By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
ANYONE FAMILIAR WITH THE EELS WILL UNDERstand the following: One recent night, after listening to the band's newest record, Souljacker (DreamWorks), this writer had two dreams -- the first was a still color image of Eels front man and main brain E (real name Mark Everett) wrapping his arms around a veritable litter of chubby, pink-faced, pacifier-sucking babies with window reflections on their cheeks drawn in the Curious George style; in the second, the Eels were giving a concert on a second-story dance floor, and young fans were jumping over the railing.
Well, no. It was E, after all, who gave the wor ld Electro-Shock Blues (1998), the gut-wrenching musical commemoration of his sister's suicide and his mom's terminal-cancer diagnosis ("cancer rock," he called it) -- a rather unexpected "follow-up" to the Eels' wildly popular, MTV-saturating hit song of two years earlier, "Novocaine for the Soul" from the band's first album, Beautiful Freak (also DreamWorks).
But that was then. The world's taken many a turn since '98, and E -- now the proud possessor of a gigantic beard and an ecstatically happy marriage -- has released the alternately goofy and romantic Souljacker, a collection of songs colored by the unmistakable mixture of sincerity, gloom and cartoon-character heroes that has permeated his lyricography from the beginning (at 39, he's known to his friends as Grandpa). Through a sideshow gallery of songs about freaks and misfits ("Bus Stop Boxer," "Dog Faced Boy," "Teenage Witch"), heartfelt paeans to his new bride ("Fresh Feeling" and "What Is This Note?") and the universal human yearning to get rid of religious solicitors at the door ("Jehovah's Witness"), the soft rasp of the E-voice sails and buzzes through fuzzed-out guitars, lush strings, Bo Diddley rhythms and the ferocious jungle pounding of Eels drummer Butch, not to mention some frantic banjo playing by guest musician/co-producer/PJ Harvey associate John Parish.
Randy Newman, meet Frank Zappa and Neil Young and give birth to Souljacker, a probably too-smart record that's sincere enough to embarrass you and jerk your tears, and funny enough to tickle your inner cartoonist -- the child of a reflective, sarcastic man at peace. Still, it seemed appropriate to ask:
How are you?
I'm good! I'd really have to say that . . . I'm good.
That's a pretty formidable beard you've got there.
The beard has actually come and gone a couple of times. After September 11, I got so much extra attention at the airport, and I got so tired of the cavity searches. But now it's back to its full glory. I like life with the beard -- it does change your life in some interesting, subtle ways, like when you go to the bank and the security guard flips the safety off of his gun.
But the main reason I grew it is because my wife loves it. She's the opposite of everybody else you know. The beard really gets her hot.
Well, she's Russian, isn't she?
Yeah. I think it's like a Rasputin thing.
Please praise married life for me.
I gotta tell ya, it's the best thing I ever did. Two things have saved my life: One was Lenny Waronker at DreamWorks, and the other was my wife. The two things that kept me from blowing my brains out.
Yeah. I met her in Germany. We met when we were both patients in a clinic. It was run by this kooky doctor just outside of Hamburg who helps you recharge your batteries. This might give you some insight into my . . . kookiness. I think I'm some sort of strange mix between cynical and really naive, so I'm always willing to check out all possibilities. Anyway, we were at the end of a European tour, and I had no real reason to come home, so I said, all right, I'd heard about this doctor out in the country, so I just went there. And I lived in this boarding house for two weeks. It was just me, my future wife and the doctor's mother-in-law, who ran it. The doctor didn't make me feel any better, but I got a wife out of it. So it was a pretty good deal. [Laughs.] It was really a great, romantic thing -- if you go in for that sort of thing.
There's a definite cartoony feel to some of theSouljacker songs.
Yeah, well, I'm into cartoons. I like doing songs like "Dog Faced Boy," because I like to tell the story of someone who's, uh, not the average Joe, maybe, and it's tragic and funny all at the same time. Which I guess is not all that easy to mix together, but it comes naturally to me, I suppose.
Are any of these "grotesques" inspired by real people?
There're a couple of songs on the record that were inspired by real-life people, and "Dog Faced Boy" is one of them. I mean, most of these songs are made up out of thin air, but "Dog Faced Boy" was inspired, oddly enough, by a woman -- a very attractive woman I know who when she was younger I guess was kinda hairy. Her classmates would tease her and call her Gorilla Girl. She had this Christian fundamentalist mother, and she'd go home crying and beg her mom to shave her arms and stuff . . . Anyway, I heard all this and I was immediately forming a song, but I thought I could make this more convincing if I switched the sex and made her a boy. The nice, real-life ending to the story of Gorilla Girl is that she got the last laugh, because she's this really smart, beautiful woman. That's the way it always works out, you know: The geeks shall inherit the Earth.