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E of Eels

Photo courtesy Vagrant.

Eels Overview:

Eels are an indie rock band run by singer-songwriter Mark Oliver Everett. Everett, who more commonly goes by the name E, is the only permanent member of Eels, bringing in different collaborators for his rock and chamber-pop compositions. Known for their spiky humor and confessional bent, E’s lyrics often touch on depression, doubt and mortality while at the same time offering glimpses of hope amidst the despair. Eels have had flashes of mainstream appeal, but largely they remain a critically acclaimed band with a strong cult following.

Eels Origins:

E grew up in Virginia but moved to Los Angeles in the late ‘80s to pursue a career as a songwriter. He initially garnered interest from Polydor and released two albums as a solo artist in the early ‘90s, A Man Called E and Broken Toy Shop. Neither record succeeded commercially, effectively ending his relationship with the label. But a few years later, he hooked up with the recently created Dreamworks Records and came up with his current moniker, Eels.

A Breakout Debut:

In 1996, Eels released their debut, Beautiful Freak. Powered by the experimental pop-rock track “Novocaine for the Soul” – which highlighted E’s vocal similarity to Beck, who was at the height of his popularity – Beautiful Freak got attention from modern rock radio. Unlike his earlier records, Beautiful Freak incorporated loops to accentuate the beauty of his garage-pop melodies. The album established him as a performer to watch.

A Stark Look at Death:

Beautiful Freak’s commercial promise raised expectations for Eels’ next record, but few could have expected 1998’s Electro-Shock Blues. A concept album built around the recent suicide of E’s sister and his mother’s battle with cancer (not to mention his father’s death during his childhood), Blues established the template for many future Eels records: studio experimentation, highly melodic pop-rock arrangements, brutally candid and confessional lyrics, and a willingness to tackle themes like death and depression. Blues didn’t contain a hit like “Novocaine for the Soul,” but it demonstrated E’s burgeoning artistry.

Picking 'Daisies':

A companion piece of sorts to Electro-Shock Blues, 2000’s Daisies of the Galaxy addressed the emotional fallout from the events chronicled in the previous record. A critical disappointment after the stark, poignant eloquence of Blues, Daisies nevertheless contained some of E’s most gorgeous songs. The album’s “hit,” the sardonic and catchy “Mr. E’s Beautiful Blues,” got included only after his label insisted, although E didn’t feel that the song fit the thematic sweep of Daisies. Still, the track remains a favorite among fans, even if it never crossed over to a mainstream audience.

'Souljacker' Brings the Guitars:

Eels had been known for pretty pop-rock, but E switched directions for Souljacker. Released abroad in 2001 but not until 2002 in his native country, Souljacker featured guitar-heavy rock songs that chronicled a slew of demented characters. Interestingly, the album’s paranoid portrayals were juxtaposed with delicate love songs inspired by E’s recent marriage, resulting in an album that’s a hodgepodge of emotions and styles. Long removed from the fluke success of “Novocaine for the Soul,” Eels were now proudly a niche band exploring their interests rather than popular trends.

A Stripped-Down Affair:

Changing gears again, Eels went for a stripped-down, straightforward sound on 2003’s Shootenanny! Reflective and hushed, the songs on Shootenanny! dealt largely with relationships, but there were excursions into childhood revelry (“Saturday Morning”), bizarre romantic courtship (“Restraining Order Blues”), and satires of celebrity culture (“Fashion Awards”). Less of a concept record than other Eels efforts, Shootenanny! is arguably the band’s most underrated album.

Feeling Ambitious:

If Shootenanny! was subdued, Eels’ next album compensated in its ambition and reach. Exiting Dreamworks, Eels signed with Vagrant to release 2005’s Blinking Lights and Other Revelations, a double album that E had been working on for several years while releasing other albums. Like Electro-Shock Blues, Blinking Lights combined intimate, orchestral pop-rock arrangements with intensely personal lyrics about death. Instrumental passages connected several of the songs on Blinking Lights, adding to the record’s sense of epic scope. Blinking Lights became the most acclaimed Eels album since Electro-Shock Blues.

'Hombre Lobo,' 'End Times' and 'Tomorrow Morning':

Eels released Hombre Lobo on June 2, 2009, which represented the longest gap between studio albums in the band’s career. The first single was the horny blues-rock track “Fresh Blood.” Deciding against touring, he instead went right back into the studio, prepping his follow-up record, End Times, for a release on January 19, 2010. In August of that same year, Eels returned with Tomorrow Morning, which was billed as the happy ending to this trilogy of discs.

Essential Eels Songs:

“Novocaine for the Soul” (Purchase/Download)
“My Beloved Monster” (Purchase/Download)
“Mr. E’s Beautiful Blues” (Purchase/Download)
“Fresh Feeling” (Purchase/Download)
“Saturday Morning” (Purchase/Download)

Eels Discography:

Beautiful Freak (1996) Compare Prices
Electro-Shock Blues (1998) Compare Prices
Daisies of the Galaxy (2000) Compare Prices
Souljacker (2001) Compare Prices
Shootenanny! (2003) Compare Prices
Blinking Lights and Other Revelations (2005) Compare Prices
Live at Town Hall (live album) (2006) Compare Prices
Meet the Eels (greatest-hits album) (2008) Compare Prices
Useless Trinkets (outtakes collection) (2008) Compare Prices
Hombre Lobo (2009) Compare Prices
End Times (2010)
Tomorrow Morning (2010)
Wonderful, Glorious (2013)

Eels Quotes:

E, on the advantage of writing in character.
"You're wearing a mask, you're hiding behind it, there's something fictitious going on - yet because of that, you're able to get to a deeper truth. I think it's because you become more fearless - and less vulnerable - if you feel like you're not being yourself. But at the same time, you have to really identify with the character in some ways for it to work." (About.com, June 22, 2009)

E, on his creative process.
"I don't really have any set working methods. All sorts of different things happen. Sometimes the words come first. Sometimes the music comes first. Sometimes it all comes at once. It's case-by-case. I will say that I think the strongest songs for me do start with lyrics. I've noticed that, because if you're only working with lyrics, there must be some strong, really cohesive idea there. Whereas when you do it the other way around, you're trying to fit in the syllables with the music." (ARTISTdirect, January 11, 2008)

Eels Trivia:

  • E's father was Hugh Everett III, a scientist who came up with the Many Worlds Theory, a groundbreaking revelation in quantum mechanics that argued that each choice made by a person creates a separate parallel reality from the one that already exists.
  • Eels wrote the score to the film Levity.
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