A Conversation with eels' Mark Oliver Everett (E)
Mike Ragogna: What have you been up to since Hombre Lobo?
Mark Oliver Everett: It's funny, we last spoke before Hombre Lobo came out, and that was only last April or May. That's weird to me because it seems like it must have been five years ago.
MR: Yeah, it seems like a long time.
MOE: I've been so busy. The fun thing about my life is that I immerse myself every year or so into a new musical world, and this time, I expedited how many times I was going to do that in a much shorter period of time. So, last year feels like several years to me.
MR: It should because you have had three albums in what, a little over a year?
MOE: Yeah, that's right.
MR: End Times was this past January's release, right?
MOE: That's right, a wintry record.
MR: And now you're capping off your run of Hombre Lobo and End Times with this third record that we're talking about today, Tomorrow Morning.
MR: Well, in some respects, Tomorrow Morning seems like a finale for the trio. On the other hand, it seems like you're opening another chapter.
MOE: Well, yeah. I guess that's the point. It was important for me to follow a title called End Times with the title Tomorrow Morning because then it changes the meaning of the title End Times. How could it be the end if there's a morning coming tomorrow?
MR: (laughs) Very clever. And it's interestingly sequenced.
MOE: Actually, the beginning is at the end of the story, and the end is in the middle.
MR: I've been a fan since E, and you had me at "Nowheresville" and A Man Called (E).
MOE: You're showing your age.
MR: Somebody has to. You know, I've been following your career since your "E" days and when you became the eels that dabbled with even more experimental pop melodies and lyrics. With this album, did you have an overall mission with Tomorrow Morning?
MOE: Well, I wanted to make a warm, celebratory album that was celebrating life and all of the good things in life. You know, as you get older, you start to look around, and you start to notice that there are things that you should be appreciating.
MR: Yeah, including love. There are a couple of great "love" songs on your latest. "I Like The Way This Is Going" is a really simple song with you on electric guitar...
MOE: ... it's just guitar and bass and nothing else.
MR: Right, and it's a real joy to me. "Mystery Of Life" is probably my favorite, your "la la" chorus all but poking the eye of pop music.
MOE: Oh, cool.
MR: There are a few songs on this record that seem pretty complicated topically, such as "I'm A Hummingbird." Terrific lyrics and sentiment.
MOE: That's very nice to hear because I wasn't sure what anyone was going to make of that one. I felt like it was pretty odd, and so far, it seems like people are liking it, which is nice because I didn't know what to expect.
MR: From your perspective, which song was the most complicated from any perspective?
MOE: Well, a lot of them are deceptively complicated, but you wouldn't think it. The one called "Looking Up" is my favorite probably because I had the most fun I've ever had in the recording studio making it. But a lot of these songs are very complicated because they're multi-layered. Literally, there is just layer after layer, adding and subtracting as the songs go on. In the case of "Looking Up," that applies to all the different percussion that keeps piling up on it, so it just keeps building. It's a different way to do a song, rather than the traditional verse, chorus, bridge, outro. Instead, you can also build songs by layering different percussive elements in and out.
MR: Looking at Hombre Lobo, End Times, and Tomorrow Morning, might this one be the most personal?
MOE: Well, End Times was pretty darn personal.
MR: True. What's your tour going to be like?
MOE: Yeah, we're about to start a fifty-show world tour.
MR: Where are you headed?
MOE: Japan, Australia, Europe, and America.
MR: Where in America?
MOE: They're on the website. I'm on a need to know basis, and I only know within the next twenty-four hours.
MR: (laughs) I may have asked you this question when I spoke with you last, but what advice do you have for new acts?
MOE: Well, I think the best advice I could give a young act is to try not to be tentative about anything that you do. Even if you're unsure about yourself or what you're doing, do it like you know what you're doing. That right there is half the battle. Do what you're doing with authority, and you'll be amazed at how much it works just by having that attitude.
MR: Nice. No one else has ever answered the question that way.
MOE: It's actually hands-on, very useful advice.
MR: Yeah, it goes beyond just self-confidence, it's just about believing in yourself and what you're doing.
MOE: Exactly. Even if you don't believe what you're doing, lie to yourself that you believe what you're doing as a start, and eventually, you might start believing what you're doing.
MR: (laughs) From your days of making "E" albums through now, what are some of the most significant changes that you think you've gone through?
MR: Artistically, and maybe personally.
MOE: So much. I've had so many experiences, and I've been through so much since then. I wish someone could have told me back then how things would be for me twenty years later because things are really nice for me now, and I never would have guessed that things could have turned out this nice. So, good to know, and I hope that can serve as a little bit of hope. If a schmuck like me can get happy, anybody can.
1. In Gratitude For This Magnificent Day
2. I'm a Hummingbird
3. The Morning
4. Baby Loves Me
5. Spectacular Girl
6. What I Have to Offer
7. This Is Where It Gets Good
8. After The Earthquake
9. Oh So Lovely
10. The Man
11. Looking Up
12. That's Not Her Way
13. I Like The Way This Is Going
14. Mystery Of Life
(transcribed by Ryan Gaffney)
A Conversation with Ellis Paul
Mike Ragogna: With more and more artists taking responsibility for the marketing and distribution of their projects, fan funding has become a more obvious route. For The Day After Everything Changed, you raised over $100,000, right?
