BY SOPHIE BURKHOLDER Twenty-two years after his breakout debut Beautiful Freak, Mark Oliver Everett (a.k.a. Eels, a.k.a. E) released his twelfth studio album, The Deconstruction. This new album comes after a four-year hiatus from the group, over the course of which E got married, divorced, and became a first-time father. Much like the other work from Eels, the songs of this new album have dark themes, but perhaps this time with a more therapeutic focus, as E used the hiatus to re-examine music as a coping mechanism for depression. Eels will be at Union Transfer on June 10 in support of the record. But is The Deconstruction a permanent return from their musical hiatus? Read our conversation with E about future plans, what it’s like to be a new father, and the power of perspective.
PHAWKER: Throughout your career, it’s been clear that you’re no stranger to coping with depression. So how does The Deconstruction continue this theme in your music, or maybe, how is your perspective in it different from the songwriting of your first album, Beautiful Freak?
E: Oh, it’s hard to remember that far back. It was so many albums ago [laughs]. I mean, that was 22 years ago. I’ve always been interested in evolving and changing over the years, and trying different things. But probably about half the time, I’m exploring things related to my real-life experiences. I come from a family of troubled people and troubled genius, in the case of my father. So, you know, I feel very lucky that I’ve had music all these years as a coping mechanism for me. Just very fortunate, and very grateful for that.
PHAWKER: Speaking of your family, you lost your father, your sister, and your mother in a pretty short time span, which is an extremely overwhelming and tragic thing to experience. What are some of the ways, even though it was so long ago, that you still pull on those emotions in your music today? Or maybe how do they inform new emotions that you have?
E: Well, it’s a thing where you never get over it, but you get through it. I’ll never fully recover from losing my family, of course. But time does help heal the wounds, somewhat. It’s poignant for me – every day there are reminders. Like, I have a son now, and the idea that he’ll never meet his grandparents and that they won’t ever know – they would be so thrilled to know that they became grandparents. They never got to be grandparents in their lives. So, stuff like that always kind of weighs on you. But on the plus side, I was always afraid – because I was the last man standing in the family – I was always afraid that I was going to fail the family line by not having any offspring, and that the family name was going to end with me. So, it makes me really happy to know that my father has a grandson, and that the family line will keep going, hopefully.
PHAWKER: Well, it’s interesting to me that you thought that way, because you wrote that book, which was also a song, called “Things the Grandchildren Should Know.” And now, there actually will be grandchildren.
E: Yeah, the title was supposed to be kind of ironic at the time [laughs]. It’s very poignant to me that, oh, you know, this title could become literal now.
PHAWKER: So, how has having a son impacted your music, specifically regarding The Deconstruction. You had him pretty recently, right?
E: Yeah, he’s just about to turn one. You know, most of this was made at different periods during the last four years, but some of it was made while he was in utero. Like the song on there called “Archie, Goodnight” was a lullaby his mother commissioned me to do, to sing to him while he was in utero. Yeah, so I knew I was becoming a father, but I wasn’t quite a father yet.
PHAWKER: Do you think you’re going to sing him the lullaby later on in his life?
PHAWKER: Let’s talk about The Deconstruction specifically. I want to ask about the title, and what it means regarding this four-year hiatus that you had. Were you going through a psychological deconstruction, like a therapeutic thing, or where did you get this idea for the name?
E: I would say that’s pretty correct. I got to a point where, because I was so grateful for music kind of saving me and getting me through those hard times, I gave it everything I had back. And I just worked so hard for so many years. Normal people would take a vacation here and there, and I never did. If you do any one thing too much in your life, it makes itself clear that there’s an imbalance. And I finally reached that point, four years ago, where I realized I needed to step away and try to look at all the aspects of life I’d been neglecting. I’ve always been on a quest to try and better myself, and it felt like it was really time to look at what was going right and what was going wrong in my life, and how I could change things for the better on my part. And that’s what The Deconstruction is about to me. I was thinking about how after we’re born, and we spend our lives building up these defenses and walls around ourselves, I was just thinking about, well, what are we protecting? What did we come with originally? And I think it’s an innocence. We’re all so scared of being vulnerable and being hurt, and all that. So, I wanted to see how close I could get back to that original state, and be okay with it.
PHAWKER: Going off of that, people always want to know what the theme or message of an album is. So, if you had to give a one-sentence condensed message behind it, what would it be?
E: Well, one thing I’ve learned – and this is something that the last song on the album is about – is that everyone’s always looking for solutions to their problems outside of themselves. But, really, all the meaningful stuff comes from within you. And one thing we all have the ability to do is just make the choice to accept your reality, and be as happy with it as you can be. That instantly changes everything. If you’re upset about your situation, then you’re like “Oh, this is a shitty situation, this sucks,” but then you go, “Well look at the good parts of it.” That’s all outside of me, that’s stuff that I can’t change, but what I can change is that I can be okay with it. Then, instantly, you get better. That can’t be true of every situation, there are some situations that are beyond that. But there’s an awful lot of situations that this applies to. The hard part is that it takes work and vigilance.
