Siobhán Kane talks to Eels‘ Mark Oliver Everett about performing with Ringo Starr, getting older, and his approach to happiness in the wake of Eels’ latest release Tomorrow Morning.
Mark Everett has been exploring music since he was very small, banging on drums, and his homage to the musicality of his youth is to be found in many of the toy instruments he has incorporated into his work over the last twenty-five years. From first release Bad Dude in Love (1985) to the brilliant and complex, Electro-Shock Bluees that called to mind the childlike vision of Brian Wilson, along with the kind of grasp on language Van Dyke Parks would be proud of, Everett has never skirted around painful subjects. In fact, pain and the fallout from pain is what constitutes much of his creative terrain, something that was compounded in his moving memoir Things the Grandchildren Should Know (2008). In her review of the memoir for The Times, critic Antonia Quirke said that Everett has a “rare skill” in “picking the right stories to tell”; something which has served him well throughout his long and varied career.
His memoir benefited from the kind of clarity Everett has always possessed, though you do get the feeling that it has been hard-won. His perseverance to understand, and sense of compassion was evident in the 2007 BBC4 documentary on his physicist father Hugh Everett III, Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives which not only explored his father’s many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, but a sense of his scientific genius (one contributor Professor Egmark equates him with a Newton or an Einstein), which came at its own cost, giving Everett a further understanding of his father, who he had always felt removed from, at one point recalling that they shared the same house for eighteen years, but that he was a “total stranger”.
This sense of a purification through pain, or perhaps more specifically as James Joyce wrote “better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age” could well describe Everett’s belief and approach to life and music so far, and the release of his last three records, in particular 2010’s Tomorrow Morning, which is full of verve and perhaps even optimism about the future (amidst “all the wear and tear” as he sings on ‘What I Have to Offer’), pleasingly signifies a new swelling of hope, and creativity. Siobhán Kane talks briefly to Mark Everett.
How have the festival shows gone? I often feel that your music lends itself well to more intimate spaces.
They have been good. Playing your own shows and playing festivals are so different, and I enjoy them both. The fun part of playing a festival is that you are out of your element, you don’t do a soundcheck, you go out there and let it fly, and that is exciting to me.
You seem to be enjoying touring at the moment, and have had some interesting experiences in the past while, particularly meeting Ringo Starr in Oslo, wasn’t he the person that inspired you to start playing drums when you were younger?
I would say that Ringo is probably the guy who inspired me to play the drums when I was six, and that led to everything, so it was no small thing to meet him, let alone to sing with him. Lovely is the only word to describe Ringo, he is such a nice guy. He came up to me in the middle of his show, and I was at the side of the stage, watching in awe, and he said “hey, do you want to sing on the last song? It’s called ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’, it goes…..” and he starts singing, and I stopped him and said “I know it” [laughs]
In turn, you must be conscious on some level that you are that person for a lot of other people.
I am always conscious of that, because I grew up such a big music fan, and I have so many idols myself, so I understand when I meet somebody, and if they are excited to meet me, I try to be as Ringo-like as possible whenever I can [laughs]. And you know, music has always been everything to me, it serves me on so many levels, and I don’t know I would have survived without it. There is nothing more exciting than what we are doing right now, going out and playing live music, it is more exciting than ever for me, and I am genuinely thankful for that.
Your last three records Hombre Lobo, End Times, and Tomorrow Morning explore desire, loss and redemption, were they always envisaged as a kind of trilogy?
They were actually recorded over a four year period, the last one to come out before then was in 2005, so it was four years before the first of these albums came out, they weren’t made in a hurry, but they were put out in a hurry, to make up for lost time since I hadn’t released anything for such a long time.
I think of End Times as a particularly precious record, there is something quite comforting about it, even though it is about broken love.
Well misery does love company [laughs].
When you said that music has served you so well, I think of your 2000 record Daisies of the Galaxy as a gentle, hopeful companion-piece to the squall of Electro-Shock Blues, the morning after the storm; you seem to be suggesting that a certain kind of happiness is bound up in simple pleasures, whether enjoying a cup of coffee, or looking at the sea.
I really think that it is all about your state of mind, and it is as simple as making a choice every day to be happy with what you have, and figure out ways to make yourself happier, The problem is you really have to stay on top of it and be diligent to make it work. That is what Tomorrow Morning is about – we all have another chance if we want to take it.
After everything, all the brokenness, especially when listening to something like End Times, there is still a sense of the romantic about you, do you still believe in true love?
There are not a lot of things that I believe in, but I do believe in true love, yes.
The writer Joseph Brodsky suggested that in some ways the most difficult parts of life are the most important, because that is when you know you are truly alive, “for darkness restores what light cannot repair”, what are your thoughts?
Well…..I sort of based my whole catalogue on that idea, if you think about it [laughs].
Some time has elapsed between the completion of your memoir, and the documentary about your father – now that you have had some distance from it, what are your feelings?
It’s an interesting stage of my life right now, because you are not supposed to do that stuff until you are really old and about to die, and I am in my early forties and still around, and I feel like part two of my life has just begun. Writing the book and doing the documentary helped me immensely, and I am doing a lot better as a result. I know the world could blow up at any moment, and not leave a trace of any of us, so I just try to stay in the moment as much as I can.
There is a black humour to a lot of what you do, buoying you along to a more optimistic note on your most recent record. Along with music, it must be another kind of saviour, who really makes you laugh?
Ricky Gervais is very funny, and the American comic Louis CK is amazing, also. Do you know Sarah Silverman?
I do, but I think of her humour as mean-spirited and not funny.
She is great, you should read her book [The Bedwetter]. It’s extremely well-written, and I think she thought she was being too mean as well, so she changed her ways, I promise. You should read it, seriously.