Ellis Paul: Yes.
MR: How did you do it?
EP: Well, we set up a tier system on the website where people can go get goods and services that they bought into. The top end is for $10,000 and in exchange, you get a guitar and a house concert, and I write a song for you with handwritten lyrics to whatever song you like. On the lower end, a $15 dollar scale would get you a pre-ordered CD that is signed and numbered and on like that.
MR: Didn't your first albums came out on Newbury Comics?
EP: Yes. Newbury Comics hooked up with my manager and myself and we started a label called Black Wolf. We put the first two records out with them, and that went well. It gave me confidence to really do this.
MR: Was the first one also fan funded?
EP: Nope, I funded it myself. The management company basically put it out themselves. I have a good team right now put together for this kind of project.
MR: So, you've had songs in movies such as Jim Carrey's Me, Myself & Irene as well as music in the final scene of Ed.
EP: More and more of that kind of stuff is happening, and I'm starting to get calls from Nashville about covering my material. I had two cuts on a Sugarland record, and other commercial stuff coming my way which has been good. But I'm trying to write songs that I'm proud of having written, I don't want to write strictly for commercial means. I am just trying to write good songs.
MR: You mentioned Nashville which is perfect since your material is so cover worthy. "Annalee" sounds like it should be somebody's hit if not your own.
EP: That would be great, I like that song a lot. Well, that's part of the writing. Writing it for accessibility makes it universal, so a lot of people can be covering songs that are on this record as opposed to my other records which are based more on my personal experiences and personal take on things. My personal voice is maybe a little bit stronger on other records than the universal voice that is on this one.
MR: This album reminds me a lot of Stories.
EP: You know, it has more of that story kind of theme in a lot of ways. It's like a sister record.
MR: There is an intimacy to it that circles back to your earlier career and even the way you are phrasing things seems like Say Anything and Stories, that era.
EP: Glad you picked up on that as the writing is more like that era than the stuff that I have done in between.
MR: On the other hand, this batch of songs seems very emotional, the opposite of your earlier, concept-driven material.
EP: These songs seem to be more from the neck down rather than the neck up. The lyrics are more accessible right from the first listen. I think it was more country-style writing where you just say what you mean, what you feel rather than trying to politicize everything. So, it just immediately connects emotionally and the production doesn't get in the way or distract, it supports whatever the mood of the song is in a great way. I am with you. It's my best record to date.
MR: Yeah, I also think The Day After Everything Changed is your best as well as your most "commercial" album to date.
EP: Yeah and I think that has to do with the immediate impact of the songs. It only takes a listen or two to get pulled into what the songs are about. It's partially the writing and partially making the right choices production-wise to hook people. "Commercial" production can be very hokey.
MR: Yes. Also, the packaging is beautiful with some real attention to detail.
EP: I don't want people to think that this was done on a shoestring or that I was begging people for money on the Internet. It's really more money than anyone has ever spent on me, we didn't cut any corners. I spent more on the recording, spent more on the artwork, and spent more on the marketing than I have ever spent on any other project. So, it's not a shoestring thing at all. It's a move up in a lot of ways.
MR: And due to your taking your career into your own hands -- not becoming behoovin' to a label but going the fan funding route -- you have the mandate to express yourself any way you need to artistically.
EP: Yeah. They are always trying to think of the bottom line and not actually what the actual product looks like. They give you deadlines that you have to be done by, you have to spend this much money, you can't go over budget.
All of those things are bypassed. We spent as much as we needed to make a record right, and we hired the right people for the design who could express who I am and what I want rather than what the record label wants. It feels more real, more me, more artful, more creative.
MR: It's always nice when the album concept is supported by its artwork. As we head towards CDs retirement, I guess it's logical that artwork will be the biggest casualty.
EP: I think people are dogging CD artwork because it's so small and it's fading out as more and more records are getting smaller and smaller and going to digital. So, we decided to maximize what the artwork would say. We really took our time with the artwork and the designer did a great job. There was sort of a theme of baptism and renewal in all of the photo shots of the water.
MR: Though my favorite shot is the one of you in the room with the guitar in the corner with the sunset through the bay window.
EP: That was in a little bed and breakfast mansion in Orange, Virginia, that we found on the Internet. We thought about each location and figuring out how to make the drama of the artwork work with the drama that was going on in the songs.
MR: How are you making this the best online experience for your fans?
EP: Well, I am trying to learn more about YouTube and Facebook interactions with people.
MR: And the website?
EP: I want it to be like a little garden. I want it to be filled with cool looking things rather than weeds. I think a lot of people just throw out weeds on their websites. They just let their gardens go entirely, let it go stagnant for years and throw garbage up on it that doesn't have any value. These are things that can stay up for years and years to come after we are all long gone, so it will be a website that will support high quality. I think that is why the artwork is so important. I just want to stick it out.
MR: Earlier, I brought up "Annalee," but "Rose Tattoo" also is a pretty catchy song complete with a sing-a-long vibe at the end.
