Beautiful Blues
by Jennifer Farmer

As the only consistent member of the prolific alt-rock band, Eels, Mark Oliver Everett (or “E”) is a busy guy. Having just released the last piece, Tomorrow Morning, of a recent conceptual trilogy that also included Hombre Lobo and the decisively more candid End Times, E seems to have a renewed spirit, and a much more sanguine outlook on life. This is both remarkable and encouraging, considering all he has been through during his 20-year career. E’s father died when he was a young man. In 1998, he lost his mother to cancer and sister to suicide in the same year. He also lost a few close friends along the way, including terminally melancholic folk singer Elliott Smith. Despite all the loss, he was able to drag himself back up from the depths and utilize the therapeutic outlet he knew best: music. On his only day off in a long string of tour dates to promote Tomorrow Morning, the notoriously fame-shy front man was kind enough to speak with me via phone from Glasgow.

How has the tour been thus far?

E: It’s going really well. I don’t remember when I’ve had so much fun on a tour, actually.

You’ve played quite a few festivals in the last month (Summersonic, V and Pukkelpop). How does that compare to smaller venues and which do you prefer to play?

E: Yeah, this time around we’ve done some festivals and we’ve done some of our own shows in theaters, but festivals are always great. There are good and bad things about both, obviously, but festivals are fun because they feel like a big party, and there’s a bunch of bands that are all in the same mess together. On the other hand, though, you’re kind of thrown out to the wolves. You don’t get to do the things you’re used to. You don’t get to sound check; you sort of just go out there and see what happens. I guess that’s also what makes it fun, though.

You’ve got a new album, Tomorrow Morning, out, and it’s really a large shift in mood from the previous albums. Can you share some of your experiences making the album or the process that went into it?

E: First off, it was really important for me to follow an album called End Times with one called Tomorrow Morning. It suddenly changes the meaning of the title (of the original album) when you see one that follows called Tomorrow Morning, because how could it be the end if morning’s coming tomorrow? So it became sort of a continuum.

Did you know when writing the first album that it would turn out to be a trilogy of sorts, or was that something that you realized after the first album (Hombre Lobo) was finished?

E: The three-album thing was something I intended to do all along, and luckily, there were things going on in my life that coincided perfectly with the themes of each album.

Tomorrow Morning is definitely much more uplifting. So was that a reflection of a more positive mindset overall? Has that lasted?

E: Yeah, I guess so. I wish someone could have told me when I was younger that I could get to this point where I’m actually quite happy and appreciative of all the nice things about my life. It would have been good to know, but at least I can tell people about it, so maybe it’ll give people some hope.

It really was a noticeably different listening experience, much more positive than its predecessors. That’s not to say the others weren’t a good listen, but just the overall theme...

E: Well, the themes are all positive in my mind for what they’re aiming to do, but this one is definitely more overtly positive.

Do you think that playing with an ever-changing string of artists has any bearing on the mood of your music, or do you go through the writing process alone and then play with whomever?

E: Sometimes I do it on my own, and other times it’s whoever happens to be there. It’s really a combination.

What about simply the ever-changing format of music? From CDs to MP3s, everything is so digitized now. Has that changed the way you make music as well?

E: Yeah, it certainly changes things. The recording technology now... there’s a lot of things about it that makes some things possible that would have been impossible in the past, particularly the editing capabilities. It makes it so you can do some really neat things. For instance, there’s a song on this album called “Looking Up” where there’s just all sorts of textures, added and subtracted layers—layers of percussion in particular—that would have been difficult to have made in the past.

How do you prefer to listen to your music?

E: On vinyl, mostly, but I actually don’t mind iPods at all. I do think that you need to get some good earphones because they make a big difference.

You’ve been very open about your hardships in the past, namely during Electro-Shock Blues. How did you drag yourself out of that? Was the music essentially a therapy session for you?

E: Oh yeah. I don’t know what I would do without being able to write music. I mean, it’s saved me on so many levels. It’s part of the main reason why I’m actually a pretty happy guy these days.

I read your book (Things the Grandchildren Should Know), and it’s different from many other songwriter-novelist novels because it doesn’t read like an autobiography. But you also don’t seem like the type that likes to intentionally put yourself out there, so why write a book?

E: That’s true, but I didn’t sign a book deal or anything up front like that. It started out as just an experiment quietly with myself. I just thought it would be interesting to see what I could do with it. I didn’t even know if I was going to finish it, let alone put it out. But then I did it and read it, and I thought that maybe there was something generally positive about it that could actually help people. That’s really why I put it out.

What was the title about? Did it come from the song “Things the Grandchildren Should Know,” or does it have another meaning?

E: Both. It’s because I felt like I never really knew my father as a person very well, and when everybody in my family died, I realized that there was no one to answer any questions I have about the family or to tell me any stories at this point. So I just thought that maybe I should say a few things now, just in case I die young like everyone else in my family.

Was the music not enough? Why not continue to write songs as an outlet?

E: Well, the song version only had five verses, so I think I just needed a few more pages to expound upon that.

Plus, you’re a published author now.

E: Yeah, that’s also a pretty cool thing.

Now that you’ve written a book and finished a crazy string of albums, have you given any thought to what comes next for you, aside from the tour?

E: I don’t know what happens next. I honestly have no idea, and it’s really exciting because I don’t get to that point very often.