Mark Everett: I get a lot of ‘wow, are you still around?’
Eels frontman on honesty, fatherhood and finding his happy place
Mark Everett: “You make choices, some good, some bad, and the rest is fate, or luck, or whatever you want to call it.”
Mark Everett, the man behind the band known as Eels, is in a happy place. He’s happy because he seems to have finally discovered something that very few busy people know how to apply effectively to their lives: the correct work-life balance. Add to this is the surprise – not least to Everett – of becoming a father in his mid-50s. He says that the arrival of his son, Archie, “was most unexpected and came about in the old-fashioned way”. Although no longer involved with Archie’s mother, Everett’s life is now intricately connected with fatherhood and all of its responsibilities. His son, he says, has totally altered his life.
“How could it not? Everything is extremely different than what it was, and I mean that in a great way. Touring? I’ll teach him how to play the drums, or something. I’ll put him to good use!”
Everett and Eels have been around for about 25 years, and while he and his band have never infiltrated their way into the broader mainstream, they nonetheless bubble under in many recognisable ways via placement of their songs in successful movies and US primetime television shows. Does it matter to him that Eels is, generally speaking, an under-the-radar music act?
“Not really. I get a lot of ‘wow, are you still around?’, and I’m amazed as they are, to be honest. What do I put that down to? It’s hard work, but I think the biggest factor is luck. For whatever reason, we’re still around. You make choices, some good, some bad, and the rest is fate, or luck, or whatever you want to call it. The fact that people have got some worth out of the music, that they have responded to a lot of it – which in turn keeps the whole thing going – is luck.”
Part of such luck, he offers, is the use of songs in mainstream films such as the Shrek franchise (My Beloved Monster in 2001’s Shrek, I Need Some Sleep in 2004’s Shrek 2, Royal Pain and Losing Streak in 2007’s Shrek the Third). “There are many avenues that people find the music through,” Everett remarks. “People discover the music in different ways, and it has all contributed to the lifespan.”
Another area where even the most casual fan was drawn into Everett’s world was through his praised and candid 2007 autobiography, Things the Grandchildren Should Know, the tenor of which (if not Everett himself) is perhaps best expressed by lines such as “just living another day has always felt like some kind of success to me” and “I was not created in God’s image, unless God is a hairy ectomorph with bad posture”.
Everett says the book wasn’t written for the fans, but rather for anybody that wanted to read it. Oddly enough, his dysfunctional, often tragic life story also brought people to the music. When he wrote the book, did he have any idea it would filter out beyond the core fan base?
“No, because it was a pure experiment. I didn’t have a book deal, and I just took a year off to write it. A friend of mine said that I should write a book about all of what happened, but initially I couldn’t see the appeal. Your hands are full through just living your life, but what my friend said hit a nerve, I suppose, and I spent that year writing it. It wasn’t until I read it back that I thought the book might actually have something to offer to the world. It was published, and it seemed that it did have something for people to hang on to. I was very happy that it wasn’t a typical rock singer autobiography – it was just about a guy whose life goes weird, but who eventually gets a job in music. The music, however, was only part of the story.”
Since the publication of the book, Everett has had to make it clear that not every song he writes is overtly autobiographical. “Sometimes, I write fictional characters,” he admits, “and that’s how they always are. There are other times where I think it’s a fictional character, but then it turns out it’s me.”
Throughout his work, be it in narrative book form or in song (whether autobiographical or not), Everett rarely avoids total self-honesty, even if it’s so close to the bone it’s worrying.
“It’s tricky, isn’t it, that my outlet for expressing how I feel is through songs. Perhaps it’s a writer thing in that I almost only express myself so honestly in an artistic way, more so than everyday life. To some degree that is true, and I’m not really sure why. Maybe it’s a good that I’m not a psychiatrist!”