Heavy on the mir­a­cle

Th­ese days, Eels front­man Mark Everett is all about the pos­i­tiv­ity. In fact, he re­gards his very ex­is­tence as noth­ing other than mirac­u­lous

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - NEWS - The De­con­struc­tion is re­leased April 6th via E Works/PIAS. Eels play Iveagh Gar­dens, Dublin on Ju­ly6th.tick­et­mas­ter.ie

Eels front­man Mark Everett pinches him­self

Prince may once have been iden­ti­fied by a squig­gle, but there aren’t many mu­si­cians known by a sin­gle let­ter of the al­pha­bet. The song­writer, singer and per­ceived mis­an­thrope, known to all and sundry as E, doesn’t mind what he’s called. Mark Everett re­gards his very ex­is­tence, never mind his sig­na­ture let­ter, as noth­ing other than mirac­u­lous.

“I’m some­body who, when I was a teenager, didn’t think I was go­ing to live to the age of 20. I don’t know why, I just did,” he says. Sit­ting in a Lon­don ho­tel room, 54-year-old Everett claims tired­ness fol­low­ing a long-haul flight from Los An­ge­les, but he bright­ens up con­sid­er­ably when a bowl of salted chips is placed in front of him. “Ah, English chips!” As you might ex­pect, he is con­sid­er­ate in con­ver­sa­tion, sar­donic, con­fes­sional.

“I al­ways felt like I had no hopes for the fu­ture,” he con­tin­ues, “so I can’t be­lieve I’m still here, yet alone that I get to con­tinue. Like, if I died right now in the mid­dle of this in­ter­view?” He points a harm­less-look­ing chip in my di­rec­tion. “You don’t have to re­vive me. Re­ally, it’s okay, be­cause what a tri­umph my life has been if right now is the end of the story. If you don’t think you’re go­ing to see out your teenage years, yet you reach my age? That’s a bonus.”

How did such a fa­tal­is­tic out­look come about? A de­fence mech­a­nism in how to deal with his child­hood, ap­par­ently. “And other stuff,” he adds am­bigu­ously, “so my think­ing was at least there’ll be an end to it all quite soon. When I reached my 20s, how­ever, my at­ti­tude was more like, oh, what will I do now?”

What Everett did next is some­thing that con­tin­ues to make him think. Even in his wildest dreams, mu­sic was some­thing he had never con­sid­ered as a ca­reer op­tion.

“It was al­ways the one thing I had a pas­sion for, but I never thought I could make a liv­ing out of it. I had a girl­friend who could see that I was floun­der­ing, not re­ally know­ing what to do, and she sug­gested I give mu­sic a try. I gave it some thought and trav­elled from my home in Vir­ginia to Los An­ge­les just to see what might hap­pen. In ret­ro­spect, that was an in­sane thing to do, be­cause I didn’t know any­one in Cal­i­for­nia, and I didn’t re­ally know what to do. I had three

Most guys my age are go­ing through the empty nester phase of their lives, so it’s sur­real to me that I’m now sev­eral years older than my fa­ther lived. I’m just start­ing out. To see the pure in­no­cence and sweet­ness of how hu­mans be­gin their lives, and how much you want to pro­tect it – that is es­sen­tially what ‘The De­con­struc­tion’ is about

mis­er­able years do­ing that, but then, grad­u­ally, things be­gan to hap­pen.”

Everett’s solo de­but, Bad Dude in Love, was re­leased in 1985, but it wasn’t un­til 1996, with Eels’ de­but al­bum, Beau­ti­ful Freak, that his mu­sic be­gan to slowly fil­ter through the main­stream. While that al­bum deftly ne­go­ti­ated a path be­tween in­sis­tent indie-pop melodies and a lyri­cal self-ab­sorp­tion that broached top­ics such as death and out­sider sta­tus, it was 1998’s Elec­tro-Shock Blues that opened up not only wider com­mer­cial suc­cess but also a keen in­ter­est in Everett’s life.

