Eels on “The Deconstruction” | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Eels on “The Deconstruction”

Burning Down the Walls

Apr 06, 2018 EELS Bookmark and Share

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Since the mid-1990s, Mark Oliver Everett (aka E) has crafted wildly inventive and stylized orchestral indie rock that blends the philosophical and the heartbreak without ever sounding overly calculating or sentimental. Aside from his records with his main outlet Eels, Everett has composed music for films such as Yes Man, played Brian in the Judd Apatow-produced Netflix series Love, written an autobiography (2007’s Things the Grandchildren Should Know), and participated in a BBC documentary on his renowned physicist father, Hugh Everett III (2007’s Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives).

The Deconstruction, the first Eels record since 2014, provides 15 songs sequenced to bring the listener through a journey of contemplation and hopefulness while still admitting the answers are not all there. Read on as we talk to Everett about the album.

Chris Davidson (Under the Radar): This is your first album of new material in four years. What were some of the initial songs that kickstarted the process?

Mark Oliver Everett: For most of the last four years, I didn’t even know I was making an album. I was just trying to take a break, but once in a while, I would get inspired to write and record a song, but it might be six months in between songs in some cases. It wasn’t until pretty deep into the four years that I started to look at the songs that were starting to pile up and see how they were relating to each other and that they were starting to turn into an album.

What is the significance of the cover image? Is the match at the bottom a reference to the song “Sweet Scorched Earth?”

I was thinking about it more in reference to the idea of deconstruction. “The Deconstruction” to me is about a personal deconstruction where we spend a lot of our lives building these defenses and building these walls around ourselves and what would happen if we pulled all of that down. What are we protecting in the first place? I think there is something beautiful and pure that we all start with. The match turning into a flower is the opposite way of saying that if you burn down the wall, you can get something beautiful.

Your new record provides this image of deep philosophical searching by way of song titles like “The Deconstruction,” “The Quandary,” “The Epiphany” and “The Unanswerable” whose tracks also contain musical codas and two are just instrumentals. Can you talk about the sequencing of the record and what you were trying to accomplish there?

The thing I like about instrumental music is that it just has to be pure feeling. There’s no choice. There can’t be anything cerebral about a song that doesn’t have any lyrics. That’s a really valuable thing to have on an album.

It’s interesting to hear you say that because “The Unanswerable” is one of the instrumentals. I halfway went into the song expecting some questions to be asked in the lyrics.

I don’t claim to be an expert on anything I’m writing in the songs. Whoever I’m talking to in a song I’m also simultaneously talking to myself. And that’s a good example of that. I’m trying to remind myself to stop looking for big answers because sometimes there’s no end to any of it.

Another interesting sequencing in the record comes with the songs “Sweet Scorched Earth” followed by “Coming Back,” because the former usually represents a finality that you wouldn’t want to revisit if that makes sense.

I’m definitely hoping to convey a sense of hopefulness. We all need to be reminded that things aren’t hopeless, now more than ever.

My favorite lyric is “the door is locked now, all pain and fear is on the other side” from the last song, “In Our Cathedral.” As someone who has dealt with a lot of tragedy and subsequently fleshed that out rather publicly on record, how cathartic was it to end the record on a hopeful note like that?

That’s a way to try and remind myself that that stuff is all in the past, but it would be naive of me to think everything will be fine now because you just don’t know. There’s only so much we have a choice over. What I was trying to get across in that song is the one choice that we do have and the one place that we can all go to make things better inside ourselves is to make a choice to accept whatever our reality is, however good or bad the situation might be. If we can just choose to accept it and be happy with it, then it can get better.

You have had songs in films before, but Love is really the first time that you have been onscreen as an actor in a TV series. How did that come about?

I don’t know exactly how it came about. One of the guys from Mad Men [John Slattery who played Roger Sterling on Mad Men and directed episodes of Love] asked me to do it. I didn’t really know what he was talking about, but I was such a Mad Men fan and I said that I’d do it. It wasn’t until I got there that I started to realize it was a TV show. At the time, the show wasn’t even out yet, so I hadn’t heard of it. But then I ended up becoming a big fan of the show and it was really fun to be part of it. I play a guy named Brian, and he is an even more pretentious version of myself. He’s just a silly, hipster know-it-all.

Last year marked the 10-year anniversary of both your autobiography and the Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives documentary. What were some of the biggest things you took away from those experiences?

The documentary was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I have to give all of the credit to the BBC who made it originally. They made it a very easy thing for me to be part of, other than the fact that it was a weird thing having a film crew following you around for a couple of weeks trying to make you cry. It was such a great healing experience for me to be able to do all of that and learn about my father and talk to people during the process. It helped me become more forgiving of him and it was such a lucky experience.

And the book was similar for me in that it felt really nice to be able to move on from a lot of past experiences by putting them down in a book. But the thing that was naive about that was I thought that all of the drama was over and that my life would be calm and I could just enjoy the calm years. It was naive of me to think that because you can’t decide what life is going to do. You don’t have that much control of life, and things haven’t been as calm as I’ve hoped.

What are three albums you can listen to from start to finish at any point?

The Kinks Are Village Green Preservation Society by The Kinks. Arthur by The Kinks. Aerial Ballet by Harry Nilsson.

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