Eels frontman E on everything he left out of his autobiography – from Marvel cameos to being jealous of Keith Richards' fingers
For over 27 years, American alt-rock stalwarts Eels have furrowed a singular path. The brainchild of Mark “E” Everett, the band’s fourteen albums to date show a commitment to craft and candour that few can match – a band whose catchy and scratchy sonics weld to some of the most unflinching lyrics around.
E has a gift when it comes to articulating our common experiences: our giddy highs, our crumpled-at-the-bar-at-3am lows, and the pitch-black chasm of loss itself. The fact that he charts such extreme terrain with a large dose of dark humour is all part of the appeal.
And he’s been doing it for nearly three decades now. Not that he ever envisaged things panning out this way. “When I was a teenager, I didn’t have any hope for my future,” he says. “I never dreamed that I’d be here all these years later.”
On the eve of their UK tour, E talks to us about his early gig memories, his cameo in Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania, and much more.
How are you feeling about returning to the UK for your upcoming tour?
It’s exciting because it’s been so long. I felt the last couple of tours were among our best ever. When the pandemic hit, it felt like we were shot down in our prime. We’re just starting to oil it back up now, and it still feels like we’re in our prime.
You always seem so prolific. What does an average day look like for you?
Well, probably my favourite thing about my lifestyle is that there is no average day. That’s why I got into rock and roll (laughs). I didn’t want an average day. There are times when you’re at home all the time doing nothing. And there are times where you’re recording, or rehearsing, or out on the road. It makes for an interesting life.
Do you recall your first exposure to music?
I started playing the drums when I was six and I was very serious about it. I was fortunate to have a sister six years older than me who was into music. My influences were what she was playing in her bedroom, which was a lot of good stuff: Neil Young, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and all that.
I saw a lot of incredible concerts because of her. My first was George Harrison. Then I saw The Who with Keith Moon. Led Zeppelin. Neil Young. It was great. I got really lucky there.
It really seems that music is a vessel for you – a way of working through everything that ails you and all that excites you. Is it really as personal as it seems?
Definitely. I’m one of those weirdos that isn’t always great at expressing that stuff in day-to-day life, but I seem to have no problem with it in songs. It’s vital to me.
You worked through some of that in your autobiography, Things The Grandchildren Should Know, in 2007. Did you get what you hoped from writing it?
Yeah. It was probably the hardest project I’ve ever worked on but when it was done it was just this fantastic feeling. When I was sent a copy, I had this great sense of relief, like, ‘Oh, here’s my past all wrapped up in a package’. And it just felt like I could move on. I recommend it.
I often get asked if I’m gonna write a sequel, but the problem is that while I could easily fill a book with entertaining stories since the last one, everybody is still alive, so I just can’t do it. Most of the key characters in the first book had died, so I didn’t feel too guilty about writing about them knowing that they wouldn’t read it! I’m waiting for everyone to die and then I’ll write it [laughs]. I think it would be a pretty good book though.
You have a cameo in the latest Marvel film, Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania. How did that come about?
My father [late quantum physicist Hugh Everett III] wrote the Parallel Universe theory that the Ant-Man movie is based on. Virtually every superhero movie these days, and even non-superhero movies, like Everything Everywhere All At Once, are based on my father’s theory. The director is a fan of the Eels, and he thought it’d be a fun Easter egg or whatever to have me do a little cameo.
How do you feel about your father’s legacy these days?
It’s really satisfying to see him get the recognition that he didn’t get when he was alive. It’s just sad that he’s not around to enjoy it. But it’s great.
What was his relationship like with music? Was it quite a musical household when you were growing up?
No, not from him. He was the maths guy. My sister was into music. My mom somewhat. But mostly it was my sister’s influence.
Are you good at maths?
No, not at all. I flunked out of the “easy algebra” class in high school! I just couldn’t grasp it. My father must have been so ashamed!
But music is more of a mathematical endeavour than most people think.
Yeah, there is a relation. So, I may have gotten that, or it may have just skipped a generation like they say it does. My son hasn’t shown a particular affinity for music so far, so maybe he’ll be a physics genius.
Your early 2010s trilogy of albums, Hombre Lobo, End Times, and Tomorrow Morning have been re-released on limited edition vinyl. How do you feel about those albums now?
I’m always looking for a new experiment. And that was one of the crazier ones. I don’t recommend doing it. Touring and putting out three new albums within a year? It was just insane.
I recorded them out of order. There had been a four-year break between the Blinking Lights And Other Revelations album and Hombre Lobo coming out, so I had four years to work on them. I did End Times first and then Tomorrow Morning. Hombre Lobo was last, but the first one to come out. I started working on that as like a prequel to the other ones. It’s about ‘the spark’. End Times is about the end and Tomorrow Morning is about a new beginning. It’s exciting putting out something that you’ve just made. So, at least I got that satisfying feeling with Hombre Lobo.
That record contains the single ‘Fresh Blood’. You’ve had a lot of songs used in tv and films over the years but how did you feel about that song being used for the title credits of the shocking 2015 murder documentary series, The Jinx: The Life And Deaths Of Robert Durst?
That was really exciting as I really loved that show. [The Jinx] was kind of the first big crime documentary series. I remember when I got the request for it, it said: ‘For HBO crime documentary series.’ And I was like: ‘What’s a crime documentary series?’ Everything was either a movie or, you know, a show. There wasn’t really a crime documentary series until then. And it was such a good one. It’s still one of the best ever.
It’s so good and it’s so shocking. That last episode…
The ending is like…You know, there’re few things that I’ve ever watched that literally made my jaw drop, but… I won’t give any spoilers in case anyone hasn’t seen it yet!
Did you get to see it before you said yes to the use of ‘Fresh Blood’?
In that case, I don’t think I got to see any of it. It just sounded like a good thing to gamble on. And the director had made an amazing documentary movie that I’d seen, so I said yeah. The thing is, it was about this man killing his friend named Susan, and I thought like, oh, well, they should use “Going over to Susan’s house”! [laughs]
‘Fresh Blood’ is a bit unusual for us. We don’t have a lot of songs like that. I mean, it’s sort of like in the mould of ‘Souljacker’ a little bit, I guess. I love to get spooky now and then. It’s fun.
Your guitar tone seems to always be on-point. Whose sound do you look up to as a guitarist?
The greatest guitar electric guitar tones in my book are Pete Townsend’s. You watch any of The Who’s concert footage from the 60s and his guitar tone is just the best. Also, Keith Richards on [The Rolling Stones’ 1970 live album] Get Your Ya Yas Out: just the greatest guitar tone. And Ron Wood in Faces is amazing too. Those are my favourites. The one that I’ve never been able to get close to is Keith Richards’ live 1969 sound. I think you just have to have his fingers for it to sound like that!
We’re talking about all these great legacy artists, but you’ve amassed such an impressive body of work too. Plus, you’re still going. It can sometimes feel as though longevity is not as celebrated as it should be in our culture…
Yeah! I think about this almost every day, because my whole perspective is when I was a teenager, I didn’t have any hope for my future. I didn’t have any realistic dreams. I never dreamed that I’d be here all these years later. I’ve put out all these albums and toured the world so many times. And I just can’t believe it. I feel so lucky. I’m very proud that I’m still here, still doing it.
That’s a very touching thing to hear you say.
Well, it’s all about perspective. I was fortunate enough to have a perspective of “no hope”, so everything’s just gravy.
Photos: Gus Black