Mr. E's Beautiful Life
Mark Oliver Everett lives in a house in Los Feliz with Bobby Jr., his basset hound. Sometimes Mark and Bobby Jr. walk through the neighborhood and look at the empty mansions. Other times Mark and Bobby Jr. go to interviews with music journalists at the café around the corner. And sometimes Bobby Jr. barfs on them.
Fortunately, this is not one of those times, as the frontman of long-running smart-pop project Eels sits alone on a Sunday morning sipping coffee outside Café Los Feliz. His sunglasses are pinned to his thick-rimmed prescription frames, and all the dog walkers stop as their pets try to jump on Everett's lap, just south of his long, scraggly beard.
Just days before leaving for a world tour supporting Tomorrow Morning, his third album released within one year, Everett spoke to the Weekly about his four-year break from music, his 2008 documentary exploring the life of his physicist father, and trying to work at early-Beatles pace, without the speed.
L.A. WEEKLY: You could have moved to New York or anywhere else — why L.A.?
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MARK OLIVER EVERETT: I pretty much flipped a coin, and then I just decided that I want to go — it could be L.A. or New York — to try to do something with my music. And I thought, I'll go to L.A. because it's further away. I really wanted to get away.
How long have you been in Los Feliz?
Pretty long, since 1998. Before that I was in Echo Park for eight years. You know, when I first came to California from Virginia, I didn't know anything about L.A. at all and I didn't know anybody. Then I discovered Echo Park and thought, "Wow, this is even cooler." Then I finally made my way to the Los Feliz section.
But your song "Mansions of Los Feliz" is dark. It seems like it's about isolation.
That's kind of a weird one that I'm not too sure about. It's some dark tale of isolation that is probably one of those songs that you think you're writing a fictitious character, and then years later you realize it had a lot more to do with me than I thought at the time. But I really love it here.
At least Los Feliz isn't filled with the unceasing sound of barking dogs, like Echo Park.
There's nothing worse than a big dog that does bark a lot. My dog's half–basset hound, so he's got those sad eyes. He's half–German shepherd, which is really strange, because he's got a full-size German shepherd torso and little legs. Total lowrider.
Where is he?
Bobby Jr.? I wanted to bring him, but he's too lazy to get out of bed.
He's got his own room, I heard.
Yeah, he's got his own room; he's the most spoiled dog in Los Feliz. I usually bring him to these, but once I brought him and we were sitting over at Little Dom's, and as soon as he turned on his tape recorder, the first thing that happened, he asked the first question and Bobby vomited all over his shoes. It was really graphic, like, people were eating lunch. They had to come out with a bucket of water and hose off the sidewalk. So consider yourself lucky that he didn't come.
Why make three albums, Hombre Lobo, End Times and Tomorrow Morning , in such a short amount of time?
Part of it was just, not putting an album out for four years, I thought I better make up for lost time. The other part is I just had this idea that I wanted to do these three albums about these three subject matters: desire, loss and second chance, a new beginning, redemption or whatever. And I also wanted to see as an experiment to put out an album every six months, the way they did it in the '60s.
Now that I've done it, what I've realized is, it takes an enormous amount of energy, and I realized why the Beatles stopped doing it when they switched from speed to LSD. That's why they put out two albums a year, toured the world a couple times, put out a couple singles; they were on speed the whole time. So I don't have that on my side. I did it with coffee.
Seems like all three could be one concept album.
They're all designed to stand on their own. In the case of Hombre Lobo, the desire album, it felt like electric guitar. It just felt at the time that the whole so-called indie rock scene had sort of lost its balls, and I wanted to bring some balls back.
With End Times, I felt that that needed to be a more kind of isolated-guy-in-a-basement sort of thing, so that was more of an acoustic-guitar thing. But the one that is really something of its own, soundwise, is Tomorrow Morning, because I had two ideas: I knew that I wanted to make this record that is really warm and celebratory, but for years I also wanted to make a really electronic album. I always thought it would be something kind of colder, something you would imagine someone making in an apartment in Berlin. Then I decided to combine those ideas, the warm and celebratory that was also the electronic album. The challenge was how to warm up the cold instruments, you know, the keyboards and drum machines. I learned that you warm them up by thinking happy thoughts while you play them.
Do you feel that playing such confessional songs, and even writing your autobiography, Things the Grandchildren Should Know, have spread your own identity too thin?
I just have this thing where I don't censor myself at all. When I'm writing a song, I'm trying to get to the truth underneath the truth. Then it's not until I go out and play the song in front of a room full of strangers that suddenly I think, "What have I done? This is kind of embarrassing."
Your father [Hugh Everett III, who died in 1982] was the physicist who helped to develop the theory of parallel universes. For Nova's documentary Parallel Universes, Parallel Lives, you met your father's friends and read his books to find out more about him. This was fascinating for viewers, but it must have been difficult for you.
It was terrifying when I went into it, and it was such a satisfying experience in the end, because I thought they did a great job with it and it was so rewarding for me personally. I wish everything went that way. Everybody should be so lucky that they get to make a documentary about their father.
Did you feel that the filmmaker's take on Mark Everett was a caricature of you?
No, I don't think there's any caricature, I think it's really me. What was nice about the Nova thing was, I had no idea what to expect, but when I watched it, I felt like not only did I like my father in it, I liked me in it. It was the first time that I actually felt, "Hey, I like me." He seemed like a pretty likable guy, you know? I wasn't aware of it.
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