way This Is Going.” E’s response, “That was a song about a real situation and a real person that I was involved with, and the same person that went on to inspire this new album.”
Understood, I’ll leave it at that…
Yeah, I liked the way it was going and then I blew it, hence the name of the song.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IN6I8u97xQI&feature=kp
Do you see a trend? It wasn’t a total loss. The new album, the first with E’s real name in the title, came up. “It’s a very uncomfortable situation for me to have my name and photo on the cover and have it be so naked and feel so exposed, and it is a sacrifice. I did it because I thought it was a worthwhile endeavor, the only way to make any of it real.”
It was interesting to hear a man, who has released thirteen critically acclaimed albums under the name E and/or EELS talk about using his real name on an album for a first time. Interesting enough for me to ask a follow up? Nope! Back to the songs!
Okay, for the people that maybe know of you in passing, I want to make it clear that you don’t just write like very sad songs, like “Prizefighter” is a very, to me, upbeat, happy song. Would you agree with that (Remember when people though Paul was dead? You weren’t dead, right)?
Yeah, I mean it’s an upbeat happy song about fighting for something.
Well you also have “Bus Stop Boxer,” which makes me wonder, have you ever boxed, like why do these themes keep coming up?
You know it’s funny (it’s not really funny, he was just being nice) I have not boxed, but I’ve always been interested in it and it’s something that I still might take up at some point. I also have “On The Ropes,” and you’re right I didn’t realize there are 3 boxer songs on that…
Longtime fans love the double album Blinking Lights And Other Revelations. It doesn’t have the radio friendly songs as Souljacker, Beautiful Freak or Hombre Lobo, but it does have instrumentals that make daily tasks seem worth doing and revealing songs that would make most songwriters uncomfortable. I asked about two of those potentially uncomfortable songs.
E on “In The Yard Behind the Church”: That one is inspired by, I grew up in the suburbs in Virginia, and there was this housing developments that was built on this old civil war farm land and there’s this great old civil-war era church very close to the house I grew up in and it had a great yard in the backyard, that was kind of the teenage fantasy about making sweet love back in the graveyard that I never got to do, it was a nice fantasy.
E on “I’m Going to Stop Pretending I Didn’t Break Your Heart”: That was about a specific person that I just kind of woke myself up years after the fact and realized that I may have done someone wrong, and I pulled the wall over my eyes and didn’t let myself believe it.
At this point I revealed that I’ve been following his musical career, linking his music to my experiences. His response: “Don’t let my situations scare you, just try to run from my mistakes if possible.”
I have a lot of regrets with this interview. The biggest was the timing. Our conversation happened last week. Since then, lead singer of Journey Steve Perry showed up at an EELS show and sang “It’s a Mother Fucker” and “Open Arms” and “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin'” with the band. Because?