BY: WILL RUSSELL PUBLISHED IN HOTPRESS 30 OCTOBER 2020
Eels main man E discusses the band’s defiantly hopeful new opus Earth To Dora, the legacy of his famous physicist father, and onstage hi-jinks at Dublin’s Olympia. https://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.427.1_en.html#goog_1977192132volume is gedempt
Eels’ ringmaster, Mark ‘E’ Everett, answers the phone to Hot Press from an LA that – if reports to be believed – is bordering on apocalypse. The pandemic has exposed many long-standing problems in the City of Angels.
Rows of tents – long an ignored fixture in parts of East LA – are appearing in traditionally more affluent areas such as Venice Beach. Tens of thousands are homeless and unemployment is soaring past 20%. There is an exodus of citizens. Their supposed leaders are more akin to bar-room brawlers than noble statesmen.
All of which isn’t to mention the wildfires that have so far burned a mind-boggling four million acres in California in 2020. What does E make of the whole situation?
“You know it’s a shitshow like everywhere else,” he says. “It’s probably a little bit easier for people like me who tend to live a reclusive lifestyle anyway, but even for me, it is extreme. Then there’s the fires and the smoke – you can’t really do anything right now. But you know, it can always be worse.”
I tell E that at a juncture like this, more than ever, Eels are essential listening. He simply laughs. E has been recording songs about the dark side of human nature for almost 30 years, some of which have been informed by the personal tragedy he has experienced. He had just finished high school when he discovered his father – the brilliant quantum physicist Hugh Everett – dead from heart-failure.
After the release of his impressive debut, Beautiful Freak, a record that championed the underdog, he was confronted with his sister’s suicide and the end stages of his mother’s cancer. On his second record, Electric Shock Blues, E transformed his dreadful experiences into stoic transcendence through songs like ‘Elizabeth On The Bathroom Floor’, ‘My Descent Into Madness’ and ‘Cancer For The Cure’.
Contrary to some reviews, it is not a macabre meditation on death – rather, it is a record about the triumph of the human spirit. E is in similar form once again on new record Earth To Dora, which has the feel of a tonic for these tough times.
“Oh good, I’m so happy to hear that,” E enthuses. “I wrote them all pre-pandemic except the second one, ‘Are We
All Right Again’, which was done during the early days of Covid. It was like a quarantine day dream I needed to have.”
It’s what E does, when his world is falling apart: he writes songs like ‘Mr. E’s Beautiful Blues’, ‘Novacaine For The Soul’, ‘It’s A Motherfucker’, ‘Today Is The Day’, ‘Prizefighter’ – songs to get you through.
With his famous father Hugh in mind, I ask him if he feels we are all living a more Everettian existence these days?
“Well,” he laughs, “I wouldn’t mind getting into a different world for a little bit, you know?”
I recommend checking out E’s BAFTA-winning documentary, Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives, in which he talks with physicists about his father’s many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. In 1957, this brilliant young physicist published a paper which used mind-blowing mathematics to predict the existence of parallel universes.
His theory met with opposition from the most decorated minds of the physics world including the grandpappy of them all, Nils Bohr. Hugh Everett’s theory remained in the wilderness for years, only surfacing again in academia shortly before his death in 1982. It is now widely accepted.
In the documentary, Professor Max Tegmark, physicist at MIT says, “I would put it right up there with Einstein’s relativity theory, Newton’s theory of gravity. And I think 50 years from now, he is going to be even more famous, when more experiments have been confirmed that this seems to be the way that the world works.”
I ask E for his response to such lofty praise.
“Yes, it’s nice that he is getting some credit now,” he says. “It’s too bad it didn’t happen to him when he was alive, but it’s nice that it is happening to him now. Better late than never.”
It is remarkable to think that Eels have been doing their thing now for a quarter of a century. Indeed, Earth To Dora is their 13th record – is E superstitious?
“No, unless it does really badly and then I’ll become superstitious.”
So, who is Dora?
“Dora is someone who worked on the Eels crew for a few tours,” E explains. “One of the technicians – we’re old friends now, and I was just trying to cheer her up one night. We were texting and most of the lyrics just came directly from texts I sent her.”
I think it’s safe to say that E is not the type of chap to chew the ear off you. When asked about the interesting album sleeve for the new record, which is of a clown head in the style of Wurzel Gummidge, his reply is short and sweet.
“It’s been hanging in my bathroom for the last 10 years,” he says. “One day I looked at it and just thought, that’s the album cover.”
As a kid, E obsessively played the John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band record. You hear the influence of Lennon on more than a few of his songs, including ‘Of Unsent Letters’ from the current album, which could have been found on the cutting room floor of Abbey Road Studios.
“Yeah I thought in my position, it’s good to expose people to little known bands,” E chuckles. “I thought I should expose people to this obscure one called The Beatles.”
Earth To Dora is saturated with great melodies – E seems to roll them out like a machine.
“I wasn’t conscious of it when I was making it,” he reflects. “I clearly wanted to do some tunes this time, that’s one of the most fun parts of it, just coming up with melodies.”
Fair enough. It must be strange not getting to tour the record?
“That’s the worst part for me,” rues E. “We had big plans for touring, we had so much fun on the last two tours.
We just couldn’t wait to get back on tour, and it’s hard not knowing when we can get back out there. We might do some virtual gigs, but that’s not too exciting to me, it’s just sterile.
“It’s kind of a bummer, but if we don’t have another choice, we might do something like that. I don’t know, nobody knows, people still want to listen to music – so let’s just give them some music and see what happens next.”
He is hopeful that the band will get to perform dates in 2021, including Dublin. I remind him of his unorthodox method of arrival on the Olympia Stage when he played the venue in 2003. On that occasion, he clambered down from the circle boxes.
“Yes, that was one of my favourite moves,” he says. “We love playing Dublin – we definitely had some great times at the Olympia.”
Notably, the very last time Eels played live was at the Albert Hall, Manchester in September 2019, and the final song of the set was The Beatles’ ‘The End’.
“Wow,” deadpans E. “I hope it wasn’t too prophetic!”