Eels = E = Mark Oliver Everett
Naked ‘Cautionary Tales’ Friday at the Paramount
By Abby Johnston, 11:00AM, Thu. May. 15
Call him Mark or call him E. With his 11th album, The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett, the Eels frontman proves he can wear both hats, using an emotionally raw disc to thrust his birth name front-and-center for the first time. Yell out neither during the band’s show on Friday at the Paramount Theatre.
Austin Chronicle: Should I call you E or Mark? Which do you prefer?
Mark Everett: Either is fine. People who know me do actually call me E, but I’ll answer to either.
AC: On The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett you’ve finally come out from behind E. What sparked that decision?
ME: I was trying to make a record that was just emotionally naked as possible. I felt like the only honest way to present it was to have my name and photo on the cover in a way that I wouldn’t normally be comfortable with. I’m actually still not comfortable with it [laughs]. It’s kind of an awful feeling, but it’s the only way to do it.
AC: Do you regret it?
ME: Yeah, I kind of do, but I knew I would. I really felt like I was making a sacrifice by doing the whole thing, making the record and putting that title and photo on the cover. But I felt it was a worthwhile endeavor because I do think it has something to offer the world. I don’t mind taking a bullet now and then.
AC: Bearing that bullet in mind, are you pleased with how the album came out?
ME: I’m pleased with how the record turned out. But I knew it was going to be a tough thing for me to put out emotionally. It’s always a vulnerable experience to put any record out, but this one was doubly so because of how personal it is, you know? It’s hard not to take anything that anyone says about it personally in this case. That’s why I knew it was going to be a tough experience, and I can’t wait until it’s over.
AC: How do you separate yourself from that kind of vulnerability?
ME: Really, I feel like I may have gone too far this time. I really can’t wait to get as far away from it as possible. I look forward to playing the songs live, but then I want to forget about it. It’s kind of the same thing with the book [2009’s Things the Grandchildren Should Know]. I have people come up to me on the street all the time, probably more so about the book than music, even. I had to develop this thing where I just tried to forget about the book and what was in it, because if I think about all the embarrassing book stuff, it’s awkward and hard for me to go through that experience. I’m going to have to do the same thing with this album. Just wipe it out of my mind.
AC: That’s got to be gratifying on some level, though. Would you rather no one mention it?
ME: No, not at all. It’s absolutely gratifying and I appreciate it. I just have to try and forget that means they know about me.
AC: Has writing an autobiography informed your songwriting at all?
ME: Writing a book was a lot harder for me than writing songs. I feel like with this record I have a similar feeling as I did when the book came out. It made me realize that if anybody read the book and they were interested in a sequel, then this would be the closest thing. It’s what’s important that has happened since the book came out.
AC: Why do you say it’s the sequel?
ME: It’s most related to what writing the book and reading the book was like.
AC: Do you read your own press?
ME: You always try to avoid that, but in this day and age it gets harder and harder to avoid. People are sending stuff to you.
AC: Have you been happy with what people are saying about the new album?
ME: What I’ve seen has been great, and it seems like overall people are understanding the point of it all. But, of course, you can’t please everybody all the time. The only comfort I get is that the things I’ve seen where they don’t like it, I think they’re not understanding the point of it. In times like these it’s really hard for a record like this to get the chance it needs. Everybody has so little time to dedicate to listening, and with this I feel like you really need time to soak up. If you just listen to it once and you’ve got to write a review on deadline, I don’t think you’re going to get it. You have to expect that in a lot of cases – that it’s going to get a cursory deadline listen.
AC: Earlier in your career there were a lot of line-up changes in Eels, but you’ve stuck with the same recording and touring crew for the last couple of years.
ME: I think the reason for the line-up changes was just musical needs. I would want to go in a different direction and I needed people who would do that. In this case I got a group of guys who are just so versatile. The same people who made our last album were the same people that made this album. You wouldn’t get that from listening to the two records because they don’t sound anything alike, but that’s how versatile they are. They’re all such great live performers, so I don’t really feel the need to change anything up right now.
AC: Have you established enough rapport to let them get in on the songwriting?
ME: Yeah, probably about half of the songs on this record were co-written with different members of the band, and most of the last record was written with members of the band as well. Also, on this record, all of the orchestral arrangements were written by guys in the band.
AC: You’ve said before that you’re kind of a homebody, so are you dreading touring with this album?
ME: That’s changed a bit over the years. My least favorite part has somehow become my favorite part. It just kind of beats you into submission over the years.
AC: Kind of a Stockholm Syndrome thing?
ME: It might be a Stockholm Syndrome thing. The key is to have the right combination of people. When you have a bad apple it can spoil the whole bunch, but if you don’t have that bad apple it’s a really fun experience. It’s this feeling like a traveling family.
AC: Do you remember the last time you played Austin?
ME: I do, and that was a little bit of a disaster. It was the first night of that American tour a couple of years ago. We’d just come from Europe, or somewhere, and all of our gear got stuck in customs. So we were scrambling all day to borrow and rent instruments, and by the time we got it all set up and everything we had to play a short show, which we felt really bad about, but it was an outdoor show. There was a curfew. Plus, I was really sick. Considering all that, I still think it went pretty good. Hoping to make up for that this time.
The good news is we’ll be coming from Phoenix, so there’s no chance of our equipment getting stuck in customs. There’s a chance of us all getting arrested on the way to Texas, so we’re going to try and take a different route.
AC: Yeah, they’ve caught Willie Nelson and Snoop Dogg that way.
ME: And Fiona [Apple].
AC: She had a rough go of it.
ME: Yeah, we’ll try and take a different route.
AC: Maybe I can send you some alternatives.
ME: Would you, please?