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E is for Eels

 
story by tim mcmahan


 

 

Lazy-i: July 16, 2003


Eels
w / MC Honky
Sunday, July 20
The Ranch Bowl
1600 S. 72nd St
7 p.m.
$18


Mark Oliver Everett, also known as 'E' and also known as the singer/songwriter behind eclectic, energetic and ever-entertaining rock band Eels, reminisced fondly about the last time he played in Omaha.

"We were there back in '96 or '97 with Luscious Jackson at this place where I almost got beat up, The Ranch Bowl," Everett said via phone from his home in L.A., just a couple days before leaving for a tour of Europe. "There was this group of frat-boy types near me when we were playing. They were doing something and I started taunting and embarrassing them, saying things like, 'You frat boys gonna go out and rape you some women tonight?' They came after me in the bowling alley. I was on the lane and saw them coming and I got back on the bus, and didn't return for five years."

Everett has a way of making choices and sticking to them. The Virginia native said he never considered a career in music until he was in his 20s. "Someone said to me, 'You're pretty good at this. Maybe you should do something with it.' And I said, 'Maybe you're right.' I didn't know I could make a living at it, but nothing else interested me."

Just like that he was leaving the suburbs outside Washington, D.C., and headed to Los Angeles. "I realized there was nothing there," he said of his childhood home. "I flipped a coin between New York and Los Angeles. I remember deciding LA is further away. I put everything I had in my car and drove 3,000 miles. I didn't know anyone in California at the time. I can't see myself doing something like that again. It was a brave, crazy thing to do, but that's what happens when you're in a desperate situation."

 

 

 

Everett wound up landing his first record deal based on a handful of four-track recordings, never once having graced a stage. He first recorded under the name E, releasing his Polydor debut, A Man Called E, in 1992, which included the alternative top-10 hit "Hello Cruel World." Everett began performing as Eels in 1995 and released his DreamWorks debut, Beautiful Freak, the following year. The album included the MTV-nominated hit "Novocaine for the Soul," that defined him as a singer/songwriter to watch. He would top it three years later with his dark masterpiece Electro-Shock Blues built around themes of love and loss that mirrored his personal life.

On Shootenanny!, released last month by Dreamworks, Everett blends cocky three-chord rockers like "Saturday Morning" and "Lone Wolf" with simplistic trip-hop keyboard bouncers like "Love of the Loveless," with quiet, reflective numbers like "The Good Old Days" and "Restraining Order Blues." The thread holding it together is Everett's deadpan, just-woke-up vocals singing matter-of-fact lyrics that draw you in and don't let go.

Unlike ElectroshockShootenanny! has no central theme. "Actually, the songs are based on my one-man Broadway show, Shootenanny!" he joked. "There are certain threads that run throughout the album, but it's just a collection of songs. Nowadays you get penalized if it's not a concept album.

"I was inspired by listening to Muddy Waters. I really wanted to do something succinct, direct and no bullshit, where most of the songs are explained in the title. I really admire that kind of writing. The old blues singers tell it like it is and the name of their songs wasn't something like 'Strawberry Letter No. 58,' it was 'Mannish Boy.'"

Everett's newfound appreciation of blues could be a reflection of his age. He turned 40 this spring. Has anyone suggested that he's getting a bit long in the tooth for a business populated mainly by youngsters?

"I haven't had anyone say that yet, and I'm sure it's coming," he said. "I feel like I've been slowly improving over the years. A lot of people by now are doing some of their worst stuff and I feel like I'm doing my best stuff lately. I feel like I have one more album in me and that's it. It remains to be seen."

He says after more than a decade on the road, he's only now beginning to enjoy touring. "I developed a tolerance for it in the past year that I didn't previously have," he said. "Last night, during the first couple songs, I said, 'Man, I love this. This is all there is for me.' If I can keep that perspective on it, then it's almost worth all the energy-draining hassles that go with life on the road."

You mean like almost getting your ass kicked by frat boys? Everett just laughed. "I got these big, fat security guys. They do my fighting for me these days."


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Published in The Omaha Weekly-Reader July 16, 2003. Copyright 2003 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

 


"Last night, during the first couple songs, I said, 'Man, I love this. This is all there is for me.'"