Mark ‘E’ Everett’s new album The Deconstruction is a long-awaited return created out of personal upheaval.
“The world is a mess,” is the first line I read in Mark “E'” Everett’s self-penned press notes for his latest album, The Deconstruction. You can’t really argue with him. A lot has happened in the four years since Eels’ last album, 2014’s The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett. And the man more commonly known as E has had more than most to contend with. For him it’s not only Trump’s rise to power and the threat of imminent nuclear war that he’s had to deal with – it’s also been a time of tremendous change and upheaval in his personal life too.
When we talk on the phone it seems events and constantly playing music have taken their toll. After The Cautionary Tales he decided to take break from music for the first time in his career – “I wasn’t even sure I’d work again”. But life was far from dull – during that time he got married, divorced and, to his unexpected surprise and delight, became a father. Through all of these life-changing events, and despite trying his best not to work, Eels’ 12th album, The Deconstruction, slowly started to emerge. The fingerprints of the disillusionment, joy, and heartbreak he was feeling are all over it – as is the desire to find hope in a hopeless and divided political climate and a Trump presidency.
We talk about whether he felt a responsibility to put out an album like The Deconstruction because of the state of the world and if the record was informed by what’s happened – or whether it was more from what was happening to him personally. “It was very feel base to be honest. There was a lot going on and I wasn’t very conscious of anything apart from what I was feeling from song to song.”
“It was a personal deconstruction. We spend most of our lives building up these defences and building these walls around ourselves and the album is about thinking: ‘what if we tore all that down, what is there, what did we start with?’”
With a new son and life happening all around him, I ask if he found writing the songs cathartic. “It’s cathartic and embarrassing and all of those things,” he laughs. “That’s what I do.”
This is both self-deprecating but also rings true. For more than two decades, he’s been deconstructing his innermost self, delving deep into his soul and unflinchingly unpicking his feelings, meditating on loss and grief to devastating effect. As ever, there are hard truths and loss and depression but, though the pain is felt deeply, there’s also optimism as he tries to find solace and self-preservation in what life offers.
This has always been the way and might, in part, explain why he was so “worn out physically and mentally” after The Cautionary Tales. He has been making music for over 25 years without seeming to stop and take time to cope with the tumultuous life events that have been thrown at him. Since 1992, he has released 11 Eels albums, two solo records, and written Things The Grandchildren Should Know, his memoir about coping with the deaths of all three members of his immediate family by the time he was 35. (He also discovered that his father Hugh Everett III was a genius physicist.)
It meant that, in short, he was done with making music. “I got to the point four years ago where I just had to take a break. If you do any one thing too much in your life at a certain point it becomes pretty clear you have to just stop and do something else. So I just tried to relax, enjoy not having to work and try to enjoy life. And I guess it was a good idea because I definitely feel refreshed.”
“I’m amazed I got to make one album never mind all these albums.”
After The Cautionary Tales he said he never wanted to make another album like that again. “That last album still makes me feel uncomfortable I don’t want to have picture all big on the cover and my name in the title. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
“My goal was to completely stop but there were days that I was so inspired by an idea that I just couldn’t stop myself from writing. It was a different way to work – I had the luxury of having 4 years. I made the rule that I would only write and record a song on a day that I felt completely inspired – and then it might be six months until the next time I felt that inspired again. So it took a long time to record it. I didn’t think I was making an album, I just thought I was making songs and then it turned into an album.”
Ideas started to develop and threads started to weave together. “Somewhere along the line I started looking at the pile of songs that were in front of me and started to see what themes were emerging and started to get an idea. I had just started these songs but I needed something else to make it into an album.”
That something else was his life and these songs became the deconstruction: an album about the life that was unfurling all around him and the solace he found inside himself. The Deconstruction takes in blues, ’60s-ish pop songs and lovely, aching ballads. Trump is in there but it’s also about relationships blooming and falling apart, about looking inside yourself to find happiness and finding hope in hopeless situations – something he’s been doing since albums like Electro-Shock Blues. There’s even short, sweet song near the end called Archie Goodnight, a touching lullaby to his new-born son, Archie.
Tracks like ‘Bone Dry’ and ‘Rusty Pipes’ sound politically charged but he explains these are personal songs, him trying to make sense of the events in his life and that he tried to avoid writing overtly political songs. When I ask him how it feels to be an American right now he’s short and to the point. “Embarrassing. Because of Trump.”
It’s ‘Sweet Scorched Earth’ a sweet, string-led seeming love song that hides a political message. “If a particular song is nodding its head at the state of current affairs in the world then it’s that one. It masks itself as a love song it’s really about the world right now.”
The record ends with ‘Our Cathedral’. As the name suggests, it’s spiritual and seems like a hymn. It’s the denouement, the main message that E is communicating throughout the record: even in the face of pain and all the shitty things we face we have a choice and we all need to hold onto hope. “That song to me is that we all have a place we can go inside ourselves to instantly make any situation better. We all have a choice about how we perceive things and if we all take a minute to look at what your reality is and if you choose to accept it and be happy with it then everything gets better right away.”
As we finish I mention the time I bought Novocaine for the Soul on cassette from Woolworths way back in 1996. I ask E about his 25-year career and how he feels about the current state of the music industry. “I don’t know if you’ve heard but it’s kind of in the toilet,” he laughs a wry, wistful and rough laugh.
“The industry is always changing, the whole thing is always changing. I’m always envious of people like the Beatles and the Stones who had the perfect timing of being there when the LP was a new thing and then everyone was like ‘I’m going to re-buy everything on CD now’ and I came along at a time when almost every time you put out an album it’s a different kind of format and there’s different rules about the music business and it’s always changing and it’s always a learning curve.”
Yet he recognises how fortunate to be able to do what he does. “I’m amazed I got to make one album never mind all these albums. That’s miraculous to me and I know that it’s hard enough being an established band these days. It’s gotta be really tough to be new.”
And he’s excited to play live again after his break. “It’s like a crazy exotic thrill. I’ve never gone 4 years between tours before so it’s gonna be a huge change.”
It seems whatever he goes through Mark Oliver Everett will find hope. And despite everything the world has thrown at him, the world has missed his bruised optimism.