In 1999 some of my parent's more musically discerning friends handed me a copy of 'Beautiful Freak.' I was 12 but they had clearly had enough of me blabbing on about boy bands and decided it was time for me to listen to some “real” music. I don't think my parents would have let them give me that record if they knew its content, but I guess alongside Nirvana's 'Nevermind' - the other text book in my newly found education – it was too obscure for it to mean anything to them. It was a sad day when I had to return 'Susan's House' and 'Mental' to their rightful owners, so I went out and bought my own copy. I didn't know it at the time but it definitely had an effect on the direction my life took. Largely in relation to me spending every spare moment devouring new music like most kids devoured candy. It meant a lot to me.
“John Lennon's 'Plastic Ono Band' album was that album for me” Eels man Mark Oliver Everett (E. to his friends) explains, slightly taken a back by my mini confessional. “I mean I was an early bloomer on this kind of stuff but that was a key one for me. I don't know if you know that record but The Beatles had just broken up and he made this really stark, naked album dealing with his pain and psychological issues. That was really unheard of thing at the time, for you know, maybe the biggest rock star in the world to do something like that. It became my favourite record when I was about 10 years old and I look back on it now and think, wow what a fucked up kid I must have been. Not your typical 10 year old record, but I think it has a lot to do with why I ended up writing some of the stuff that I write now.”
It would seem we have another thing to thank John Lennon for as anyone familiar with Eels' back catalogue will know that working out psychological issues is, on the most basic level, what E does on record and while not all of it comes from a place of pain, a whole lot of it does. Having seemingly worked out a lot of things in his recently released autobiography we discuss whether he believes negative places are a greater breeding ground for originality. “Well that is certainly true” he admits candidly “but I also think the opposite is true but it's more that the opposite is harder to do. It's pretty easy to write a sad song when you're sad about something compared to trying to write a song about how happy you are when you're happy. I actually think that is the more admirable achievement because it is harder, but to me they are equally important to life.”
I question whether it is in fact harder still to put emotionally harrowing personal issues out to dry in public. “It is a double edged sword. It can be cathartic, especially to write but sometimes it can get embarrassing when you suddenly realise, 'oh I'm about to walk on stage and say something incredibly personal to thousands of strangers.' It can feel like 'oh god, what have I done?!' but I'm ok with that by now because ultimately it is what I set out to do. It's not the case in all my music but at least half of it is probably stuff that I set out from early on to take the ridiculous adventures of my life and try to make them some sort of art for the world to enjoy. I'm always trying to reflect both of those things, not to mention all of the other things in between”.
Certainly their brand new album 'Wonderful, Glorious' reflects both but if we had to choose we would have to say it was more positively charged than negatively, which is not intended as a criticism. “I wasn't conscious of it when we were making the record but I can look back on it now and realise there are a lot of lyrics about being backed into corner and fighting your way out. I felt particularly after the album trilogy and writing my life's story, like 'where do I go next?' I didn't really know, so I think I was addressing that I was scared and I didn't know where I was going in the lyrics to some of these songs and that became the story: that I'm a fighter and I'm going to come out of this victorious. It's also saying we can all get through the dark times of our lives because they're probably leading you to brighter times, so you know just try and get through them.”
Explaining more about where this mentality came from E continues “I think that it came from the whole plan to not have to a plan. I think this is the one time where I went into making a record with no preconceived plan. That we would all just meet on a day, get in the room, plug in some instruments and see what happened. The whole thing was written while we were recording. The first day was a little slow then all of a sudden half way through the day it started to click, then it never stopped clicking for a month. I normally have a fairly concrete concept about what the album is going to be about lyrically and what it is going to sound like musically. It was a little terrifying to go in and just go let's see what happens because it could have been a disaster, it could been awful, it could have been a huge waste of time and money. We just got lucky.” As, I am sure, anyone who has given 'Wonderful, Glorious' a spin would agree.
Words by Lauren Down