Writ­ten as a re­ac­tion to his mother’s death by lung can­cer and (fol­low­ing her in­sti­tu­tion­al­i­sa­tion) his sis­ter’s sui­cide, the al­bum is one of rock mu­sic’s most an­guished. With no other mem­ber of his fam­ily alive (his fa­ther, physi­cist Hugh Everett III, died of heart fail­ure in 1982), Everett was soon clas­si­fied as the guy whom aw­ful things hap­pened to. And yet, as is of­ten the case, some peo­ple couldn’t get be­yond the tragedy to see the op­ti­mism.

“That’s the point – the brighter, bet­ter ar­eas. To me, that’s what makes the songs mean­ing­ful. The new al­bum is all about the pos­i­tiv­ity, but com­ing from sit­u­a­tions of tragedy and what-not makes the songs be­liev­able, and some­thing you can sink your teeth into.”

Out early April, The De­con­struc­tion doesn’t rip up Eels’ rule­book but re­sets it. There are fa­mil­iar lev­els of in­tro­spec­tion, but they are tem­pered with glim­mers of hope. “You just have to make a choice about how you see things. The opin­ion of my work as mis­er­able songs writ­ten by a mis­er­able per­son com­pletely misses the point. I get why some peo­ple say they’d rather not sit through an al­bum about death, but for those who are will­ing to dive into it they might find out that it’s ac­tu­ally al­ways a pos­i­tive thing.”

There’s a bit of head shak­ing here at the in­evitabil­ity of be­ing mis­un­der­stood and mis­in­ter­preted, but it’s taken in good grace. What Everett is more se­ri­ous about – and which

The De­con­struc­tion also specif­i­cally refers to – is ad­dress­ing his work/life­style im­bal­ance. He says the four-year gap be­tween the new al­bum and 2014’s The Cau­tion­ary Tales of Mark Oliver

Everett was brought about ex­pressly be­cause his life was ex­cep­tion­ally one-sided to­wards work.

“I guess I don’t come from even-keel stock,” he wryly refers to fam­ily mat­ters. “I lit­er­ally avoided ev­ery­thing else ex­cept work. We’re very all or noth­ing, so that might be in my ge­netic make-up. When I’m go­ing to do some­thing, I do it, but al­ways to the detri­ment of ev­ery­thing else.”

Has that righted it­self? Judg­ing by the cau­tious op­ti­mism on The De­con­struc­tion it seems so. Everett ex­plains why. “What hap­pened in the past four years is that I re­alised it was too one-sided. It be­came ob­vi­ous I had to pitch into the other side, but I made the mis­take of pitch­ing it too much.”

He goes on to ad­mit that he had a life/work bal­ance “to-do” list. Get­ting mar­ried was on the list, he says. What wasn’t on it was the birth of a son, Archie. Now sep­a­rated from his son’s mother (“it wasn’t a good match”), he ac­cepts that while the re­cal­i­bra­tion of his work/life bal­ance has re­sulted in “some­thing amaz­ing”, he recog­nises he went about it in a ridicu­lous man­ner.

“Most guys my age are go­ing through the empty nester phase of their lives, so it’s sur­real to me that I’m now sev­eral years older than my fa­ther lived. I’m just start­ing out. To see the pure in­no­cence and sweet­ness of how hu­mans be­gin their lives, and how much you want to pro­tect it – that is es­sen­tially what The De­con­struc­tion is about. We have all th­ese de­fences that we build, walls we cre­ate . . .”

Everett pauses for thought. He isn’t one for cliches, yet he seems aware he’s step­ping close to trotting them out. With the weight of his own his­tory nag­ging at him, he con­cedes that life “is just a col­lec­tion of ex­pe­ri­ences, and you just have to get com­fort­able with nav­i­gat­ing through the day-to-day tur­moil of them. It’s un­com­fort­able for any of us to ac­cept that that’s all there is, but there it is – if you can do that with some amount of grace and dig­nity then that’s a fairly suc­cess­ful life. For what it’s worth, this is what I have learned over the past four years.”

Part of the price you pay, he im­plies, is that with al­most three decades of work and noth­ing else, per­sonal growth in other ar­eas is re­stricted.

“That’s the point I reached. Some­thing wasn’t adding up be­cause it was all the one thing. You def­i­nitely pay a price for do­ing any­thing too much.”

PHO­TO­GRAPH: GUS BLACK

Mark Everett: “When I’m go­ing to do some­thing, I do it, but al­ways to the detri­ment of ev­ery­thing else.”

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