Mark Oliver Everett, also known as E, has been leading his band Eels for almost 20 years now. Though the band had some commercial success early on, Everett has turned into a respected career artist with a dedicated group of followers loyal to his unique vision. His band's latest album, Glorious, Wonderful, is their tenth, and will bring the band to the Showbox at the Market on Feb. 19th. For the latest edition of Tell Me About That Album, we chatted with Everett about the record, his facial hair and on acting opposite Paul Rudd.
In those instances where you become consumed with an idea, how often are you able to get it out in a satisfactory way? If I do do that than it usually ends up on the record. It doesn't always work but when it does it's a good feeling.
This record was made with, as you put it, "no plan." What do you think made you feel so loose or want to approach the record like that? It just occurred to me as I was sitting there racking my brain, "Well what's the new plan?" And then I thought that not having a plan was something I hadn't done before so it seemed like a worthy experiment, even if it fails. I'm lucky that I'm in a position where I can afford to fail at something. I think it's important that failure is always a possibility. It means that you're trying to go somewhere new.
What does not having a plan mean - that you didn't have any songs written or any thematic ideas? I really came into this with a completely blank slate. Nothing was written and I didn't have lyrical concepts or a musical concept in mind for where I wanted it to go. I really just showed up on the first day and said, "Let's see what happens."
Is it usually that you have the songs done and everyone just shows up and starts learning them? That certainly happens a lot, where the songs are written ahead of time and we get together to record. Sometimes maybe half of the songs are done and the other half we come up with along the way. This is the first time nothing was ready.
Eels albums generally seem to have such a singular voice so to go into the studio without anything seems counterintuitive. So far I'm still the only one writing the lyrics but if one of the guys in the band wrote a lyric that I responded to I would absolutely be willing to sing it. So far they don't seem to have anything to say other than musically.
And you built a new studio prior to the album's recording, correct? What happened was, most of the previous records were made in a basement that was pretty small. Over the years, it got piled up with more and more musical instruments to the point where we could barely fit people in the room and it turns out you need people to play musical instruments, so we were forced into a bigger space.
Have you always made your records in your own studio and on your own dime? I always pay for everything and usually the label doesn't even know I'm working on something. I usually don't tell them about it until it's mastered and finished. I want to make sure it's something I want to put out so I don't let on that anything's going on until I'm sure I'm happy with it.
How do you measure success these days? You had commercial success early on with Eels but have managed to segue into being a career artist. I'm very fortunate because all I've done all these years is just kept my nose to the grindstone and been very focused on making what I felt like I had to make. I think of myself as the audience. I'm just trying to impress myself and it's often been lonely work over the years where it felt like I was the only one who cared about it. The record would come out and often it felt like they weren't very appreciated or noticed but I got lucky that over the years. They kind of all stood the test of time and took on a life of their own and people slowly came on board. It's really the best possibility. I do what I want to do when I want to do it and people come along for the ride and it just keeps slowly growing in that respect so I get to keep doing it.
So it sounds like you're saying that just getting to continue to make records is the success? That, to me, feels like success. The fact that we're putting out our tenth album is a great achievement.
Was it a great achievement to get a video on MTV? Was selling lots of records important to you early on? No, that's the problem. It wasn't that important to me. It's fine if that happens and I'm glad I have an audience and I would be fine if the audience was bigger but it has to be for the right reasons. I have to impress myself as the audience and if other people are impressed too that's fine but I don't want to do something that doesn't impress me as an audience member.
You recently mocked the Grammy awards via an online video so I'm guessing perhaps you don't put too much weight on those either. What's funny about that is that it was actually the record company's idea. That's what a nice world I live in, that the record company comes up with ideas like that for me to make fun of the Grammys. Honestly, I don't put any worth on any awards but I do recognize their value in terms of advertising your music.
You were cut out of Judd Apatow's This is 40, in an amusing scene that was recently released online. How did that appearance come to be and what was the experience like of doing a scene with Paul Rudd? That was one of the funnest things I've ever done. To get to sit there and act with Paul Rudd was super fun and we did it all day. We did it like forty different ways. I think there are much funnier versions than the one they put online actually. They ended up having to cut out most of the storyline of what happened at Paul Rudd's record company, which is why I got on the cutting room floor but it's nice that they put it online.
Was Apatow a fan of yours? How did it come to pass that you got the call to go do that? He's used some of our music before in his movies and he's been to our shows. Then I got a call one day - I'd just gotten home from tour - and they said, "Hey, do you want to come down and do a scene with Paul Rudd?" And it was one of the more unusual calls I got and I thought that's exactly the kind of thing where at first you get this anxiety of, "Do I want to do this?" And then you realize, "Yeah, I've got to do this." When the possibility of failure and humiliation is lingering in the air that means also the possibility that something good is there so you've got to go for it.
How far out of your comfort zone was that? I imagine if you have to do a scene with someone, Paul Rudd is probably a cool and easy-going dude to do it with. If you happen to be put into that situation, doing a scene with Paul Rudd is a lucky break because he is exactly as he appears on screen. He's a laid back super-nice guy, so that made it easy. But yes, it's unnerving. You're on a movie set and there's a hundred people there silently staring at you while you act.
Can you talk about the album's title and why you chose those two words? Well the album's called Wonderful, Glorious and then there's a plane dropping bombs on the cover and I think that might lead some people to think the title is supposed to be ironic, but it's not at all ironic in my mind. It's just saying life is hard for all of us and every day we're going through trials and tribulations and bombs are falling everywhere and we're trying to navigate our way to not get hit by one of them.
And how did you arrive at those two words specifically? The words started the same way I'd written a song on one of the albums called "Tremendous Dynamite." That started because we were noticing nobody says the word tremendous anymore. Nobody says the word dynamite. Let's try to bring this back. It was the same thing here, nobody says wonderful anymore. It starts with something that simple and then if you get lucky, it turns into something a little bigger than that.
Do you have a favorite song on the album? I like them all or I wouldn't have put them on there but I have personal favorites. I like one called "On the Ropes" a lot and I like "Peach Blossom" a lot.
Is there a lyric or a line that you're particularly proud of on the album? I like the very last lyric on the album. For me, I feel like it might be as close as I'll ever get to "And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make" moment.
And what's your line? My love is beautiful and here for the taking / It's strong and pure and utterly Earth-shaking / My love has brought me here to show you it's true / A wretch like me can make it through.
Are you ever tempted to shave your beard? I don't have much of a beard currently. I have a little baby beard right now. Like the beard babies are born with [laughs].
After you shave it do you look in the mirror and think you look really young? It's a little bit of a shock, yeah. When you grow the really enormous beard you don't know who lives under there after a while.
I've never had the discipline to grow one that long. It's a lot of discipline and a lot of maintenance.
Which is ironic, since the idea of growing a big beard is to avoid having to shave everyday. Right, but it turns out it's actually more work having a giant beard than not having one.