Mark Oliver Everett of Eels talks about his latest trilogy, his book, and doing things the Tom Waits way
Eels frontman Mark Oliver Everett (aka E) has been hyper-productive lately, releasing three albums as part of a trilogy in just over a year. He says each album (last year's Hombre Lobo and this year's End Times and Tomorrow Morning) are each about a distinct human emotion -- desire, loss and renewal, respectively -- that most of us have probably experienced in our lives at one time or another.
In advance of the Eels show tonight at the Ogden, we spoke with E about the new trilogy, getting mistaken for a terrorist in London, doing things the Tom Waits way (incidentally, Waits's former nanny Jesca Hoops opens the show), his book (Things the Grandchildren Should Know) and how he's having the most fun he's ever had on the road.
How's the tour been going tour so far?
It's been really fun.
It's been a few years since you last hit the road, right?
Yeah, we didn't when the last two albums came out. We usually toured at some point when each album came out. A little bit of a different situation now.
Are you playing a lot of newer material or covering the whole catalogue?
We're definitely doing a lot of new stuff, because there are three new albums since the last time we toured. It's a pretty even mix of new and old, I think.
Is it ever tough singing some of your stuff -- maybe some of the more personal tunes -- live, or more of a cathartic thing?
Some of both. You get used to it. At first it can be a little awkward. The first time you play some of the songs in a roomful of people, you get used to it.
I talked to one guy a few months ago, and he had a rule about how didn't want to write songs when he was sad or depressed or anything because he didn't want to relive that night after night.
I totally understand that. I think you just gotta buck up and do it sometimes in an effort to get some catharsis or deal with it.
When you finished the trilogy, I read how you said something like it was sewing up the stitches to keep the blood from coming out. Do you feel like you're any closer to getting any sort of...I don't want to say "closure"...but any closer to...
Definitely. I'm definitely at a point where I've spent so many years feeling the pain of the needle stitching up the wounds -- and it was all worth it, because I'm really in a good place these days. And these shows that we're doing this year are just basically one big, fat celebration.
Is it more of a celebration than previous tours, maybe having a little more fun this time around?
Yeah, I think so. I'm definitely having the most fun I ever had. It might surprise some people how much fun this is.
I was reading concert review that said you were giving out Otter Pops to some of the people in the crowd.
Well, we've been celebrating summer as part of it, even though it's now October. I'm not done with summer yet.
I heard how the London police mistook you for a terrorist over the summer. What was the whole thing about having to get an insurance policy on your beards for the whole band?
England is a weird place. Either they think I'm a terrorist or they think our beards are going to be a fire hazard in the theater. It's just a ridiculous place sometimes.
Didn't you start growing the beard again right around the time you started making Hombre Lobo?
I got rid of it after Hombre Lobo and started over again. I'm not sure why.
Is it sort of a continuation of the "Dog Faced Boy"?
Hombre Lobo was.
As far as the other two records in the trilogy, what tied them all together?
The common thread is that they're about three distinct human emotions and experiences that most of us have probably all experienced at one point in our lives. The first one was about desire, the second one was about loss, and the third one was about renewal.
Hombre was the album that sparked that trilogy. Did you have the trilogy in mind back when you were making Hombre, or before then?
It was the plan from the start.
I really dig the video for "That Look You Give That Guy," and I was curious about how you hooked up with Padma Lakshmi.
We met her when we were guests on the David Letterman show last year, and she was a guest. She was watching us at rehearsal, and we started talking. The next you know, I got her in my video.
I know you're a big Tom Waits fan. Did you hear how he got nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?
I didn't know that. Is that right?
It just happened a few days ago.
Cool. He deserves it.
And that was cool you guys got to collaborate on Blinking Lights. I was reading about you trading the four-track tapes back and forth.
Yeah, that was pretty exciting.
How long have you been into Waits?
Well, my older sister, who was six years older than me, was bringing his records home when I was a little kid. So it's been a long time.
What is about his stuff that resonates with you?
Well, I think the greatest thing about him is that he's a perfect example of how to do things your way. Do things the Tom Waits way.
You also mentioned Ray Charles's biography in your book and his quote about finding out what is unique about yourself...
It's kind of the same lesson at the Tom Waits lesson. Do things your way. It can, sometimes, take a lot of time to figure out what your way is.
Have you had a lot of fans -- maybe they come up to you at shows or send you letters -- tell you that they're really connected with your music?
Occasionally. Fans seem to really really appreciate it, which is always a nice feeling.
Maybe fans who have gone through similar experiences.
Yeah, I get a lot of letters about that, which is just such a nice feeling, because you just make a record to try and impress yourself, and it's a nice thing that happens sometimes, that at the same time, you're helping someone else out, which is nice.
I'd imagine you got some of the same feedback with your book as well.
Do you still have a constant urge to write songs?
I go through phases. I don't have it when I'm touring the world because there's no time or energy for it. It's good. It works out good, and then you stay away from it for a while and then get really hungry to do it again.
I was reading about how you might be sitting down to watch a movie, and ten minutes into it, you get the urge to write a song, and if you don't get it down right away, you feel like you'll lose it.
Yeah, sometimes it can be a pain in the ass.
Has performing ever been hard for you to do? It seems like you like to hang out at home and that you're sort of a lone wolf.
It's a weird dichotomy with a lot of performer-type people. For some reason, you can lead a sort of introverted life, and all of a sudden, you go out on stage and you're completely extroverted. I can't explain it.
Would you say you're almost like a different person on stage?
No, I don't see it as a different person; it's just a different aspect of the personality or maybe just an extreme version of it.
A different facet of your being, or something...
Any idea of what you're going to do once the tour is done?
I've got no idea. It's nice because I've had a long-term plan for several years, and I'm coming toward the end of it. Maybe I just need to take a long nap.
Have you taken any vacations in a while?
For me, we're literally circling the globe, and by the end of this, the last thing I want to do is travel anywhere. A vacation at home sounds nice.
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