“We can all be happy with any situation if we decide to be...” hmv.com talks to Eels
It has been more than two decades since Eels first burst onto the scene with their gloriously offbeat debut album Beautiful Freak. Since then, the band's chief creative force Mark Oliver Everett - better known simply as E – has delivered a dozen albums, written an autobiography, penned music for films an television shows and even fronted a BAFTA-winning documentary on the subject his father Hugh Everett, the physicist responsible for the 'many-worlds' theory which posits the existence of infinite universes.
After recording and touring relentlessly for much of the last couple of decades he decided to take a well-earned break, but this week Eels return with their first new album since 2014 and ahead of its release we sat down with the man himself to talk about the new album, his forays into acting, and hanging out with the cast of Mad Men...
So this is your first album in four years, which is quite a long break by your standards...
“I know, it's like a lifetime.”
Was this a deliberate sabbatical or did it just end up that way?
“It was deliberate. I didn't know how long it was going to go on for, though. And when it started, I thought it might just go on forever, I felt like I might just be done.”
“I was just worn out from working too hard for too long, it was so intense. I learn everything the hard way and if you do too much of anything it'll catch up with you.”
So what have you been getting up to? We see you did a bit of acting...
“I did a little bit of acting, I was married briefly, and I had a son. And now we're all caught up!”
Well, congratulations on being a dad! How did your role in Love come about anyway?
“I didn't even know what I was getting into until I got there. It was a weird thing. I was an enormous fan of the TV show Mad Men, and at an Eels concert in Los Angeles several years ago we were in between encores, so I was offstage and our tour manager came running up to me and said: 'Don Draper and Roger Sterling are here!' And I was like: 'Oh my God!' Like, I couldn't believe they were both together.”
Don and Roger just hanging out, in real life, at Eels concerts...
“Exactly! Just hanging out. So we became friends since then, and then years later John Slattery texted me one day and said 'Hey, we're doing this thing, do you want to come and be a part of it?' I said yes, and I didn't really understand what he was asking me to do, but I just said yes because Roger Sterling wanted me to do something. So I went along and it turned out to be this show Love, which he was directing. I've been part of it since then, the third and final season comes out in March and I'm in that too.”
Any plans to do any more?
“Well, that's the end of that particular show. I mean it's really fun, but it's very challenging because it's not really my thing, so that makes it exciting to do something different.”
So when did you actually start working on the new album?
“It was sometime in the earlier part of those last four years, but I wasn't setting out to make an album at that point, it wasn't like 'we're gonna be in for the month of May to record' or whatever, I had the luxury of being able to only write or record a song when I was inspired to. So I'd do one, and it might be six months before the next one. It was all just very organic, I didn't have an overarching concept for an album or anything. It wasn't until I got years into it that I started to put them together and see what it was turning into.”
You've done 'concept albums' before, but generally do you need to have an idea of what a record is going to be about before you start?
“More often than not I do tend to start with an idea of a record that is about something, or sounds a certain way, or both usually. But not always, and in this case I didn't.”
That said, would you say there are any lyrical themes running throughout the new album?
“Yes, I mean when I started to look at the songs at a certain point, not all of them were done yet, but in some of them I started to see what was going on. There's a couple of themes, I think. One is the deconstruction of the defences we build up for ourselves, and what's underneath all of that if you strip it away. What are we protecting underneath the walls we build?”
“The other thing is about how we're all kind of looking for answers to the great questions in our lives, and realising that there aren't really answers, so maybe we should just stop asking. Life is just a collection of experiences and you've just got to try and embrace the chaos and roll with it. And that we can all be happy with any situation if we decide to be.”
You usually self-produce, but you've worked with Mickey Petralia again, for the first time since Electro-Shock Blues. Why did you decide to get an extra pair of hands on this one?
“Just to mix it up a little, I mean I've known him this whole time and one day we were just like: 'Hey, how come we never make music together anymore?' So I just thought: Why not? And it turned out great, so I'm very happy I did. He's on three of the songs, I think, but they're three of the best, probably. He's a very creative, cut-and-paste, editor type of recording guy. He did some of the coolest stuff on Electro-Shock Blues.”
Was there any particular track that set the direction for the rest of the album?
“Not really, that might be why there's a little bit of variety to the album.”
Your records do tend to be quite eclectic in that sense though...
“Sometimes, but then they also tend to be very thematic too, I mean a lot of them will have a similar sound.”
How much input do the other guys in the band have while you're in the studio? Your line-up seems to have finally settled, do they get involved in the creative side of things?
“Well, the buck stops with me, but I'm smart enough to always keep an open mind and want to hear everybody's ideas and suggestions, and it's always worth weeding through all the ideas that don't work for that one idea that does, that you wouldn't have thought of. The most fun part of making a record is all the happy accidents that occur along the way, sometimes you intend for a song to go a certain way and it it goes somewhere completely different that you never would've thought of, that's the exciting part.”
What are your touring plans for the new album? Are you doing some shows in the UK?
“They're all up on our website, but I know we're doing Brixton Academy, we've had some really great nights there.”
How do you go about choosing a setlist now, with so much material?
“It's actually pretty easy because it's just whatever feels like something I want to play. It's very natural.”
You seem to have the type of fanbase that sticks by you and is eager to hear new material, does that make you feel less pressure to go out and play 'the hits'?
“It's hard to say. Is it an audience sticking by me, or do we change enough from album to album that we alienate them all and get a whole new audience for the next one? I don't know.”
By now, you've released a dozen albums, written songs & music for films and TV, written an autobiography, made a documentary about your physicist father – what's something that you'd love to do but haven't gotten around to yet? What's left on your bucket list?
“That's a good question. I should think of whatever that is and do it. I haven't thought about it, you've given me something to chew on there...”
The Deconstruction is available in hmv stores now, you can also find it here in our online store