EP: With "Rose Tattoo," I took a lot of that Jim Croce stuff with two guitars panned left and right. I'm happy with that one. But you know, I'm happy with all of them.
MR: You ended the album with the intense "Nothing Left To Take" which is a very unusual song. Can you discuss it a bit?
EP: I had heard a story about a couple that broke up and there was alcohol involved. One of the parties was an alcoholic and got into a car accident. So, I tried to dress up that story, and a lot of the specific details kind of came down to the bottle while he was driving. There was a time frame as to how the break up happened. Fifteen seconds, a minute, an hour -- like a clock ticking as the song is going on.
MR: Which song are you closest to?
EP: "Hurricane Angel" seems to be one that I gravitate to the most, even though it's not a song about me. It's about a Katrina victim and the crossroads after the storm that happened, and trying to figure out how to get help. He's reaching out to the insurance companies, the President, and God looking for some help and relief.
MR: It's years later and the aftermath of Katrina and there's damage still remaining.
EP: I wrote that after all of the Katrina victims were in the FEMA trailers and were kicked out of them because of formaldehyde poisoning, nearly 40,000 people got their trailers taken away from them. I guess they were getting poisoned from the formaldehyde that was in the walls, and it just spurred me to write it. There is just no way that those people can win down there. It's just speed bump after speed bump after speed bump.
MR: You were a social worker at some point, right?
EP: Yeah, in my early twenties after college for about four or five years.
MR: Do you find yourself wanting to jump into specific social causes?
EP: Yeah. I want to write about those things, but often times, you can't force the subject matter. You start doing that and then a song comes out (that's) a piece of s**t. I try and wrap my head around these problems, but I'm just waiting for the right story to come to me. It's a challenge for me being self-employed to afford health insurance I need in order to cover my family. So, its going to be a social issue that addresses my life in some way, and then I need to find a story that I can address the emotions of, so it took me five years to write the Katrina song.
MR: A balance of sentiment and constructive engagement. Interestingly, it takes a while to know what to be talking about when you're talking about it.
EP: When (Katrina) happened, there were a thousand songs written in the weeks after that. It was too big of an event for me to ever get objective about for me to write about. There were some beautiful songs written, but I have to say, though a lot of songs were written out of that moment, I couldn't do it. It was just too big of a thing.
MR: This project's overall statement seems to be, "Okay, everything has changed and now it's time to start life." Was that intentional?
EP: I have kids now and I'm looking back at the last 20 years of my life and what am I going to do with the next 20 years of my life, so it seems like, "What am I going to do now?" I'm at the halftime of the Super Bowl of my life and I'm reflective. I'm looking back, and a lot of these songs are about people who are about, you know, a guy who just got laid off and is at home, and in the first song, there is a guy who is going back to college and wondering what the future holds for him. So, every one of the characters are approaching some kind of major crossroads and are trying to make decisions about what their future is going to look like and which road to take. I guess I am sort of in that place in my own life being at a halfway point too.
MR: At this halfway point, are there things you haven't done musically that might be explored over the next few projects?
EP: I think so. If I can do the next four or five records with the same batch of people and approach the songwriting in the same way, I really feel like we could get locked into something that is like a sweet spot. I feel more centered with my production and writing style. It feels kind of like I found my thing. If I can write out of this place and write the next four or five records this well, even without any commercial success, I would be thrilled just to put out records that are this good every time.
2. Rose Tattoo
3. River Road
4. The Day After Everything Changed
5. The Lights Of Vegas
6. Hurricane Angel
7. Heaven's Wherever You Are
9. Sometime, Someplace
10. Once Upon A Summertime
11. Waking Up To Me
12. Walking After Midnight / Change
13. The Cotton's Burning
14. Paper Dolls
15. Nothing Left To Take
(transcribed by Erika Richards)
DISTURBED ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT
Multi-platinum, Grammy-nominated hard rock band Disturbed have released the video for their #1 single "Another Way to Die." The video, shot by Roboshobo (Mastodon, Metallica), is a hard-hitting, unsettling look at the dangers of not taking care of our environment. Examples of global warming, pollution, deforestation and overflowing landfills are intercut with a post-apocalyptic narrative. "Thematically, the song's about global warming and how the choices we make affect the planet," explains guitarist Dan Donegan. "It's a new topic for us, and it'll hopefully raise a little awareness." Front man David Draiman continues, "It definitely is meant to draw the effects of the indulgent life that most people lead. It is meant to draw a contrast to things and to show the effects of the abuse we are causing to our planet."
The track itself is already a #1 hit at Active Rock Radio. "Another Way to Die" is the highest Billboard Active Rock debut in Disturbed's history and the fastest #1 for the band on Billboard's Active Rock chart, getting to #1 in just 4 weeks. It is also the fastest # 1 on Billboard's Active Rock chart in over 3 years and is the band's 7th # 1 single on Billboard's Active Rock chart: they are tied with Metallica for the 3rd most #1's on the Active Rock chart."Another Way To Die" by Disturbed:
Follow Mike Ragogna on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ragz2008