The eels recently released their first studio album in four years, The Deconstruction, featuring electro-synth sounds, delicate piano intros, and a hint of Beatles influence. It’s safe to say, it was well worth the wait.
After the death of his mother and suicide of his sister in the 1990s, it is no wonder that Mark Oliver Everett had many grievances to nurse. Rather than lamenting his past, however, the front man for the eels continued to sing about overcoming and accepting the pain. Now, recently divorced, with a ten-month old son, Everett stresses that “life is in constant motion,” and in order to record his band’s most recent album, The Deconstruction (released last month, the band’s first album in four years), he had to tear down his defenses.
Everett (also known as ‘E’) recorded The Deconstruction with bandmates Koool G Murder, P-Boo and the Deconstruction Orchestra & Choir and co-produced it with Mickey Petralia, the first time the latter twirled the knobs on an eels album since Electro-shock Blues in 1998. The Deconstruction is a mix of acoustic numbers, distorted guitar and delicate piano intros that provide a trippy but contemporary listening experience.
My two personal favorite tracks from the album are “The Deconstruction” and “Rusty Pipes,” the latter featuring a powerful introduction by the Deconstruction Orchestra & Choir. The eels began the North American leg of their current tour earlier this month and will move on to tour in Germany, Scotland, Ireland, and France. You can check out their tour schedule below.
Eels – The Deconstruction
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Everett or the history of the band, it all began with Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush.
Everett was born in Virginia on April 9, 1963 to Dr. Hugh Everett III, Ph.D, a quantum physicist, and Nancy Everett. At the age of eight, Everett showed an interest in his sister Elizabeth’s record collection, Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush was one of his favorites. Upon listening to the album, he was determined to record an album of his own someday.
“The one (song) that probably set me on that path very early on was, for some reason when I was 10 years old, I think, my favorite record was Plastic Ono Band, the first John Lennon solo album. And I didn’t have any perspective for it at the time, but it’s unusual looking back on it — for a 10-year-old kid to be so into that record — because it’s an extremely raw, personal record. It’s the one that’s got him howling for his mother that abandoned him.” – Mark Oliver Everett (in an interview with NPR)
Growing up, Everett led a complicated life, and in his early teens (perhaps in order to cope with his troubles), he took up playing the drums. Within a few years, he learned to play the piano, as well as his sister’s guitar. By the time he reached his early twenties, Everett began recording his own demos and went by the first initial of his last name, ‘E’. It was only a matter of time before he left his native Virginia and moved to Los Angeles to pursue a music career. Once E was settled in Los Angeles, he began to write and record his own songs, and shortly after, was signed to Polydor Records.
His first album, A Man Called (E), was released in 1992, followed by Broken Toy Shop, which was released in 1993. Despite E’s busy tour schedule, the albums did not sell particularly well. Shortly after the release of his second album, E left Polydor to form the band eels (typeset in all lower case or all upper case letters). Why the peculiar name? E figured if he named the band ‘eels’ their recordings would be filed next to his solo albums, since albums are filed alphabetically. When the first eels album was released, he discovered that ‘E’ and ‘eels’ were separated by the Eagles and Earth, Wind & Fire. What a bummer! The original lineup consisted of E (vocals / guitar), Tommy Walter (bass), and Butch Norton (drums).
In 1996, the band signed with Dreamworks and released a debut album, Beautiful Freak, from which the track “Novocain for the Soul” received several MTV nominations and became a hit in England. (In 1998, the eels received the ‘Best International Newcomer Award’ at the Brit Awards, which was presented to them by the faux metal band Spinal Tap.)
Eels – Novocain for the Soul (1997)
“For a long time, I didn’t ever consider writing songs about what was going on with these tragedies in my family because it just felt too personal and I was just so immersed in it. And then one day when I was back there visiting my mom while she was sick, I was laying on my childhood bed, laying there just sad and depressed over the whole situation and in my imagination. I was laying there looking up at the ceiling, I saw a blue sky, and that was this big moment where I suddenly realized, ‘Oh, I can write about this stuff and make it something that can help me and help people, I think.’ And that’s why I did it.” – Mark Oliver Everett (in an interview with NPR)
Not long after the release of the eels’ first Dreamworks album, E’s sister Elizabeth committed suicide. By 1998, his mother was terminally ill with lung cancer. Since his father had died in 1982, this meant that E was the only surviving member of his family. This, without a doubt, depressed him to no end, and the eels were a perfect outlet to express the emotional state that he was in. Within the upcoming months, Tommy Walter had left the group, but E was adamant about recording another album. In September of 1998, eels released the Electroshock Blues LP, which largely focused on the death of his mother and sister. The title itself refers to the electroshock therapy that his sister received when she was institutionalized, and the title track “Elizabeth on the Bathroom Floor” is his description of a journal entry his sister wrote after her first suicide attempt. With Walker no longer in the band, E enlisted several musicians to contribute to his album, including T-Bone Burnett, Lisa Germano, Grant Lee Phillips and Jon Brion. Upon the release of the new album, the eels toured with new bassist Adam Siegal and made plans to record another album the following year.
“And I walk myself down Sycamore Street
The sun beats down, no shoes on my feet
And I stumble on a daisy through concrete”
– eels ‘A Daisy Through Concrete’
In early 2000, the eels released their third studio album Daisies of the Galaxy, on which E appears to have come to terms with the death of his family and is trying to rise above it. Despite R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck’s contributions to the recording sessions, Daisies of the Galaxy sales were minimal, as was the radio airplay. Nonetheless, E decided to embark on an international tour as the ‘eels orchestra’ to promote the new album. Upon the completion of their tour, a live album of eels orchestra was issued, followed by their album Oh What a Beautiful Morning, a live compilation album, featuring concerts in Los Angeles and Glasgow and a few of E’s solo performances.
The following year, the eels’ fourth studio album Souljacker was released, featuring the musicians Parish and Koool G Murder. After releasing another live album Electro-Shock Blues Show, the band was ready to go on tour to promote Souljacker.
In 2002, a mysterious hip-hop single “I am the Messiah” was released under the pseudonym ‘MC Honky’. The eels touted him on their website as “a reclusive remix wizard who cares little for the show business and its trappings. Unwilling to let the public know much, the puzzle pieces are as such: he is a shy, native Los Angeleno in his mid-fifties who began his love affair with sound as a teenaged janitor at the Capitol Records studio in 1959.” Despite the eels’ attempt to obscure Honky’s identity, sources claim that the middle-aged DJ is, in fact, E himself.
Over the next decade, eels released Shootenanny! (2003), Blinking Lights and Other Revelations (2005), Eels with Strings: Live at Town Hall (2005), Hombre Lobo (2009) and Transmissions Sessions (2009), Tomorrow Morning (2010), End Times (2010), Wonderful, Glorious (2013), The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett (2014), and Live at the Royal Albert Hall (2015). The new album, The Deconstruction, has received favorable reviews in Spin and the German edition of Rolling Stone magazine.
Eels – Rusty Pipes
Mark Oliver Everett Interviewed by Steve Jones on Jonesy’s Jukebox