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Perpetually brokenhearted Eels frontman Mark Oliver Everett (or E., as he prefers) is used to exploring the darker side of life with a perfectly aged blend of experimental pop and painfully personal lyrics. The Eels' latest release, Tomorrow Morning, follows in that tradition, but acts as the chewy hope filling inside of the shit-flavored Tootsie Pop. New disc Tomorrow Morning is the final installment in a trilogy covering desire, loss and redemption. Mr. E phoned WW to discuss his newest album, his upcoming show in Portland, and the mortal dangers of having a beard.
WW: When did you know this [latest work] was going to be a trilogy?
E: Pretty early on I had the plan, but I didn't want to announce it up front as such, because we knew that it was going to take an enormous amount of time and I knew that I very well may change my mind in the middle of the plan and I didn't want to paint myself into a corner.
Did you have a pretty clear idea of what you wanted this trilogy to be when you started?
Yes, it was to make three albums each based on a human emotion that we all experience at some point: desire, loss, redemption.
So Tomorrow Morning is the redemption part?
Yes, which is the funnest part if you ask me. Well, anything is more fun than End Times. And I like it because, if you look at the title Tomorrow Morning
after the title End Times
, it changes the meaning of End Times
because it can't be the end if the morning is coming tomorrow. Like if you've gone through a terrible time in your life, you can have a second chance if you want it.
One particular line really caught me and really seemed to sum up that feeling: "I feel my heart changing in mysterious new ways." Can you expand on that idea?
Yeah, I mean, that's something that I've really been feeling. You know, slowly, somehow, over the years, I've been noticing some nice changes. And eventually you recognize them as tangible changes and you can't always necessarily explain when that happens or why that happens. It's a combination of making an effort and you know, magic.
What real life events influenced that change for you?
I think a big part of it is, I probably couldn't have made a record like Tomorrow Morning
if I hadn't gone through the experience of when we didn't put any albums out for four years and when I wrote my book (Things The Grandchildren Should Know
) and made a documentary (Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives
) about my father. That really helped me get to a point where I could make a record like Tomorrow Morning
So just kind of examining yourself and your past, is that right?
Yeah, and then kind of wrapping it all up in a nice little package.
What was the best thing, or the most interesting thing, that you took away from making that documentary?
Well, the single best thing that I took away from that was really understanding my father's story and understanding why he was the way he was and being able to forgive him for his shortcomings as a father.
Why did you take this album in a more electronic direction?
For several years now I've been wanting to make an electronic album with the kind of keyboards and drum machines that you would normally associate with, you know, colder-sounding music like something that was made by someone sitting in a cold apartment in Berlin. But I also knew that I wanted to make this album that was a warm celebration of life and the world and I then thought well wouldn't it be interesting to combine those two ideas and then I got really excited because it really becomes its own thing at that point.
I know that, at least for Blinking Lights, it seemed like you worked with a bunch of different people. But was this album collaborative at all?
Yeah, it definitely was. In particular for this one, I tried to create an environment that encouraged experimentation at all times. A lot of it was just happy accidents that happened spontaneously.
Do you think your fans have an accurate idea of who you are just from your music?
Yeah. I mean, people who listen to the songs might know me better than my actual friends do. Maybe it's because I'm one of those strange people who tends to deal with their issues in songs rather than in actual life.
Do you ever get too attached to a song just because you put so much of yourself into it?
I don't know about getting attached, but when I write a song I'm just trying to get to the bone of the truth of the matter and I don't censor myself. And it's only when I try to sing the song in front of a bunch of people for the first time that I get hit with this wave of awkwardness and I get a little embarrassed. And if you're embarrassed it means there's something really true there. You know, I'm a man. We get embarrassed.
Eels live performances are very different from what people hear on the studio albums.
Yeah, we set out to do that. I think it's a mistake to treat a record and a concert the same and a lot of people do that. I guess there's a kind of fan that wants to be able to count on what they're going to get that evening, to get the kind of sound that they're used to. I was never that kind of fan. My favorite thing about going to a show was always being surprised.
So what can we expect from this tour?
Well, it's hard to say, but I do feel like rocking some this year, so bring your rock shoes. But I don't think any show we do is ever going to be all one thing. It's a dynamic to some point. There'll be some ups, some downs, you'll laugh, you'll cry.
On your tour is there one show or city or venue that you're really looking forward to? You don't have to say Portland.
Well, we always enjoy playing in Portland so we're definitely looking forward to that. I judge every city by the audience because that's all I really get to see and Portland is a good-looking audience. I'll stand by that.
From what I know about you, it seems like you may be fairly introverted and I was just wondering if you like the press surrounding an album or touring?
Yeah, well, I mean, promoting your record by doing the interviews is a very strange process. It's a strange form of torture, hearing yourself say the same thing over and over again hour after hour. But I just have to keep reminding myself it's better than people not caring about your music. I know what that's like and this is still better than that.
I wanted to ask you about the E Works label—that's your label?
Yes, it is. We used to just use it for live albums and things that we would just release on our website. But over the last few years it's just become a more important label for us, and now it's gotten to the point where that's what puts out the studio albums.
Did that come out of an unpleasant experience with another label?
Just, like, years of unpleasant experiences with record labels and at this point it just makes sense to do it this way.
And do you still have the beard? Is there any correlation between the beard and your songwriting?
I do! And yeah, it definitely tends to influence what kind of songs I'm going to write. But it could go away at any moment. It could get caught in an elevator door AT ANY TIME.
So you're putting yourself at risk for your music?
That's right. That's exactly right. And I hope people appreciate it.
Eels play Roseland Theater on Friday, Oct. 8, with Steve Taylor. 8 pm. $25-$35. All ages.