When Clash makes its way to Mark Everett’s hotel room we linger on some words sent to us a few days before. “The world,” he said as he introduced the new album by his band Eels, “is going nuts…”
It’s a short summation of our current geo-political disputes, but – as ever with Mr. E – it’s beautifully on the money. And so, for that matter, is the new album from Eels, with ‘The Deconstruction’ managing to add a fresh chapter to a group whose catalogue ranks as one of the best to emerge from American rock music in recent times.
“It’s always been a little crazy but you can’t really ignore that it seems particularly nutty lately,” he chuckles, as we bring up this quote. “I always pride myself on not getting political on songs as I’m not a big fan of that. But it’s hard to completely ignore at this point.”
So has he always been a political person underneath it all?
“Not really,” he shrugs. “I’m just a dumb rock singer!”
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All of which isn’t to suggest that ‘The Deconstruction’ is some kind of protest record. Sure, we live in crazy times, Eels have always been a band that would probe the personal, kicking up paving stones to see what secrets lie underneath.
As usual, Mark’s scope is far broader than any one label would give him credit for. “I’m doing more of a personal deconstruction, to see what’s underneath all the defenses we build. There is something sweet and innocent under all that we are protecting.”
‘The Deconstruction’ is the band’s first record in four years, a period in which E wondered if he was – finally – spent. “When I started I thought I might just be done,” he sighs. “I was worn out from working hard at it for so many years and at some point I just thought, I’m done with this.”
“So there was no timetable at all. It was nice because when I did work, it was only because I was so inspired to.”
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When I started I thought I might just be done...
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This freeflowing method meant that the pressure was off, allowing E to gently ease himself out of this period of creative stasis. “I didn’t have an idea or concept of the album before I started recording and it was only during the process of four years that I started to see what it was turning into. It was very much a feel thing rather than a thought.”
“It’s all just various snapshots done during four years and it wasn’t done at any particular time,” he recalls. “I had the luxury of only working when I felt inspired. One day I’ll be inspired to write a certain song and record it, then the next one might not come for another six months.”
But come they did. Song after song, with E exploring both the personal and societal, both big themes and minute. “Even in the songs that in my mind I’m specifically speaking to someone else, those are still also messaged to yourself,” he insists. “I’m not an expert on any of the stuff I’m talking about so I’m trying to convince myself too. It’s information I need to know too.”
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A free-flowing process, the songs destined for ‘The Deconstruction’ took many forms as the album developed. ‘Sweet Scorched Earth’ for example, was entirely flipped on its head before finally landing a spot on the finished LP.
“We were suppose to be something instrumental and in the course of an hour it turned into a whole different thing: lyrics, melody and everything. That happens pretty often- it starts out as one thing and I have a very clear idea of what I think I want it to be, then it’s a completely different thing.”
Isn’t that terrifying, Clash asks?
“Well, that’s the thing: it’s the invigorating and exciting part,” he says. “There are so many happy accidents and unhappy ones too. Mostly you have this fully planned out song in your imagination, and it can be incredibly frustrating as it doesn’t come out as this version you had in you head.”
“But, to make up for that, there is all the happy accidents that happen in other songs where it’s like, this is not what I was planning for but it’s so much better and different.”
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There are so many happy accidents and unhappy ones too...
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Not every songwriter is afforded the space E has been. ‘The Deconstruction’ took four years to piece together, with Eels allowed to set their own timeline, to gauge their own progress. “What a luxury!” he beams. “I don’t think it’s something I can count on, but that’s how it was this time.”
“The nice thing about that is you never know how good a song is or how well it fits in immediately. Normally you make a record over a month, then it comes out right away and three years later you listen and think: ah, that shouldn’t be on there! So now I can do it ahead of time.”
‘The Deconstruction’ is an album of subtle shifts; recognisably Eels, it also finds the band challenging themselves. Mickey Petraglia returns as co-producer, and the influence of this outside voice helps push the record in unusual directions. “He is extremely creative and inventive,” the songwriter enthuses, “and that’s why you bring a new collaborator in… just to mix things up a little bit and add different spices to the mix.”
One of the most marked aspects of ‘The Deconstruction’ – much like any Eels record, really – is the use of language. There’s that title, with its parallel to the post-Civil War ‘Reconstruction’ period, a time when reactionary forces raged across the United States. But there’s also a subtle use of spiritual references– song titles such as ‘In Our Cathedral’ or ‘The Epiphany’ or ‘You Are The Shining Light’.
“It’s not like a Christian rock record, don’t worry!” he chuckles. “It makes me a little uncomfortable using the word ‘cathedral’ because I don’t want people thinking that it’s some religious thing. It’s about something within you!”
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Just to mix things up a little bit and add different spices to the mix...
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Continually editing, revising, and re-structuring his songs, the process behind ‘The Deconstruction’ left E with a lot of music on the cutting room floor. “Maybe they will end up somewhere one day,” he says. “Sometimes I leave a song off a record and it ends up on another.”
“I do this thing where I take a song of the record and cut it up, take it apart and edit it; chew it up and spit it out or use it as part of a new song on a different album. The song ‘Fresh Feeling’ is an example of that - the string part was off an earlier Eel song and we turned it into something new.”
“Anything is possible if it works,” E nods. “The possibilities are endless!”
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'The Deconstruction' is out now.
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