Christened by songwriter Mark Eitzel, who combined the three words he believed should never appear in a band name, San Francisco's American Music Club made a reputation around the turn of the last decade for romantic, depressive yet mordantly witty tunes delivered with a smoky whiskey ambience. Eitzel was pegged as a latter-day Leonard Cohen, and the band spent time in the lower reaches of the major labels trying to make hits out of introspective material in an age of gangsta and grunge.
When, in 1995, success seemed as unlikely for the band as for the denizens of Eitzel's songs, AMC split up. Eitzel went on to develop an ever-growing cult following as a solo artist, while confounding his audience's expectations at every turn with willfully diverse output: a Peter Buck collaboration, a quasi-electronica album, a covers collection and even a disc of old AMC numbers re-recorded in Athens with traditional Greek musicians.
Perhaps the latter project hinted that the songwriter was ripe for a re-evaluation of his old group's legacy. Early this year, drummer Tim Mooney, who's kept busy as a recording engineer, urged Eitzel to leave Chicago, where he lives, and bring his latest batch of songs back to his S.F. studio and to the band's attention. The result of that urging is Love Songs for Patriots, due out Oct. 19. But this is an AMC for a new century. As the album's title suggests, the familiar inner torment of the work now reflects the world's outer turmoil as well. The second short leg of the band's reunion tour stops at Berbati's Pan this week. WW recently spoke to Mooney by phone from Frisco, and later received an email communiqué from Eitzel, who was on a publicity tour in Europe.
WW: You have such a reputation for depressive music. Are the boys in the band a gloomy bunch, in general?
Tim Mooney: No, it's not particularly a depressed bunch of people. By and large, the experience was pretty fun last time around. The only downside of that time was that it can be disappointing on a major label if they don't know how to market you, or if you're not making the music that they can find a way to market. You put pressure on yourself to make it, and that's not fun.
How did this reunion come about, gradually or spontaneously?
I was in a band with [bassist/mandolinist] Danny [Pearson] called Clodhopper for a while. We were on the same bill with Mark solo one time here in San Francisco, and we played together on maybe three songs. At that point that little seed was planted. A couple years after that, I think everybody felt, "I really kind of miss doing that," and we started to talk to each other a little bit more.
How soon until you knew the old magic would return?
The first song that we heard that on was the second song we did, on the third day, called "Another Morning." It came right out of us, and it was awesome.
Mark Eitzel concurs on that last point. He answered emails from a tour stop in Germany:
WW: So what are you doing in Germany?
Mark Eitzel: Answering questions about my music and about the rising anti-American feeling on the streets of Europe.
How does it feel for you as an American (Music Clubber) abroad in the current climate?
Fine. Because my hate for this regime is absolute (more or less).
Why the title of the new album anyway? What does the word "patriots" bring up for you?
I am one. I am not a fan of people who say if I don't agree with them, I am a traitor. That is Fascist. That is not American.
Was there ever a point at which you believed there would NEVER be another AMC album?
When did that belief start to waver?
As soon as I played with Danny and Tim on "Another Morning."
Am I correct that this new project happened as a result of Tim's initiative?
Yes, mostly, but I started calling people about four years ago.
How does it feel now compared to old days with the band?
Everyone is fatter and more polite.
American Music Club plays with Holy Sons Thursday, Sept. 2, at Berbati's Pan, 231 SW Ankeny St., 248-4579. 9:30 pm. $10 advance, $12 day of show. 21+.
AMC also plays Saturday, Sept. 4, at Seattle's Bumbershoot Festival. See bumbershoot.com for information.