PHAWKER: You mentioned the last song on the album, “In Our Cathedral.” I wanted to ask, after reading the lyrics of it, where or what is your cathedral?
E: It’s actually exactly what I just said. It’s the place that we can all go to, the place where you just make a choice to say, “I’m okay with this.”
PHAWKER: So, it’s more of a mental state then.
PHAWKER: Let’s get into more of the songs on the album. One of the more upbeat ones is “Today is the Day.” Why don’t you talk a little bit about where the idea of that came from?
E: I feel like if there’s any little thing I can contribute to the world, it might be a song like that. Like maybe, somebody has become aware that they need to make some change in their life, but they haven’t quite gotten to taking any steps toward making the change. And maybe they just happen to hear that song on the radio right at the right time, and it might help push them along a little further into it. That’s why I don’t get specific about any particular change I might have been thinking about, because I wanted it to be able to apply to anybody’s situation, in this case. I didn’t want to say like “Today is the day I stopped eating cheese,” because then it’s only good for lactose-intolerant people [laughs].
PHAWKER: Yeah, I do like it. It’s kind of a motivational message.
PHAWKER: Both of those songs, “In Our Cathderal,” and “Today is the Day,” they both have a heavy focus on the lyrics. But you also have a couple songs that have no lyrics at all. And I kind of like that because you definitely get into these almost orchestral compositions. Specifically, with “The Quandary” and “Coming Back.” I know they’re short, but why did you decide to include them and what’s the importance of having songs with no lyrics on an album like this?
E: Well, what I love about instrumental music is that it’s all feeling. There’s nothing cerebral about a song that doesn’t have lyrics. It’s just pure feeling, and people can of course have all sorts of different feelings and interpretations from it. I like that, and I also like it as kind of a palette cleanser with some songs. Or just a bridge between songs.
PHAWKER: Specifically, in these ones though, you involve a lot of instruments. That is typically your style, but why does that appeal to you so much? The band isn’t a huge amount of people, yet these songs sometimes sound as if you have a huge amount of people playing in them because of how many instruments come in and out.
E: Yeah. I mean, I don’t know if I’ve ever met an instrument or a sound I don’t like in some way, and I just feel like the world is too big to limit yourself to too little of a world.
E: I’m very much of the “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it” school. I don’t spend too much time belaboring over a song. A lot of it is experimentation – you don’t know where you’re going until you get there, and you’re like “You know what, that’s working right.” If I feel moved by it in whatever way, you just sort of know, like “If I go any further, I’m probably just gonna mess it up.” You don’t want to over-polish it.
PHAWKER: Going off of all of that and your different styles, who would you say your musical influences are, maybe from today, and then also going all the way back to Beautiful Freak and your first solo work? Have they stayed the same? Have some changed?
E: I would say for the most part, it’s been from my younger years of voracious music consumption, of just really getting into so many different phases of almost every different artist you can imagine, and just devouring their catalogue, and learning everything I could know about them and their whole careers. From a very early age, I was doing that. I would do one and then move on to another one and another one and another one – there’s just thousands of them.
PHAWKER: But who were some of the ones that stood out to you the most? I think somewhere I had read that one was John Lennon and his solo work?
E: Oh yeah, for sure. If I had to pick favorites, and it’s hard to pick favorites, it’d probably be him. And of course, Bob Dylan. He’s like the most otherworldly, unexplainable talent ever. And all the usual suspects. Tom Waits, Pete Townshend, Ray Charles is a huge one of mine.
PHAWKER: Any from right now? Do you listen to a lot of current music?
E: I don’t listen to a lot these days. I like Father John Misty a lot. I hear stuff once in a while. I’ve heard a couple songs on the radio by Leon Bridges lately that I like a lot.
PHAWKER: Oh yeah, he’s good. I like him.
E: Yeah, I really like the two songs I’ve heard. But I don’t hear a lot of music at times like this when I’ve been making music, because there’s not really time to listen.
PHAWKER: On a final note, in talking about making music: you took a four-year hiatus, and now you have The Deconstruction. Would you say that this is a return from that hiatus or do you think you’ll take another one or is it kind of too soon to tell?
E: Yeah, that’s a good question. I think it’s too soon to tell. I’m not really sure. I’ve never taken four years away from it. And so, getting back into it, it’s like such an onslaught [laughs]. And it’s a lot of work. So, there’s a part of me that’s like “Let’s take another hiatus.” But there’s another part of me that’s having a good time with it too, so the jury’s out. I think I’ll just kind of wait and see if I feel inspired, and then I might get back into it.