Eels frontman e doesn't like looking back, so now he's looking forward to taking a break, writes andy welch
Of all Mark Oliver Everett's traits, the ability to make the best of terrible situations is perhaps his greatest. E, as he's known, is the main man behind American band Eels, and during the course of his 20-year career, he's battled and defeated numerous demons.
As a teenager, E's physics-pioneer dad Hugh Everett III died in his sleep, then his mother died of lung cancer in 1998, two years after the suicide of his schizophrenic sister Elizabeth. As if those bereavements weren't tragic enough, the songwriter's cousin was a flight attendant aboard one of the doomed 9/11 aeroplanes. Along the way, there has also been unhealthy doses of heartbreak, all of which have resulted in albums dealing with each.
Today, however, something is troubling E, and it's none of the above. But don't be surprised if his next record is about being falsely accused of loitering. "I was just stopped by the police," he says, sitting in his London hotel room, feeling rather sorry for himself. To put this in context, Everett is currently sporting a six-inch black fuzzy beard, a beaten up old baseball cap, glasses, scruffy jeans and a white shirt.
By his own admission, he looks like a "weirdo", but one local resident took it upon themselves to call in the law.
"I must look like a street hobo or something," he says, now quietly fuming about the incident. "Someone gave my description and said I was peering over the wall of the hotel. I can't even go to the park without someone thinking I'm suspicious. I only got here last night. Is that a way of saying: 'Welcome to England?' That's why I like being here, it's a gorgeous place to look at."
Thankfully, a quick flash of his hotel key informed the police he was a guest, and nothing more came of it. But he made several references to it during the next hour or so. "All these years later, and still no one has any respect for me," he says, almost able to see the funny side. If only he'd handed a copy of his new album Tomorrow Morning to the complainer, they'd have realised he was a brilliantly talented songwriter.
The last in a trilogy of concept albums, Tomorrow Morning chronicles the rebirth of its central character, E, although he says he doesn't always recognise himself in his music until years later, after his awakening as a "horny old werewolf" on Hombre Lobo (2009) and the painful breakdown of a relationship on End Times (2010).
"End Times was so, so bleak, there was only one way to go on this album," he says, referring specifically to the giveaway titles of new songs Looking Up and That's Not Her Way, which appears to forgive an old flame. "She's all right," he croons, begrudgingly. "She knows who she is." Although envisaged as a trilogy from the off, E didn't make an announcement about the trio of albums. "I didn't want to paint myself into a corner," he admits. "I might have changed my mind."
Before Hombre Lobo was released, E hadn't made an album for almost five years. He hadn't been dormant, however, writing an autobiography, Things the Grandchildren Should Know, compiling best-of and rarities albums, and producing a TV documentary about his dad, Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives.
"It was a tough four years, because I was constantly living in my past," he admits. "I don't like to look back, which is what's so exciting about now -- I'm finally looking forward." He doesn't plan on keeping up the past 18 months' level of output, however.
"I'm starting to realise why The Beatles broke up after seven years," he jokes. "I think I deserve a break after the work I've done over the past two years or so.
"Tomorrow Morning will be the last record for a while. I need a bit of balance in my life. It's funny though -- it's only other people that tell me I need a balance."
Tomorrow Morning is out now. Eels plays the Electric Picnic on Friday