E, Mark Oliver Everett, Eels: a band and sonic concept with members and music that are as fluidly mysterious and interchangeable as the elusive man at the very centre of its foundations. With a career spanning almost 20 years, and a back-catalogue comprised of albums, film scores, soundtracks, books and hand-reared videos, both Eels and founding member E – AKA Mark Oliver Everett – are on top of their game, all whilst retaining their DIY credentials.
And E is showing no signs of stemming his prolific presence. Midway through a 50-date tour, and after the recent release of ‘Tomorrow Morning’, Eels’ tenth album, and the last in his current recorded trilogy, if anything E is busier than ever. Here he chats to Gigwise about film scores, festivals and freeing himself from the confines of the “guys in suits”…
So you played Glastonbury for the first time a few weekends ago, how did it go?
E: Well Glastonbury was very interesting for me because we were only there for a few hours. We’d just come over from Madrid, which was a long way to travel and we managed to get there just in time to jump up on stage and play. Everyone prepares you for the rain at Glastonbury, but it ended up being one of the hottest shows we’ve ever played! It was hard to tell at the time how it was going over, so it was really nice to hear afterwards that everyone seemed to really enjoy it.
Did you get to see any other bands at all while you were there?
E: I didn’t, because we got there late and then had to leave immediately after we were done, so we didn’t see anybody. We’ll be playing a lot of other festivals over the summer, so I’ll be trying to catch up with what I’ve missed at Glastonbury at other festivals instead. We watched The Hives recently though, and they were really, really good.
So you didn’t see Pulp then?
E: No I didn’t. Jarvis is an old friend of ours, and I think it’s great that they’ve reformed. I would have loved to have seen them play, but I think that they were playing on a different day anyway.
Your live show set-ups tend to vary from tour to tour, from seven-piece string sections to solo performances. Have you got a preference at all, or does it completely depend on whichever album you’re focusing on at any given moment?
E: Yeah, it really depends. On one tour it was just two of us, myself and Chet my guitarist, and we tried to be a whole band on our own and hauled about 13 instruments between us. But I’d say that the most fun is probably the one we’re doing right now – we’re actually about halfway through a tour and it’s been a blast. This time we have one of the larger versions of Eels, we’ve got seven people on stage, there’s a lot of electric guitar and it’s just a lot of fun. There are no strings this time, but there are horns, and that’s sounding really nice.
Would you ever consider having excerpts of your autobiography read out as you have on past tours?
E: Probably not. But you never know. That was appropriate at the time, and at the moment I feel that there’s no reason to go back to that necessarily. At the time the book had just been released and everyone was expecting me to read from it, and I really didn’t want to, so I just made The Chet do it instead!
You recently performed on stage with Ringo Starr in Oslo. How did that collaboration come about?
E: That was very exciting. I had met Ringo earlier in the day and that was exciting in itself as it was the first time that I’d ever met a Beatle. And he’s such a nice guy. Later on in the day I was watching his show on the side of the stage and in the middle of his show he comes over to me and says, ‘Hey, do you wanna come and sing with me on the last song? It’s called ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’. It goes “I get by with a little help from my friends…”' and he starts singing it, and I was like laughing, saying “I know it!” It was exciting and emotional, it was a big moment for me. And here’s what a nice guy I am, I brought all six of the other Eels on stage with me.
You’ve got a reputation for retaining your DIY credentials, even as a high profile artist – financing your own records and making your own videos – is this something that’s fiercely important to you?
E: Yeah it is. It’s nice after all these years to have finally got to the point where I don’t have any guys in suits telling me what to do. Part of it’s just lucky timing, I’m lucky that I’ve been around as long as I have and the way that things have changed in the music industry have changed towards it being a very independent situation.
You’re a very prolific songwriter, having written 34-track double-albums in the past, and then writing and releasing your last three albums in less than 18 months. What’s your songwriting process like?
E: You go through these phases where you don’t write at all for a very long time, and then all of a sudden a lot comes out at once. Usually once I write one song I can’t stop and I keep writing and writing a whole bunch of songs, but I definitely filter things out and just try to go with the very best ones.
The latest Eels album ‘Tomorrow Morning’ completed the trilogy that your last two albums began. Did you always know that you were going to write three when you began work on the first?
E: Originally there was only going to be two, I did ‘End Times’ first and then I did ‘Tomorrow Morning’. I actually recorded ‘Hombre Lobo’ last, but it was the first one to be released. So by the time ‘Hombre Lobo’ came out, all three of them were done. After I wrote the first two, I decided that I wanted it to be a three-part story, and so ‘Hombre Lobo’ became the prequel to the other two albums. ‘End Times’ was about loss and ‘Tomorrow Morning’ was about renewal, so I decided that I needed to include the part of the story that deals with before the loss, which is what happens in the beginning, which is desire, which is what ‘Hombre Lobo’ became.
Did you feel that you had to create the character in ‘Hombre Lobo’ in order to remove yourself from personal situations?
E: Yeah, I occasionally write in characters. In the case of ‘Hombre Lobo’ I created a character because I probably felt too embarrassed to sing songs from my point of view as a poor old indie rocker.
You composed the score for ‘Levity’ and a lot of your songs have been used in a number of soundtracks. Are you inspired by film yourself?
E: Definitely. Films have been a big inspiration for me. I think that the director who’s made the most impact on me as far as inspiration goes is Ingmar Bergman. ‘Wild Strawberries’ and ‘Winter Light’ in particular. I think that he deals with a lot of the issues that I also tend to deal with, and so I get a lot out of him as a film director.
So you’re playing a few more festivals in the UK over the coming months, are there any of these that you’re particularly looking forward to?
E: I’m definitely looking forward to the Somerset House show, cos I’ve had a lot of people tell me that it’s a really great gig. I’m also looking forward to Latitude, I’m sure that’s going to be a lot of fun. I don’t even know who’s playing yet, I usually don’t know til I get there. It’s really fun to just get off the bus and then find out that in five minutes time someone you’re really interested in is going on stage.
Finally, festivals aside, what else is coming up next for Eels?
E: I'm probably going to go back to taking a long nap when this is done. I was going to take a longer nap after we’d toured last year, but then I woke up earlier than I thought and just felt like I’d wanted to get out and rock again. So I don’t know, I’m just going to go back to my nap and when I wake up I’ll see what I feel like.
Eels - Live photos